Words have incredible power. They can build up and tear down. They can heal and harm. The place and the person speaking the words give them particular power. In a courtroom the words of a verdict spoken by a judge can convict or free a prisoner, in a church the words of promise spoken by a bride and groom seal them in holy matrimony. A bloody cross on a dusty hill words of life are spoken by the Son of God to a broken world.
The theme for our 2016 Lent Sunday series is the seven words of Christ that He spoke from the cross as He offered up His life for the life of the world. Each word imparts a blessing and is a word of Gospel. Each word of Christ on the cross links to Jesus’ life in the Gospels as well as the Old Testament prophesies that pointed to Him. Each word of Christ proclaims and delivers something about Him, the Word Incarnate, and delivers His saving death to us that we would trust Him for forgiveness, life, and salvation.
February 14: “Forgive”
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
The first word from Jesus’ dying lips is a pardoning word in the form of a prayer. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” What wondrous love is this, that pardons the persecutor, that forgives the injurer even as the injury is being inflicted, that makes peace with the enemy while the battle rages on? Such a pardoning word the world does not know and cannot speak. Only the Suffering Servant-Son can pray such a prayer and speak such a word. He came to give His life as a ransom for the many.
February 21: “Paradise”
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
The second word from Jesus’ dying lips is a word of promise and salvation: “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” These words are spoken not to a religious man or to a fine upstanding citizen or to one of His disciples. They are spoken to a convicted man guilty of a capital crime. He, together with his fellow convict, were hung on crosses with Jesus between them. Jesus is the innocent One among the guilty, the Man among the thieves. These two convicted criminals are the ones given the privilege of being at Jesus’ left and His right when He comes into His kingdom, a privilege the disciples bickered over but had no idea what they were asking. Who could have known?
We do not know the exact nature of their crime. “Thieves” is what they are called. Perhaps “insurrectionist” or even “terrorist” might strike somewhat closer to the reality. These were no common robbers, but those who presented a threat to Roman security. Their public crucifixion was intended to ward off others.
February 28: “Forsaken”
“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46)
The third word of the cross is an entirely different word. It is a word directed to the Father, a cry of abandonment in the God-forsakenness of our sin. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” spoken in Jesus’ native tongue, Aramaic. This emanates from the very depths of His soul. Jesus’ death is the fulfillment of prophecy, Jesus’ cry is the cry of humanity. Because Jesus is separated from God, we are reconciled. Because Jesus is forsaken, we are promised that God will never forsake us.
March 6: “The Compassionate Word”
“Woman, behold, your son!” . . . “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26–27)
The fourth word from the cross is a word of compassion. “Woman, behold, your son! . . . Behold, your mother!” The disciples had fled in fear. Only the women remained, along with the disciple whom Jesus loved. Mary, His mother, her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene together with John. These remained near the cross, keeping vigil.
March 13: “Thirst”
“I thirst.” (John 19:28)
The fifth word from the cross is a word of suffering: “I thirst.” This is genuine, human pain, the parched lips of our humanity desiccated by the dry desert of our sin. Do not imagine that Jesus had some special exemption from suffering because He is the Son of God. Quite the contrary! His pain is all our pain combined. “He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” He is the Sufferer who embodies all suffering, bearing in His own wounded flesh the suffering and sickness of a humanity fallen into decay and death.
March 20: “Commit” (Palm Sunday)
“Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!” (Luke 23:46)
The sixth word is the Jesus dying word, a word of committal, a word of trust. His dying words are faithful, full of trust in His Father, trusting that in His death His Father will receive Him in loving arms just as the father of the prodigal received his son with open and welcoming arms. Here again is the paradox of faith. Jesus had cried out in abandonment, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” and yet now He cries out in faith, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!”