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Seven Last Words on the Cross, April 14, 2006

with 3 comments

chagall

1. “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do!”

Imagine the excruciating pain of being nailed to the cross, not a piece of wood, but Jesus the most sensitive and loving person who ever lived. Jesus’ pain must have been massively increased, when they raised up the cross and the nails held all his weight.

I believe I would have started cursing. It would be the natural thing to do. But hear the words that come out of Jesus’ mouth: “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do!”

This is true. We identify and become conscious merely of the good things we want to believe about ourselves. But we do so much evil together and keep it unconscious. It is like an iceberg: we are conscious of only what appears and rises above the water, and we are unconscious of the monstrous portion of what we do below the surface, that we don’t know we are doing. These our actions below the surface, invisible, treacherous, dangerous, destructive, capable of taking down a vessel like the Titanic; capable of crucifying Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The cross rises up from our unconscious up into our consciousness so God shows us what we have done. We can take full responsibility only because of God’s gracious forgiveness given us by his divinely loving Son.

Thus the question: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

“Yes, indeed with hammer and nails in hand.”

“It is I, I who crucified you, dear Jesus.”

Now hear his words: “My Father forgives you. I forgive you. You didn’t know what you were doing!”

What a gracious Lord!

2. “Amen. Truly, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

What became of God’s good creation? Isaiah says that God built a wonderful vineyard, a people of his pleasant planting. Then Isaiah uses puns: and God looked for justice (MISHPAT) and behold, bloodshed (MISHPAH). God looked for righteousness (SEDEQAH) and behold, a cry (SE’AQAH). A mugging of creation took place.

How ironic that we opened up the gates of hell in Iraq, right where the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers flow, the legendary place of Paradise!

Thus all the thief on the cross does is turn to Christ, Christ crucified there beside him. He stopped the slander and abuse of the other thief. “Don’t you fear God?” He already saw the God who rules the heavens and the earth in the dying Christ, Creator now become Redeemer. He continues: “We deserve what we are getting, but he did nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!”

And Jesus, who liked to start his words to us with “Amen” the way we end our words to him with the word, “Amen” said, “Amen, truly today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The creation of God began with Adam and Eve in Paradise. We have opened the gates of hell and we don’t know how to close them. On the cross, Jesus redeemed the whole creation, slammed the gates of hell shut, and opened the doors of Paradise. And through Christ, being Christs to one another, we can all follow that thief into the Paradise of God’s Presence.

3. “Woman, behold your son,” and Jesus said to the disciple: “Behold your mother!”

Jesus is completely selfless, completely concerned about the needs of others, just like he graciously forgave us, even inside the unbearable pain and suffering he was in.

In this case, even from the cross, Jesus sees his mother, Mary, probably being held by his beloved disciple John. She may have been doubled over, now having had that sword pierce her soul.

Moved by untold compassion from completely selfless love, Jesus says, “Woman, behold your son” and to the disciple: “Behold your mother!”

What kind of a man is this? Where someone would be completely absorbed in his own pain, suffering, and dying, Jesus is still seeing the need of his mother and providing for her out of a heart full of compassion.

It is quite natural when we are sick, especially with pain, for us to become completely absorbed with it. Anticipating bouts of pain in our hospital beds, we can’t see those around us. Someone brings in flowers. We cannot see them or the one who brings them. Sickness, pain, suffering turn us in upon ourselves.

Nailed there to the cross, Jesus, we would think, would also become swallowed in his own pain, suffering, and coming death.

“Becoming curved in upon the self” is one definition of sin. Often the snake or the serpent becomes a symbol of sin, coil upon coil, turned in upon itself, ready to strike.

Jesus became sin for us on the cross, the way Moses lifted up a serpent in the wilderness. But Jesus crushed its head as it bit his heel. He remained turned upwardly open to God and outwardly to the needs of his neighbors. In this case, his neighbor is his mother, Mary, whom John took into his own home from that very hour.

4. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We like to soften these words of Jesus as we say, “Look at that. While dying he is citing the scripture, that is, Psalm 22.” Or we leave the words in Hebrew in order not to understand them: “ELI, ELI, LEMA SABACHTHANI?” Luke and John find them too painful to include in their gospels, while Mark and Matthew include them. Scholars speak of them as Jesus’ “cry of dereliction.”

Mark and Matthew faithfully record that when it became noon, darkness covered the whole land until 3:00pm. The Jesus shouted these words with a loud voice.

The people around the cross also could not grasp what Jesus was saying. Several of them ran and put a sponge with sour wine on a stick and were about to raise it to Jesus’ lips. Others prevent them. “Stop. He is calling Elijah. Let’s see if Elijah comes and takes him down from the cross!”

Then Matthew and Mark say that Jesus uttered one more loud cry and breathed his last. There was only the silence of God thereafter, except that the curtain of the temple ripped in two from the top to bottom.

Jesus was not calling Elijah. Jesus was not showing how holy he was dying with the scripture on his lips. He felt that not only had his disciples abandoned him as well as everyone else, but now he also felt that God had abandoned and forsaken him.

Perhaps he thought that the Son of Man would come riding down on the clouds and put an end to history and begin the visible triumphant reign of God. Perhaps he hoped for some divine intervention in the face of this excruciating contradiction: the Holy One of Israel nailed onto a tree like a common criminal and waiting to die. How could God remain silent? How could God let it happen?

Perhaps Jesus felt God very powerfully in his life, so while his life was oozing out of him, he felt that God was leaving him as well.

Jesus was not only fully divine in nature, he was also fully human. He was dying just like we die, but a particularly bitter, cruel, and painful death. Just like we often do in a wretched experience, he began to reproach God. He suddenly questioned God. Just like in Gethsemane in his weakness, he asked God to let this cup pass over him.

Now as he is about to die, this very human side cries out.

Oh, what dread!

God in Christ is dead!

5. “I thirst.”

Thirst is such a wretched thing. It is worse perhaps than hunger. The mouth just dries out. The tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth and the aching feeling of thirst engulfs the whole being in need of water.

We dare not merely interpret Jesus’ meaning to be, “I thirst for righteousness” as in “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; they shall be filled.” There is a place and a time to quench the thirst of the soul and the hunger of the heart, but we should not spiritualize thirst.

It is too easy getting into a disembodied spirituality. No, Jesus says, “I am thirsty!” Adding to all his pain, pulsing down from the nails in his hands and up from the nails in his feet, and from his scourged, shredded, and bleeding back against the splinters of that cross, was his thirst.

We should not bring the dying Christ sour vinegar to drink, but cool water to quench his thirst to free up his parched and aching tongue.

Christ had to thirst, but rose up to lead us beside the still waters, where we can quench our thirst and fill ourselves with cool, clear, wonderfully thirst-quenching water needed for the refreshment and renewal of our strength of life. Out of his thirst flows a river of living water for us. But he had to thirst.

6. “It is finished.”

Jesus had come down to earth and now realizes that he accomplished what God sent him to do. The Word had become flesh and dwelt among us. In Hebrew the word, “flesh” can mean a human being. Jesus had become fully human and died like any mortal.

Jesus had finished the new creation which we call the redemption. On that cross the old selfish and sinful Adam and Eve were overcome by the first Christ, and now new Christlike beings, selflessly living their lives follow Christ in that covenant of love.

Christ had sealed his love making it ultimate: “No one has greater love than this, than to lay down his or her life for their friends.” Now by dying on the cross, Jesus had demonstrated God’s divine and unconditional love for us. His gospel ignites that love in us.

Not only should we think Jesus accomplished what he was sent to do, but also who he was sent to be in the flesh. He became the Messiah, Passover Lamb of the new covenant. Where Moses was the servant of God for the people of Israel, Jesus was the suffering servant, not only to lead Israel out of the House of Bondage through the wilderness into the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. No, Jesus was not only sent to save the Jews. In the words of Isaiah, “It is too light a thing that only Israel should be saved. I will make you a light to all the nations.”

Therefore the Lord of all the nations is Christ and not Caesar. Caiaphas, Herod, Pilate, and even Caesar are judged by the Christ and found wanting, as he leads the children of God into glorious new Passovers and Exoduses of the Kingdom of Heaven.

7. “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”

These are the last words of Jesus before he breathes his last breath in the Gospel of John.

People around the cross took fright. The women standing off at a distance beat their breasts. The centurion said, “Indeed, this was the Son of God!” They realized that they stood in the midst of a scandal. But those who wanted to celebrate the Passover Feast said it was a scandal to allow the crucified and cursed to remain alive into the Passover. Thus to remove them and to get on with the festival, they killed them post haste. The Roman custom was to break the legs of the crucified, smashing their legs with iron rods, starting with the toes and breaking the legs until the criminal died.

When it was Jesus’ turn, he was already dead, so they did not break his legs – a fact that fulfilled scripture. As the centurion pierced Jesus’ side with his spear, again fulfilling scripture, water and blood poured out. (John who saw these things testifies so that also you might believe. John’s testimony is true and he knows he tells the truth.)

John is overwhelmed, because not only the waters of baptism and the blood of Holy Communion poured out, but from the body of Christ, the water and blood of the new birth of creation broke forth for our redemption.

Jesus entrusts his spirit, his life to God, his Father. His great heart breaks. His body has given in. His life and spirit will have to leave it. Quietly he entrusts and commits his spirit into the outstretched hands of his waiting Father.

These Seven Last Words were preached at Trinity Lutheran Church in Fort Bragg, California April 14, 2006

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Written by peterkrey

April 9, 2009 at 6:07 am

Posted in Selected Sermons

3 Responses

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  1. Have a Happy Easter Paster Krey.

    Greg

    Greg Emmerling

    April 12, 2009 at 2:39 pm

  2. Pastor Krey – I look forward to seeing more pictures of St. Pauls in the old days. Do you have any pictures from the time I was there?

    Happy Easter.

    Thanks,
    Greg

    Greg Emmerling

    April 12, 2009 at 2:42 pm

  3. Dad, I’m not sure I was there when you preached this but it is incredibly moving. The idea of Christ feeling his life oozing out of him and this frightening him and leading him to believe his father may be oozing out of him as well was so incredible. I was very emotional reading that. It’s so human and tragic and beautiful, yet how more beautiful it is that you show shortly after that, that his faith overcame such feelings and even in his delirious and parched end his father made his presence known to Christ deep in his bones that he was not forgotten and that Christ in fact had won. just beautiful!

    Mark

    April 17, 2009 at 6:44 am


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