The Death and Victory of Jesus
Passion of Christ, Seven Words
A person’s dying words are often memorable. Often they are even profound.
As we look at the death of Jesus we have a record of the last words (or sentences) of Jesus. As you compare the gospels there were seven statements that Jesus made from the cross. These are commonly called, “The Seven Last Words”.
- “Father, forgive them: for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
- “I solemnly declare to you, Today you shall be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
- “Woman, look, your son! … Look, your mother!” (John 19:27).
Between Noon and 3:00 p.m. during the time of darkness
- “My God, my God, why have thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
Shortly after the darkness Jesus spoke three more times
- “I am thirsty” (John 19:28).
- “It is finished” (John 19:30).
- “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Each of these statements is significant. Our focus is the words recorded by Luke.
44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 for the sun stopped shining.
Many people over the years have tried to explain what happened during the hours of noon to 3:00 p.m. Some suggest there was an eclipse. However, the darkness lasted much longer than any eclipse and you can’t have an eclipse during a full moon (and Passover was always during the full moon).
Still others say this was a mid-east dust storm. However, no dust is mentioned. In my mind, all such explanations are time-wasters. What we know is this,
- The timing of the darkness was not coincidence
- The darkness had an impact on the people at the cross (or it would not have been recorded).
Throughout the Bible, darkness denotes judgment. The Bible teaches the darkness was the period in which Jesus endured the wrath of God on our behalf. This explains the words uttered by Jesus during this time of darkness, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (from Psalm 22). These words were a cry of anguish (not a lack of faith) and hints at the horror of facing the Judgment of God.
Max Lucado writes,
The despair is darker than the sky. The two who have been one are now two. Jesus, who had been with God for eternity, is now alone. The Christ, who was an expression of God, is abandoned. The Trinity is dismantled. The Godhead is disjointed. The unity is dissolved.
It is more than Jesus can take. He withstood the beatings and remained strong at the mock trials. He watched in silence as those he loved ran away. He did not retaliate when the insults were hurled nor did he scream when the nails pierced his wrists.
But when God turned his head, that was more than he could handle.
Some people resist Christianity because of the “barbarity of the cross”. They say a loving God would never do such a thing. But I have never understood their reasoning. If a child had Leukemia a parent might “subject” their child to all kinds of treatments that made them weak and sick. Someone might say: “How could a loving parent do this to their child?” Yet I hope we all realize that these parents are doing this because they love their child. They are doing what is difficult, painful and necessary in order to bring their child back to health.
Was it wrong for Jesus to have to endure such things? Of course it was! He came to suffer because it was the only way for us to find forgiveness and peace with God. We could not save ourselves. We needed the help of another.
Think about someone who has lost function of their kidneys, liver or is battling leukemia. If this was your child, would you donate one of your kidneys, or bone marrow, or part of your liver to save that child? You would very likely do so gladly. Would it be painful? Yes. It’s not “fair” that someone with a healthy body should be caused to suffer . . . but it is what love does. And this is what we see on the cross.
Think back to the words of Isaiah,
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:3–6)
Luke tells us that “the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” This happened at the end of the darkness right before Jesus died.
This curtain was between the Sanctuary and the Holy of Holies (the place where the High Priest would go to meet with the Lord in person). The priest entered this room only one day a year (the Day of Atonement) and before he could do so he had to offer sacrifices for his own sin and go through elaborate cleansing rituals. When he entered, he did so with great trepidation, because he was going into the very presence of God and knew He could be struck dead.
This curtain symbolized the barrier created between God and man because of sin. Because of our sin God is “out of reach”. The Holy God cannot fellowship with those who are “sinful” because to do so would compromise His own character. It is kind of like someone shaking the hand of a Surgeon who was sterile for surgery. That simple act would compromise the sterile environment and the Doctor would have to begin the cleansing again.
At the moment the sin-bearer died bearing our sin the curtain tore from top to bottom. It was a sign that the way to God’s presence, which had been formerly forbidden to man, was thrown open to all. The heart of God, which had been distant and unreachable, was now available to all. To go back to our surgery analogy, it was as if all germs were destroyed and there was no longer need for sterilization. Jesus opened the doorway to God to everyone who was willing to enter.
In Matthew we are told that at the moment of Jesus’ death, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” [Matthew 27:51-53]
These are odd words aren’t they? But this “raising of the dead” was a sign of what the crucifixion accomplished. Note that those who were dead did not rise until after the resurrection. We’d like to know more about these folks. How long did they remain alive? What was the response of those who saw them? What answer did they give for what was happening? How many people were there? But the point of this detail is that Jesus not only broke the chains of death for Himself, He broke those chains for everyone who has turned to Him in faith.
The Cry of Victory
46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
John told us that after the darkness lifted, Jesus said, “I’m thirsty”. Then He said “It is Finished”. These were not words of resignation, but words of victory. The promise had been fulfilled. The purpose for which He had come was accomplished.
Think of a woman going through the pains of labor. The great pain gives way to relief and joy of that new life in your arms. Maybe you have felt that sense of victory when
- The degree is earned
- The surgery is over
- The house is built
- The menacing debt is paid off
- The big meal is prepared
- The manuscript is submitted
After Jesus said “It is finished” he said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then he died. The work He had come to do was completed. It was time to go home. Jesus surrendered his life; it was not taken from Him.
Luke now pans the camera to the crowd.
47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
The Centurion was a Roman soldier. He was used to watching people die. However, he saw something unique and different in Jesus. Maybe it was His intimacy with God or the incredible compassion he showed to the thief and His mother. It may even have been the darkness or the earthquake. This soldier saw that Jesus was not like ordinary men. He wasn’t hardened, bitter, or vile. He was indeed the Son of God.
Also near the cross were the town people who had come to watch an execution. They came for sport but left broken by the horror of what had happened. The events at the cross convicted them of their own sinfulness. When all was said and done, they knew an innocent man had been convicted.
Have you ever attended a funeral for a person that you barely knew and maybe didn’t even like? Perhaps at one of those funerals you heard stories about the person that helped you see them with different eyes. You realized that you had misjudged the person. As you left the funeral you may have felt a sense of regret that you did not take the time to get to know such a fine individual. If you have had that experience, you might know a little of the regret that these people felt.
There is one other group of people. “all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” These were the supporters and followers of Jesus. They stood at a distance watching everything.
Maybe you have been in this situation. The magnitude of what is happening leaves you like a spectator watching the events happening before you. You are numb. The circuits of your brain can’t handle everything that is happening so quickly. I think this is the way these people were. The day before, some of them were busily preparing to eat the Passover with their Lord. It would be like a group gathering for a wedding rehearsal on one night only to meet the next day to mourn the death of the bride or groom. The sorrow would be so great that you would be numb.
If you have ever been present when death’s door opens for someone you love, you have never forgotten that moment. We shouldn’t forget this moment either. There are several things to remember.
First, we must never forget that we were bought with a price. Sometimes we act like becoming a follower of Christ is about going to church, saying a particular prayer, or eliminating certain vices from our lives. But this diminishes what the Bible records. Being a follower of Christ is to be in a relationship with the One who has rescued us. It is not an obligation to fulfill but a privilege to enjoy. Following Christ is not easy but it is also not a burden. To follow Christ is to show love to the One who first loved us.
Of all people in the world we should be the most humble. We have been given access to the Lord of the Universe, not because of our goodness, but because of His grace.
Imagine you are at a sporting event, a concert, or a Hollywood premier. Now suppose the star of the event walked into the crowd and chose you to be their guest and companion. You were chosen not because of your talent or what you could add to the life of the star. You were chosen simply by the grace, kindness, and mercy of the star. You would tell everyone about your experience (probably until they were sick of hearing it) but you would tell the story with a sense of wonder at such an undeserved blessing. You might spend the rest of your life reflecting on the kindness of your benefactor.
This is the attitude we should have: one of exuberance, joy, and gratitude. Let’s tell the world what Jesus has done for us . . . but let’s also make sure that He has done this not only for us but for any who will dare to truly follow Him.
Second, the Bible warns us that the gift is given only to those who receive it. The one thief went to Heaven, the other did not. We don’t know what happened to the centurion, perhaps he became a follower or perhaps he just spent the rest of his life telling others the great story of that Jesus guy. He may have been impressed, yet still not transformed. There were some in the crowd who were transformed by Jesus. Others merely took note.
Merely knowing this information is not enough to experience the transformation of God. It is not enough to have Bible knowledge. It is not enough to have a moving experience. We must surrender our lives and then actually follow Him as He leads us from death to life.
Think about a person who is drowning. Someone on the shore jumps in to rescue the person in distress. Victims may respond in different ways. One person may be upset, repelled, or filled with fear by someone coming to save them. They may resist or even fight the rescuer. The greatest risk to the rescuer is that the person being rescued may take the rescuer down with them.
Someone else might be inspired by their rescuer. They observe the person swimming toward them. They see the strong strokes and think, “I need to do what the lifeguard does and then I will not drown.” They are grateful to the rescuer for the good example but insist that they can save themselves. Before long, that person will again be in trouble because nothing has really changed. No matter how inspired or well intentioned they are, they still cannot make it back to shore.
The person who is actually rescued is the one who is willing to rest in the lifeguard’s arms and allow him/her to take him out of danger. If they will rest instead of fight they will be saved from drowning.
Jesus wants to rescue you. You may be drowning in guilt, or defeat, or discouragement. You may be worn out from trying hard and always coming up short, or from illness, or from the beating of life. The question is: how will you respond to the truth demonstrated in the cross? How will you respond to the One who has come to rescue you? Will you push Him away? Will you just try to work harder? Or will you trust Him completely and rest fully in His arms? Will you follow Him as a little child who is so focused and trusting of his/her parent that they are unconcerned about the dangers around them? Will you leave the excuses, the complaints, and the concerns and instead simply say “Yes Lord, I will follow you?” This is what true faith is.
Finally, I hope you will be encouraged. There are times when even the most well meaning believer stumbles and falls. When this happens to me I am quick to beat myself up. I wonder if God could ever forgive me again. In those times Satan is quick to accuse and point out that “a true believer” would never do such things.
In these times we need to remember that we are not saved because we are good, but because He is gracious. In these times we can joyfully proclaim.
we can sing these great words,
My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood, Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.
When He shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in Him be found,
Dressed in His righteousness alone; Faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.