THE SEVEN LAST WORDS OF JESUS
Selected gospel verses
You pay attention to a loved one’s last words. Words like, I love you, or, Take care of your sister, or, Peter Marshall, Chaplain of US Senate’s, famous last words to his wife, as they carried him out in the stretcher after his second heart attack, See you in the morning! And, indeed, she did–on the first heavenly morning they spent together.
As I’ve told you before, I have always been inspired by my preacher grand-father’s last words. As Gramma and my mom were rushed into his bedroom for their final good-bye, he pointed up. Mom said, Dad, soon you’ll hear the angels sing. And my Gramma chimed in, And Jesus will say, Well done! He replied with a last word that has inspired me about that last step between this world and the next. Simply, Applaud.
And so it is that on this Palm/Passion Sunday, I want us to pay attention to Jesus’ seven last words. They transform us as they tell us who he is for us and for others.
The first 3 of his last 7 words tell us how much he loves us. Beginning with Father forgive them for they know not what they do. What a loving thing to do, to forgive with one’s last breath. But who is he forgiving? The soldiers, who are part of the execution detail that are just doing their job? They’re calloused to Jesus’ screams, and just pound the nails and hoist the cross up, dropping it with a thud in the hole. The religious leaders who manipulated Pilate and the Romans? The Romans who did it? Or you and I? I believe it is all of us. Especially us. So we can stand amazed by such grace.
The second word is Today you will be with me in Paradise. This was spoken to one of the two thieves between which Jesus was crucified. One was a thug who mocked Jesus, If you’re the Messiah save yourself and us. But the other thief rebuked him, Hey we’re here for a crime, but Jesus hasn’t done anything wrong. Then he asked Jesus to remember him. Isn’t it loving that Jesus did evangelism till his last breath? I’ve been praying to share my faith more often. To a Jew who was losing faith after a death, I said, When I lost a child I had to yell at God for a while. Jesus did the same on the cross. Try it. Since then I am praying that the Holy Spirit will help and bring him to the cross.
To a woman turned off years ago when her church choir scolded her for working on Sundays, I said, I understand that the church can seem judgmental, almost like God’s enemies. I love you and your family. I hope you’ll consider NBRC your church family.
The third word displays family love. Among the few friends that stayed to witness Jesus’ death were his widowed mother and probably single disciple, John. And so with his last breath Jesus instructed them to care for each other. And so Jesus’ infinite love strengthens us to care for, and be taken care of by our family, and church family.
Words 4 and 5 speak of how much Jesus suffered for us. As the physical agony of pushing down on nails to lift up one’s chest to breathe increased, and the spiritual agony of bearing the weight of the world’s sins increased, Jesus let out this excruciating cry. Why would God forsake a son? Because God is so holy that God cannot even look upon sin. To redeem creation, Jesus had to suffer alone—in solitary confinement.
The fifth word highlights Jesus’ physical distress. As you may have swabbed a loved one’s mouth with that toothbrush sized sponge dipped in water, Jesus needed relief. So the Roman soldiers dipped a sponge in their version of a bucket of gatorade to quench his thirst. If you ever thought with the Gnostics that Jesus was just some New Age spirit with a fake body, here is proof of his humanity. In agony he endured that thirst so that he might quench our spiritual thirst and we might quench another’s.
The last two words speak of how well Jesus finished his mission. After Jesus received the liquid swab, he mustered his last amount of strength to whisper, It is finished. These words speak of a life well lived. A mission accomplished. And they teach us that if we’re going to receive the forgiveness of the first word and follow Jesus then we, too, must live lives of purpose and focus. And, even more than that, be willing to suffer to achieve God’s purpose! You see, sometimes I just want to receive the goodies— forgiveness, love—and bail when following gets hard. Hard like risking folks thinking I’m impolite by talking about my faith, or standing up for the unpopular when that’s unpopular. Or evaluating my politics on the basis of whether they help the weak…
But Jesus wasn’t completely finished until he commended his spirit to God. These words were part of every devout Jews’ evening prayer. And of the two signs that accompanied these last of the 7 last words, this one made it seem like evening. An eclipse of the noonday sun enveloped the cross in darkness. The God who wouldn’t look upon the sin for which his son suffered made sure that humans couldn’t look upon that suffering either. And then the second sign appeared. The 60 foot by 30 foot curtain woven in 72 separate squares that separated the Holy of Holies, God’s earthly throne room in the temple, from the Holy Place, was torn in two. Was it invisible hands that tore it? Or did the earthquake that happened just then cause a beam to fall down ripping the curtain at that moment? Regardless, now with the completed work of salvation we can go directly to God through Jesus, not through any priest, and live in God’s nearer presence everyday!
If you pay attention to Jesus’ last words you hear love, suffering and completion. Those are the words we need to speak about him to a world as spiritually thirsty as we.
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