Meditations on the words of Christ from the Cross. Tenebrae Vespers 2013.
St. Peter Lutheran Church
The Seven Words of Christ from the Cross
March 29, 2013
1. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy.
If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared. Psalm 130
Watch out. Be careful. There is forgiveness with the Lord Jesus.
You may be hard at work, trying to enjoy your sin, and all of a sudden His eyes might catch yours in the place where you thought He would never come, where you are trying to silence His voice forever. And then when His eyes meet yours you would see that He forgives you, even after all this. And that will either torment you further, that He just won’t leave you alone, just won’t let you be, but keeps loving you. Or, it might make you lose your freedom.
Father, forgive them. They shouted and shouted for Him to be crucified. They chose a robber and a murderer instead of Him. They looked for anything they could find to condemn Him. They needed forgiveness, and He prayed for them while they hammered home the nails.
Is He such a threat?
He threatens forgiveness. The threat of forgiveness puts at risk the one sure thing, the one rock all people are sure will not move—that we are free. And if we aren’t right with God now, we can get there if we are serious about it.
Forgiveness. It meant all they had tried to do for God could not stand. The cracks had appeared, and it was all coming tumbling down. You’re no better than the Gentiles, priests, wide phylacteried Pharisees and scribes, hypocrites! God did not smile on their offering or on them.
He did not look on Cain’s offering with favor, either. He did not praise it. He had no pleasure in the bulls and goats burned by the priests. He did not accept the long prayers and handwashing, the fasting and tithing of the Pharisees.
Instead He demanded a strict accounting, absolutely impartial. The sins that we consider not worth thinking about because they are unavoidable—such as pride, selfishness, evil thoughts that fly through heart and mind like sparrows flying through a barn—God forgot nothing of them. Every one was recorded, and the ledger had to be balanced.
No smiles from the Lord at Cain’s dutifulness in bringing an offering. He was not pleased with the knowledge of the Scribes, the tithing of the Pharisees, not even, at the end of the day, with the ministry of the priests, even though He had commanded it. He had commanded it, but it had never really been sufficient. The priests were sinners. The animals they slew did nothing to help pay back their outstanding debts, much less other people.
Only one worship was pleasing to the Father: the innocent, spotless, pure life of Jesus, and the offering of that life to pay the debt of His sinful brothers. His blood which poured for the sin in the heart, and the sins of our hands and our lips. Which poured for the sins of our fathers and the sins of our sons.
For our willful sins, the ones which make noises in the dark room of our conscience. And our daily sins, which are too many to count, which for the most part our hearts are too sick and dead to feel. Our unavoidable sins. They cry out for punishment. They cry out for blood. They cry for Jesus’ crucifixion. He prays for the crowds then and the crowds of sinners throughout history whose hearts cry out for His blood. Father, forgive them. They do not know what they do.
2. “Truly I say to you: Today you will be with me in paradise.”
How can it be that a man who was nailed to a cross as a criminal could enter paradise the same day? How can a man who reviled Jesus so quickly enter His kingdom?
It only happens because Jesus really wants to save truly evil people. He really does not want to condemn them, but absolve and forgive them. He really wants to remember their sin no more.
So does the Father, who not only insisted that sins receive their full, just punishment, but also willed that His Son, His only Son, whom He loved, would drink the full measure of His wrath against all ungodliness.
The Father and Son together both really want sinners to be forgiven of their sins and enter paradise. See. The Son in Gethsemane, sweating blood as He meditates on the cross—not the spit, the mockery, the beating, the crucifixion, the betrayal, the braying crowds, the death.
Blood and sweat drop from His face as He contemplates the righteous wrath of God against sinners.
And He prays, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”
See how sincerely God the Father wants undeserving sinners to be saved? So sincerely that His well-beloved Son is not permitted to avoid the fire of His wrath which sinners have stored up for themselves. Which we have stored up for ourselves.
Realizing that we are guilty and Jesus has done nothing wrong hardly earns you eternal life. Turning around at the last minute after a life of sin doesn’t deserve salvation.
It’s just that the Father and the Son really want to give it. For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me…that everyone who looks at the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life. And I will raise Him up at the last day. (John 6)
3. “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.”
How is Mary supposed to get by without her son? How is she supposed to live with seeing her son die violently, unjustly? How will she sleep at night, seeing the crown of thorns, remembering the screams of those who hate Him? How will she forgive the cowardice of the judge who first had Him torn with whips and mocked, and then was too weak to save Him from death by hanging on a tree?
How can she love God after this? We struggle with this about mothers who lose their children. But her child’s Father is God. Yet God let the sky go dark; He let her baby be mocked and abused and robbed. He let His Son, her Son, die under His curse. Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree!
What kind of agony does God have as He looks down from the cross and sees His mother in anguish? He alone can comfort her. Yet He must not comfort her. He must let her suffer until the third day.
Woman, behold your Son. Son, behold your mother.
Do you see the mother in the church whose son has died? Who has no one to protect her and provide for her?
Do you see the son in the church who is cast out and forsaken by men? The one who is despised and men esteem him not? Who has no beauty that we should desire him, but people consider him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted?
Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother. You, His family, whom He suffered for, are His mother, sister, brother—you who hear His word and keep it. Jesus asks you to take care of His mother, or to be a mother to his disciple who has no mother. Jesus asks you from the cross to take care of His mother and His brother and His sister.
4. “I thirst.”
O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you…in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
The Passover lamb had to be roasted on the fire. All of it had to be eaten. None could be left over. What remained was burned.
Jesus is roasting in the fire of the wrath of God. Not simply the painful insults, the hatred, but in the blazing inferno of God’s wrath.
Or—in the blazing inferno of His love for sinners.
Love is a blazing fire…the very flame of the Lord…many waters cannot quench love (Song of Songs 8).
And what does He get for His love? The sour wine of this vineyard that bore no fruit. The dregs of our sin.
Yet He quenches the thirst of the thirsty with living water and the wine of the eternal banquet. He gives you the cup of the Lord, the cup of the kingdom of God, His blood, the cup of life.
5. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
What does it look like to be forsaken by God?
Look at a person who is dying and in terror of eternal damnation.
People can be put to death and not be forsaken by God. They can lose everything on earth and not be forsaken, and say with Luther “Take they our life. Goods fame child and wife. Though these all be gone. They yet have nothing won. The Kingdom ours remaineth.”
With Paul they can say “No in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life…will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Christian martyrs died joyfully.
When a person dies without assurance of salvation, or with despair, they feel themselves to be forsaken by God. But God has promised us in the crucified Son that He will never forsake us.
But Jesus really was forsaken.
Imagine, if you can, being damned. Suffering but worst of all knowing that it will never end. There is no hope.
That is what will happen to those who let Jesus die for their sins but reject Him.
But it is what happened to Jesus in the place of all men. The saints in heaven are there because Jesus experienced this. That is the price for our redemption.
Now understand; Jesus willingly endured this for your salvation. The Father permitted it.
How greatly God must love us, as Gerhardt says. What encouragement this is to those who find themselves in the depths, seemingly drowning in their sins and God’s wrath!
6. “It is finished.”
It is finished? How could it be finished?
How could it all be finished without our help?
How could it all be finished when we have barely even begun to know Him, much less suffer with Him?
When it is time to die—and that time is always—then it is necessary for us to learn to agree with Jesus that He has completed it.
He has expunged sin and erased the record of debt when He was buried with our stripes.
As often as we go to church, Jesus repeats this word: “It is finished.” “That I may learn to believe that Christ died for my sins out of great love…” is how Luther’s catechism teaches us to answer the self-examination question: “Why do you wish to go to the Lord’s Supper?” So that I may learn to believe what Jesus said on the cross. “It is finished.”
In the Name of the Father and of the (make sign of cross) Son+ and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Amen. Yes. That is the name in which I was baptized, where my sins were forgiven. Where I was buried and raised with Christ. It is finished.
I forgive you all your sins, in the Name …—It is finished.
The sermon, where Christ is portrayed before you as crucified (Galatians)–It is finished.
Take, drink. This is the true blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, shed for you for the remission of sins. Amen. It is finished.
The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you + peace. Amen. (It shall be so. It is finished.)
This is the work of God, that you believe in the one He has sent. (John 6) I can’t believe it. Therefore the Holy Spirit continually repeats the true word that Jesus spoke once from the cross. It is finished.
We keep hearing so that we may learn to believe it; He has finished our salvation, finished the old Adam, finished our re-creation.
7.”Into Your hands I commit my Spirit.”
I fall asleep in Jesus’ wounds. There pardon for my sin abound. Yea, Jesus’ blood and righteousness. My beauty are, my glorious dress. Clothed in these garments I shall stand when I shall reach the heavenly land.
Do we dare commit ourself into the hands of God?
Yes. See—Jesus chose this for you.
He makes himself my refuge.
His stripes and His wounds are my punishment. And they are the clefts in the rock in which I hide myself.
His giving up of His Spirit is our assurance. It is the end of his offering. And because it is an acceptable and perfect offering, it is our surety by which we commend our spirits to God. His Spirit which He commended to the Father testifies that it is so. And to this our soul’s salvation Witnesses your Spirit, Lord, In Your Sacraments and Word. There He sends true consolation, giving us the gift of faith, That we fear not hell nor death.
- “Whoever Does Not Receive the Kingdom of God Like a Child Will Never Enter it”. Sermon on Infant Baptism, Wed. after Judica 2013 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- “Jesus Knows What He’s Doing.” Palm Sunday 2013. (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)