Words from the Cross
April 15, 2022 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: Good Friday Sermon
Topic: Holy Week
WORDS FROM THE CROSS
A Message for Good Friday
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: April 15, 2022
Series: Good Friday Sermon
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
True repentance is our fitting response to the abundance of God’s grace toward us through Jesus Christ. Isaac Watts captured this idea in the fourth verse of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”:
“Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small,
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
While the threat of punishment might awaken you to your need for grace, it is God’s grace – the grace manifest at the cross – that moves the sinful heart to repent, that is, to cut off its love affair with sin and cherish Jesus as the mighty and merciful Savior.
What I’d like to do in these brief moments is to reflect on the words of our mighty and merciful Savior that He spoke from the cross. On the cross, our Lord faced the cruelty of wicked men, carried the crushing weight of our sin, and suffered the judgment of God upon our sin. And yet, the words that He spoke in the midst of this fiery trial were good and wholesome words.
What Jesus Didn’t Say
In fact, the words that Jesus didn’t say are as significant as the words He did say. What words did Jesus not say? The apostle Peter wrote:
“… Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:21-23)
Trusting the Father, and resolving to remain faithful to the Father, will bear the fruit of not saying certain things. Jesus did not say anything that was false: his mouth was free of deceit. Jesus did not speak harshly against his persecutors: he didn’t revile the revilers, and he didn’t threaten the abusers. Jesus had no need to take up his own defense or launch counter-attacks, because Jesus trusted the Father to vindicate Him at the appointed time. No deceitful words. No reviling words. No threatening words. No anxious words. No complaining words. No grumbling words. No murmuring words. “[For] the joy that was set before him” our Lord Jesus Christ “endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).
An unwholesome word never came out of the Savior’s mouth. But wholesome words did come out of His mouth – including several brief words (by which I mean short statements) that He spoke from the cross.
Setting the Scene
Let’s set the scene before us by hearing John 19:16-22.
16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” (John 19:16-22)
The First Word: Luke 23:34
This brings us to the first word spoken by Jesus from the cross. Luke 23:32-34 says,
32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:32-34, italics added)
Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus had taught His disciples:
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.” (Luke 6:27-29)
Here upon the cross, Jesus embodies His own teaching. No malice. No ill-will. No inward relishing of the thought that His enemies might soon be demolished. But instead – grace, mercy, and peace. They had already struck him and stripped him, and yet His sacrificial death purchased righteous garments for everyone who repents and believes the gospel. Perhaps one day we will discover that one of our Lord’s persecutors was subsequently cut to the heart, struck by the Savior’s mercy, and so exchanged his filthy garments for the pure clothing of Christ’s righteousness.
The Second Word: John 19:26-27
The second word is found in John 19. John 19:23-27 says,
23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,
“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
So the soldiers did these things, 25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:23-27, italics added)
Jesus was the firstborn son of His mother, Mary. Scripture instructs all sons and daughters, no matter how old or young: “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). All adult children should seek ways to demonstrate honor and, if necessary, practical care for their parents. As the eldest son, Jesus had a special responsibility to see to it that His mother was properly cared for. We assume that Mary’s husband, Joseph, was no longer alive at this point, and now Jesus the firstborn son was departing from this world. Shortly before His departure, Jesus took it upon Himself to entrust the care of His mother to one of His disciples. Henceforth Mary was to see the beloved disciple as a son who would look after her: “Woman, behold, your son!” And the beloved disciple was now to care for Jesus’ mother as if she was his own mother – with affection and diligence: “Behold, your mother.” Mary, who had humbly received the angel’s message thirty-three years earlier – “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) – likewise received the Lord’s direction from the cross. And the beloved disciple proved also to be a faithful disciple: “And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”
The Third Word: Luke 23:43
For the third word, we return to Luke – Chapter 23, verse 43. Luke 23:39-43 says,
39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43, italics added)
I will return to this brief exchange between the repentant criminal and our Lord at the end of the message, because it leads right in to the next song.
For now, I just want you to notice that the first three words of Jesus from the cross all demonstrate our Lord’s love for people. In mercy, He prayed that His persecutors might be forgiven. In love, He entrusted the care of His mother to a faithful disciple. In grace, He promised salvation to a criminal who was just hours away from death. Throughout the entirety of His life, and to the very end, Jesus walked in obedience to the second most important commandment, which is to love your neighbor as yourself.
The Fourth Word: Matthew 27:46
For the fourth word, we journey over to Matthew 27. Matthew 27:45-47 says,
45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” (Matthew 27:45-47, italics added)
But Jesus was not calling the prophet Elijah. Instead, He was giving honest expression to the horror of God-forsakenness. He had just endured three hours of thick darkness in the middle of the day. Darkness is what happens when God withdraws the light of His favor and grace. Darkness is what happens when God imposes judgment upon a nation and land. But in this case, God focused all of the judgment that ought to have been imposed upon all of His people from every time and place – and He focused it upon His one and only Son.
“All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned–every one–to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)
Our Lord was “cut off out of the land of the living” (Isaiah 53:8). He was utterly alone, with our sin and God’s judgment upon Him. Thus the cry of the holy Son whose highest joy was to live on communion with His Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" The 16th century Protestant Reformer Martin Luther supposedly once said, “God forsaken by God–who can understand it?” Indeed, who can understand the mystery of the rich and seamless fellowship between Father and Son being temporarily ruptured upon the cross? This is not the time for philosophical explanation. Instead this is the time for humble adoration at the intensity of the Father’s plan, the depth of the Savior’s love, and the high cost of your salvation. Jesus was cut off, so that you could be brought in. He was exiled, so that you could return home. He was orphaned, so that you could become a daughter or son. He was forsaken in order to seal the promise in His own blood: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) The cry that He uttered is a cry that you will never have to utter, if you belong to Him.
The Fifth Word: John 19:28
The final three words come in rapid succession. John 19:28-29 says,
28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. (John 19:28-29, italics added)
We might ponder these words – “I thirst” – on different levels. On one level, these words highlight the Savior’s humanity. Jesus suffered bodily, and in His body upon the cross He experienced thirst.
On another level, these same words highlight the majesty of God’s grace – that the One who came to quench our thirst first had to suffer thirst upon the cross. We remember what Jesus said in John 4:13-14,
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
And then we hear Jesus speak from the cross: “I thirst.”
Even so, the most important thing to say about Jesus’ words – “I thirst” – is the thing that John says about it in the very same verse: “Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”” (italics added) Jesus knew that His life and suffering and impending death were all taking place in accordance with what had been foretold in the Scriptures. Jesus’ life was what might be called a ‘Scriptured’ life – a life that was scripted by the Scriptures, a life that was prophesied beforehand by God through the prophets. And Psalm 69:21 was part of the script: “and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” (Psalm 69:21) And so, at the right moment, Jesus acknowledged His thirst. He did His part, so that they might do their part: “A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.” What is important is not the mindset or motivation of the men who “gave [him] sour wine to drink.” What is important is that Jesus was totally in sync with the Father’s Word and the Father’s will – and He never strayed from the script.
Modern people don’t like the idea of a script to which they are supposed to conform. But that’s because modern people, like pre-modern people, don’t have a heart for God. When I say that Jesus lived a scripted life, I don’t mean that He was like a robot running off of a pre-programmed operating system. He was true man, without a trace of iniquity, with a heart that delighted in God’s words, who walked with God in the power of the Holy Spirit, who always knew the Father’s will and never failed to do it. Sinners stray from God’s will because they want to stray from it. Jesus never strayed from the script because He didn’t want to. His food was to do the will of the One who sent Him (John 4:34). And in His heartfelt obedience we are able to find salvation.
The Sixth Word: John 19:30
The sixth word follows shortly after the fifth word. John 19:30 says,
30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30, italics added)
When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he was just minutes away from death. How remarkable that as He stood on the cusp of death, He was able to say that everything the Father had sent Him to do, He had done. He had done the Father’s will, all the Father’s will, and nothing but the Father’s will. “It is finished.”
We might wish that the “It” in “It is finished” was more specific. But consider this: the first verse of John 13 tells us that Jesus, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1) Then in John 17 – less than 24 hours before His death – Jesus prayed to the Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (John 17:4) And over and over again, in the Gospel of John and also in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we find that the Scriptures are being fulfilled in the events surrounding Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. When you put these things together, here’s what you get: “It is finished” basically means that all that Scripture foretold would happen concerning the first coming of Jesus, and all the work which the Father gave Jesus to do, especially the work of revealing and demonstrating the Father’s love for His people – all of this was done, fulfilled, carried out, finished. Nothing was left undone. “It is finished.”
The Seventh Word: Luke 23:46
Between “It is finished” and His final breath, there was one more word – indeed, the most fitting word that could be spoken just seconds before death. Luke 23:46 says,
46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46, italics added)
Earlier I said that the first three words that Jesus spoke from the cross expressed His love for people. The final four words, on the other hand, highlight our Lord’s love for, obedience to, and trust in the Father. The fourth word (in Matthew 27:46) was drawn directly from Psalm 22. The fifth word (in John 19:28) alluded to Psalm 69. This seventh and final word is drawn directly from Psalm 31. Jesus didn’t go to His death bitter and cynical. Instead, He went to His death purposefully, mercifully, humbly, and obediently – with unwavering trust in His Father. Psalm 31:3-5 says,
“For you are my rock and my fortress;
and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;
you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.” (Psalm 31:3-5)
As we read earlier from 1 Peter 2: “[he] continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” And he did that until the very last moment: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And then, He was gone: “And having said this he breathed his last.”
A WINDOW INTO THE GOSPEL
Finally, I want to return to the exchange between the repentant criminal and our Lord Jesus, in Luke 23:39-43. Although this criminal had lived a sinful and ungodly life, as he hung on a cross next to Jesus, the fear of God began to bear down on this sinful man. He came to the sobering realization that, although he and Jesus were physically close enough to have a conversation, spiritually he and Jesus were worlds apart. He knew that Jesus had “done nothing wrong” (v. 41). By contrast, this criminal knew that he had been justly condemned for his evil deeds (v. 40-41). And in just a matter of hours, he would step into eternity. What was he to do? As God caused light to shine in his previously darkened mind, this condemned criminal – perhaps for the first time in a very long time – actually did something that was truly sensible. He asked Jesus, the righteous King, to remember him: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (v. 42)
Why should Jesus bother to remember a man who had wasted his life in worthless pursuits? That is a good question. And on what basis could this condemned criminal ever make it into Jesus’ holy kingdom? Psalm 24 says,
“Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not life up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the LORD…” (Psalm 24:3-5)
The criminal doesn’t qualify, does he?
Dear friends, the truth of the matter is that this exchange between the condemned criminal and our Lord Jesus is a window into the beauty and truth of the gospel. The truth of the matter is that there is nothing in the criminal – or in you or me – that qualifies us to “ascend the hill of the LORD” and make entry into Jesus’ kingdom. The truth of the matter is that we don’t deserve to be remembered by the King.
Why would Jesus bother to remember a man who had wasted his life in worthless pursuits? Because Jesus is full of tender mercy. On what basis could this condemned criminal ever make it into Jesus’ holy kingdom? On the basis of free and undeserved grace, which is the only way that any sinner can get in.
And you thought you had to fix yourself up? Perish the thought!
Brothers and sisters, Jesus is the only Blessed and Holy One who is totally qualified to enter into the Father’s holy presence. And He is glad to bring you with Him, if you trust Him.
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38)
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)
And back came the King’s gracious promise: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Amen and amen.
More in Good Friday Sermon
April 7, 2023The King Who Serves His People