TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1: Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
Chapter 2: Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
Chapter 3: Woman, behold thy son!... Behold thy mother!
Chapter 4: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Chapter 5: Four divine interruptions.
Chapter 6: I thirst.
Chapter 7: It is finished.
Chapter 8: Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.
On Good Friday, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. On Mr. Lincoln's tomb in Springfield, Illinois, are written these words: "Now he belongs to the ages." On the first Good Friday, Jesus Christ died, murdered by his enemies. Over his borrowed, but now empty tomb could be written these words: "Now the ages belong to him." Lincoln's body lies in his tomb, awaiting the resurrection and the judgment. Christ arose from the grave to be our savior and our judge.
In his book, "Reaching Toward the Heights," Richard Wurmbrand states, "Jesus has accomplished many things. The most important was that he accomplished the right decease in Jerusalem. His death had a purpose: he died for our sins. It had the right manner: he died praying, caring for his beloved, offering the kingdom for a thief who was a fellow sufferer."
The words that Jesus spoke as he was dying have been recorded for all time. This writing is an interpretation of those words.
FATHER, FORGIVE THEM; FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO
"And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots" (Luke 23:33-34).
Let us journey, at least in our thoughts, to Calvary.
"Calvary -- the place of curse and the place of blessing. The place of curse for Jesus and the place of blessing for us. Calvary -- where we see man at his worst and God at his best. Calvary -- where the Lamb of God was slain and where the Son of God gave up His life for you and me. Calvary -- where we see the awful depths of human sin and the tremendous heights of divine love. Calvary -- where all of our hopes are centered, both for this world and the next" (Ford, Seven Simple Sermons on the Savior's Last Words).
"Golgotha is the focal point of revelation and history and experience. There God did his best and man did his worst. There faith is justified, hope assured, and love conquers" (Jones, Gold from Golgotha). The most heinous act ever committed by man was the premeditated murder of the Son of God. His enemies had tried their best to do him wrong since the day he was born. At his birth they had no room for him. As a baby, they had tried to kill him. Again and again he had been despised and rejected of men. Finally they had their way. The Son of God yielded himself to them and allowed them to crucify him.
The first words he spoke from the cross were a prayer, a request for forgiveness for his enemies; he was not forcing forgiveness upon them, but if they sought it, forgiveness would be there. Neither was he asking God to forgive ignorance. Jesus was not asking for a blanket pardon for sin. This would be inconsistent with the ideas of divine justice and freedom of choice. God does not force himself on anyone. Jesus never granted pardons unless they were asked for in a prayer of faith. When the penitent thief asked for forgiveness, Jesus forgave him; but not to the whole mob.
"Man needs forgiveness for his sins, whether those sins were committed wittingly or unwittingly; and the forgiveness must be preceded by a blood sacrifice. Christ is that sacrifice. It is only as men turn to him that God can forgive them. In answer to Christ's prayer, the Day of Judgment has been postponed now for nineteen hundred years. Divine power has been holding back the gates of hell while divine grace has been helping poor sinners find their way to God. However, the postponement does not mean escape for anyone. If you refuse to come to God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are lost forever. You can obtain God's forgiveness by accepting God's Substitute" (Strauss, The Day God Died).
Man's greatest need is to be forgiven. We need health and strength. We need food, clothes and shelter. We need many things, but most of all we need God's forgiveness. If we do not have this, we have nothing. "The thing that matters most when we face Jesus is: ‘Have your sins been washed away in the blood of the Lamb?'" (Ford).
"It is significant also that Jesus offered this prayer for the forgiveness of his enemies with complete confidence. He was perfectly sure that full forgiveness was available for every one of them. When he prayed for himself in the Garden, he prayed with a condition, an ‘if' upon his lips, ‘If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.' But here he did not ask the Father to forgive if forgiveness was possible. He knew that forgiveness was already in his own heart. He knew that what he was offering, God was offering also. This Jesus, in perfect confidence, asked for heaven's best even for his enemies" (Chappell, The Seven Words).
Jesus left us an example: When we can do nothing else, we can pray. If our life has been a life of prayer, this will be natural; if not, it will be tragic. While Jesus was hanging on the cross, he could not lay his hands on the sick, because his hands were nailed to the cross. He could not walk to Mary and Martha when they needed him, because his feet were nailed to the cross. He could not teach his disciples as he had done in the past, for all but one of them had fled and left him to die, alone. All he could do was pray.
There is another lesson to be learned from Christ's prayer. No one should be considered beyond the reach of prayer. Jesus prayed for his murderers -- those who had committed the worst sin possible. We must never lose hope for those for whom we pray. We must keep on praying. "Let us too make intercession for the enemies of God, and if we pray in faith, we also pray effectively unto the salvation of lost sinners" (Pink, The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross).
Jesus said, "Father." He was always conscious of the fact that he was God's son. When he said, "Father," he was proving that his faith was unshaken by past, present or future events. Many times faith is tempted to doubt, to question, when wrong seems triumphant. When disappointments come, even the strongest saints need reassuring by God. But when Jesus was experiencing his darkest hour, his faith in God the Father was still as strong as ever. He still called him, "Father."
"When he said, ‘Father, forgive them,' the unexpressed implication is clear, ‘And condemn me.' For only by assuming their debt could he plead for their forgiveness. In this appeal he was isolating himself as the world's only Savior" (Jones).
The words, "then Jesus said," could be translated, "then Jesus kept saying." This the Greek text would indicate (Jones). When Jesus first stepped onto Calvary, he prayed, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." When they nailed his hands to the cross, he prayed, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." When they nailed his feet to the cross, he prayed, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." How could those standing by doubt the sincerity of this prayer?
Why did Jesus call upon the Father to forgive sins in this instance when he himself had done so before? Matthew 9:6 says that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins. Jesus was no longer on earth; he had been lifted up from the earth by the cross. As he hung there, he became our sacrifice, he was our representative. He was being offered to pay the price for sin; therefore, the power to forgive sins was now in the Father's hands (Pink).
It would have been only natural if Jesus had prayed for himself. Human nature would indicate such action. The thrill of this first word is that he did not pray for himself. He did not even pray for any that were close to him. He prayed for his enemies -- the soldiers who had crucified him, the religious leaders who had condemned him, and the howling mob that was railing on him. When Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, he said that we were to love our neighbors and pray for them that despitefully use us. As he hung on Calvary's cross, he practiced what he had preached.
As he prayed, Jesus made no request for himself. He was dying that man might have eternal life. He was truly concerned about others. If what he had spoken in his public ministry had been a lie, it would have shown up in his first words from Calvary. A sinner about to die will not pray for others. Jesus had no sin, so he prayed for his enemies.
Jesus' prayer of forgiveness was the best possible prayer he could have prayed for those who were crucifying him. Which would be better, to be released from a penalty or to be forgiven and pardoned of the crime and guilt? Man might excuse us from a crime, but only God can remove the guilt from our souls.
Forgiveness by God is not an escape from the physical consequences of sin. If we sow wild oats, someday we will reap that harvest. If a convicted murderer, sitting on death row accepted Christ as his Savior, his sins would be forgiven; but the physical consequences, that is, the death sentence, would still be carried out because of the crime. The man would die a Christian, but the consequences of his sin would end his physical life.
When God forgives us, he releases us from the spiritual consequences of sin -- eternal punishment -- and restores us to fellowship with him. When we are forgiven, we can walk with God in holiness. We have a new life created and substituted in place of the old. The sinful nature is crucified with Christ, and God's forgiveness gives us power to overcome the temptations of the devil.
Isaiah, in the fifty-third chapter of his prophecy, told many things that would happen to Jesus on the day of his death. One of the most important parts of the prophecy concerns Isaiah's statement that the Savior would make intercession for the transgressors. Jesus asked God to forgive them. Do we not pray this way in praying for souls? "Lord, forgive them." The prayer goes unanswered unless they themselves pray this prayer, too. Nevertheless, we have done our part. Jesus did all that he could. He died for sinners. He prayed for sinners. Now we who are sinners must come to him.
Ignorance caused Jesus' murderers to fail to discern the fact that they were crucifying the Lord of Glory. "In these days when knowledge shall increase and has increased, one has only to turn to the great technological advances in any field of science to know that spiritual insight has not increased in the same proportion as natural insight" (Strauss). Man remains, for the most part, spiritually ignorant.
"Count Leo Tolstoy, Russian writer, testifies, ‘For thirty-five years of my life I was, in the proper sense of the world, a nihilist -- a man who believed nothing. Five years ago I believed in the doctrines of Jesus, and my whole life underwent a sudden transformation.'
"The right Honorable Sir A. J. Balfour, British statesman and essayist ... wrote, ‘Christ is a rare jewel, but men know not his value.'
"There are those who have heard the truth and can believe it if they want to believe it. Their unbelief is a wilful refusal on their part to accept the truth. And for all such there is no forgiveness unless they turn from their unbelief and receive by faith the Lord Jesus" (Strauss).
Jesus was not seeking to excuse his enemies' sin because of their ignorance. These men knew that what they were doing was wrong. They were murdering an innocent man. They all knew this -- from the religious leaders to Judas to Pilate, to the soldiers. There was not one of them who could plead "not guilty" to what they were doing.
Why then did Jesus pray as he did? Their ignorance lay in the fact that they did not realize just how guilty they were. "When Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,' it was as if he had said, ‘Forgive them, for they need forgiveness so desperately'" (Chappell). This prayer was for a need that was beyond their comprehension.
During the war between Russia and Finland, seven Russians were being held prisoner by the Finns awaiting execution. They were Communists and godless unbelievers. The men were to die at sunrise. They had no hope, and they knew it. Suddenly, as they were sitting in their cell, one of them began to sing a hymn that he had learned as a child. When he finished, his comrades ridiculed him.
That man said that something had impressed him to sing that song, and as he did so he had accepted Christ as his Savior. One by one the other six men began to pray. By four o'clock that morning, all seven had been saved.
When the clock struck 6 a.m., they were marched out into the yard to die. They asked for permission to die with their faces uncovered, with their hands lifted to heaven, and to be able to sing the hymn that had led them to Christ. As they concluded their song, the captain of the guards gave the order to shoot, and seven soldiers went out to be with Jesus. "They had turned to him when they knew what they were doing. And the sense of sins forgiven had transformed their doom into glory" (Jones). What was they hymn they had sung? "Safe in the Arms of Jesus."
Yes, the men who murdered Jesus were ignorant. The same tragedy of ignorance still happens today, time after time. Men and women, boys and girls continue to reject Jesus Christ. They will not receive him as their Savior. How we could cry out, "They know not what they do." The Bible says, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation" (Hebrews 2:3). If Jesus is neglected and rejected, there is no escape. There is nothing left, but hell.
Then said Jesus, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
"FINISHED! Living Words from the Dying Savior" is a full-size, regular paperback book, 108 pages. When a loved one dies, family members usually cling to the last words of the deceased and from them draw strength for the days ahead. For the members of the family of God, the last words of Jesus, our elder brother, have been recorded. FINISHED! is a study of Redemption's royal words -- the seven statements Jesus spoke while He was dying. These words were spoken in pain. They were spoken in love. They speak to us today.
When "Finished" went out of print, I bought the remainder from the publisher. If you would like a copy, send $4.95 plus $1.95 S/H to: David Sisler, 233 Woodland Drive, Augusta, GA 30907, USA. Or go to www.paypal.com and make a payment for $6.90 to my account -- "camapa233." And thank you!