Summary: This is a sermon reflecting on each of the last sayings of Jesus on the cross and used in a Good Friday Service with a sung response between each saying
The Last Seven Words of Jesus
First Saying: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
Prayer was been a part of Jesus’ life. There was an ebb and flow in Jesus’ life where he would go into the world and then retreat for time with God. Most of his prayers were for others, the disciples, the religious leaders of his day and for you and me. His last prayer before the cross was in the Garden of Gethsemane. In it he prayed for guidance, for strength and for the will to follow God’s intent for him to die on the cross for the sins of the world. After having been falsely accused, tried and convicted of blasphemy then having the very same crowd who sang his praises just days before as he entered the city of Jerusalem and then whipped, beaten, mocked, spit upon and then nailed to the cross by the soldiers, one could well imagine anger raging in his heart at those who would hurt Him and in doing so ultimately rebel against God.
But the other message of Jesus teaching and ministry was forgiveness. He teaches forgiveness in the Lord’s prayer: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us" (Matthew 6:12). When asked by Peter, how many times should we forgive someone, Jesus answers 70 x7. (Matthew 18:21-22). At the Last Supper, Jesus explains his crucifixion to his Apostles when he tells them to drink of the cup: "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:27-28). He forgives the paralytic at Capernaum (Mark 2:5), and the adulteress caught in the act and about to be stoned (John 8:1-11). And so at the height of his suffering, Jesus draws upon his Divine Love and asks for his enemies to be forgiven. He prays forgiveness for the Sadducees who falsely accused him, for the soldiers who crucify him as a common criminal, for the crowds who turned on him, for Judas who betrayed him and for the disciples who denied and deserted him. And he asks for our forgiveness: for the times when we have professed one thing on Sunday and done another on Monday, when we have chosen our will over God’s, when we have denied Jesus with our words, our actions or attitudes: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
Second Saying: "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
The second word again is about forgiveness, this time directed to a sinner, a common criminal. It is not just the religious leaders or the soldiers that mock Jesus, but even the criminal on the left of Jesus being crucified with him. The criminal on the right speaks up for Jesus, explaining the two criminals are receiving their just due, and then pointing to Jesus, says, "this man has done nothing wrong." Then, turning to Jesus, he asks, "Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom" Jesus said to this thief, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." What we see is three very different men: a man who is dying in his sin, a man who is dying delivered from his sin and a man who is dying for sin. The truth is Jesus is the one who bore the most sin that day on the cross because he had the sins of the world on his shoulders. What this encounters teaches us that that salvation comes through faith alone. By speaking for Jesus, this criminal makes a profession of faith because he knows Jesus is not only innocent but sinless and thus the Savior of the world. The second we learn from this encounter is that it is never too late to be saved. The criminals who were crucified were the worst of the worst: murderers, insurrectionists, child molesters and rapists. Yet because of his profession of faith, he is told that neither he, nor you or me, nor anyone is outside of God’s grace.