Words From the Cross

Isaiah 53: 6- “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

The accounts of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection are recorded in all four Gospels. Each one contains a saying of Jesus while he was on the cross, but none contain all that He said. We would do well to remember that each word our Savior uttered required tremendous effort and determination, because death by crucifixion was brought on by the inability to breathe—in weakness and exhaustion, the body would sag, which required one to use their feet to push up to draw a breath. Yet, undoubtedly for our benefit and the benefit of those witnessing this event, Jesus spoke out loud the words we would need to hear. None of the gospels went into great detail about the horrors of crucifixion, and I will not explore it here; but suffice it to say that it was the cruelest of punishments.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” These words of Jesus are recorded only in Luke, and according to general consensus, are the first utterance Jesus said from the cross. Stephen’s prayer as he was being martyred comes to mind, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). Verse 55 says that Stephen was “full of the Holy Spirit”, demonstrating that a mere mortal can be enabled—through the power of the Spirit—to love others above self to the point of genuinely forgiving those totally undeserving of such grace. And so our Lord—suffering as a human being—petitioned the Father on behalf of the very ones who mercilessly reviled Him: The thieves, the passers-by, the soldiers…the people who did not know what they were doing; those that acted ignorantly in unbelief. As Paul said about himself before he was saved, “who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1: 13).

Jesus described Himself as “meek and lowly of heart(Mt. 11: 29). Meek can best be defined as power under control…nowhere is this more powerfully demonstrated than at this time when, instead of calling down angels or cursing his tormentors, Jesus instead, petitioned for their forgiveness! It seems significant that Jesus asked the Father to forgive them instead of forgiving them Himself, as He had forgiven sins and had the authority to do during His ministry. Perhaps the people needed a chance to repent and freely choose Him as their Redeemer, which had not yet occurred.

As He had done His entire life, Jesus lived what He taught (read Mt. 5: 38-42); in fact, through His actions and words, He was teaching us how to forgive others, even as He hung on the cross. With these first words, Jesus exampled—in the most powerful way possible—true selflessness by forgiving the thoroughly undeserving, unbelieving revilers. Yes, He was truly “lowly of heart” full of mercy and grace—the kind of heart demonstrated in the Parable of the Fig tree found in Mark 13: 6-9:

The owner of a vineyard wanted a barren fig tree cut down, but his vine dresser intervened and asked for him to delay his decision so that the tree could be given every benefit and favor for success. I believe this vine dresser exemplifies the Savior’s heart, which is full of love—the kind of love that offers every chance for salvation. Praise God that we are beneficiaries of the Savior’s lowly (humble) heart of patience and mercy!

Over the next few posts, we will learn more about the words Jesus spoke from the cross.