Summary: The Seven Words of Jesus from the Cross are a wonderful commentary in his own words of Forgiveness, Salvation, Love, Atonement, Suffering, Victory and Security.
The Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is the corner stone of our faith. It is the chosen symbol of the Christian faith. Thank God, we see it now as an empty cross because the seeming tragedy for good and apparent victory for evil was overturned by the power and purposes of God into the triumph of the resurrection of Jesus. But what does it mean to us? Is the Cross in our experience more meaningful than a nicely sculpted piece of wood or an elegantly-shaped piece of gold hung around the neck? The Cross of Christ is God’s final word as to the character and consequence of human sin, and of the wonder and sacrifice of divine love.
Jesus went to the Cross so that we, through his death and resurrection might have a personal relationship with God and that we might know its power in every area of our lives. When we speak of "the Cross", we’re not thinking of it in the purely physical sense of two rough pieces of wood, bolted together and suspended by its vertical section before being dropped into a hole in the ground. To the Christian, it is much more than that - "the Cross" is a "shorthand" expression meaning the death of Jesus. It’s Jesus stretched out between heaven and earth, suffering more than anyone has ever suffered, for you and me. The Cross is Jesus as our Saviour. There is no holier place that we can ever hope to come to - the Cross is the place "to where heaven’s love and heaven’s justice meet".
The Gospels contain a most wonderful commentary on the Cross in the words of Jesus himself, spoken from the Cross itself. Seven sayings are recorded: if there were more we don’t know but surely it’s significant that seven is God’s perfect number. It represents completeness and wholeness. As Jesus hung upon that Cross almost two thousand years ago, he made seven great statements, treasured by believers as the Seven Words from the Cross. They cover the basic needs of mankind. Let’s meditate on them together as our Lord’s testament to a world wrecked by sin, bowed down by needs of healing in body, mind and spirit. The Words from the Cross reveal God’s answer to our basic needs.
THE FIRST WORD
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
"Forgive them" said Jesus. Who, I wonder, was Jesus referring to? There were many groups of people around the Cross. Closest to him would have been the execution party, soldiers of the Roman garrison, coarsened by discipline and cruelty. They had the unspeakable task of nailing a human being to a cross, but perhaps they were the least guilty of all parties who were responsible for putting to death an innocent man - after all, they were under the strict instructions of the Roman Governor, and to fail to co-operate in the execution would have meant instant death for themselves. Yet they were involved - they crucified the Lord of glory.
As Jesus prayed his utterly unselfish prayer "Father, forgive them" his eyes would have taken in other groups: they were the teachers who hated him, the priests who bought him with silver, the traitor who sold him to them, the crowd who had cried "crucify him" at the farce of his trial, and in the distance was Pilate in his palace trying to salve his conscience by blaming somebody else for what was happening. But I like to think that Jesus was encompassing a wider body of people than those I have mentioned: there was the band of disciples who had been his constant companions for nearly three years. Had they lifted a finger to prevent this act of barbarism? They were there, at a discreet distance, perhaps standing next to the secret disciples of Jesus, those kindly men Nicodemus and Joseph who were to minister to the dead body of Jesus. But as Jesus endured the torture of crucifixion, they failed to make even a token protest against the terrible atrocity being committed.
What does this tell us? All these groups either actively or passively helped to crucify Jesus - they were all guilty, but in a very real sense they are only representatives of a wider number of those responsible for crucifying Jesus, because the message of the Bible is that it was the sin of the world which crucified Jesus. The gospel writers simply wrote "They crucified Jesus". Who crucified him? I’ll tell you who crucified him. I did - and you did, and they did, those groups around the cross. The old Negro spiritual asked the question, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" “They” crucified the Lord? It would be truer to say "We crucified the Lord". Every one of us is equally guilty, "They do not know what they do" said Jesus. What a perceptive word this is. Mankind had become so blinded by evil, so corrupted by sin that it reacted violently to the purity and holiness of God as shown in the Lord Jesus Christ. These poor representatives of mankind were swept along by the power of Satan in seeking to destroy the Lord of glory - "they do not know what they do" - but they did it all the same.