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The Last Seven Words of Jesus

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The last words that a man or woman pronounces before dying come directly from the heart. Napoleon Bonaparte, the famous French general, is reported to have said as he lay dying, “ I am dying before my time and my body is going to return to the earth. This is the fate of the man we called Napoleon the Great.” On his death bed, Voltaire, the French writer, is said to have confided these words to his doctor : “I have been abandoned by God and by men! I’ll give you half my fortune if you extend my life by six months.” Jesus also, during the last six hours of his life, hanging between heaven and earth, enduring great suffering, pronounced seven statements revealing the richness of his inner being.

Crucifixion was a form of torture that literally knocked the wind out of a person. The weight of the body suspended by the arms caused immediate pain in the chest, paralyzing the pectoral muscles and making breathing extremely difficult. The person being crucified could inhale but had great difficulty exhaling. To exhale he had to push on his feet and straighten his legs to release the pressure exerted on his arms and chest. But the pain that this caused to his feet was so excruciating, because of the nails, that he would immediately cease any such effort. Death usually occurred within two or three days. But when the Romans wanted to shorten his agony, they would break his legs. So, unable to straighten himself with the help of his legs, the man would suffocate rapidly. The soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves crucified with Jesus to hasten their deaths, but Jesus’ legs were not broken because he was already dead (John 19:3133). Thus was accomplished a prophecy from Scripture saying that none of his bones would be broken (John 19:36). It is in this context, while he was fighting for his every breath, that Jesus uttered his last words.

While they were nailing his hands and feet to the cross, or a little later, when they were putting up the cross, Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

The majority of bandits and criminals, defiant and furious, would yell curses and insults while being nailed to a cross, but Jesus, filled with an amazing calmness and an inexplicable love, interceded with the Father for the forgiveness of his torturers. As J.C. Ryle, the famous Anglican Bishop of Liverpool expressed so well, “While the blood of the greatest sacrifice started to flow, the greatest of all high priests started to intercede.” Jesus, since he was God in the form of man, could have condemned his torturers or destroyed them with his breath. But then what would his sufferings have accomplished? He came to save and not to judge. He preferred to die for the guilty, which required of him even more strength and courage.

Praying for one’s torturers is not human. Jesus was able to do it because of his intimate relationship with the Father. By so doing, he accomplished the words of the prophet Isaiah, “He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53.12)

Touched by the repentant attitude and the faith of one of the thieves crucified with him, Jesus turned towards him and declared, “ I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

The story of the repentant thief demonstrates that an attitude of humility pleases God. The crowd, the magistrates, the soldiers and the other thief crucified with Jesus all mocked him (Luke 23:3539). Because they were absorbed with themselves, they were unable to see who Jesus really was. But the one thief had a completely different attitude (Luke 23:4043). Recognizing his own crimes and the justness of his punishment, he realized the innocence of Jesus (v. 41) and recognized him as being the Messiah (v. 42). Moved by his attitude of repentance and faith, Jesus promised him more than he could ever have imagined. The thief asked Jesus to remember him the day, in ten or fifteen or fifty years, that he would come back to establish his kingdom. But Jesus assured him that he would take him that very day to paradise. The term “paradise” is a Persian word that means a garden of delights. The word is used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, to describe the Garden of Eden. It also refers to heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:34 and in Revelation 2:7. We see by the story of the repentant thief to what extent Jesus takes pleasure in forgiving. Therefore, let us, with humility, come to Jesus for forgiveness, healing and an assured place in God’s paradise.

Even while dying, Jesus was preoccupied with others. He thought of his mother, among others, and made arrangements to ensure that she would not lack anything. “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:2627)

When we suffer, we become so completely absorbed with our suffering that we forget everything else. All it takes is a little toothache or a headache to make us irritable and quick-tempered. It is therefore amazing to see Jesus here, suspended on a cross, making arrangements for the care of his mother. Mary, Mary’s sister, Mary Magdalene and John were there at the foot of the cross and Jesus would have loved to console them. Despite his sufferings, his increasingly difficult breathing, the agony and sadness in his soul, he could not remain insensitive to the distress of those who had followed him up to that moment and who had no fear of identifying themselves with him. In fact, we see in the Gospels that Jesus always manifested great sensitivity and compassion towards those with whom he came in contact. (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34)

Mary, his mother, distressed by seeing her son scorned and tortured like a lawbreaker, would have gladly taken his place if it had been possible. She had suffered much because of him and he was conscious of that. When Simeon held the baby Jesus in his arms, thirty years before, he had declared to Mary that her child would one day be like a sword that would pierce her own heart (Luke 2:35).

Since Mary was a widow, Jesus, her firstborn, had the legal responsibility to see that she did not lack anything. But for Jesus, it was more than an obligation. He was sensitive to Mary’s pain and attentive to her wellbeing. Hanging there between heaven and earth, he made the best possible arrangements for her. He entrusted her to the care of John, his disciple and best friend (John 13:23). He knew that John would take care of Mary as he would his own mother (John 19:27).

Are our hearts filled with compassion as was the Master’s? Are we willing to share the suffering of those around us? We often hear that we should not “burn ourselves out” by helping others, but that we must keep our “energy” for ourselves and avoid being too “sympathetic.” But beyond precautions to prevent a breakdown, are we not all called to spread a little more love in this chaotic world?

After five and a half hours of agony, at the peak of his pain, the Lord cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Reporting these words of Jesus on the cross, Matthew the evangelist emphasized that Jesus suffered the separation from God for which we were eternally destined. Never before had this deep, intimate fellowship between Jesus and his Father ever been broken. The feeling that Jesus had been abandoned by the Father was only too real. The Father had literally abandoned and turned away from Jesus because of our sins. This occurred just as the prophet Isaiah had predicted several hundred years before (Isaiah 53:46 / New Living Translation)

4Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sickness that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! 5But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed! 6All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the guilt and sins of us all.

God turned away from Jesus and poured out his anger on him while he was bearing our sins on the cross. We cannot measure the suffering that this rupture caused him, but we get a good idea from the extreme agony that he suffered in the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33; Luke 22:4144).

Jesus said, while he was still with his disciples, greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) The apostle John repeated the same idea in his first letter when he wrote, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16)

Giving our lives for others is far from being easy. But maybe even before thinking of giving our lives, we could give a little more time, attention and love to those around us.

As he was on the point of dying, Jesus, with parched lips, cried out “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)

Jesus was God. God the Son died on the cross for our sins. But Jesus was also perfectly human. As a man, like us he felt hunger, thirst and fatigue, and did not hesitate to say so. By crying out on the cross that he was thirsty, Jesus fulfilled a prophesy found in the Psalms (69:21). Who would have thought that the one who came as a source of living water for all men would one day suffer from thirst?

Because Jesus, as a human being, suffered hunger, thirst, solitude and many other hardships, he is able to understand us and sustain us. He is able to console us and comfort us in our moments of suffering (Hebrews 2:18 and 4:1516).

Just before giving up his spirit, Jesus cried out, “It is finished.” (John 19:30)

Three of the Gospels mention that Jesus cried out just before dying, but only John reports what Jesus said. Usually a crucified person at the point of death did not have the strength to cry out but rendered his spirit with a moan. Jesus gave out a loud cry. His cry was not a cry of death but a cry of victory. He had just won the greatest victory ever. By his life of perfect obedience to God and his death on the cross, he had just opened the doors of Heaven to men. He broke down the wall that separated men from God and that deprived them of his good presence.

Now that the road to heaven is clear, what shall we do? Scripture says, “He is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25) We can do nothing to earn a place in heaven (Ephesians 2:8); Jesus earned it for us. Let us ask him simply to forgive our sins and be reconciled today with the Father. Although we are not yet there, as of today we can enjoy the delights of paradise (John 7:38).

At the moment of rendering his spirit, Jesus opened his mouth again and cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

These last words of Jesus corresponded to the prayer that the Jewish mothers taught their children to say before going to sleep. This prayer is an expression of total trust in God. It comes from a psalm in which King David put his future into the hands of the Lord God with the certainty that God would act in his favour (Psalm 31:16). By dying, Jesus threw himself into the arms of the Father, because he knew that God had prepared wonderful things for him. Actually, Jesus knew that after he suffered, the Father would raise him from the dead and would lift him up above all else. When Jesus mentioned his sufferings to come to his disciples, he always mentioned the glory that would follow them (Matthew 16:21; 17:9; 17:2223). It is this hope of Glory to come that gave Jesus the strength to suffer and to persevere to the very end (Hebrews 12:12).

What about us? In times of suffering, when all seems dark, when discouragement and sadness overwhelm us, do we turn to God and surrender ourselves into his loving care? Do we really believe that he reserves great things for us? Why not put our lives in his hands today? He wants to bestow his favour on us and bless us. So why wait? Here is what you could say to God in prayer:

Lord God, I recognize my faults. You could have condemned me because of them but you chose to condemn Jesus in my place. Thank you for his sufferings and his death on the cross. I pray that you forgive all my sins. Give me your Spirit, and enable me today to start a new life in fellowship with you. I want to follow you, to be attentive to your voice and to please you. Without waiting, I now put myself in your service. Amen!

Our Thanks to Laura Dytynyshyn, who translated the text from French, and to Jack Cochrane who reviewed it.

Related Topics: Devotionals, Crucifixion