Growing up I loved attending The Seven Last Sayings of Jesus Services. I grew up in a tradition where these services were their own “genre.” Several weeks prior to Resurrection Sunday we’d make the circuit from church to church listening to the eloquent septuplets of sermonettes. These services were often opportunities for young aspiring preachers to have their public debut in front of encouraging audiences. As a young child, I loved these services and eagerly anticipated hearing each preacher reflect on Jesus’ final words from the cross. Here are my less animated reflections:
The Words of Forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” Luke 23:34. In His final excruciating moments on earth, Jesus forgives. Forgiveness is a core tenant of our faith. As Christians we are called to forgive in the same manner we are forgiven. “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” Matthew 6:12. This means not only forgiving others, but also forgiving self.
The Words of Salvation: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” Luke 23:43. Hanging between two criminals, who deserved to be punished, our sinless Savior grants salvation to a repentant soul. Salvation was available to both individuals that day, yet only one of them received it. Both individuals were in close physical proximity to Jesus; only one was in close spiritual proximity to Jesus. The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught” Isaiah 29:13. Getting proximate to Christianity without getting intimate with Christ is missing the mark. Salvation is extended to all; it is granted to those who believe.
The Words of Relationship: “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother” John 19:26–27. Jesus demonstrates the importance of human relationship by making provision for his mother. When asked, “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Simply put: the success of every relationship is rooted in our love for God and our love for others.
The Words of Abandonment: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34. For the first time in His life Jesus experiences separation from the Father when he takes our sins upon himself. He experiences this unthinkable anguish, so that we don’t have to experience it on earth or in eternity. “I will never leave you, nor forsake you” is a God-given promise that permeates scripture and penetrates our hearts even today. Because of the abandonment He endured for us on Golgotha's hill, we are never alone.
The Words of Distress: “I thirst” John 19:28. It hard to imagine Jesus, God with us, in distress, nor should we. Jesus boldly declares that He is in complete control per His Father’s command. “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. Jesus was not in distress when he cried out, “I thirst.” We were. He was willingly standing proxy for us. “I thirst” was an expression of our distress and need for living water. “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” Revelation 7:16-17.
The Words of Triumph: “It is finished.” From the Greek "Tetelestai" which is also translated "It is accomplished", or "It is complete" John 19:30. Jesus’ assignment on earth is done. Our debt is Paid in Full! Enough said. All that is left for us to do is to walk confidently in Jesus’ victory now and forever.
The Words of Reunion: “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit” Luke 23:46. Having completed His task on earth, Jesus is reunited with God in heaven. He demonstrated for us what complete trust in God looks like. For us that begins with believing that Jesus is who He says He is. Jesus is God’s son. He died for our sins, and on the third day He rose from the dead with all power. Then, like the Apostle Paul, we can declare, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:10-14.
Take a moment this week to reflect on the Seven Last Sayings of Jesus. What message resonates in your soul as you read His final words from the cross?