Given the violent, bloody and cruel death of Christ through Roman crucifixion, we might not expect Jesus to say anything from the cross. Most people don’t talk when they suffer. Remember Job? He is afflicted with great suffering and his friends come to visit and they sit in silence for 7 days before they speak (Job 2:11-13). I am sure after the pitiful advice they gave that Job probably wished they had kept their mouth closed! People who are suffering don’t usually spend much time talking. But, in the hour of his greatest suffering – Jesus spoke. He spoke seven distinct phrases. We’ll look at the first three in this post. The first saying of Christ from the cross was a word of forgiveness. You can read about it in Luke 23:33-34
Word of Forgiveness: As Christ is being nailed to the tree, he says, “forgive them father, for they know not what they do.” These men did not know who Jesus was. They did not see that he was the Messiah. They did not realize he was God incarnate. They had not believed in what he had said. In their blind ignorance they crucified Christ to please the governor. Paul says if they had known, they would not have done it (1 Cor.2:8). Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that their lack of knowledge of who Jesus was, meant they should have been excused for what they did. In fact, the very truth that they did not know who Christ was is evidence of their guilt before God. They were not deserving of forgiveness, but were used as examples of the boundless grace of God in Christ. The cross of Christ is a story of forgiveness. It is God reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them (2 Cor.5:19). Forgiveness is refusing to hold another’s sin against them. After all, if I do not forgive, I can always use what you have done against me in the future. I can bring it up, throw it in your face to try to make you feel badly about it. But if I forgive, I promise not to use this against you. Not ever. And Jesus cross provides the opportunity of forgiveness for all (Ps.86:5; 103:12).
Word of Salvation: Jesus also speaks a word of salvation from the cross. One of the two criminals, with whom he was crucified, asked to be given entrance into Jesus kingdom. He knows Jesus rules. He knows Jesus can give him mercy, and he asks for it in the only way he knows how. And Jesus – he speaks salvation to the man. Consider carefully the lot of this man. His faith was only moments old. He had watched and mocked himself according to Matt.27:44 and Mark 15:32. But now, his conscience convicted he sees that Jesus is to be believed. Here we see the true nature of salvation – not of works, for this man had no time to atone for his works, he could only believe in the one who died in his place. Do you believe?
Word of Relationship: Third, tradition tells us, are Jesus words to his mother Mary. While on the cross, some who stood and watched. Many probably hurried by, a little embarrassed or disgusted at the sight, but some stayed. The one who stayed were probably those who loved the one crucified. They stayed to claim the body or to help in some way if they could. Among these was Jesus mother. In his final hours, Jesus ensures that his mother is cared for. As the firstborn son, this would have been his responsibility, since Joseph does not seem to have been around at this time. Does it not seem significant that in the hour of his greatest suffering, in the moment of time when he was doing this great cosmic work of reconciliation and redemption. When eternity was on the line, Jesus took time to care for his mother. His compassion was consistent. Throughout his ministry Jesus prized relationships and invested his effort and energy in them. And his concern and care is seen even as he died on Calvary.
Here’s what I notice about these first three phrases. In the minute details of those moments, we can see the purposes of the cross on a grander scale…right? Jesus forgives his executioners. And he forgives all those whose sin nailed Jesus to the cross. Jesus grants salvation to the thief who believes and is truly repentant…he does the same for any who will believe in faith. And Jesus shows his care in speaking a word of relationship to his mother. He does the same for us in dying for us on the cross, and promising to return to take us where he is!