The last words of a dying person are normally never forgotten. A person’s closing comments often reveal their pain and agony. Some enter eternity without saying anything, while others utter sentiments that disclose their values, priorities, and innermost thoughts.
The great Bap¬tist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, said as his last words, "Jesus died for me." And John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said, "The best of all is, God is with us."
Contrast those words of faith with the final words of some other persons of history. For example, right before P.T. Barnum died, he asked, “How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden?” Humphrey Bogart’s last words were, “I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.” Joan Crawford was filled with anger when her maid began to pray out loud and said, “Don’t you dare ask God to help me!” Louis Mayer, the film producer, gave his philosophy of life (and death) when he said, “Nothing matters.
Pancho Villa, the Mexican revolutionary, said, “Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.” Karl Marx turned to his housekeeper, who had urged him to tell her his last words so she could write them down, and shouted, “Go on, and get out. Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”
Well, today we’re beginning a series to help us focus on the final words of Jesus uttered from the Cross. They’re definitely not the words of someone who didn’t say enough when He was alive. We have our Lord’s teaching in the Gospels and we have His final seven sayings as well, which are full of meaning and significance.
The first three statements were made between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and noon:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
“Dear woman, here is your son . . . Here is your mother” (John 19:26)
From noon to 3:00 p.m., there was darkness over the land.
Then beginning about 3:00, Jesus uttered his final words:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
“I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)
“It is finished.” (John 19:30)
“Into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
Today we will look at the first of these seven sayings. As He hung upon the cross, He prayed for the very one’s responsible for putting Him there - He prayed for a sinful mankind.
1. The appeal of the prayer - “Father, forgive them”
The tense of the original text is continuous, indicating that this was something Jesus said several times.
As He was laid upon the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them.” As He had nails driven through His hands and feet, He prayed, “Father, forgive them.” As he was lifted up and the cross was set in place, He prayed, “Father, forgive them.” As He hung there, suspended between heaven and earth, He prayed, “Father, forgive them.” He could have prayed, “Father, judge them,” or “Father, avenge me,” but He didn’t. He prayed, “Father, forgive them.”
The word “forgive” is borrowed from the world of commerce and banking. It means to cancel a debt or to pardon a loan. Phillip Yancey in his book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” gives some great insight when he reminds us that the word forgive contains the word “give.” To forgive is to cancel the debt of someone so that they never have to pay us back for what they’ve done to us. It’s to give grace to someone who doesn’t deserve it.