The Seven Last Words

Pastor Sherry’s message for Good Friday April 7, 2023

Scriptures: Isa 52:13-53:12; Ps 22; Heb 10:16-25; Jn 18:1-19:42

In years past, on this day, I have tried to explain to us the meanings of the 4th suffering Servant Song from Isaiah—how Jesus exactly fulfilled what Isaiah prophesied 700 yrs. before His birth—how Psalm 22 reveals His thoughts as He hung on the Cross; and the events in John’s account of Jesus’ arrest, trials, torture, crucifixion, death and burial. Today, however, I want us to visit and meditate upon what are called “the seven last words of Jesus.”

Jesus made seven statements from the Cross. Each one had to have been very important to Him because to make them, He would have had to push up on His nailed feet to gather breath to speak, while also rubbing His lacerated back against the rough, splintery wood behind Him. To make each statement must have caused Him incredible pain,

But as St. Augustine noted (354-430), “The tree upon which were fixed the members [His arms and feet] of Him dying was even the chair of the Master.” In other words, even from the Cross as His body suffered, Jesus was teaching us. Even as His death neared, He had important lessons to leave with us. Let’s examine them in order:

A. The 1st is “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Through the millennia since, this statement has been known as “the word of forgiveness.” Wow! Such a powerful lesson! As He suffered agony, He prayed for God to forgive the very persons who despised Him and were responsible for His cruel murder. What an extraordinarily loving heart! How many of us could do the same?

But this is the challenge, isn’t it? Think of those who have harmed you, and of what they did that was so hurtful. Jesus is modeling for us what He wants us to do. He wants us to forgive those who have hurt us, no matter how badly they treated us; and no matter how much we might want them to suffer in return. We are to commend them to God in prayer. We are to offer them grace. We are to let go of our need for revenge. We place that desire into the Father’s hands, Who has said, Vengence is Mine.

B. The 2nd is “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). To add to Jesus’ humiliation, the sinless Christ was hung between two guilty criminals. One continuously mocked Him, demanding that Jesus free him from their death sentence–if He were truly God. The other may have begun that way, but in watching and listening to Jesus, he realized He was someone special. Like the Centurion below, this 2nd thief came to believe that Jesus truly was the Son of God. In his brand new faith, he asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His Kingdom. Remember, Jesus had taught (Matthew 7:7) Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives….How reassuring! This guy was in the process of dying, but expressed his faith in Jesus. This is truly a last minute, death-bed conversion. I have a friend who was for years a hospice chaplain. He talked many World War II, Korea, and Vietnam vets in Washington, D.C. into accepting Jesus as their savior as they lay dying. A simple, “Yes, Lord, I believe” is enough faith for Jesus to act on.

This statement is known as the word of salvation because this guy’s faith in Jesus saves Him. You are here today because you have given your heart to Christ. Pray for family and friends who have not yet done so.

C. The 3rd is from today’s Gospel (John 19:26-27) Dear woman, here is your son; [and to the apostle, John] Here is your mother.

Jesus sees them grieving at the foot of His cross and wants them to comfort each other. It is a statement of their new relationship. In this, Jesus’ last will and testament, He provides for His mother’s comfort, safety, and companionship. Even though Jesus had several half-brothers and half-sisters, he gives “custody” of Mary to John. He appears to have been redefining or extending the concept of “family.” We have our nuclear family, into which we are born—mother, father, siblings. We also have an extended family —grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins; a clan or kinship group, if you will. However, when we are in Christ, we also have a spiritual family, people with whom we become close due to our shared faith in Jesus. If our nuclear or extended families are not Christ-followers, we often find we have more in common with our spiritual family than with blood-kin.

Additionally, our Lord never means for us to be isolated, cut off from relationships with others. He has built into us a need for community, or connection with others. Brain researchers have discovered that when we spend time with people we love and who love us, it spikes amounts of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, in our brains, and we actually feel better. Seek out folks with whom you can share your thoughts, your faith, and your heart.

D. The 4th of Jesus’ words from the cross is, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:33-35). This word speaks to Jesus’ acute suffering. The physical was agony enough. But as He hung on the cross from noon to 3pm, He experienced—for the 1st time—the emotional and spiritual agony of abandonment. Remember He had taken upon Himself all of our sins. In His holiness, God His Father could not be present with Him. For 3 hours, Jesus hung alone. For the 1st time, He felt cut off from the strength and reassurance of His Father’s love. Only His solid trust in His unseen and unfelt Father helped Him to persevere.

Did you notice that He quoted from Psalm 22:1? This was a prayer of desperation. This is also meant to teach us what to do when we too feel desperate and abandoned—cry out to God! I was once fired from a church job for preaching the Gospel. Shocking, but it can happen. I went home, knelt by my bed and wept the lament psalms to the Lord. After a brief time, He told me to stop crying and call my friends in Tallahassee, Florida. It was truly a miracle that three of them—all busy persons—answered my first call. One agreed to drive to New Orleans to help me pack and move. A second one offered me a place to live. The third agreed to help me set up a private practice counseling business until I could land a church job. The Holy Spirit worked through my friends to help me move into a new future, 2 months before Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed New Orleans. Jesus is the Only One we can truly count on when we are at the end of all of our own resources. Express your gratitude to Him for times when He Has rescued you.

E. Jesus’ 5th word was “I thirst!” (John 19:28). This, of course, refers to His very human state of dehydration. It was a statement of distressing physical need. Mark tells us He would not drink wine mixed with myrrh, a pain killer the Romans offered to those about to be crucified (Mk15:23). He knew He was to experience the totality of the pain inflicted upon Him. His last drink of anything may have been the final cup of wine the evening before at the Passover Feast. He describes His condition in Psalm 22:15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd [a broken piece of pottery], and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. The soldiers then offered him wine vinegar, which He drank from a sponge lifted up to Him. Perhaps that eased his need somewhat. But I think I thirst also means He thirsted then and continues to desire that all would come to know and believe in Him. May we also thirst for the salvation of the many in our culture who reject Christ.

F. Jesus’ 6th word was “It is finished!” (John 19:30). We know His life wasn’t finished as He was resurrected 3 days later. What was finished was His saving work to bring salvation to us all. Scholars say this was a statement of triumph. When I completed seminary, my graduating class had tee-shirts made for all of us that said, tetelestai, which means it is finished in the Greek of Jesus’ day. At the time, we thought we were being clever. Twenty + years later, it seems to me to be presumptuous and irreverent. We had just completed our mission of passing 3 years’ worth of divinity study, while Jesus had paid it all—the full penalty for all our sins—on the Cross. Thank God we are saved by His blood, the blood of the true Passover Lamb. Meditate on your gratitude for His work as our Redeemer 2,000 years ago.

E. Finally, Jesus spoke His last word, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). What a wonderful final statement of reunion! He must have known He was about to breathe His last, and so He gave Himself back to the Father. He acknowledges that His pain, suffering, and alienation from the Father were at an end. I remember how the OR room nurses gave me a warm blanket and a glass of cold apple juice just after I had given birth (back in 1974). I felt such fatigue and relief that my labor suffering—only a fraction of that of Christ—was over and that my child was safely born with all his fingers and toes. No doubt Jesus too was tired, relieved, and exhilarated.

Where will our focus be when we too face death? And are we willing to commit our spirits to God right now?

(Ideas borrowed from Kevin Vost, Seven Meditations on Christ’s Seven Last Words, 2018.)

Jesus gifted us with 7 final lessons from His Cross. May we taken them to heart. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams


What Did Jesus Really Say?

Pastor Sherry’s message for May 8, 2022

Scriptures: Acts 9:32-43; Ps 23; Rev. 7:9-17; Jn 10:22-30

Solomon once wrote (Ecclesiastes 1:9), What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” The longer I live, the more true his words seem. Now he was not talking about technological or scientific advances. Certainly Solomon never anticipated cell phones, computers, electric cars, or social media, etc. He was talking about the regularity, the predictability of human behavior. People are people, no matter their culture, nationality, gender, the time period during which they live, or any other identifier (the basis of the field of Psychology). While our personalities may differ, one from another, our needs, motives, and actions are pretty similar, and–if one knows enough about a person—our behaviors can often be correctly predicted.

Take the Jewish religious leaders that Jesus encounters in today’s Gospel (John 10:22-30), for example. Jesus is teaching on Solomon’s Porch, in winter, during the Feast of Dedication. This annual celebration commemorated the time, in 167 BC, when Judas Maccabaeus led a successful Jewish revolt to free the Temple from the horrendous and heretical practices of the Syrian King, Antiochus Ephiphanes. By this time in His ministry, (precrucifixion) Jesus has given up on convincing the religious hierarchy that He is the Messiah. He’s not in the Temple itself, but on a porch dedicated to Gentile use. He is teaching His disciples, the ones who believe He is who He says He is. But the religious establishment pursues Him, butts in, and accuses Him of keeping His identity a secret. What?

Haven’t they been listening and watching? No, they fear His popularity with the people, so they have become “spin-doctors” who hope to twist His words to discredit Him—There is nothing new under the sun!

We have seen evidence of this tactic this very week in the leaked Supreme Court opinion draft. The justices write that constitutionally the Supreme Court does not have the power to legislate regarding abortion (pro or con). This power properly belongs to state governments, decided upon via elections. And yet pro-abortionists claim the proposed verdict (overturning the 50 year old Roe v. Wade precedent) condemns abortion and is anti-women. That just isn’t so, but that is how it is being presented in demonstrations and in the media.

In verse 24, the religious elite demand to know, How long will You keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly. How ridiculous! They have not been listening. They make it sound like He is a covert operator. They imply He is up to no good. He answers them (vv.25)🡪I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in My Father’s name speak for Me, but you do not believe because you are not My sheep. 1.) His miracles—healing, casting out demons, multiplying food, raising 3 people from the dead, calming storms, etc.—all authenticate His Messiahship. 2.) His lineage (tribe of Judah, descendant of King David) and birthplace (Bethlehem) match up with Old Testament prophesies of the Messiah. He was introduced by the prophet, John the Baptist—again in fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy. He lacked a formal education—as with Rabbi Hillel or Gamaliel–but taught with authority, wisdom, and accuracy. No one ever witnessed Him sinning. Everything He did and said testified to His being the Messiah, but they refused to believe in Him.

In verse 26, He confronts them–>but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. Additionally, He tells them He knows they are not His sheep because (v.27) My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow Me…(v.30) I and the Father are One. In other words, “you may be religious authorities, but you have held too tight to the box in which you have put your limited notions of God, and thus you have not recognized your God walking among you. They have totally missed that He is the Good Shepherd and their Shepherd King. Thanks be to God that the members of this congregation all know Jesus and thanks be to God that you have not let your prejudices or preconceptions blind you to His identity as our One, True Messiah!

Our Scriptures today all reference Jesus as our Messianic Shepherd King, and they all assume that we His sheep hear His voice.

A. In our Acts 9:32-43 passage, Peter is doing what Jesus told him to do —Feed my sheep. Peter is following Jesus’ model, doing for Jesus’ people what Jesus Himself did. First, Peter heals a paralyzed man named Aeneas. Remember, Jesus had said to the man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:8), Get up! Pick up your mat and walk! Similarly, Peter says (v.34), Jesus Christ heals you [he cannot heal in his own power, but only in the name of Jesus]. Get up and take care of your mat. And again, like Jesus did with the Widow of Nain’s son, or the 12YO daughter of Jairus, or His friend, Lazarus, Peter raises the widow Tabitha/Dorcas from the dead.

Peter has clearly been transformed into who Jesus meant for him to be: He has remembered and is now compliant with Jesus’ command to him, Feed My sheep. He is doing the work of healing, preaching, and teaching the “lost” of Israel. He is revealing to them that Jesus is their Messiah. He is demonstrating to them the new, improved version of Peter—the one who listens to and obeys Jesus.

B. Psalm 23 is so familiar to all of us. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want/be in want (v.1). King David is praising God for the wonderful ways in which He has cared for him and for us (which assumes he and we hear His voice). He provides for us (vv.2-3), using the analogy of caring for sheep—He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness. He discerns our needs, and He gently guides us in the direction He knows will see that they are met. He protects us with His trusty shepherd’s Crook. He feeds us (manna in the past, Communion in the present, and the Wedding Super of the Lamb to come), and blesses us. He even helps us feel at home in His House.

King Jesus still shepherds us today, if we can tune out the world long enough to hear His still, small voice. Still and small does not mean His voice is not powerful–Marlin Brando, for instance, spoke softly in “the Godfather,” and few people ignored his authority. It just means that we have to be attuned to discern it. We don’t let our preconceptions drown out His words.

C. In Revelation 7:9-17 (v.17)🡪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.

The heavenly perspective again pictures Jesus as earth’s Shepherd King. Jesus will govern over us, while the Father Himself will comfort us. The passage presents us with a lovely word-picture of worship in Heaven:

Believers in Christ are so numerous there that no one can count them all.

They come from all times, all places, and all races; they include Old Testament believers; all born-again Christians; and Jewish believers who will be martyred during the Great Tribulation. All are united in worshipping at the throne of God. All are led by our Shepherd King, Christ Jesus.

D. Our Gospel passage is John 10:22-30. Back in verse 14, Jesus revealed Himself as the Good Shepherd. In other words, to the Hebrew ear, He was saying that He is God because God the Father had previously revealed Himself to them as their Shepherd. He is saying He is the one God referred to in Ezekiel 34:22-24 (after castigating the bad kings and idolatrous religious leaders of Israel) —Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says… I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over them a shepherd, my servant David [meaning Jesus, out of the lineage of David, because Ezekiel prophesied after King David’s death], and He [Jesus] will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David [meaning Jesus] will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken. So when Jesus says that He is the One who will protect His sheep—not the snobby, hypocritical religious elite–and, when He says He is the One who will comfort them and provide for them, He is saying to them, openly, I am God. Those who believe in Me follow Me (do My will); those who don’t—like the religious elite–just don’t get it.

The message for us is that we know we belong to Jesus—are His sheep–by being attuned to His voice, hearing Him and obeying Him.

With regard to Human behavior, There is nothing new under the sun. However, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8)! Let’s pray:

Lord, help us to discern Your voice when You speak to us. Most of us here have, in one way or another, heard and recognized Your voice– some more often than others; and some may hear more distinctly than others. But please help us all to clearly hear what You actually say to us. Expand the boxes we have put you in to include the truth of Who You are. Help us to let go of our preconceptions and mistaken ideas about You. Lord, thank you that You are trustworthy. Thank you that we can feel secure in the promise that we cannot be snatched out of Your hands, and in the hope that we will one day be among that huge throng of heavenly worshippers. Finally, help us Lord to do the work You have set before us. Help us each to recognize lost or misguided neighbors (sheep) who come into our lives. Help us to speak lovingly to them about You. Like Peter (and You, Lord Jesus), help us to shepherd them. And help us to follow You, Lord Jesus, all the days of our lives. Amen!

May it be so!

©2022 Rev. Pastor Sherry Adams

What is Love?

Pastor Sherry’s message for September 6, 2020

Scripture: Exodus 12:1-14

The story is told of an old granny lady who had decided that Christmas shopping had just gotten to be too much for her.  Now she still wanted to do something nice for her kids, grands, nieces, nephews, etc., so she decided to send each a nice Christmas card with a $50 Visa card inside.   Granny selected the Christmas cards, addressed the envelopes, added stamps, and deposited them at the post office, innocently assuming she had taken care of Christmas gifts for all of her family in a way that could not help but please each one.  The problem, however, was that–being a little forgetful–she had neglected to include the Visa cards (probably also forgot where she had put them), and had happily written next to her signature, “Merry Christmas!  Go get your own presents.”   We laugh, but this could all too easily be any one of us!  The intention was love, but the result was not.

When I was in college, my school had a foreign language requirement. There were 3 prerequisites:  (1) You had to be able to read it; (2) You had to know the grammar, correct sentence structure, and vocabulary; (3) And then you had to demonstrate you could speak it by passing an interview with the foreign language department professors.

I managed to make it through the first courses, but put the speaking part off until my Senior year…YIKES!  The first day of class, a stereotypical French woman came into class (complete with beret, tight slim skirt with side split, fishnet stockings, and spiked heels), propped herself on the teacher’s desk, told us we could not speak English for the remainder of the semester, and asked us, in French, to respond to the question, “What is love?”  Before I had even begun to formulate an answer in English, then could laboriously translate it into French, she had gone on to the next deep question.  I knew my goose was cooked! 

Praise God I survived conversational French because I paid a linguistically brilliant underclassman to tutor me.  I paid him with coffee and a piece of pie (this was 1967 and he was hungry) to talk with me in French for an hour 2-3 times a week.  By the time he finished with me, I was thinking and dreaming in French!

But I have never forgotten that French professor’s question, “What is love?”  Our Scriptures today give us some good answers to that timeless question.  Our Old Testament lesson comes from Exodus 12:1-14.  Back in Ex 3:7+, God had told Moses:  “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.  That was God’s promise…He would create the situation that would compel the stubborn Pharaoh to let His people go.  Now the Hebrews had been in Egypt about 400 years—long enough for the Canaanites to have time to come to love the true God, which they never did.  So God was finally ready to rescue the Israelites from Egyptian slavery with 10 plagues.

Each plague was actually a put down of some Egyptian god.  Yahweh had declared war on the gods of Egypt:

(1)1st, He turned the Nile to blood—the fish died and no one could drink from it.  They so depended on the river for their water supply and commerce that they equated it with life.  God was saying to them, I, not your river god, am the source of all life.

  • 2nd, He sent a superabundance of frogs.  Seven days after turning the Nile to blood, frogs left the polluted river and invaded the Egyptian homes in huge numbers.  Now the Egyptians equated frogs with evil spirits.  God was saying to them, I can produce animal pests and your numerous gods of nature cannot prevent this.
  •   Similarly, out of dust Moses tosses into the air, God produces 3rd, a plague of lice and 4th, of biting flies.  Essentially God is asking Pharaoh and the Egyptians, Why aren’t your gods countering and destroying these pests? They aren’t able to do what I can do.
  • 5th, God sends disease on their cattle, rams, sheep, and goats, many of which die.  The Egyptians had gods for each of these animals.  But God is saying, I have complete control over animal life, not Osirus, your bull god, or Apis your ram god.
  • 6th, He afflicted the animals that remained—and the people as well–with boils.  Even Pharaoh’s magicians couldn’t prevent breaking out with them. God is saying only I have power over physical health.
  • 7th, He sends hail made of ice clumps and fire.  Egypt normally gets very little rain and fire is a sign of God’s judgment.  Thus God is saying, I—not Hephaistos, your god of fire or Porphry, your god of rain—have complete authority over forces of nature.
  • 8th, God sends locusts to eat up any vegetation left over, then sends them to drown in the Red Sea.  Egypt’s gods of nature are helpless to prevent this infestation.  God is saying, I can raise up hordes of any creature and I can destroy them as I will.
  • By now, the Egyptian economy is in ruins, but still Pharaoh will not let his slave labor go free.  God then sends the 9th plague, 3 days of complete darkness—except over where the Israelites live.  God is saying, Your sun god, Re, is powerless before Me.
  • Finally, God sends the 10th plague–the death of the firstborn, person and animal. They believed their god, Horus, was the god of life.  They also believed Pharaoh was divine. God is saying, Not so fast, My Friend!  Yahweh is the giver of life and He can take it away when it is in rebellion against Him.

This brings us to the Passover:  God intends to take the life of every 1st born.  Those who love Him, however, can and will be spared.

They are to select a perfect male lamb less than 1 year old; they are then to slaughter it on the 14th of Nisan; and paint their door frames with its blood.

The blood of the lamb will be the sign that they are true believers and their lives will be spared. They were to remain inside their homes, eating the roasted lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. This was a hasty meal that predated “take out.”  It meant that they would soon be free to travel.  The first born of those with no blood over their doors succumbed to the angel of death.  By the next morning, all of Egypt wanted the Israelites to be gone!

This is love!  God provided a way for the angel of death to distinguish Israelites from Egyptians.  While every house in Egypt had a dead person in it, the blood of the Lamb signaled to death, pass over, pass on by those who love the true Lord of all.  This event broke the back of Pharaoh’s resistance.  He finally decided let the God’s people go.  And the Egyptians were so glad to see them leave that they gifted them with gold and silver (God’s provision of reparations/back wages owed).

The historic Jewish Passover finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus—it foreshadows or predicts Jesus’ blood shed for us on the Cross.  He too was a perfect male lamb–John the Baptist calls Him (John1:29)…the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.  Jesus was without sin.  If He had sinned, He would not have been eligible to be our sinless Substitute, our Savior.  Furthermore, He was God, the only Son of God, so His blood was essentially the blood of God.  Paul tells the leaders of the Ephesian Church in Acts 20:28àBe shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood.No mere person would have been capable of atoning for our sins.  Additionally, Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf was totally acceptable to His Father.  The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus is the once and for all perfect sacrifice for our sins.  Peter, on trial before the Sanhedrin, testifies in Acts 4:12 that Salvation is found in no one else [meaning Jesus] for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.  John tells us in 1 John 3: This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.

So what is love?  The 10 plagues and the Passover formed God’s strategy for motivating a despot to let go of a free labor force of around 2 million people.  The plagues and the Passover demonstrate how far God will go to redeem those He loves.  Jesus’ death on the cross proves the same truth again:  Our God has died an undeserved but agonizing death to obtain our freedom from sin and mortality.  Like His Father before Him, He has gone to extreme lengths to redeem us.

As the apostle John tells us, (1 John 4:10)–this is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  If I could go back in time, I would tell my French Conversation professor, “Your question can be answered a number of ways…But the best and most complete answer to that is Jesus Christ loves me and you so much that He died so you and I could have abundant life!

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory thru our Lord Jesus Christ!  Alleluia, alleluia!

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams