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Seven Words from the Cross
“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” (John 19:25-30)
How I pray that the Lord God will be pleased to grant me grace that I may live with the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ ever before my mind, with the scenes of my Savior’s redemptive work and glory constantly upon my heart, and the redemption he accomplished for me by his substitutionary death ever flooding my ransomed soul. Let’s go again to Mt. Calvary, asking God the Holy Spirit to inscribe the things we see and hear here upon our hearts, for the glory of his own great name, for Christ’s sake. — What a scene of infamy we have before us! — What a scene of grace! — What a scene of the revelation of the glory of God!
Our Lord’s Humiliation
The Lord Jesus was hurriedly brought before Pilate, where the Jews slanderously accused him. But Pilate saw their accusations for what they were, nothing but the rantings of envious religionists. Once he found out the Lord Jesus was a Galilean, he tried to rid himself of the matter and sent him to Herod.
When Herod could not persuade the Son of God to dance before him, he mocked him shamefully and sent him back to Pilate. And that day, those two political jackals became friends. And Pilate, willing to please the Jews, “delivered Jesus to their will” to be crucified. Pilate, Herod, the high priest, the Jewish mob, and the soldiers were but contemptible little imps, unworthy of further mention. There is but one thing worthy of notice in all that is recorded in the Book of God about our Savior’s arrest, mock trial, and crucifixion, one thing they were written down by inspiration of God to reveal, and that is the greatness of our Lord’s humiliation for us.
What base contempt and mockery our God and Savior endured in the house of the high priest, and at the palaces of Pilate and Herod! Truly, “He humbled himself!” He emptied himself of all the dignity and honor that rightly belongs to him, that he might redeem and save sinners who deserve to be forever mocked in the fires of hell and held in contempt by him. — “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Depravity and Substitution
God the Holy Ghost has given us a terrible, graphic display of the utter depravity of our race and the vile hatred of the human heart for the God of Glory! What base, self-serving weaklings men in powerful positions often are! — Pilate cared for nothing but himself. Though a man of almost absolute power in his realm, he cowered before the people he ruled, just to gain a moment of approval from them. The whole crowd, religious and reprobate, Jewish and pagan, craved to murder the incarnate God. And Pilate “delivered Jesus to their will.” — What an indictment this is against the will of man!
Yet, there is something glorious here. By the arrangement of Divine providence, there was a custom and a man in the scene before us who gave opportunity for our Lord to display everything he had come to accomplish. When Barabbas was released and the Lord Jesus died in his place, it is as though the Savior had said, “See this! This is why I came to this hour, to die the Just for the unjust in the place of guilty sinners as their Substitute that they might go free!”
It is not by accident that John tells us that they crucified our Lord, “and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst” (v. 18). The obvious indication is that our blessed Redeemer “was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many” (Isaiah 53:12). — “And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors” (Mark 15:28). Being our Surety and Representative, he stood before the offended law and justice of God as the greatest of all sinners!
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
Let’s take another look at those seven things our Lord Jesus Christ spoke from the cross, as he hung upon the cursed tree, bearing our sin, suffering all the horror of the wrath of God for us, when he was made sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. I am certain that our Redeemer said many things that are not recorded in the four gospels (Psalms 22, 40, 69). But the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to record seven specific statements spoken by the Lamb of God, as he hung upon the cursed tree as our sin-atoning Sacrifice, bearing all the fury of Divine justice and wrath as our Substitute.
These last seven words that fell from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ are recorded in the Book of God by Divine purpose and inspiration for our learning, edification, comfort, and hope. This is what God himself declares in Romans 15:4. — “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”
In this Volume of Inspiration God the Holy Ghost has taken very special care to record these seven things spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ, as he was laying down his life for us, to put away our sins by the sacrifice of himself. As he hung upon the cursed tree, bearing our sin, suffering all the horrible fury of the wrath of God for us, when he was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, the Lord Jesus made seven distinct statements which should ever be held in fond memory in our hearts.
There have been mountains of words and thousands of sermons preached from these seven sayings of Christ from the cross. I cannot add anything to what has already been spoken and written by faithful men. But I do hope that God the Holy Spirit will enable me to give you a glimpse of what I see in them. These are the very words spoken by our great God and Savior in His humiliation, spoken as he engaged the forces of hell and endured the indescribable wrath of God in the place of sinners. In these seven words from the cross I see the glorious Person, work, and offices of our Lord Jesus Christ beautifully demonstrated.
A Word of Forgiveness
The first of those seven statements is found in Luke 23:34. — “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.” Here I see Christ our Mediator, our High Priest and Advocate pleading for the forgiveness of guilty sinners. Here is the Son of God suffering by the hands of wicked men, suffering with wicked men, suffering as a wicked man, and yet praying for the men who made Him suffer. — “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men,” and that Mediator is “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
We must have a Mediator (Hebrews 5:1). The Mediator must be a man of God’s choosing (Hebrews 5:4-5). The Mediator must pray and be heard (Hebrews 5:7). He must have a sacrifice. Christ’s sacrifice was Himself, His own life, His blood, His body and His soul! The sacrifice must be offered upon the altar of God. The Altar upon which our Savior sacrificed Himself was the Altar of His own Divinity. And the Mediator must have a blessing to bestow. That blessing is God’s salvation (Numbers 6:24-26). None but the Lord Jesus Christ meets the qualifications of a mediator between God and men (John 14:6; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1-2).
A Word of Assurance
The second word is found in Luke 23:43. The dying thief cried, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom!” — “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Here is a word of salvation and assurance spoken to a believing sinner by Christ our Savior and King.
Even as he hung upon the cross, suffering untold agony under the wrath of God, Jesus Christ reigned as Lord and King over everything. Do not ever imagine that our Lord Jesus was in anyway the helpless victim of circumstances when He died at Calvary. Even in his death, he was the God of all circumstances and all events. Here is the sovereign King, the Ruler of the Kingdom of God, saving whom He will (Rom. 9:15). Here is the King of Grace opening the door which no mere man can ever open. Here is the Prince of Peace giving peace that no man can give. Here is the King of Glory promising mercy and eternal life that no man can merit. “Salvation is of the Lord!” Grace comes from the throne of grace; and the King who sits upon that throne is the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:22; John 5:20-21; 17:2).
A Word of Tender Care
The third word spoken by our Lord as He hung upon the cross is found in John 19:26-27. Here I hear Christ, our Representative and Example, speaking a word of tender care.
“When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.”
Even in the agonies of death, under the penalty of sin, enduring the wrath of God, fulfilling the everlasting covenant, accomplishing eternal redemption for us, and satisfying the Divine justice, our Lord Jesus Christ did not neglect the responsibilities of manhood. Our Savior, as our Representative and Example, deliberately gave attention to His responsibilities as a man, even in the time of His dying agony.
Our blessed Savior fulfilled all righteousness for us, both as our Representative and as our Example. He did everything that it is right for a man to do. He was circumcised. He was subject unto his parents. He was baptized. He attended the synagogue. Our Lord Jesus was “made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.” And in his dying hour, our Redeemer tenderly cared for his mother.
He fulfilled all righteousness as our legal Representative (Romans 5:19); and He fulfilled all righteousness as our Example of Righteousness (John 13:13-15; 1 Peter 2:21-24). If we would learn how to live in this world for the glory of God, if we would learn how to serve our generation, if we would learn how to worship God, we must go to Calvary. There we behold the Lamb of God and learn how to be a man. There we learn what submission to the will of God involves. At Calvary, we see patience in suffering, learn how to love our brethren, how to love our wives (Ephesians 5:25-27), and how to give (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Yet, there is more here than our Lord’s care for His mother. When our Savior said to Mary, “Woman, behold thy Son,” I cannot help thinking that he was saying, “Behold me now, and remember what I told you when I was just a boy, ‘I must be about My Father’s business.’ Behold Me now, and remember the song you sang when I was still in your womb” (Luke 1:46-55).
A Word of Agony
The fourth word is found in Matthew 27:46. — “And about the ninth hour (at 3:00 in the afternoon, after three hours of great darkness) Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Here I see Christ our Substitute crying out in agony of soul. This is the only time recorded in Scripture that the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to the Father as God. Here He takes the lowest place of humanity and cries out to his Father, and our Father, as a creature to be pitied by his Creator. In His great agony, this mighty Man who is God reverts to his childhood, speaking in His native Syrian tongue, not in the Hebrew of His fathers or in the Greek he acquired as he matured.
At the height of His obedience to the Father, the Lord of Glory was forsaken by His Father, because we deserved to be forever forsaken of that God whom we have spent our lives forsaking. He was forsaken of God, because He was made sin for us. Reproach now broke His heart.
“My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” This is a cry arising from depths of infinite anguish no human being can know. This cry no mortal mind can comprehend. This mystery no creature can fathom. Martin Luther, after studying and meditating upon this text for hours, closed his Bible, slammed his fists down on his desk and cried, “God forsaken of God! My God, no man can understand that!”
I will not attempt to explain what no man can understand. But, with a happy broken heart, I rejoice in the fact of this our Substitute’s greatest sorrow. He was forsaken of God. That means those sinners for whom He died shall never be forsaken of God (Isaiah 53:9-11; John 3:14-16; Romans 5:6-8; 8:1-4; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21; 1 Peter 2:24-25; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 4:9-10).
What an infinitely, horribly evil thing sin must be! How holy, just, righteous, and good our God must be! O my soul, how great, how infinitely great is the love of God for his people! How anxious, willing, and ready the holy Lord God is to save poor sinners! – “He delighteth in mercy!”
A Word of Great Need
Our Lord’s fifth word from the cross is found in John 19:28. — “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.” Here is Christ the Man expressing His great need and desire. Here we see our Savior’s real humanity. This is the shortest of the seven statements He made on the cross; but it is every bit as instructive as the other six. I am sure it is meant to show us at least these three things about our Savior.
1. His Body’s Thirst — Being in anguish of body, burning with fever, His tongue swollen and cleaving to his jaws, He thirsted for water, just like the rich man in hell, as He endured the fire of God’s hot, holy wrath for us.
2. His Soul’s Thirst — Being forsaken of God, He thirsted in his soul. – “As the hart planteth after the water brooks,” so panted His soul for God (Psalms 22:1-21; 40:11-13; 69:1-20).
3. His Heart’s Thirst — The Lord of Glory was made sin, made to endure all the horror of God’s holy, unmitigated wrath, because He thirsted for the souls of men. He thirsted for His people. He thirsted to be thirsted after. When I hear the Master cry, “I thirst,” I can almost hear His heart crying, “I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory.”
A Word of Accomplishment
“After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put [it] upon hyssop, and put [it] to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” (John 19:28-30)
“It is finished!” — What a blessed, triumphant word! Our blessed Savior was not crying a sigh of relief. He was not saying, “At last, it is over.” Most men leave this world with things unfinished. So many plans unfinished! So many hopes unfulfilled! So many desires unsatisfied! So many works incomplete! So many things they wanted to do, or see, or experience, unfinished! Not so with the Lord Jesus Christ, our great Surety! He accomplished everything he came here to do.
What did he come here to do? – Did he come here to do the Father’s will (Hebrews 10)? “It is finished!” — Did he come here to save his people (Matthew 1:21)? “It is finished!” — Did he come here to fulfill all the types, promises, and prophecies of the Scriptures? “It is finished!” — Did he come here to make an end of sin? Did he come here to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself? “It is finished!” — Did he come here to bring in everlasting righteousness? “It is finished!” — Did he come here to obtain eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12)? “It is finished!” — Did he come here to redeem us from the curse of the law? “It is finished!” — Did he come here to fulfill and make an end of the law? Did he come here to magnify the law and make it honorable? “It is finished!”
This is the Surety’s cry of accomplished suretyship to the Father. — “It is finished!” — “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do!” Here our Covenant Surety says to his Father, I have finished all the work trusted to my hands. I have redeemed all the souls trusted to me. I have ransomed all the sheep. I have found all the lost ones I came to find. All the work is fully done, well done, perfectly done!
This is the cry of our great Surety to poor, needy sinners! — “It is finished!” — Wrath is finished! — Judgment is finished! — Sin is finished! — Righteousness is finished! — Redemption is finished! — Justification is finished! — Sanctification is finished! — Salvation is finished!
“It is finished!” Sinners, hear it:
Hear the dying Savior’s cry;
“It is finished!” Angels sing it,
Sing the praise of Christ on high.
“It is finished!” — “It is finished!”
Tell it through the earth and sky!
Justice now demands salvation
For those souls whose wrath Christ bore;
And it smiles with approbation
On the ransomed evermore!
Grace and mercy, grace and mercy
Freely flow from boundless stores.
Hear the Son of God declare it,
All is done He came to do!
Needy sinners, Hear, believe it. –
Is not this good news to you? —
“It is finished!” “It is finished!”
All is done! Oh, yes, it’s true!
“It is finished!” All is over.
Jesus drank damnation dry!
Never can a ransomed sinner
God’s salvation be denied!
“It is finished!” “It is finished!”
Cries our Sur’ty now on High!
Who is he that shall condemn us?
Who shall charge us now with sin?
It is God who justified us,
Christ Who died, cries in our name, —
“It is finished!” “It is finished!”
Praised forever be His name!
A Word of Rest
The Savior’s last word from the cross is found in Luke 23:46 — “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, He said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” Our Savior died with the Word of God in his heart and on his lips (Psalm 31:1-5). Here I see Christ our Sabbath entering into rest. Once our great Redeemer had finished his work, He “cried with a loud voice, and said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” Thus he entered into his rest and obtained eternal rest for us (Hebrews 4:9-11).
Notice here, our Savior who had cried, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” now calls his Father by that endearing name, “Father.” The storm of God’s holy wrath beat fiercely upon His holy soul; but now the storm is nearly over. Only one thing is to be done. He must yet die; but here He seems to say to poor, needy sinners, “Look here. Look unto me. Behold, now reconciliation is made. Anger is turned away. Judgment is gone!” (Read Isaiah 12:1-6.)
Our blessed Savior committed his spirit into his Father’s hands, not Satan’s. Some vainly imagine that the Lord Jesus was now taken to hell to be tormented of the devil for three days. That is not so (Hebrews 9:12). He owed Satan nothing. Here he conquered the fiend of hell forever. He committed his spirit into his Father’s hands, leaving us an example that we should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:22-24).
At last, in sovereign majesty, “He gave up the ghost.” He dismissed his spirit. This Man who is God our Savior did what none but God, who gives life and takes life at his will, could do. “He gave up the ghost.” That is to say, He dismissed his spirit that we might come now to Him and enter into His rest (Matthew 11:28-30).