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