Merwyn Wishaart, UK
WORDS AT THE CROSS-(2)
WORDS SPOKEN BY THE LORD JESUS ON THE CROSS: Each of the seven sayings of the Saviour from the cross reveals a fundamental truth about God. In this article, we shall be thinking of ‘The God of forgiveness’ –‘Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’, (Luke 23.34).
The enormity of the crime: The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus was the most heinous crime ever perpetrated on earth. Of all acts of cruelty that have stained the pages of history, none can compare with man’s treatment of the Son of God at Calvary. In that foul deed, the extremity of the evil in the heart of man was revealed. The four Gospel writers each use an economy of words to describe the act of crucifixion. CAMPBELL MORGAN referred to the use of these few words as ‘reverent reticence’. May we be ever mindful as we draw near to the cross that we stand on holy ground.
Mark is the only Gospel writer who records the time of the crucifixion, ‘And it was the third hour and they crucified him’, (15.25). Immediately following the crucifixion, Luke records, ‘Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’. The soldiers must have been amazed at these, the first words spoken by the Lord on the cross. Not the unsavoury utterances that they would have expected from someone being crucified; but this man was different. Peter wrote,‘ Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not’, (1 (Pet.2.23).
The magnanimity of grace: His prayer was not for Himself but for the soldiers. In the words, ‘Then said Jesus’, the verb is in the imperfect tense, indicating that they were repeated again and again.
With one word He could have called more than twelve legions of angels, Matt. 26.53. But that word remained unspoken. The Saviour’s prayer was in accord with his teaching on the mountain, ‘pray for them which despitefully use you . . . that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven’, (Matt. 5.44,45).
The first saying from the cross revealed the magnanimity of God’s grace, ‘Father, forgive them’. ‘But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound’, (Rom.5.20). What the soldiers did, represented man at his worst: he could stoop no lower. By contrast, in his prayer we see man at his noblest and best in the man Christ Jesus.
The words were a prayer. His public ministry had begun with prayer, (Luke 3.21). His ministry on earth concluded with prayer. He prayed three times on the cross: the first, the fourth and the seventh sayings. The first prayer and the third prayer were addressed to His Father. His life on earth was lived in unbroken fellowship with His Father in heaven. Only He could say, ‘And he that hath sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him’, (John 8.29).
On no occasion had He to pray, ‘Father, forgive me’. He never sinned in thought, word or deed. But rather, He prayed ‘forgive them’, referring to the soldiers.
The veracity of Scripture: In this one verse, two prophecies were fulfilled. The first,‘[He] made intercession for the transgressors’, (Isa. 53.12). The second was fulfilled in what the soldiers did. In Psalm 22 verse 18, more than a thousand years before, David wrote,‘ They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture’, and this was fulfilled as John records, (19.23,24) .They divided the other garments in four parts, ‘to every soldier a part’, v. 23, confirming that there were four soldiers. There were four women at the cross.