Jesus never attempted to answer the taunts and  insults that flowed to him on the cross. He did,  however, speak words that revealed his thoughts.  They tell us of his love and care for others in  the midst of his own dire circumstances; of his  comprehensive knowledge of Scripture and how  it had, in God’s foreknowledge, mapped out the  order of events of his death; and how, finally, he  commended his spirit unto his Father’s hands. Our  love for our Lord must grow as we think about how  much he loved us.

The trespass offering

Jesus’ love poured out to meet the abuse cast at  him while on the cross: “Father, forgive them;  for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). In  their context, the words appear to apply primarily  to the Roman soldiers, who had no conception  of what they were doing! But the wondrous and  gracious words have wider application. Isaiah had  forecast that Yahweh would “make his soul an offering  (Heb asham, trespass offering) for sin” (Isa  53:10). This was the offering that had to be made by  Israelites if they invaded the rights of others in acts  of deceit and violence (Lev 6:2,4). Jesus “had done  no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth”  (Isa 53:9) – he was the one whose rights were being  trampled by others! He would become their  offering! In the true spirit of the trespass offering  the words, “Father, forgive them …” were spoken.

The repentant thief

As the hours passed, one thief grew silent. As he  watched the composure of Jesus, he began to wonder  and reflect. He had heard many things about  Jesus of Nazareth and through the clouds of pain  and anguish the light began to dawn. Faith in him  grew, spurred on by his pain and need. Rebuking  his fellow malefactor for railing on Jesus, he said,  “Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the  same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we  receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man  hath done nothing amiss” (Luke 23:40–41). And  then in words of remarkable faith he appealed to  Jesus, “Lord, remember me when thou comest  into thy kingdom” (v42). It was easy to believe that  Jesus was the Messiah in far away Galilee when  surrounded by those who had been healed by his  power; but now, at the mercy of his enemies, with  his life ebbing away, this conviction demanded real  faith. At that time his faith exceeded any on earth:  he knew Jesus was Israel’s Messiah, the coming  King, for which reason that day he received the assurance  he desired, “Verily I say unto thee today,  shalt thou be with me in paradise” (v43, adapted).

In this amazing interlude, the hand of Providence  can be discerned. God knew this man, that he would  repent, and so governed his life’s background that  he knew about Jesus. We might ask, “Why?” It was  an act of mercy, of wonderful encouragement for  His beloved Son in this hour of need, who, with  the angels, would have inwardly rejoiced to see a  sinner turn from the error of his ways. His labour  would not be in vain. Even in the least fortuitous  of circumstances redemption took place!

His mother and John – a final ministry

Venturing nearer now to the cross were those nearest and dearest, among whom were the three  Marys, the name significantly meaning ‘bitterness’  (John19: 25; cp Ruth 1: 20). There was his mother  Mary, with ‘a sword piercing her own soul’ (Luke  2: 35); her sister, probably Salome, the mother of  Zebedee’s children, James and John (Matt 27:56Mark 15:40); Mary the wife of Cleophas, the  mother of James the less and of Joses (Mark 15:40);  and Mary Magdalene. John, “whom he loved”, was  also standing nearby.

It was a poignant moment. Darkness covered  the earth for three hours, from midday to 3pm  (Luke 23:44), proclaiming Heaven’s displeasure. The  Son of God was dying quickly, mercifully – others  could linger for days. There was one more ministry  he must perform. Death was approaching and his  sight failing. In the mist he sought out, found and  focused on two familiar faces, paralysed with pain and grief. To his mother he said, “Woman, behold thy son!” and then to John, “Behold thy mother!”  (John 19:25–27). “Two hearts sought each other in the growing darkness; a heart bleeding from a sword  thrust found strength in the kinship of a disciple who loved; a heart breaking with grief found solace in a solemn trust. ‘And from that hour that disciple took her into his own home’” (A Life of Jesus, Melva Perkis 1964 p 346).

Desolation

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud  voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which  is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast  thou forsaken me?” citing words he knew would  be wrung from his lonely soul in his final moments  (Mark 15:34; Psa 22:1). Was it because at that moment  the Spirit of God had been withdrawn? He  was facing the darkest moment of his life, separated  from his Father, alone for the first time (cp John  16:32) and bearing in his body the sins of the world.  It was the moment from which he had shrunk in  Gethsemane, seeking release.

We may never fully understand his sudden  loud cry, harsh and unnatural, a cry of utter abandonment.  But from this he emerged. The agony  remained but there was, in the words that follow in  the psalm, the assurance of the Father’s love: “Our  fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst  deliver them” (Psa 22:4). As surely as the sufferings  of this remarkable psalm were coming to pass in  their exactitude, so too would also the vision of  his Kingdom and glory it also depicts be realised  (v22–31).

Some bystanders either misunderstood, or  perhaps twisted his words, saying that he called for  Elias (Elijah) – the self-proclaimed Messiah was  calling for his forerunner!

“It is finished”

With insight, John informs us that Jesus, knowing  that “all things were now accomplished, that the  scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst” (19:28).  Psalm 69:21 prescribed two events that would take  place at the crucifixion, one at the beginning and  the other at the end saying, “They gave me also gall  for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar  to drink”. They were words learned as a boy and  throughout his lifetime he had prepared himself to  fulfil them. They came to him in his dying moments,  occasioned by the extreme thirst – they were also a  sign to him that his work was accomplished.

Mark tells us that “one ran and filled a spunge  full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him  to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias  will come to take him down” (15:36). Was it one of  the soldiers? If so, he risked the jibes of his comrades  to minister to Jesus’ needs with the rough wine of  the soldiers.

John says, “When Jesus therefore had received  the vinegar, he said, It is finished.” All relevant  Scripture now had been fulfilled, as had “all righteousness”:  the flesh and sin had been silenced,  destroyed, and the love of the Father for the world  declared in the death of His beloved and only Son  (John 3:16).

Luke tells us that he met death with his Father’s  name upon his lips: “Father, into thy hands I  commend my spirit (23:46; Psa 31:5): and having  said thus, he gave up the spirit” (Gk exepneusen,  to breathe out, expire). Mark uses the same word  (15:37), while Matthew 27:50 says he “yielded  up the spirit” (Gk apheke); while John says, “He  bowed his head, and gave up the spirit” (19:30; Gk  paredoken). None of the Gospel writers say that he  died. Why? Because it was a deliberate act of surrender  now all had been fulfilled – he was not on  the verge of death when he could still cry aloud.  He would breathe out in contempt, he would mock  death, whose sting, Sin, he had now conquered (cp  1 Cor 15:55–56)!

As he himself had put it six months earlier at  the Feast of Tabernacles, “I lay down my life, that I  might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but  I lay it down of myself ” (John 10:17–18).

The immediate aftermath

Mark tells us that “the veil of the temple was rent  in twain from the top to the bottom” (15:38). Earth  shuddered at the death of the Son of God, rocks  were rent and buildings of Jerusalem trembled.  God’s ‘approval’ was stamped on the death of His  Son by the rending of the heavy veil separating the  Holy Place from the Most Holy! The inner sanctuary  was now revealed and the Levitical priests  could no longer minister in the Holy Place. The  barrier between God and man had been broken by  the rending of “the veil, that is to say, his [Jesus’]  flesh” (Heb 10:20).

Matthew tells us “graves were opened; and many  bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went  into the holy city, and appeared unto many” (Matt  27:52–53), thus telling us that his death indeed  had brought with it victory over death; that he had  fulfilled God’s conditions.

Mark says that “when the centurion, which  stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and  gave up the spirit, he said, Truly this man was the  Son of God” (15:39). He was a man who watched  the closing scene, had seen many crucifixions before,  but had never seen a man die like this: during  the hours he had hung there, he heard no word  of complaint or insult, and then he yielded up his  breath! And now with the added eerie mystery of  the darkening heavens coupled with the earthquake  below, he could not but exclaim, “Truly this man  was the Son of God”!

Mark completes the picture by telling us of  Jesus’ faithful followers, the women of Galilee who  ministered to him, who came up to Jerusalem with  him – that they were there, “looking on afar off ”  (Mark 15:40–41). They would not forsake him  even in death.

Conclusion

Early Christians refused to look at representations  of Christ on the cross because they had seen  crucifixions first hand: Cicero described it as “the  most cruel and horrifying death” and Tacitus as “a  despicable death.” Nothing was spared the Son of  man in his suffering. Looking back over the events  of the Lord’s last six hours or so our hearts shudder  and fail. But by so doing we are taught the depth  of his love for us, that “Greater love” which caused  him to “lay down his life for his friends”; and we  are strengthened. Let us determine that for each of  us that sacrifice was not in vain; let us too bear our  crosses; for “they that are Christ’s have crucified  the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal 5:24).

“Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open  the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed  us to God by thy blood out of every kindred,  and tongue, and people, and nation …

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive  power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and  honour, and glory, and blessing” (Rev 5: 9,12).