The Sixth Word from the Cross

When Jesus drank, He spoke:

Jesus:It is Finished!

In that moment, His head fell; and He gave up the spirit. (John 19:30, the Voice)

Not a death whine,
or pensive reflections on a life well lived,
Not words of resignation and defeat.
No, these words declare victory.
Triumphantly these words shout:
All is accomplished!

On the cross, sin was defeated,
demonic strongholds were destroyed.
Our vain attempts to be our own God,
revealed for what they are.
On the cross Jesus recapitulated humanity–
the new Adam being and
doing what the old Adam could not.
The hopes of Israel
bound to the cross,
nailed there with Him.
Israel reconstituted in Christ,
he fulfilled law and prophets.
On the cross we were bought,
redeemed, reconciled to God,
the power of sin is broken in our lives.
Because of the cross, we are free.
Free indeed!

It is finished.

It is finished.

It is finished!

Finished but not done. . .

The Fifth Word from the Cross

Jesus knew that His work had been accomplished, and the Hebrew Scriptures were being fulfilled.

Jesus:I am thirsty

A jar of sour wine [vinegar] had been left there, so they took a hyssop branch with a sponge soaked in the vinegar and put it to his mouth (John 19:28-29)

If one of the sayings of Jesus on the cross sounds out of place in my ears, this is it. The stress of his coming passion had him sweating blood in the Garden. Then Jesus was arrested, beaten, mocked, flogged and crucified. Crucifixion itself was a long, slow death by blood loss and asphyxiation. The pain was unbearable (the word ‘excruciating’ was coined to describe the pain of the cross).

But the only complaint we hear from Christ through the whole ordeal is, “I am thirsty.” This is underwhelming. I know, these words tell us about Christ’s suffering and his identification with us in our humanity, but of all the suffering that he felt, why emphasize this? Why thirst?

Jesus was thirsty; hours of blood loss will do that to you. But there is more for us to consider. These words come to us in John’s gospel, where ‘thirst’ is a major literary motif. In Jesus’ first sign he turned water to wine (John 2). When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, he said, “You do not know the gift of God or who is asking you for a drink of this water from Jacob’s well. Because if you did, you would have asked Him for something greater; and He would have given you the living water (John 4:10).” To the crowds clamoring for a sign, Jesus said, “I am the bread that gives life. If you come to my table you will never go hungry. Believe in me you will never be thirsty.” And to the people of Jerusalem he had said, “If any of you is thirsty, come to Me and drink. If you believe in Me, the Hebrew Scriptures say that rivers of living water will flow from within you”  (John 7:37b-8).

Jesus had promised to slake the thirst of all who came to him, to satisfy them and give them living water. Had living waters failed him? The Father had not let the cup pass from Jesus and he drank it in full but his thirst was not quenched.

It was when he knew the work was accomplished he said “I am thirsty.” He had suffered what needed suffering. He was moments before death and he knew that the Hebrew Scriptures, the hope of Israel were being fulfilled and so he expressed his thirst. Psalm 69:21 says, “they gave me vinegar for my thirst.” Vinegar is little help, but it is even lousier thirst quencher when you consider that Christ’s thirst was more than the physical discomfort of a dying man. He knew the work was done, and was thirsty for the fruits of his labor. He thirsted for you and for me to find our life and sustenance in God.

Stanley Hauerwas writes, “The work of the Son, the thirst of the Son through the Spirit, is nothing less than the Father’s thirst for us. God desires us to desire God. (Cross-Shattered Christ, 77). And so behold, the crucified one–our thirsty God who has accomplished the salvation of his people and desires, longs, thirsts for us to find our way home.

The Fourth Word from the Cross

And then starting at noon, the entire land became dark. It was dark for three hours. In the middle of the dark afternoon, Jesus cried in a loud voice.

DerelictionJesus:Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani–My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

Bystanders: He cries out for Elijah (Matthew 27:45-47, the Voice)

The word of the crucified Christ are wrapped in mysteries that defy easy explanations. What does the cry of dereliction mean? How are we to understand Jesus’ abandonment–his God-forsakenness?

One version of these events tells us that the Father in heaven, ever just, cannot stomach sin, His wrath demands satisfaction. When Jesus bore the full weight of our sin, God could not even look at Him. Although this version takes seriously our sin and Christ’s identification with us, it caricatures the Father. Our Father in Heaven is just, but he is not the angry God, that Jesus, the God of love, needs to appease. Rather God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19).

Only a few hours earlier Jesus said to his disciple Philip:

Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. (John 14:9-11, NIV)

Jesus’ death on the cross did not simply appease God, it revealed God. All that Jesus did and said reveals to us the character of the Father. Jesus is the incarnation of God, as much on his cross, as he was in his crib.

We hear Jesus’ cry of abandonment and the intense feeling of alienation from God and know instinctively what he felt. This is the existential reality of we who are sinners. We sin and alienate ourselves from God, from others, from all creation, from ourselves. But this cry, mystery of mysteries, also viscerally demonstrates to us the heart of the Triune God who would experience the dregs of human experience to show us the depths of his Love and effect for us our salvation. That God would feel abandoned for us, shows us the kind of God we have. Mystery of mysteries, this is the God who loved the world so much that he gave his Son so that all who believe would not die, but gain eternal life! This is the God who did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but save it through him (John 3:16-17)!

The words that Jesus utters comes from the Jewish and Christian prayer book, the Psalms. Psalm 22 in its entirety provides a window into all Jesus suffered for us as well as his ultimate vindication and the victory of Yahweh. Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe his understanding?

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.[b]

3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.[c]
4 In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the LORD,” they say,
“let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
15 My mouth[d] is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce[e] my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

19 But you, LORD, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

22 I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you[f] I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the LORD will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the LORD
and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!

The First Word from the Cross

In the so-called first word from the cross Jesus says:

Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.

While many early manuscripts omit this quote, Jesus’ words parallel Stephen’s in Acts 7:60 when the latter was also executed. Do you hear how radical these words are? In the time between an evening meal and his crucifixion Jesus had suffered much at the hands of his oppressors. Betrayed by a kiss of a well-loved disciple he was brought before the Sanhedrin and beaten. Dragged before Pilate and Herod, mocked and flogged, he was sentenced by the will of the crowd to death on a cross. The one man who supposedly had the power of life or death over him, washed his hands of the affair. The flogging had left his flesh hanging in ribbons; he collapsed under the weight of his own cross. Now naked, nailed and raised up on a cross as a crowd jeers, he offers his first word:


Forgiveness? This strains credulity! But Jesus wasn’t an ordinary sufferer of injustice. He was the Incarnate God and this cross, a symbol of shame and Roman power would be his instrument of salvation and reconciliation. More than forgiveness being just his first expression from the cross, it was Divine forgiveness that brought him to the cross and nailed him there. Costly as it was, the forgiveness of God is Christ on his cross.

But who is Jesus forgiving by these words? All those whose part in this drama nailed him there:

  1. the Jews put him there. Centuries of antisemitism obscure the fact that the authors of the New Testament all would self describe themselves as Jews and saw continuity between Israel’s Messianic hope and the cross of Christ. But the Jewish leaders and the Jewish people who had gathered in Jerusalem that Passover played their part in Jesus’ death. It was the Jewish leaders who had Jesus arrested in the garden, accusing him of blasphemy and turning him over to Rome to be executed. It was the crowds who shouted, “Crucify him!” sending Jesus to his death. Without Jesus’ arrest and the crowds sealing his fate, Jesus would not have died. Not like this.

    But there is no excuse for centuries of injustice towards the Jews for crucifying Jesus (i.e. the pattern of antisemitic rage in the wake of European ‘passion plays’). The first word from Jesus for his people is forgiveness. Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. In Jesus’ final moments his thoughts were not of vengeance or righting injustice. But with arms extended in love, nailed to a cross, he spoke only of forgiveness.

  2. Pilate put him there. A governor whose cruelty was well known, sometimes gets a free pass from Christians for his part in Jesus’s death. After all, wasn’t he only guilty of pressure from the crowd? Is not his only crime cowardice in condemning an innocent man? He washed his hands, but that didn’t make them clean. When a representative of the State absolves himself, may the reader be suspicious! If Jesus was ‘King of the Jews’ than Caesar was not. When the crowds shout “We have no King but Caesar! (John 19:15)” Pilate is forced to choose between his fidelity to justice and good order and his faithfulness to his emperor. He allied himself with the power of Rome. Of course Jesus himself didn’t put the brunt of the injustice on Pilate, but his captors, “The one who has handed me over too you is guilty of the greater sin(John 19:11b).” But the crucifixion could not have happened without the willing complicty of Pilate in ordering Jesus’ execution.

    As he hung on the cross, bearing the punishment of failed revolutionaries and subversives, Jesus forgave. Forgive them Father for they do not know what they are doing. Among those forgiven for their part was Pilate, a Roman governor too invested in the Roman power structure to display much character or courage in the face of a crowd.

  3. The Romans did it. Those who carried out Pilate’s charge, did it with zeal and enthusiasm. It was they that dressed him in purple, beat and whipped him, divided his clothes, placed a crown of thorns on his head and subjected him to cruelty and taunts even as they devised his bitter end. Some nameless pagan soldier took the hand of God and nailed to a tree, killing an innocent man who had poured out his life in love for his people. Jesus had healed, set people free from demonic oppression, taught the way of love and virtue and this is where it got him.

    For these, for all of these: Forgive them Father for they do not know what they are doing.

  4. We did it. You did it. I did it. Jesus died on the cross so that he may save us from ourselves, our sin, our sad attempts to be our own God. Each of us have gone our own way, rejecting God and his offer of life and freedom. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. God in his mercy, because of his great love saved us through Christ and his cross. You may not have arrested Jesus, pronounced sentence and driven the nails, but Jesus died because of you. He died for you. In a costly display of divine Love he showed us in a visceral way what forgiveness looks like. Father Forgive them for they know not what they do.
  5. As we behold the crucified Christ we see God’s love and mercy poured out for us. If the son has set us free we are free indeed. Fully forgiven living in him!