As we approach Easter which is now just two weeks from today, I feel compelled to preach an extended message on the seven statements that Jesus spoke from the cross. This will be a single sermon divided into three parts, which will allow for more time to discuss each of the sayings in greater depth. We are going to call this lengthy sermon “Cross Talk”. In part one of the message today we will discuss Jesus’ first two statements. In part two next week on Palm Sunday we will discuss His middle three statements. Then on Resurrection Sunday we will conclude the message with the Lord's final two statements.
Before we begin, let’s take a quick overview of all seven statements made by Christ during the crucifixion as they are recorded in the gospels. Based upon the details given in each account, it is believed and widely accepted that they were spoken in the following order:
● “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” - Luke 23:34
● “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” - Luke 23:43
● “Woman, behold, your son!” and “Behold, your mother!” - John 19:26-27
● “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” - Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34
● “I am thirsty.” - John 19:28
● “It is finished!” - John 19:30
● “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” - Luke 23:46
Notice that three of the statements were mentioned only by Luke, three others only by John, and the one remaining was mentioned by both Matthew and Mark. Of the four gospel writers, it is believed that only John was physically present at the crucifixion. However, this does not undermine the reliability of the other accounts as the authors most certainly spoke with eyewitnesses before composing their books. While some controversy and speculation persists relating to a few of these, most Christians are convinced that these seven statements are the actual quotations spoken by Jesus.
I. ON THE CROSS
Before we delve into the seven statements or “words” of Christ from the cross, let's take a few moments to set the scene and provide some details of Jesus’ crucifixion. The Lord had been arrested around midnight and had been held in custody and tried by various courts throughout the night and into the early morning. Each of the six trials was a travesty of justice in its own right, yet ultimately just a few hours after sun up Jesus was condemned by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and sentenced to death by crucifixion.
Throughout this ordeal Jesus was ridiculed mercilessly, beaten ruthlessly, and scourged with a Roman whip until He was almost unrecognizable. As if this was not enough, a crown of thorns was fashioned and pressed down upon His head causing blood to run from his weary brow down His tattered face. Finally, after enduring this harsh treatment all night long, Jesus was forced to carry His own heavy and splintered wooden cross to the location of His execution. There He was nailed to it and was crucified.
Scripture indicates that the crucifixion began around 9:00am that morning. The sun would have been fully risen, though the temperature would have still been cool. Around noon, when one would expect the sun to be bright and the temperature blazing, the sky suddenly grew dark and blackness fell over the land for about three hours. Around 3:00pm, Jesus made a final piercing cry then hung His head and died, having endured the shame of the cross for about six full hours. At that moment a violent earthquake struck, the temple shook, the veil was torn, and the graves of the saints were opened. While being crucified, the Bible records seven statements that Christ made… three in the morning hours and the other four in the afternoon.
II. “FATHER FORGIVE THEM; THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO” - Luke 23:33-34
Not long after their arrival at Golgotha early that morning, Jesus was nailed to an old rugged cross which was raised up so that onlookers and passersby could watch him suffer. As the soldiers gambled for His garments below, the crowd hurled insults at Jesus as He hung there slowly dying. Despite their bitter hatred and even while being unjustly executed, astonishingly Jesus prayed to the Father asking Him to forgive these sinful people. What depths of love does it take to ask God’s forgiveness for those who have rejected you and who are gruesomely carrying out your murder?
Upon what basis do such vile and wretched sinners deserve forgiveness? Jesus pleaded with His Father stating that His executioners did not fully comprehend the implications of what they were doing. “If only they knew who I was”, the Lord prayed, “they would not have acted in this manner. If they had truly grasped the dire consequences of their decisions, they would have behaved differently. They are acting out of ignorance Father, so please forgive them.”
This prayer of forgiveness from the cross fulfills the prophecy found in Isaiah 53:12 which foretells that the Suffering Servant Messiah would “intercede for the transgressors” who were putting Him to death. This first statement of Christ from the cross encapsulates the very reason why He was there in the first place - to pay the necessary price in order to purchase forgiveness for all of humanity. Though you and I were not physically present at Calvary that day, as sinners and enemies of God we too are responsible for His death and are in need of the same forgiveness today that Jesus prayed for some 2,000 years ago.
Is it possible that, after receiving the great forgiveness that Christ offers, we too could extend this same type of forgiveness to our persecutors? In Acts 7 we read the story of Stephen’s stoning. As he was being martyred for his faith by being pelted with rocks, and in keeping with the statement of Jesus spoken from the cross, Stephen prayed that his killers’ sin would not be held against them. In the same way, we are to love our enemies and to pray for their well-being and forgiveness.
III. “TODAY YOU SHALL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE” - Luke 23:39-43
Have you ever been situated between two people who were talking with one another? Later that morning the two criminals who were being crucified along with Jesus - one on either side Him - became engaged in a heated conversation regarding the Lord. One of them mocked Jesus, just as the religious leaders had done earlier, taunting Him to save them from their misery. The other defended Jesus, asking that the Lord would remember him when He came into His kingdom. This was the repentant thief’s way of placing his faith in Jesus as his Savior. Jesus’ response was immediate and assuring. He promised the repentant thief that he would be with the Lord in Paradise that same day.
The traditional view held by many Baptists is that, following Jesus’ death on the cross He descended into “Sheol” which in Hebrew means the grave. Sheol was/is divided into two separate parts that are separated by an impassible gulf. One of these sides is “Hades”, which is the present Hell, where the condemned go when they die. The other side was “Paradise” [also called “Abraham's Bosom”] where the redeemed went prior to Jesus’ resurrection to await His coming. Between the time of His death and resurrection Jesus went to Paradise and released those who were there, subsequently taking them with Him to Heaven. Today Hades is still occupied and growing in population as more unsaved people die, but Paradise is empty because the redeemed now go directly to Heaven when they die.
Jesus made this promise of salvation to a guilty man who was being justly punished for his wrongdoing and sin. The fact that Jesus was being crucified as criminal futher fulfilled the prophecy written in Isaiah 53:12 which predicted that He would be numbered with the transgressors. Jesus not only died the death we deserved, but even substituted Himself as the guilty criminal that we truly are. Because of His atoning sacrifice, all people can receive the same promise of salvation that the thief did that fateful day and have the assurance of being with the Lord in Heaven when they die.
On the morning of His crucifixion, Jesus made the first two of His seven statements from the cross. The first was dealt with forgiveness, while the second dealt with salvation. The first was a prayer and the second was a promise. Both were directed towards sinful people, His persecutors and a common criminal, and both demonstrated the unfailing love that Jesus had for wicked humanity. He prayed that God would forgive sinners, and promised that those who repented would be saved.
Next week we will examine the next three statements that Jesus made from the cross. He will make arrangements for the care of His earthly mother, He will cry out in agony asking a painful question of His heavenly Father, and He will express a simple and basic human need. Each of these statements will provide us with even more insight into and understanding of who Jesus truly is and what exactly happened on Crucifixion Day. I hope you will join us this coming Sunday for more “Cross Talk”.