Summary: An exposition on the value of the last seven words of Christ
SEVEN WORDS OF THE CROSS
By Pastor Ohm Prakash Kevaley
First word: Lk.23:32-38
"Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing."
Luke alone, of the Gospel writers, mentions the criminals in advance of Jesus’ conversation with them. The effect is that his humiliation is underlined – he voluntarily identified with sinners in life, and is now identified with them in death as well.
And it is only Luke who records Jesus’ prayer for his executors. This fits in well with Luke’s interests, for throughout his Gospel he portrays Jesus as offering God’s grace and forgiveness to sinners.
In Lk.6:27-28, Luke records Jesus’ teaching on love for one’s enemies and on praying for those who hate you and mistreat you. Among the passages that are found only in Luke, we have the narrative in Lk.7:36-50, where Jesus is anointed by a woman who had once been a notorious person, and he explains that her overflowing affection is an expression of her gratitude that she has been forgiven.
And, of course, we have in Lk. 15:11-32, Jesus’ unforgettable picture of God as the father of the prodigal son, who is prepared to forgive his penitent son, with no questions asked and no conditions laid down.
So here in Lk.23:32-38 we read that in the midst of all his pain and suffering, Jesus prayed for those who were participating in putting him to death. The basis for the prayer is that they do not know what they are doing – that is, they do not realize the wrong that they are perpetrating.
In the Jewish cult, sin that is committed unintentionally brings guilt, but there is provision in the cult for making an offering and being forgiven or absolved. In Leviticus 4-5 we have clear directions regarding the sacrifices that need to be made in different cases. However, there is no provision for forgiveness and absolution for those who sin deliberately or with a high hand.
It is against this background that we can understand the basis for Jesus’ prayer. They are acting in ignorance. Therefore, forgive them.
Jesus’ willingness to pray for forgiveness for his enemies challenges our contemporary world. Today, the widely held assumption is that revenge and retaliation is fully justified. This hold true whether we are speaking of relations at the international, national or personal levels. But if we take our discipleship seriously, we must follow Jesus’ example.
Second word: Lk.23:39-43
"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
This conversation underlines two important points: one, the innocence of Jesus, and two, the immediate realization of God’s saving grace through Christ.
In Luke’s passion narrative, the point is repeatedly made that Jesus was perceived by many to be innocent. Just before this passage, in vs.22, we have Pilate for the third time insisting that he found no grounds for the death penalty.
In this passage, witness to Jesus’ innocence comes from an unexpected quarter – one of the criminals that was being executed at the same time. In Mt.27:44 and Mk.15:32 both the criminals insult Jesus, but Luke focuses on one of them. Aren’t you the Messiah? is bitterly sarcastic. It is a taunt that refuses to take Jesus’ powers seriously.
But the other criminal recognizes that Jesus is no mere pretender and is appalled that he is being treated in the same way as they were. They deserved their punishment, but the same could not be said of Jesus.
He also recognizes that he will reign as king and asks him to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. Several details of interpretation are uncertain here, but it appears that the criminal expected that Jesus would assume his reign immediately. Only so can we understand his request. Jesus responds that he does not need to wait for any future event but that he will immediately enjoy fellowship with him in paradise. The word paradise is a Persian word meaning park or garden and is used in Gen.2:8 to refer to the garden of Eden. Elsewhere it symbolizes the future bliss (e.g. Isa.51:3; Rev.2:7).
The language here is close to that of Paul in Phil.1:19-26, where he is considering the possibility of his being sentenced to death. He tells the Philippians that he is not afraid of such a prospect for that would only mean that he would depart and be with Christ (vs.23). Using the principle of interpreting the unclear passages of Scripture by those that are clear, we would have to conclude that these passages are implying that immediately after death, believers experience the presence of Christ in some anticipatory way. The fullness of the experience lies beyond the Parousia and Consummation.
Third word: Jn.19:25b-27
"Jesus said to his mother, `Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, `Here is your mother’."