All the Words of Our Lord are life and truth. Even today, two thousand years removed from His time on this earth, we still hear Him speak to us in the Scriptures, His own living voice (viva vox evangelii). But there are seven Words of Our Lord more precious to us than any others. These Words reveal to us the very heart and will of God. They teach us how longsuffering our God truly is. Confronted by our sin, our infidelity, God remains sinless and faithful. It’s one thing to be faithful when someone sins against you. It’s another thing entirely to be faithful when your body has been torn open, your hands and feet pierced through by nails, and your entire system stressed beyond imagination by mockery, hunger, thirst, lack of sleep, all topped with being forsaken by God. This evening, let us hear again those Words Our Lord spoke from the cross. Let us, in prayer and meditation, think on them and take heart in the God they reveal to us.
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”—Luke 23:34
Even as Jesus endures the torment of crucifixion, He prays. He does in death what He did in life. He prays for His world, for the people whom He loves. He even loves His enemies. He teaches us to pray for our enemies, and at His crucifixion does just that. In the most difficult hour, as His lifeblood flows and His body nears death, He prays for the very people who have put Him there. He prays not only for those in the immediate situation—the Jews, the Romans, the crowds mocking Him—but for you also. Because of your sin He is there, enduring the agony, dying the death you deserve. And what He did in death He does today. In heaven He intercedes with the Father for you. He begs the Father, “Forgive them, for the sake of My suffering and death, for the sake of My Blood covering them.” And He does.
“Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”—Luke 23:43
Except for the few faithful people watching at a distance, everyone mocks Jesus. Even those under the same sentence of death wag their tongues at Him. But one thief, by God’s grace, believes. How he confesses what he does, that Jesus is innocent, we do not know. But that saving faith was created in him is evident. In faith, he knows that he deserves temporal punishment, well aware of his guilt, but looks to the eternal pardon that God gives. Faith dies well. “Jesus,” he prays, “remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” The prayer of faith is efficacious. Jesus answers, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” He dies to save His people from their sins. Because He has shed His precious Blood, you, too, are given a home in Paradise.
“Woman, behold your son! … Behold your mother!”—John 19:26-27
Before Jesus was born, Mary was told to name her Son Jesus, a name which means “the Lord saves.” Gabriel tells Joseph that He receives this Name because “He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). As good Jews, they knew that saving from sins means the shedding of Blood. Shortly after His birth, Mary was again given troubling news: “A sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Lk. 2:35). Now, thirty-three years later that sword pierces her soul as she watches what no mother should watch. But His love also extends to St. John. St. John was the youngest of the Apostles, likely only a teenager at the Crucifixion. This event shapes his life. In love, Jesus sees to the two people in His life who love Him the most. He gives them to one another, to bear one another’s burdens. By this, He prefigures Christian congregations where we bear one another’s burdens, taking in one another as children and parents when no blood relation exists. He places us into this Christian family for mutual consolation, for reflecting to one another the love Christ first gave to us.
“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”—Matthew 27:46
The One who came as the Light of the world is almost extinguished. The heavens mourn as the sun withholds its light. Evil overcomes and the devil prepares for his bitter little hour. From the sixth hour to the ninth hour—noon until three o’clock, the brightest hours of the day—darkness covers all the land. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, now the Son of Man is lifted up. He is contorted, disfigured, covered with the sins of all men of all times. Like the serpent, Jesus hangs as the lowest, most poisonous creature, the very image of evil as He bears the evil of the world. Men have despised and rejected Him, and now the Father does the same. He cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He has committed no sin, yet dies condemned as the greatest of sinners. As sad as this question may sound, for you it is joy and comfort. Because Jesus was forsaken by God, you will not be. He absorbs all the Fathers wrath, and no there is none for you. You are reconciled to God.
“I thirst!”—John 19:28
In the beginning He spoke and the waters were divided and controlled. He suffered no want. Now He hangs in agony. Just like Dives in hell seeing Lazarus in heaven and begging only from a drop of water from his finger, there is no refreshment for Jesus. He is offered vinegar with gall, fulfilling the Words of the Psalmist. He has endured every physical agony so that you enjoy perfect refreshment, light, and peace eternally.
“It is finished”—John 19:30
The Greek word tetelestai is weighty. When Jesus said “It is finished,” He wasn’t simply saying He was about to die, that He was done with the suffering. The word is a legal term. It means that what needed to be done was done. There was achievement, completion, the law was fulfilled. The tense is also important. What Jesus says isn’t a simple past tense: “It was finished.” It’s in the perfect tense, meaning that the effect of what was done continues on forever. Jesus is saying that on the cross He fulfilled the Law, paid your debt, and the payment continues on forever. There is no need for a repeat sacrifice. His perfect sacrifice is the once-for-all payment for all sin of all men of all times. Because He has finished the work and paid the debt, you are free. Sin, death, and the devil can make not claim on you.
“Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”—Luke 23:46
The last Word of Jesus is one of faith and trust. Rejected by His Father, He still trusts in Him. He willingly places His spirit into His Fathers hands, knowing that He will receive it and will accept it as the perfect offering of the spotless soul for all of humanity. He breathes His last and your salvation is accomplished.
Now, even in death, He fulfills the Law. His heart does not beat, His lungs draw no breath, His limbs do not move. He keeps the Sabbath in the tomb, in a way that no one ever could. But even now, there is no despair. Our Lord Jesus Christ has one more Word: “The Son of Man must … the third day rise again.”
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.