by Pastor Jim Jester
March 19, 2023
SCRIPTURE READING: Isaiah 53:1-8
Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? 2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. 8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. (Isa. 53:1-8)
I have a question for churchianity. Who is the us, we, and our in this passage? Who is Isaiah speaking to? The last verse says, “…For the transgression of my people.” Who are God’s people? With whom did God make a covenant? It was the people of Israel (not jews). Furthermore, the death of Jesus Christ was in atonement for Israel’s transgressions (sins), no one else’s.
Every year on Good Friday, or Passover, Christians take time to meditate on Jesus’ sacrifice for us in a humiliating and torturous death by crucifixion. It’s a time to dwell on what our Lord suffered for us, in all its pain and intensity, without rushing straight ahead to the good news of resurrection and new life.
The seven last statements of Jesus Christ from the cross reveal much about our Savior’s personality. The first two words reveal his deity; the remaining five reveal his humanity. One of the ways Christians have traditionally meditated on the events of this day is by reading and reflecting on the seven last words of Jesus from the cross.
A person who anticipates being crucified does not prepare a speech for the occasion. Even less so Jesus, who had advised His disciples: ”But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what you shall speak, for it shall be given you in that same hour what you shall speak. For it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” (Matt. 10:19-20)
So let us spend some time at the foot of the cross and listen to the precious words and try to understand their meaning. Perhaps they will reveal God to us more than the longer speeches of Jesus, which involved some preparation, whereas the words on the cross were spontaneous expressions of himself.
THE FIRST WORD
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)
It makes sense that the first word of Jesus from the cross is a word of forgiveness. That’s the point of the cross, after all. Jesus is dying so that we might be forgiven. Who are the ones driving stakes into the hands of Jesus on this occasion? It is the Romans, who also are the children of God, not just those of Judea, and certainly not those (jews) who conspired against our Lord. The Romans may not have known they were a part of the scattered Israelites of long ago, but Jesus did. They came under the provisions of the covenant God had made with Abraham many centuries ago; which covenant Jesus reNEWed with his blood, which we now call the New Covenant.
The forgiveness of God through Christ doesn't come only to those who don't know what they are doing when they sin (in this case, the Romans). In the mercy of God, we can receive his forgiveness even when we know what we are doing is wrong. Of course, this forgiveness is conditioned upon repentance, which means turning from a particular sin when discovered. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” (Pro. 28:13) God does not expect his child to continue in his/her wicked ways after coming to him for mercy and forgiveness. I have always been convinced that the true Christian does not willfully commit known sin. Paul also expressed this concept, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”(Rom. 6:1) “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:2)
Now, who was truly responsible for the death of Christ? Who has the greater sin (next to the Romans)? Jesus’ answer to Pilate, the Roman governor, “…Therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.” (Jn. 19:11) Who is the “he” who delivered Jesus to the Romans? It was the Jews (Edomites); and this entire chapter of John clearly proves such. The chapter ends thusly:
And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! 15 But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.(Jn. 19:14-15)
The Jews had the “greater sin” — the willful, deliberate, pre-meditated sin of murder against the divine Lamb of God. It wasn’t a mistake or error; these are a different matter altogether, and may, or may not, require repentance. Some have suggested that our statement from the cross, as it applies to the Jews at least, should be translated by moving the word “not.” Thusly, “Father, forgive themnot; for they know what they are doing.” We know from the overwhelming evidence found in the New Testament that the Jews plotted the death of our Lord (we have documented this on many occasions).
We also know, not all Judeans were of the Edomite line of Jews who opposed our Lord, but some were truly of Judah. Thus, our Lord said to them, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Not knowing implies a certain amount of innocence. While the words of our Lord are not translated in our Bibles as, “forgive them not,” the logical opposite is strongly implied anyway, i.e., some are not forgiven. Even in our laws there are different degrees of transgression and guilt. A person in ignorance is not nearly, if at all, guilty of sin as the person who knows what he/she is doing in violation of God’s law.
Is it possible to live without sin? Many say no. But perhaps they have a wrong conception of sin. Isn’t it the goal of Christians to be above sin, not below it? Aren’t we to be like our Lord? That is the meaning of our name, “Christ-ones.” So why not live without sin (as a continual practice)? It was sin that caused the death of our Lord!
Now, let us have a proper and biblical conception of sin. If sin is defined very loosely, as every error of mortal man, then it is true that “there is no man who is just and sins not.” (Ecc. 7:20) But, if sin is defined as a willful transgression of the known law of God, which is the combined Scriptural definition, then we could say that there is the possibility to live without that type of damning sin. This does not mean we are “perfect” (a word that should be defined as well), but it does mean something quite different.
I must disagree with those theologians who say, “We sin every day, either in thought, word or deed.” Just think about what they are saying — why, the devil himself can do no better than that! How can we be like him? We must not, and we are not.
He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. (I Jn. 3:8)
The spotless Lamb of God, slain on Passover, was sent to destroy the works of the devil — Israel’s sins! As Paul has said, “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past [Israel under the Law], through the forbearance of God.” (Rom. 3:25) Forgiveness for Israel today is available for all sins, past, present and future.
Paul also said that we have not fought against sin to the point of shedding our own blood, as yet; but Jesus surely did so in our behalf (see Heb. 12:3-4).
What greater motivation is there to avoid deliberate, known, and willful practice of sin, and confessing, at times, those errors that the Holy Spirit will show us could lead to guilt and condemnation.
Let us pray: All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, for your matchless forgiveness! Amen.
THE SECOND WORD
I tell you with certainty, today you will be with me in Paradise. (Lk. 23:43, ISV)
As Jesus hung on the cross, he was mocked by the religious leaders (jews) and the soldiers. One of the criminals being crucified with him added his own measure of scorn. But the other criminal sensed that Jesus was being treated unjustly, spoke up and said, “…We receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.” (Lk. 23:41) After speaking up for Jesus, he cried out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42).
Jesus responded, "I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43). The word paradise, from the Greek word paradeisos, which meant "garden,” was used in Genesis 2:8 as the word for the Garden of Eden. It was associated with heaven, and also with the future when God would restore all things to the perfection of the garden. Paradise was sometimes thought to be the place where righteous people went after death. This seems to be the way Jesus uses paradise in this passage.
Thus we have encountered one of the most astounding and encouraging verses in all of Scripture. Jesus promised that the criminal would be with him in paradise. Yet the text of Luke gives us no reason to believe this man had been a follower of Jesus, or even a believer in him in any practical sense. But now, he was dying, and now he feels sorry for his sins, and regret for his crime.
He was a dying man — but then, we too, are moving steadily towards death. We push that unpleasant thought from our minds. Death is so chilling that we refuse to think about it. But the fact remains, we all will die. The dying thief on the cross had been a sinner all his life, but facing death made him face his sin. He began to feel the sting of it.
Perhaps this condemned man remembered the teachings of his boyhood days. Maybe the words he memorized as a boy came back: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isa. 53:5) Was this man, Jesus, the one whom the prophet Isaiah had talked about? Had he been referring to the Messiah’s crucifixion? And what was it, that this criminal had learned as a boy, about a man named Moses lifting up a serpent on a pole? Oh yes, the dying Israelites had found life just by looking at the snake raised up high on a pole. And there was this man raised up next to him. Perhaps if he were to look at Jesus; so, he began to look at Jesus until he saw Him in a new and different light.
Then he began to listen to Jesus. He remembered how Jesus had said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He listened to what others were saying about Jesus, “He saved others, let Him save Himself.” So, he had heard the gospel even from Jesus’ enemies, and he believed!
He believed that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah of Israel. “Do you not even fear God” he said to the other crucified thief, “seeing you are under the same condemnation?” He believed Jesus was innocent. Perhaps he believed Jesus was sinless. “This man has done nothing wrong,” he said. He believed Jesus could save him. “Lord, remember me,” he cried. He believed Jesus was a king. “Remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” He believed that the kingdom of Christ lay somewhere beyond death; and he wanted to have a share in it too!
Though we should make every effort to have right theology, and though we should live our lives each day as disciples of Jesus, in the end, our relationship with him comes down to simple trust. "Jesus, remember me,” we cry. And Jesus, embodying the mercy of God, says to us, "You will be with me in paradise.” We are welcome there not because we have right theology, and not because we are living correctly, but because God is merciful and keeps his covenant with his elect.
Let us pray: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom! Father, remember me today as I seek to live within your kingdom! Amen.
THE THIRD WORD
Woman, behold thy son! (Jn. 19:26)
The term “woman” in the common language of Jesus’ day was as respectful as madam or sir in our day. Adam Clarke asks, “But why does not Jesus call her mother? Probably because he wished to spare her feelings; he would not mention a name, the very sound of which must have wrung her heart with additional sorrow. On this account he says, Behold thy son!”
As Jesus was dying, his mother was among those who had remained with him. Most of the disciples had fled, with the exception of one whom the Fourth Gospel calls the disciple “whom he loved” (Jn. 19:26). We cannot be positively sure of the identity of this disciple, though many believe he is John, the one who wrote this Gospel.
No matter who the disciple was, it is clear that Jesus was forging a relationship between him and his mother, one in which the disciple would take care of Mary financially and in other ways. Jesus wanted to make sure she would be in good hands after his death. Jesus had no money; and his father, Joseph, evidently had died.
Mary had born a secret for a long time, the secret of the incarnation. She knew that her baby was special. The angel of the Lord had told her that before she ever conceived Him by the Holy Spirit. “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest…” (Lk. 1:32)…And of His kingdom, there shall be no end.”(Lk. 1:33) And Mary buried all these things in her heart, wondering, “Oh my, what kind of child is this going to be?” And when Joseph and Mary brought Him into the temple to be given to the Lord, there was the elderly Simeon, and the Lord had said to him, “You will not see death until you have seen the Lord’s Anointed.” (Lk. 2:26) And as Mary and Joseph came with the child, he took Him up in his arms and said, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, for I have seen your salvation.” (Lk. 2:29-30) But he turned to Mary and said, “A sword will pierce your soul…”(Lk. 2:35) And right now, Mary was understanding what he was talking about as that sword of grief pierced her soul when she saw her son there on the cross. And Jesus, though in agony, took the effort to take care of her. “Woman, behold your son!”, indicating John. “John, behold your mother!” And John took her into his home from that time on.
To watch one's own child experience the extreme torture of crucifixion must have been unimaginably terrible. Jesus was a real flesh and blood man. The suffering was real, and he took it for you and me.
Let us pray: All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, fully God and fully man, Savior of Israel. Amen.
THE FOURTH WORD
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Mark 15:34)
As Jesus was dying on the cross, he echoed the beginning of Psalm 22:
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me — far from helping me, and the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. (Ps. 22:1-2)
In the words of the psalmist, Jesus found a way to express the cry of his heart. Why did his Father turn his back on Him in his moment of greatest agony?
On this side of eternity we will never fully understand what Jesus was experiencing as the incarnation of the Father. Was he asking this question because he didn't know why God had abandoned him? Or was his cry not so much a question as an expression of profound agony? Or was it both?
What we do know is that Jesus entered into the hell of separation from God. The Father abandoned him because Jesus took upon himself the penalty for all the sins of Israel. In that excruciating moment, he experienced something far more horrible than physical pain. The beloved Son of God knew what it was like to be rejected by the Father. As we read in II Corinthians 5:21, "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.”
The Father abandoned the Son for our sake. Can I really grasp the mystery and majesty of this truth? Hardly. As Martin Luther once said, "God forsaking God. Who can understand it?” Yet even my minuscule grasp of this reality calls me to confession, to humility, to worship, and to adoration.
Let us pray: Thank you, dear Lord, for what you suffered. Thank you for taking my place. Thank you for being forsaken by the Father so that I might never be.
THE FIFTH WORD
I thirst. (Jn. 19:28)
Jesus experienced extreme thirst while hanging on the cross. He would have lost a substantial amount of body fluid, both blood and sweat, through what he had endured even before the crucifixion. Thus, his statement, "I thirst,” was on the most obvious level, a request for something to drink. In response, the soldiers gave Jesus "sour wine” (v. 29), a cheap beverage common among lower class people in the time of Jesus.
John notes that Jesus said "I am thirsty,” not only as a statement of physical reality, but also in order to fulfill the Scripture. Though there is no specific reference in the text of the Gospel, it is likely that John was thinking of Psalm 69, which includes this passage:
Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.(Ps. 69:20-21)
As he suffered, Jesus embodied the pain of the children of Israel, which had been captured in the Psalms. The pain of the dispersions, the separation of the two Houses of Israel, which Paul mentions in Ephesians chapter two.
For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: 17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. 18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. (Eph. 2:14-18)
As we reflect on Jesus’ statement, "I thirst,” we think of that spiritual thirst as found in Psalm 42, where the Deer pants after the water brook; or, as seen with the woman at the well in John 4:14, where Jesus gave her that special “water” that was not in the well. We need the living water that Jesus supplies. We are grateful that he suffered this physical thirst on the cross, so that our thirst for the water of life might be quenched.
Let us pray: Dear Lord, in your words "I thirst,” I hear the cry of my own heart. I too am thirsty, but not for physical drink or sour wine. Rather, I need the new wine of your kingdom; I yearn for your Spirit to fill me once again. Amen.
THE SIXTH WORD
It is finished. (Jn. 19:30)
When Jesus said "It is finished,” surely he was expressing relief that his suffering was over. But more than that, Jesus had accomplished his mission: the teachings, the miracles of healing, even raising the dead. He had also announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God on earth. He had revealed the love and grace of our Father; and he had embodied that love and grace by dying and granting the authority for all of Israel to live under the reign of God.
Because Jesus finished his work of salvation, you and I don't need to add to it. In fact, we can't. He accomplished what we never could, taking our sins upon himself and giving us his life in return.
We have hope for this life and for the next. We know that nothing can separate us from God's love. One day what God has begun in us will also be finished, by his grace. Until that day, we live in the confidence of Jesus’ cry of victory: "It is finished!”
Let us pray: How can I ever find words to express my gratitude, dear Lord? You finished that for which you had been sent — faithful in life and death. You accomplished what no other person could do, bearing away the sins of Israel. All praise to you, gracious Lord, for finishing the work of salvation. Amen.
THE SEVENTH WORD
Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. (Lk. 23:46)
Two of the last seven "words” of Jesus were quotations from the Psalms. Earlier Jesus used Psalm 22, "My God, why have you abandoned me?” to express his anguish. Later he borrowed from Psalm 31, which comes to us from Luke as “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands.” Obviously, Jesus was putting his post mortem future in the hands of his heavenly Father. As if to say, "Whatever happens to me after I die is your responsibility, Father.”
When we look carefully at the Psalm Jesus quoted, we see more than what first meets our eyes. Psalm 31 begins with a cry for divine help, “In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness.” (v. 1)
But then the Psalm mixes asking for God's deliverance with a confession of strength and faithfulness:
For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name’s sake lead me, and guide me. 4 Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me: for thou art my strength. 5 Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth. (Ps. 31:3-5)
Jesus the Christ could have exercised his authority and come down from the cross. But by quoting from Psalm 31, Jesus not only entrusted his future to his Father, but also implied he would be delivered and exonerated. No, God would not deliver him from death by crucifixion; but beyond this horrific death lay something marvelous. "I entrust my spirit into your hands” points back to the familiar suffering of David in Psalm 31, and forward to the resurrection.
When everything was said and done, Jesus’ work on the cross was complete, and his proclamation, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” finished the work. The significance of Jesus’ statement lies in a conversation he had with religious leaders about his role in God's plan:
I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep,and am known of mine. 15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep[House of Israel] I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold,andone shepherd. 17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. (John 10:14-18)
No one truly took Jesus’ life from him. God had given him a specific task. That task was to lay down his life on behalf of Israel, the covenant people of God.
Let us pray: Gracious Lord, even as you once entrusted your spirit into the hands of the Father, so I give my life to you. I submit to your sovereignty over my life, and seek to live for your glory alone. Here I am, Lord, available to you, both now and in the future. Amen.
Jesus faced the incredible task of laying down his life as a ransom for the society of Adamkind.This task was traumatic and overwhelming, but Jesus accepted it willingly. After hanging on the cross for three hours, Jesus finally gave up his own life. He was not helpless at the hands of those who crucified him—he alone had the authority to end his life.
In Matthew 20:28, Jesus says, "The Son of Man came… to give his life as a ransom for many.” Notice it doesn’t say “all” here, although there are many places in the New Testament Scriptures where it does say both “all” and “many.” So which is it, all or many? The Scriptures clearly reveal that not everyone will be saved or spared. The Elect are spared, but the non-elect are rejected. The words all and many are nearly insignificant to the question of salvation in Christ. One cannot prove universalism (i.e., that Jesus died for every human being on the globe) simply because of the word “all.” Depending on the context, “all” refers to all of the part being spoken of; and “many” is a particular part being spoken of. This passage in Matthew is in the context of Gentiles (see v. 25). In my opinion, the “many” here refers to the former “lost” ten tribes of Israel, not necessarily the tribes represented by Judea in the time of Christ. You may recall the Scripture that confirms this, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold[House of Judah], them also I must bring.” (Jn. 10:16) The “other sheep” refers to the former scattered House of Israel of seven centuries earlier.
The biggest problem with the church world today, which plays out in the corrupt trend of the national government, is the concept of universal salvation for “all” — they do not want to admit the racial context that is plainly revealed in the Bible. Universalism is death to any semblance of Christian culture.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” (Jn. 10:11) Not all are “sheep” — some are “goats.” Where does this leave the goats? The sheep are of the race of Adam, the first white man. Salvation comes to them through Israel, God’s covenant nation. The goats are the other races. They have no genealogical connection to the covenant. Therefore, no salvation is available for them. The crucifixion of Jesus was God’s plan from the beginning. He is “…the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13:8)
Hymn of Dedication
Now that Jesus the Christ has died, he is taken into the tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea. The Edomite line of Jews consult with the political authority (as they often do) with concern about the security of the burial site. They told Pilate that Jesus spoke of rising on the third day, and that the followers of Jesus might come and steal his body and say that he arose from the dead. So Pilate had the tomb sealed and set a watch by the Roman army.
The following hymn, “O Boundless Grief,” was written in 1641. It was published in The German Psalmody, 1732, and used mostly by Lutherans. At this time, it appeared in 50% of all hymnals. Since then, it has gradually dropped off to 20% of hymnals in 1806. By now (200 years later) it is practically non-existent. This hymn will serve as our closing prayer of resolve and dedication.
I. O boundless grief, beyond relief!
Where are my passions hurried?
God the Father’s darling Son,
For my sins is buried.
II. O greatest dread! God-man is dead.
See where he is expired,
And, for sinners doom’d to death,
Endless life acquired.
III. O make a pause, and search the cause,
Of this unheard of murder!
Sinner, thine apostasy,
Could advance no further.
IV. The Lamb of God has shed his blood,
For Israel's salvation,
Thus to rescue sinful men,
From deserv’d damnation.
V. O glorious Head! Wast thou then made,
Thus to be torn and wounded?
At this sight, the guilty world,
Ought to be confounded.
VI. O lovely Face! Thou Source of grace,
And Author of all beauty!
Who can see Thee, and not melt,
Into tears of duty?
VII. O Jesu blest! my hope and rest,
Grant me this heav’nly favor,
That thy blood, cross, death and tomb,
Prove my dying savor.