by David McAllister, Ireland
Last words are very precious. It is so for all people everywhere. For the believer, to whom the whole Bible is precious, it is a joy to read and to meditate upon the last words of godly men, as recorded for us in the Scriptures. Indeed, the publication of this book is testimony to that fact; and when we come to our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, we would all agree that His last words are the most precious of all.
The chapters immediately before this one look at His last words in the upper room, spoken in an atmosphere of sorrow in the hearts of the disciples. There the Lord prepares them for His departure and for what will follow in the years ahead. After this chapter comes a consideration of His last words before His ascension. There the atmosphere is totally different: the disciples’ fear and sorrow have turned to joy, but He continues to comfort and instruct them in light of His going away and their future service for Him.
The subject for our consideration in this chapter is different, in at least two major ways. Firstly, whereas the words spoken in the upper room and in resurrection were in private, the words on the cross could not have been more public: in a place of execution. Secondly, and related to the first point, whereas the upper room and resurrection sayings were exclusively for the ears of His disciples, those at the cross were directed to a variety of people and were spoken for all who were there to hear. The cross was, of course, a unique event in very many ways. Perhaps one of the less-considered ways is that it gives us the Lord’s last words for the ears of the world. Not only is Calvary the last that the world saw of the Saviour until He will return in power and glory, it is also the last occasion when it heard directly from His lips. For this reason, as for many others, we would do well to give good attention to the words that He uttered.
It has often been commented that Divine wisdom is demonstrated in that God did not give us one ‘harmonised’ account of the Lord’s time here on earth, but four distinct accounts which provide us with a beautiful fourfold picture of our Lord, complementing each other to produce a complete whole. One of the ways in which this is seen is that each Gospel writer, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, penned his own unique record of the crucifixion. Each records words of the Lord on the cross, but none of them gives them all.
A comparison of the four Gospels reveals that there are seven sayings. Before considering them, it may be worth noting that this is a strikingly small number. When we think that He was on the cross for six hours, and that the last four sayings came in very close succession at the close of that period, it means that for almost six hours there are only three recorded sayings. This would remind us of how that our Saviour suffered silently. He could have said so much that would have vindicated Himself and condemned those puny men who carried out their different roles on that momentous day. Yet “He opened not His mouth” Isa.53.7, either in defence of self or in denunciation of others.
It is possible to be over-imaginative in our consideration of the significance of different numbers in the Bible, but we are on safe ground when we observe that, through the Scriptures, right from the seven days of the creation week in Genesis to the many ‘sevens’ in the Book of Revelation, the number seven represents that which is complete: Divine perfection. In light of that, it is appropriate that there are seven sayings of the Lord on the cross, when He was doing the work that His Father sent Him to do, at the close of which He could declare, “It is finished” Jn.19.30.
Regarding the occurrence of the seven sayings, three of them are unique to Luke, three unique to John, and one (the same one) is only in Matthew and Mark.
Though all the sayings were for all to hear, they were specifically directed to a variety of persons: two of them were general statements; three were directly to God; one was to His own (His mother and John) and one was to the thief who trusted Him.
As for the order in which they were uttered, a reading of the different Gospels leads to the following sequence:
- “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” Lk.23.34
- “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with Me in paradise” Lk.23.43
- “Woman, behold thy son! … Behold thy mother!” Jn.19.26,27
- “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” Matt.27.46; Mk.15.34
- “I thirst” Jn.19.28
- “It is finished” Jn.19.30
- “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” Lk.23.46.
The first three were spoken during the first three hours, and it is equally certain that the last four were at the close of the six hours. We cannot be totally sure of the order of the second and third sayings. However, this is not of vital importance, and it is in the order indicated above that they will be considered here.
“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” Lk.23.34.
In His teachings the Lord had instructed people to have a forgiving spirit: “Then came Peter to Him, and said, ‘Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?’” The Lord’s response was, “I say not unto thee, ‘Until seven times:’ but, ‘Until seventy times seven’” Matt.18.21,22. He was not saying that four hundred and ninety is the maximum: the point is that one should forgive without limit.
This first statement on the cross displays in fullest measure that forgiving disposition that the Lord taught should be in others, and the main practical lesson we must learn for ourselves is that we also should have a willingness to forgive those who wrong us. However, before moving on, we need to take a little time to consider the scope of the prayer: to whom does “them” refer and what is the meaning of “forgive” in the context?
The Lord was not granting these people (whoever they were) unconditional forgiveness of sins, nor was He requesting that His Father do so. We do not have to go outside Luke’s Gospel to see that forgiveness is contingent upon repentance, even at the human level: “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, ‘I repent;’ thou shalt forgive him” Lk.17.3,4. It is apparent that those for whom He was praying at the cross were not repentant (at least, not at the time He was praying).
It has been suggested that the Lord meant “forgive” in the sense of holding back judgment, and had He not uttered these words, God would have destroyed His tormentors there and then. However, there is no Scripture to suggest this. Indeed, in the light of verses such as Acts 2.23, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain”, it is impossible to believe that God would have intervened to put a stop to this event, in which these men were carrying out His plan.
There can be little doubt that Stephen at his martyrdom had the Lord’s death in mind when he cried, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” Acts 7.60, and this may well be the key to the meaning. (As we so often discover, Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture.) If so, then the Lord was asking that the people for whom He was praying would not be held accountable for this particular deed. There was the mitigation that “they know not what they do” Lk.23.34. While this prayer would not guarantee their salvation, it could mean that God would show mercy to them and give them opportunity to trust in Him and be saved. A later case exemplifies this principle: Paul, who was party to the killing of Stephen, Acts 7.58; 8.1; 22.20, wrote, “but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” 1Tim.1.13.
If this is the correct interpretation, then it raises another question: how wide is the scope of this prayer, in terms of those for whom He was praying? For when we consider those rulers of the people who delivered Him to die, it could hardly be said that they did not know what they were doing. True, they did not believe Him to be Messiah, but they knew that He was innocent of all the charges they laid against Him, and they willingly and actively did all they could to ensure that a good Man was put to death. Nor could it be said that they were “forgiven” in the sense that they were not held accountable for what they did. They said, “His blood be on us, and on our children” Matt.27.25, and it was: “… the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” 1Thess.2.14-16.
So, it is suggested that the Lord was speaking of the soldiers who were doing the work of crucifying Him. They truly did not know what they were doing; they were simply carrying out the instructions that came with their work and if they had disobeyed those orders they would have paid with their own lives. The context bears out this interpretation: the immediately preceding verse says “they crucified Him, and the malefactors”, which refers to the soldiers, and the phrase immediately after says “they parted His raiment, and cast lots”, which was also done by the soldiers, as confirmed by Jn.19.24. Thus, this prayer is embedded in narrative in which the actions of the Roman soldiers are the focus and it is reasonable to conclude that they are the object of the prayer.
That is not to say that the Lord was unforgiving toward those who were responsible for His death. He had a forgiving spirit towards all. However, this prayer goes beyond that and constitutes a specific request, which must surely have been granted, coming from Him. In the light of these considerations, taking it as referring to the soldiers is the most satisfactory view.
The verb “said” in “Then said Jesus” is in the imperfect tense, indicating that He kept on saying it. So, during the act of crucifying, and heartlessly gambling over the Lord’s clothing, which would all have taken some time, the hardened soldiers who were carrying out this act of supreme cruelty heard these blessed words repeated, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” What a contrast that must have been to the cries they would normally have heard from those whom they were crucifying, undoubtedly including the two thieves being crucified along with Him. These soldiers would have been used to the most unsavoury language and the most bitter attitudes towards them. The altogether different disposition of the Lord Jesus must have been deeply impressive to them. It may well have been the beginning of a work of God in their hearts which culminated in the glorious declaration made, not only by the centurion, but also by “they that were with him” (likely the soldiers): “Truly this was the Son of God” Matt.27.54. So, it is more than possible that that very day the prayer of the Lord was answered in the fullest sense: in the salvation of the soldiers who crucified Him.
One is reminded of the words of Peter: “Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not” 1Pet.2.23. We delight to think of how He endured it all, while harbouring no bitterness towards those doing such things to Him. Yet, Peter’s words are not given in isolation, but as an example for His people to follow: “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps” 1Pet.2.21. We still live in a world that knows nothing of a Christ-like spirit; all around us, ill-will, grudge-holding, and the desire to ‘get even’ are the order of the day. It should not be so for us, whether in our dealings with fellow-believers or with the world. Do we really appreciate Christ’s forgiving disposition? The measure of how much we do is the degree to which we show forgiveness towards others.
“Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with Me in paradise” Lk.23.43.
As noted in the introduction, we cannot be sure that this is the next saying in chronological order, but many take it to be so and it is appropriate to consider it now, as it does link with the first saying, in that it also concerns the Lord’s merciful attitude to sinners and His forgiving spirit. Here, however, we move from the general to the specific, from a desire to an act. Here we see a specific sinner who repents and who receives deliverance from his sins, and only a few hours later, deliverance from unimaginable pain into the presence of the Lord Himself.
Many fine and fruitful gospel messages have been preached on this part of Scripture, especially contrasting the responses to Christ on the part of the two thieves and the sharp contrast in their eternal destinies. However, for the purposes of this meditation we will focus on the actual words of the Lord and a few important lessons that we can glean from them.
Firstly, we see that repentance is a real thing and that the Lord Jesus acknowledges it. Matt.27.44 tells us that initially both thieves blasphemed Him. However, on observing the Lord, one thief had a total change of heart: he came to see that this was indeed the Lord, the Messiah, and he rebuked his partner-in-crime and acknowledged the Lord. How graciously the Saviour acknowledges his request and responds to him. What joy it must have brought that dying sinner, to know that he was accepted by Him!
None of us is in exactly the same position as this thief. Yet most of us would have to acknowledge that we waited far longer than we should have before we repented and trusted Christ as Saviour. Very few obey the gospel the first time they hear it. How thankful we ought to be that He did not take all those refusals as our final word, but was patient with us, and when we finally responded to His claims and acknowledged Him as Saviour and Lord, He graciously received us to Himself. The same fact ought also to remind us that we should not take a sinner’s refusal of the gospel as final; nor should we ‘write off’ anyone, as long as he or she is still in the body. While it is the height of folly to leave this all-important decision until so late in life, we thank God that there is hope as long as someone is still alive. This story illustrates that reality.
Secondly, we learn that the Lord is indeed coming back to this world and He will set up His kingdom. The thief knew this and acknowledged it. The Lord, in His response, did not in any way contradict that hope, but comforted the man with an even greater blessing, as will be discussed below. But here, as on other occasions, such as Acts 1.6-8, when people spoke to Him concerning the coming kingdom, He said nothing to indicate that it would not occur; indeed, He often spoke of going away and returning, as for example in the parable of the pounds, Lk.19.11-27.
This may not seem to be a major issue. However, in these days there are many who affirm with great force that there will be no future earthly kingdom and that the Lord will not return to reign in righteousness over the world, but will come back at the end of time, destroy the world then and immediately establish the ‘eternal state’. The background to this saying on the cross, and many other Scriptures, show that this is not so. He will come again into His kingdom.
Thirdly, we learn much in very few words about what happened to the Lord’s spirit after He died, and about what happened to that of the thief. The Lord said, “To day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” So, the Lord departed to paradise. Paul writes in 2Cor.12.2,4 of having been “caught up to the third heaven” v.2, which he then describes as being “caught up into paradise” v.4. There is no need to complicate matters. We can take it from the Lord’s words that when He died, His spirit went to be with His Father and not long thereafter, on his death, that of the penitent thief joined Him there. The Lord’s words to him were surely meant to be a comfort, and doubtless they were.
Fourthly, a comparison of the thief’s request and the Lord’s response reminds us that the Saviour does much more for the sinner than he can even request or expect. The malefactor was humbly asking for an earthly blessing (“Thou comest into Thy kingdom”), at a point in the unspecified future (“when Thou comest”). How delightful must the Lord’s response have been to him: you will not have to wait until the future; rather, you will receive a great blessing today. Nor will it be a blessing associated with My coming to earth, but your coming to be with Me, in heaven itself! This reminds us of the moment of our own salvation. Each of us was full of joy to know that we had the forgiveness of our sins and that we would never be in hell. Yet, how much more we were given at that moment than we realised! As we go on in the Christian life, we know more and more of it, but we will not know it fully until, like the thief, we join Him in paradise!
“Woman, behold thy son! … Behold thy mother!” Jn.19.26,27.
It is touching to read about the two individuals addressed by the Lord Jesus here: His own mother, Mary, and the beloved disciple, John. We can scarcely even begin to contemplate the sorrow that must have been Mary’s. Many years previously, when Simeon held the baby Jesus in his arms, he had told her, “a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” Lk.2.35, and here it was being fulfilled. We could hardly overestimate the impact that this scene must have had on John either: that tender, loving man, who had been so close to the Lord Jesus throughout His public ministry. It must have torn at his heart to see that One, of Whose love John was so appreciative, hanging there in shame. Indeed, there were probably no two people in the world who knew the Lord as well as they did, or to whom He was more precious. In a way that they likely did not expect, their futures were to be brought together.
Mary was one of four women recorded as standing there at the cross, v.25. What a contrast they present to the four soldiers on service there, v.23. The members of the quaternion were there out of duty, with no interest in or love for the One Who was being crucified. The women were not there out of any sense of duty, but out of love for Him. We can picture the callousness of the four soldiers, as each took his part of the Lord’s garments. The tender-heartedness of the four women is so very different.
Only twice do we read of the Lord’s mother in John’s Gospel: at the beginning of His public ministry, at the marriage in Cana, and here at its end. In each case He calls her, not “Mother”, but “Woman”. It is not in any way a slight, but a term of respect. It is a reminder, though, that spiritual relationships are deeper than natural ones. The Lord entrusted her care to John, rather than to His own half-brothers. They were closer to Mary in natural relationship, but at that time they did not have the spiritual relationship with her that John did. Happily, that soon changed, so that we read of Mary and her sons being in happy fellowship together, Acts 1.14. However, the Lord knew that she needed not only physical care and protection but the fellowship of one of like mind. We can be very sure that, over the following years, Mary and John enjoyed precious times of communion together and that their frequent topic of conversation was “the things concerning Himself” Lk.24.27.
A few years previously at the wedding in Cana, John had heard Mary’s words to the servants: “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it” Jn.2.5. It was good advice. Now, in her presence, the Lord gives a command to John, and he does not delay to obey: “And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home” Jn.19.27. He was to treat her as if she was his own mother, and so he did.
We cannot fail to be moved by the intimacy of this moment. Though the scene was so very public and all that was taking place so harsh, in the midst of it we have a very precious, tender moment. It tells us a lot about Mary and John, that they were prepared to take their stand with the Lord Jesus in the hour of His ultimate rejection. But most of all it tells us so much about His selfless heart. He was not so taken up with His own sufferings as to neglect the real needs of His loved ones. One can readily picture Him viewing His mother leaving that place of unparalleled cruelty, in the tender care of the beloved disciple, and it bringing great joy to His heart. We are reminded of the words of Paul to the assembly in Philippi: “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” Phil.2.4,5.
We will never experience anything like what the Lord was then going through. However, we all do go through difficulties and trials in life. No matter how straitened our circumstances, may we seek in some little way to be like Him, in being conscious of the needs of others and seeking to help them in whatever way we can.
“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? … My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Matt.27.46; Mk.15.34.
We come now to the second group of sayings. The first three were uttered before the three hours of darkness, and we have no way of knowing at exactly what points they were said (nor are we any the poorer for not knowing). The last four were at the close of the hours of darkness, and thus in close succession. That this is so can be ascertained from the fact that the saying we are about to consider was uttered “at the ninth hour” Mk.15.34, and Matthew and Mark state that He died very shortly thereafter.
The fourth saying is not only the central one of the seven, it is also the only one quoted in more than one Gospel. It is also the only one in which the writer gives the original words the Lord used, followed by an interpretation. It is also the most difficult one to write about, for while we are on holy ground whenever we walk near the cross, here especially we must tread with particular care. Here are depths we cannot plumb. Here is something we want to understand as fully as we can and yet we cannot comprehend. This is an area where if we are not very careful, we may be guilty of irreverence, albeit unintentionally.
Of all the seven sayings, this is the only one that is a question. That does not mean it was asked in ignorance. The Lord Jesus, the omniscient One, was not unaware of what was going on, or why. Nor was it being asked in frustration, or with any sense that He felt He had been ‘let down’ by His Father. Perish the thought! He said, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work” Jn.4.34. He knew very well what that will involved, and that it was being perfectly carried out, right at that very time. Nor was it a cry of total despair, like one who would cry out to God with no hope. His use of the words “My God, My God” show His trust in His God, and He knew that the sufferings that He had been enduring were about to end. Nor was He expecting a verbal answer to His cry. The silence of heaven was its own answer, which spoke more eloquently than words.
The reality is that He uttered that cry for the instruction of those who were there, and of all who would read its record in the Scriptures, including us today.
Of course the Lord is quoting the opening verse of Psalm 22, and that is key to the understanding of the quotation. This Psalm is Messianic. Along with Isaiah chapter 53, there is no clearer Old Testament description of His sufferings. Many of the details given in this Psalm are specifically indicated as being fulfilled in the records of the crucifixion. In quoting from this Psalm, the Lord is showing that He is the fulfilment of the whole Psalm.
More specifically, in this Psalm we read: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? Why art Thou so far from helping Me, and from the words of My roaring? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. But Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel” Ps.22.1-3. Here is the explanation: “Thou art holy”. It is because God is holy that Christ experienced the desolation of Calvary; there was no Divine intervention to help; there was not even a verbal response to His cry. Far from being a complaint, the words of the Psalm are a vindication of God’s holiness and righteousness.
There on the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s perfect Son, was suffering as the sin-bearer at the hand of a holy God. “Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin” Isa.53.10. “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” 2Cor.5.21. His was desolation that none had ever known, or ever could. He knew what it was to be forsaken by God, to experience the horror of abandonment, in order that sinners might not know the horror of eternal separation from God. How deeply thankful each of us who know Him as our Saviour should be, that He willingly endured such desolation, so that we might never endure it!
How eloquently that reality was expressed in the circumstances surrounding this fourth saying on the cross! As far as we know, there had been three hours, not only of darkness, but of total silence. Suddenly from the cross comes this cry, piercing the air: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” There is no answering cry from heaven, but rather a feeble response from those around: “Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, ‘This man calleth for Elias’” Matt.27.47. They had no appreciation of what was going on. Thank God, we do. We cannot pretend to understand all that was involved (how could we?), and we would acknowledge that our appreciation is not what it should be, but we are eternally grateful for that cry and for all that lay behind it.
We struggle to grasp something of the enormity of what it meant for our Saviour, but there is an Old Testament type that, perhaps more vividly than any other, helps us envisage it. It is the scapegoat of the Day of Atonement. “And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness” Lev.16.22. There the goat was left, forsaken in a scene of utter desolation, with none to share in its sufferings, and there it died. Its heart-rending cry would have rung out over the vast wastes, but there was no answer:
- I saw a goat with heavy head drooped low,
- With sunken eye, and worn, far-travelled feet;
- In that sad land alone, a living woe.
- I heard its hoarse, forsaken, piteous bleat.
- It pierced the moral universe on high,
- Upon eternal shores the echoes brake,
- That lone, that loud, that lamentable cry:
- “My God, My God, why didst Thou Me forsake?”
- (I.Y. Ewan)
“I thirst” Jn.19.28.
This saying and those that followed it came very shortly after the previous one. The work was done: “Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, ‘I thirst’”. The Scripture referred to by John is Ps.69.21: “They gave Me also gall for My meat; and in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink.” The bystanders gave vinegar to Him, ignorant right to the last of how they were unwittingly the instruments of fulfilling Scripture, and thus of demonstrating its truth, Jn.19.29.
While those who presented Him with the vinegar were unaware of the significance of what was taking place, the details given by John emphasise that the opposite was the case for the Lord Jesus Christ. John highlights the fact: “knowing that all things were now accomplished” and shows that He spoke these words in order “that the scripture might be fulfilled”. Here is further proof that the Lord was still fully conscious, totally aware of the fulfilment of prophecy and experiencing the full pain of thirst, right up to the end. There is no room for any suggestion that His consciousness was diminishing, or that His sufferings were alleviated in any way.
It is interesting that it is John who records the Lord’s words, “I thirst”, as he is the one who writes of thirst and its alleviation more than all the other New Testament writers put together. It is he who records the Lord’s words to the woman of Samaria, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst” Jn.4.13,14. John records Him saying, “He that believeth on Me shall never thirst” Jn.6.35, and His cry in “the last day, that great day of the feast … ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink’” Jn.7.37. In Revelation, John writes of the Tribulation saints who “shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat” Rev.7.16. He records the blessed promise, “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” Rev.21.6, and that final appeal, “And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” Rev.22.17.
So it is fitting that it is John who records that the Saviour said, “I thirst”. How thankful we are to Him that He was willing to undergo this unspeakable distress, in order that we, sinners, might escape the eternal distress of never-ending thirst in hell and the lake of fire, Lk.16.24, might have our spiritual thirst forever satisfied and be forever in that place where there is no thirst.
“It is finished” Jn.19.30.
Although John is the only one to record the actual words that the Lord spoke in this saying, it is also recorded by all the other Gospel writers, who tell us that “He cried with a loud voice” Matt.27.50; Mk.15.37; Lk.23.46. That detail is in itself significant. Normally a crucified man on the point of death would not have had the strength to cry out with a loud voice. Here is a demonstration that the Lord’s life did not ‘ebb away’. He said, “I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” Jn.10.17,18. The loud cry is proof of that.
Often we are reminded that the three words “It is finished” are one word in the original, thus the Lord was succinctly expressing the completeness of His work, the greatest deed ever done, the greatest accomplishment in the history of the world.
The word “finished” is the same one translated “accomplished” two verses previously: “Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished”. What had been accomplished? So much was done, each aspect of which could take many chapters of multiple books. We can but briefly mention some of them here. The work His Father gave Him to do had been accomplished. The Scriptures relating to His death had been fulfilled. He had “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” Heb.9.26. God’s righteousness and His mercy had been demonstrated. The Law’s demands had been met. On the basis of what He had done, God could justly provide forgiveness of sins, redemption, justification, eternal life, and so much more, to sinners.
- Settled forever, sin’s tremendous claim!
- Glory to Jesus! blessed be His name!
- No part way measures doth His grace provide:
- Finished the work was, when the Saviour died!
It is not surprising that it is in John’s Gospel that we read this saying, for John records other statements that the Lord made on the same theme. In Jn.5.36 He says, “The works which the Father hath given Me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father hath sent Me.” The word “works” is plural and speaks of His many deeds as He moved in service for His Father. All these works bore testimony as to Who He is and by Whom He was sent. In Jn.4.34 we read Him saying, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.” “Work” is singular here, and points forward to where His obedience to His Father’s will would ultimately take Him: to the cross, where He would finish the work. Then, just hours before He went to the cross, in anticipation of having died and risen and returned to His Father, He prays to Him, “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” Jn.17.4. Now is the moment to which those references to Him finishing the work refer, and triumphantly He says, “It is finished”.
- And now the mighty deed is done,
- On the cross!
- The battle fought, the victory won,
- On the cross!
- To heaven He turns triumphant eyes;
- “’Tis finished” now, the Conqueror cries,
- Then bows His sacred head and dies,
- On the cross!
- (Joseph Hoskins)
“Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” Lk.23.46.
This saying comes immediately after the previous one, as John’s record makes clear: “He said, ‘It is finished’: and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost’” Jn.19.30. All the Gospels state that He “gave up the ghost”, but it is Luke who gives us the words that He spoke.
As with the previous statement, the voluntary nature of His death is plainly seen. The order is significant: He bowed His head, and then gave up the ghost. It was not the case of a man in total weakness with all strength gone who would breathe his last and whose head would then drop. No: He voluntarily bowed His head and commended His spirit into His Father’s hands. He was in control, right to the very end.
In these words we also see the total trust that the Lord had in His Father. They were used by David in Ps.31.5: “Into Thine hand I commit my spirit”. In this Psalm David writes of how he has been seriously mistreated, but that his trust is in God. It opens with the words, “In Thee, O Lord, do I put my trust”, and throughout it he expresses his hope and trust in the Lord, in the midst of all the treachery that others have shown to him. Now the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of David, Who has undergone greater ill-treatment than David ever did, uses David’s language to express His trust in the One Who is about to receive His spirit.
The first and last sayings are linked together in several ways: both occur in Luke, and only in Luke. They are also the only two in which the Lord Jesus addresses God as “Father”. So, from beginning to end, we see the tenderness of the relationship between Divine Persons and the total trust He had in Him, whether it is a prayer with regard to those crucifying Him or committing His own spirit into His Father’s hands.
The first and last sayings are connected in a further way, which is also seen in the writings of Luke: evidently Stephen, the Church’s first martyr, knew them, and his closing words are so closely linked to His: “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep” Acts 7.59,60. In the words “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” there is a strong echo of the last saying on the cross, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit”. The prayer “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” is a reflection of the first saying on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”.
It is likely that Luke too, as he recorded Stephen’s words, recalled the words he had recorded previously in his account of the Lord’s death in his Gospel. There are many thoughts that could be drawn from this. We will confine ourselves to two: firstly, we see the Deity of the Lord Jesus, in that the words that He addressed to His Father were addressed by Stephen to Him; and secondly, in both his pleas Stephen sets a wonderful example to us all of a Christ-like spirit being so evident in him in the most straitened of circumstances. We must each ask ourselves the searching question: do I practically from day to day “follow His steps”? It is all very good to read His sayings on the cross and to meditate upon them, but the real test of what good it has done me is the extent to which that spirit is manifested in my life.
Those at the cross formed a diverse set of people, and their responses to these events varied greatly. We could well marvel at how anyone could be at that scene and yet be unmoved and carry on in rejection of Him. Yet it is no different today. So many people read and hear the words of the Lord and remain indifferent. We identify with the prophet Jeremiah, who could write to the observers of the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of His fierce anger” Lam.1.12.
How thankful to God we ought to be that we are no longer in spirit among those who “passed by” Matt.27.39; Mk.15.29, but with those who loved and appreciated Him, and who “stood by the cross” Jn.19.25,26. As we listen to His words and observe all that took place, we take our stand with the centurion and declare, “Truly this Man [is] the Son of God” Matt.27.54; Mk.15.39.