1. THE FIRST WORD: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

a). THE ISSUE OF FORGIVENESS
Forgiving others is not always an easy thing to do. Nevertheless it is a vital part of the Christian faith. We need to forgive others, just as we depend upon God to forgive us. And the importance of our need to forgive is reflected in the words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us” (Mathew 6). And the example of Jesus, is a very good illustration on how that should work.

b). THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS
After all, sometimes the people were with him, and other times they were against. Sometimes there were huge crowds, and other times even his own friends wanted nothing to do with him. As a consequence, after three years of public ministry, Jesus had many people to forgive.

Indeed when he finally got to be too big of a nuisance for the religious authorities, because he upset the status quo, Jesus was finally arrested, tried, flogged, abused, and crucified. But did Jesus’ own words of the Lord’s Prayer come back and haunt him, because in the end he found he just couldn’t forgive? No! Because no matter what was dished up to him Jesus took it. No matter what any individual had done to him, no matter how horrible they had been, Jesus was able to forgive all those involved.

c). THE PROBLEM OF FORGIVENESS
Now one of the things that we hear from time to time, is some people referring to others as people they just can’t forgive. They could be family members, old friends, or even people responsible for war crimes like Hitler, Sadam Hussein and members of Islamic State. And yet Jesus quite clearly not only taught that we need to forgive, but he demonstrated it too. And for very good reason. Because in our case no matter what others have done to us, that’s nothing in comparison in what we have done to God. And if we expect God to forgive our greater sin, then we should at least play our part in forgiving others their lesser sin.

So, yes, some people in this world may have done some terrible things. And, yes, some of those things may have been done to us personally. But one of the things we need to remember, is that we need the forgiveness of God. After all, we ignore him, we put our own preferences first, we relegate him to second place, and we don’t do the things that he asks us to do. And if we need God’s forgiveness, shouldn’t we forgive others, all others, for the things that they have done to us?

d). THE CHALLENGE OF FORGIVENESS
Jesus on the cross had borne many things, and he was about to go through a very agonizing death. And yet despite that, he was able to forgive all those who had been involved, all who had ever done him wrong.

So the question that these first words on the cross should bring, then, is: Are we prepared to forgive others no matter what they’ve done? Are we prepared to do the same?

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2. THE SECOND WORD: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

a). THE ISSUE OF THE AFTERLIFE
The idea of an afterlife is a very contentious issue in today’s world. Some believe that you live this life, and when you die that’s it, that’s the end, there is no more. Others believe that when you die you are reincarnated. You come back as an animal or as another person and given another go. And only when you’ve lived a perfect life, will the cycle be broken and you’ll reach Nirvana. And of course there are many other variations on the theme too.

Of course some of the interest on this subject, in more recent times, has been influenced by people who have had near-death experiences. Where they have seen images of the afterlife, or felt themselves going down a tunnel and entering a kind of Nirvana. But the reality is that the concept of life after death has occupied the minds of people for tens of thousands of years. And was even one of the hot topics of debate in Jesus’ time. Particularly between the Pharisees (who believed in the afterlife) and the Sadducees (who didn’t).

b). THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS
Of particular interest in the debate about the afterlife, then, are Jesus’ second words on the cross. Words of Jesus spoken directly to one of the criminal’s crucified with him: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Now, for those people who think that after death there is nothing, that once you have lived your life that’s it, then these words of Jesus show that that is nothing further from the truth. And for those who believe that you have to keep being reincarnated until you reach perfection. Well, that certainly wasn’t what Jesus was saying either. Rather the point behind Jesus’s words was that the criminal, even in his last hour, was able to admit his mistakes and put his total trust in Jesus. And because of that, that very day he was rewarded with a place in Paradise.

The repentant criminal’s sins were forgiven by God. His slate was wiped clean. And, consequently, this made him eligible for a place in heaven. This wasn’t the end, and it wasn’t a reincarnation. It wasn’t even a second chance. This was a resurrection. And because his sins were forgiven, this was a resurrection to eternal life. And importantly this resurrection to eternal life was not given to the other criminal who remained unrepentant.

c). THE PROBLEM OF THE AFTERLIFE
Now one of things that should concern every believer, Is the number of people who live their lives as though God, Jesus, and eternal life just don’t exist. Yes, some may pay lip service to God, but God and godly ways are not the things that they live for. Instead they enjoy life, with the pleasures that it brings, without making any provision for their eternal wellbeing.

Now, obviously, a last minute change of heart can work, because it worked for one of the criminals. But the reality is, that very few people will know when their time is up, in order to correct their standing with God.

d). THE CHALLENGE OF THE AFTERLIFE
When those criminals were nailed to their crosses, they knew what they had done in life. And chances are they knew what to expect in the afterlife too – eternal damnation. Neither had prepared for or were ready for what happened next.

So, the next question we need to ask ourselves is: Are we ready? Have we made our peace with God? Or are we living our lives, planning to make a last minute change of heart too?

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3. THE THIRD WORD: “Woman, behold, your son.” “Behold, your mother” (John 19:26-27)

a). THE ISSUE OF A NEW FAMILY
“Family” is a very important aspect of most people’s lives. Friends are important too. However, what the Christian faith introduces is a whole new dynamic to family life.

b). THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS
Because when Jesus was on the cross, he looked down to the ground, and he saw two people in particular. He saw his mother Mary, and he saw his disciple John. And, at that time, two things would have been going through his mind.

Firstly, in the absence of his father, as the eldest son of Mary, he would have had the responsibility to care for his mother. (And by the time of the crucifixion Joseph’s absence from the family is notable). In the normal course of events the responsibility to look after Mary was his. Except for the fact that he was no longer in any position to care for her. And so he had to make alternative arrangements.

And, secondly, in his ministry, Jesus had taught his followers about family life. And that being followers, they were now members of a new family, a family of believers. And they had responsibilities to care for each other, just as if they were blood relatives.

Consequently, when Jesus was on the cross, what we see in Jesus’ third words, is a mixture of those two ideas: Jesus, as the eldest son, was making sure that there was someone to look after his mother after his death. Whilst at the same time linking two people (who were not related to each other) but who were part of a “new family”, because they shared a common faith.

c). THE PROBLEM OF A NEW FAMILY
Now, sadly, in these times, the need to care for one another (in the Christian family) is one that often gets overlooked. The aspect of coming together on a regular basis to worship, but with the particular intention of supporting and encouraging one another, frequently falls by the wayside for other priorities, including the excuse of needing to spend time with our blood relatives.

Indeed, ministry itself, including visiting the lonely, the sick and those in hospital, is often something which is relegated to a paid minister. Rather than being seen as every members responsibility, as part of their “new family” life. The consequent result, of course, is that people in the church feel uncared for. People drop out, and fade away, because of that lack of support and encouragement, that one would normally hope to receive from normal everyday family life.

d). THE CHALLENGE OF A NEW FAMILY
Despite that, however, we are still faced with Jesus, and his third words from the cross. Because they show that even in his desperate hour, and even with all the agonies that he was going through,
he still had time to care for his family, And he still had time to care for his Christian family too.
Indeed he knew that his responsibilities to his “new family” were just as important, and maybe more important, than his old.

So, the third question is: How important is our own church family to us? And do we really care for the people who minister up front, and those who sit with us on these pews?

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4. THE FOURTH WORD: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46)

a). THE ISSUE OF SIN
Sometimes, as we go through life, we can have moments where we seem to be all alone. We can feel deserted by family and friends, and we can feel as though God isn’t listening either. Of course sometimes we might wonder why God has apparently abandoned us. But others times we may feel as though we don’t deserve God’s attention anyway. Nevertheless that feeling of abandonment can be very devastating.

b). THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS
Of course something of this nature occurred to Jesus on the cross. And although in Jesus’ case he had done nothing to deserve being abandoned by God, nevertheless for a moment as he hung there taking in all the sin of the world, he felt the righteous judgment of God, judging him as though he had committed all of those sins. And as a result Jesus hung there, not only abandoned by his friends and followers, but abandoned by his Father too.

c). THE PROBLEM OF SIN
Now there are three things that this particular part of the story illustrates well.

The first thing is the seriousness to which God takes sin. Because it shows that sin really is a block between us and God. And yet in our world, how often do we find sin trivialized? When we slip, it can be easy to dismiss our fault in terms of, “It really doesn’t matter, not this once,” “What does it matter if I put myself first for a change?” or “It was only a little thing, it’s not as if it really matters?”

The second thing, of course, is that Jesus took on our sins for a reason: so that God could take away our eternal punishment from us. Consequently, we have the choice of whether to accept what Jesus has done, or to face up to God on our own. If we accept what Jesus has done, then we will not be punished in the afterlife for the things that we’ve done wrong, because our sins have already been dealt with. However, if we want to face God on our own terms, then we won’t have Jesus’ sacrifice in our favour at all. And we’ve just seen how seriously God judges sin.

And the third thing is, that once God judged Jesus as an innocent man, who had paid the penalty for others, God was able to lift off that dark cloud, and give Jesus the joy that his work was finished. And consequently when we are going through a rough time, we can be confident that, providing we have put our lives in the hands of Jesus, God will help us out. And he will return us to joy too.

d). THE CHALLENGE OF SIN
Now, Jesus went to the cross knowing what he needed to do. And for a moment he felt the abandonment by God whilst all the sins that he carried were being dealt with. But in the end God was with him, and rewarded him for his faith. Consequently, when we feel abandoned by God, we can be assured that, if we are people of faith, we too can know that feeling of abandonment will not last either.

So the next question this morning is: Have we really accepted the seriousness of sin, and what Jesus has done for us on the cross? Have we really given ourselves to Jesus, knowing that he has dealt with all our sins?

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5. THE FIFTH WORD: “I am thirsty” (John 19:28)

a). THE ISSUE OF SPIRITUAL THIRST
When we exert ourselves by doing physical exercise, or when we suffer, we get thirsty. And we get thirsty because that’s the way our bodies are made.. Indeed the medical profession seems to constantly tell us that we need to keep our fluids up. And that we need to drink X amount of fluids a day. Now, when we are thirsty the simple solution is to have a drink. Except for the fact that, for some of us, we don’t always do it. We don’t always look after ourselves properly at all. And just as that’s true of physical thirst, so is it also true of spiritual thirst too.

b). THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS
Now, as part of the story, as Jesus hung there on the cross, Jesus was thirsty, physically thirsty. And he was probably thirsty because of all the suffering that he had been going through. But then in the previous 12 hours he had been betrayed, arrested, tried, flogged, and forced (at least part of the way) to carry the cross beam of his cross. And now he was dying a very painful death, hanging on the cross.

However whilst he was physically thirsty, Jesus at this point, showed no signs of being spiritually thirsty at all. But then in his ministry years he had spent much time alone with God, much time in the temple and the synagogues, and much time debating the religious leaders too. Throughout his life, therefore, and by the time he had got to the cross, he had showed all the signs of being very much in touch with God, and keen to pursue his relationship even further. He wanted to do God’s will, not his own.

So, as he hung there on the cross Jesus couldn’t do anything about his physical thirst, except tell others of his need. But his spiritual thirst had been well and truly satisfied, because of his very healthy relationship with God.

c). THE PROBLEM OF SPIRITUAL THIRST
And, you know, I wonder with us, how much the problem is the other way around. Because the temptation is to put more store in our physical wellbeing than in our spiritual wellbeing.

Now, probably, for all of us here, fulfilling our spiritual thirst would, in some ways, not be a difficult thing for any of us to do. Bibles are relatively cheap, and come in all sorts of styles and languages. There’s something to suit everyone. And bible teaching is readily available too. Meeting together isn’t a crime here, and encouraging and building up one another in the faith, is a major part of what the church should be all about. And because of Jesus’ death on the cross, we all have direct access to the Father too.

And yet, how often do we hear those words: “I don’t need to do that. I can be a Christian without that,” “I haven’t got time,” “I can’t be bothered,” and “I’ve got more important things to do.”

Looking after our spiritual thirst, may be more involved than looking after our physical thirst, but generally, in the here and now, we have all the resources available for us to use. We just need to be willing to use them.

d). THE CHALLENGE OF SPIRITUAL THIRST
Jesus, hanging on the cross, at this point, was physically thirsty. And there was nothing he could do about it, except to call for help. But he wasn’t spiritually thirsty at all. In fact his relationship with God was perfect, just right.

So, the fifth question this morning is: Do we care as much about our spiritual thirst, as we do about our physical thirst? Or have we got it all the wrong way around?

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6. THE SIXTH WORD: “It is finished” (John 19:30)

a). THE ISSUE OF UNFINISHED WORK
One of the great satisfactions in life, I believe, is to be able to finish a task, put it aside, and know that that it was a job well done. And the reason I say that, is because it can often seem that there are half a dozen jobs on the go at any one time. And there is always something holding each of them up. And that can be very frustrating. It can also often seem that the only solution to getting things completed is to make compromises and cut corners. With the end result being far less than satisfactory.

b). THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS
Consequently, what is interesting in the story of Jesus, is that despite the fact that people had opposed him, people had turned against him, and despite all that he’d been through, Jesus was still able to make that wonderful statement “It is finished.” There’s a sense of satisfaction that comes through in those three words. Jesus hadn’t been diverted from his task. He’d seen it through to the end, and it was a job well done.

Of course the question we should ask is: What was finished? Was it just his suffering? Or was it the whole reason for him being sent here in the first place. The whole package: birth, ministry, death, and the whole reason rolled into one.

Well, I think the answer is obvious. Jesus had done what the Father had asked him to do. He hadn’t compromised, or deviated from God’s plan one iota. He’d come to earth to be born as a baby, and he’d seen his task through to the end. And in all that time, he hadn’t been distracted from his task.
He had even endured the crucifixion too. All the things that God had asked him to do, he’d completed. And consequently he could feel satisfied with the completion of the whole task that he had been called on to perform.

c). THE PROBLEM OF UNFINISHED WORK
Now we might sometimes look with envy upon that kind of completion. Particularly when we consider the normal every day jobs that we do. With some of them seeming to get held up, and others needing compromise to get them completed.

However, there is one task that we have been given by God too. And that job is for all believers to tell others through words and deeds about the love of God and about God’s rescue plan.

Now this is a job that lasts a lifetime, and it will never be completed whilst we have breath. However we need to make sure that it’s a task that doesn’t get held up. And we need to make sure that it’s a task where we don’t cut any corners either. In other words, we need to put the same life and soul into the task that Jesus did. And we are not to get distracted, or change the task to suit our own purposes either.

d). THE CHALLENGE OF UNFINISHED WORK
Jesus, on the cross, was able quite confidently to make the statement “It is finished”, knowing that he hadn’t rounded any corners, and that he hadn’t adapted the gospel to suit himself. He’d completed faithfully the task that God had set.

So, the next question for us, this morning, is: Where are we with the task that God has given us? And are we confident that when it comes our time to face our maker, we too will be able to say with confidence “it is finished”?

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7. THE SEVENTH WORD: “Father, I place my spirit into your hands” (Luke 23:46)

a). THE ISSUE OF TRUST
Now, trust is one of those things that may be very difficult to do these days. There are people who are unreliable. There are people who simply say things that they think we want to hear. There are people who will say anything to get what they want. And, there are people who don’t do things the way that we would like. Consequently, there is a temptation to be as self-sufficient as one can possibly be, so we don’t have to rely on others.

Unfortunately for people who like to be self-reliant there are elements of life in which we are all dependent upon others. After all, we can’t all grow all our own food, build houses, provide medical care, etc. etc. without relying on someone else.

b). THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS
Now Jesus’ last words reflect the fact that even he (the Son of God) could not be totally self-sufficient. Hanging on the cross Jesus was helpless, not only in what he could physically do, but in terms of his reliance on God for the next step in life. Yet despite that, Jesus’ words are full of confidence.

He knew above all else that the one person he could still trust in, even at his darkest hour, was his Father and his God. Yes the public had deserted him. Yes the religious leaders had finally got their way. And yes even his disciples had deserted him. But despite that he could still have total confidence in God the Father.

c). THE PROBLEM OF TRUST
And yet, how many people today have trouble trusting in God for anything?

Some people think if they work hard, or are reasonably good in life, or help others, then they can earn their place in heaven. And yet quite clearly that wasn’t what happened on the cross. Because Jesus’ words weren’t words of “I deserve eternal life,” but rather “I depend on you Father God, even for eternal life.” Some people may think that they can buy a place in heaven by giving money to charity, or by giving money or time to the church itself, and yet that wasn’t what happened on the cross either.

What happened on the cross was that even Jesus the Son of God needed to entrust his whole future into the hands of God. And indeed nothing that he had done, or could do, could possibly change his dependence upon God.

And the same is true for us today, too. If we have faith, then faith means the need for a total trust in God for our eternal welfare. Not “some” trust, with us doing a few extra on the side, as a bit of insurance added on. But total trust, which then should be reflected in the way we live.

d). THE CHALLENGE OF TRUST
Jesus on the cross, at the moment of his death, had to trust in God totally, for what would happen to him after his final breath.

So, the seventh question, today, is: Do we have that kind of trust? Because insurance policies, like good works, are never going to be enough.

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8. CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Today we’ve looked at the crucifixion of Jesus in terms of his seven last words. And each of them should remind us of something about what it means to live the Christian faith

a). “FATHER, FORGIVE THEM, FOR THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING”
Forgiveness was something that Jesus, even on the cross, was able to give to his detractors. And it is something that we need, and something we need to show too. We need God’s forgiveness. And the appropriate response to receiving God’s greater forgiveness, is that we should be prepared to forgive others too.

b). “TRULY I TELL YOU, TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE”
Being prepared for the afterlife was something that neither thief had taken into account in their lives. But it is something that we need to face up to. Reconciliation with God needs to be at the forefront of everything that we do.

c). “WOMAN, BEHOLD, YOUR SON.” “BEHOLD, YOUR MOTHER.”
Jesus taught that when people become Christians they become members of a new family. And a family that has the responsibility to care for one another. Meeting and encouraging, and caring for our fellow believers then is an essential part of any believer’s life.

d). “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU ABANDONED ME?”
The abandonment of Jesus by God, demonstrates the seriousness of sin. God has to deal with it, and has given anyone who will believe the ability to have their slates wiped clean. Consequently, we need to decide whether to allow Jesus to remove our burden. Or whether we want to face God alone.

e). “I AM THIRSTY”
Jesus was physically thirsty, but his spiritual thirst was quenched. But then during his lifetime he had pursued a lifestyle of obedience and communication with his Father. Now, we may be good at getting a drink when we are physically thirsty. But can we say the same regard to our spiritual thirst for God?

f). “IT IS FINISHED”
Jesus on the cross could quite happily confirm that he had completed the task that his Father had set. And that he was proud of the job that he had done. He hadn’t rounded any corners, changed the message, or done anything to compromise his mission. Now it’s our task to do the same thing.

g). “FATHER, I PLACE MY SPIRIT INTO YOUR HANDS”
Even Jesus had to trust his Father for what lay ahead of him after the cross. He knew that what was to happen next was totally out of even his control. He had to trust in his father. And like it or not, we need to have the same trust too.

The seven last words of Jesus are a challenge to believers and non-believers alike. Because in those seven words are some very important principles and lessons. Indeed, ones we would do well to apply to our own lives today.

 

© 2015, Brian A Curtis
www.21stcentury bible.com.au
brian@21stcenturybible.com.au

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