T First Homily T
One of my favorite pastors has a way of talking about forgiveness that sounds wrong at first. Then after he explains himself, you realize that he is right. He begins by saying, “Forgiveness is not a teaching of the Bible.” Your first response is confusion. What can he mean? Forgiveness is all over the Bible. Just about the time you wonder if he got his medications mixed up, he repeats himself, “Forgiveness is not a teaching of the Bible … it is the teaching of the Bible.” He then continues to make the case that the Bible is worthless without the teaching of forgiveness. The teaching of forgiveness is the central teaching of the Bible in the same way that Jesus is the central character of the Bible.
Given the importance of forgiveness, it is not surprising that the first recorded words of Jesus on the cross are about forgiveness. That’s the point of the cross, after all. Jesus is dying so that we might be forgiven for our sins, so that we might be reconciled to God for eternity.
There was a time in the history of the church that false teachers laid an extra burden on their hearers. You must confess every sin. If you do not confess a sin, then that sin remains unforgiven. Priests worked very hard with their members to help them enumerate every last detail of every sin so that they could do adequate penance and receive forgiveness. But you were never sure. What if you had sinned in total ignorance? What if you had a poor memory, and simply forgot a sin? The devout Christian had no true confidence in salvation. There was always the uncertainty of some sin that remained unconfessed.
On the day we call Good Friday, an execution squad of Roman soldiers stationed in Jerusalem in Judea had a legitimate order of execution from their commander. They believed they were simply crucifying another criminal. They had no idea that they were executing the Lord of Life. The sin of murder is bad enough, but to murder the Son of God? What sort of punishment awaited such a person in this life and the next?
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” What comfort we can take from those words. Jesus forgives even the sin of which we are not aware. If we could look at the books of justice concerning our lives, we would be shocked to discover that the sins of which we are not aware far outnumber the sins we recognize. We know and confess some of our sins, but most of our sins are known only to God. How comforting to know that Jesus forgives the sins of which we are ignorant. What a comfort it is to hear the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
T Second Homily T
The Romans didn’t crucify just anybody. Rome reserved crucifixion for only the worst of criminals. In fact, Roman law prohibited the crucifixion of Roman citizens for any reason whatsoever. This means that the men crucified with Jesus had to be terrorists, mass murderers, serial killers, or something along those lines. These two men were not victims of injustice as Jesus was. One of the criminals even admitted, “We are receiving the due reward of our deeds.” They were not nice guys.
At first, both of these men mocked Jesus along with the crowd of spectators. Then as the Gospel unfolded before his very eyes, the Holy Spirit worked faith in one of the criminals. His faith in Jesus bore fruit and he defended Jesus by rebuking the other criminal, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then comes one of the more amazing conversations in the Bible: The criminal said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
We have no reason to believe that this criminal even knew who Jesus was before they met on the road to Golgotha. There is no evidence that, before his crucifixion, this criminal was a believer in any way, shape, or form. The very crimes that hung him on a cross next to Jesus seem to indicate quite the opposite.
One comfort for us today is that, in spite of all the strikes this man had against him, Jesus still said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” That means that, when you think you have too many strikes against you, you can still look forward to paradise.
Another comfort we find in these words is that it is never too late. This criminal would die before the sun went down that day. Never the less, while he was in those last hours before death, the Holy Spirit brought salvation to him through faith.
We all know and care for people who do not believe in Jesus. It grieves us to consider their eternal fate if nothing changes. These words of Jesus to the criminal remind us that, while there is the faintest spark of life, there is hope.
Finally, there is the simple fact that all of us must leave this world someday. The Lord could return before we finish this service. If He waits, then temporal death is our exit. Either way, we shall have the comfort of the words Jesus said to the criminal. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
T Third Homily T
Do you remember Christmas? Do you remember when Joseph and Mary presented Jesus at the temple? A man named Simeon approached this family and praised God for sending salvation into the world. Simeon also had a prophecy for Mary. Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34–35)
A sword will pierce through your own soul also. Mary was the one who pondered things in her heart. What did she ponder as she watched her son hang from the cross? Did she ponder Simeon’s words? I’ve often heard people say, “No parent should have to attend their child’s funeral.” Did Mary feel utterly helpless that she could do nothing to ease her son’s suffering? That would be natural.
Mary followed her Son to Golgotha. She was one of many women who stayed with Jesus until the end. Among the men whom Jesus had chosen as His Apostles, only John remained. The other Apostles had all fled in terror. Now the Mother of God and the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved stood together on Mount Calvary in order to witness the Death of God.
There had been a meeting on a mountain many centuries earlier. Before He took up His human flesh, Jesus had spoken to Moses on Mount Sinai and told him how to organize the Children of Israel. Within all the instructions that He gave to Moses were these words, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12)
Now, here on the cross, Jesus had one last opportunity to demonstrate His obedience to the words He had given to Moses so long ago. He would soon be dead. He would no longer be able to care for His mother. In His love He arranged for His mother and this one Apostle to adopt one another. He said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!”
Even as He hung on the cross, He remained sinless. He continued to fulfill the law. He honored His mother. He cared for the one who gave birth to Him and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger. (Luke 2:7) He not only honored her by caring for her in this life, but He also honored her by caring for her in eternity. For His suffering and death paid the price for all her sins.
As we consider these words from the cross, we can remember that Jesus was a real man who was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8) He said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!”
T Fourth Homily T
Here is a most terrible and mysterious word. Anyone who has lived for more than a few decades has had that feeling of forsakenness. So we do not have a problem with forsakenness. And if Jesus were only a man, we might be able to understand how He also felt forsaken. But Jesus has given many proofs that He is both God and man. We recognize that He is the Son of God. How does God forsake God? What kind of massive super-cosmic event is it when God the Father forsakes God the Son?
The event is that the payment for sin has come due. Our sin has built up a massive debt that we owe to God. Now God’s justice demands payment. The debt is due and payable and God does not accept gold, silver, or plastic. The penalty for missing the payment is eternal torture in hell.
The fact that Jesus is crying out in the agony of forsakenness from God informs us that Jesus entered into the Hell of separation from God. The Father abandoned him because Jesus took upon himself the penalty for our sins. In that excruciating moment, he experienced something far more horrible than physical pain. The beloved Son of God knew what it was like to be rejected by the Father. For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
These words tell us that Jesus has picked up our sin debt for us. He became the ultimate sinner before God by taking our sin onto Himself. It is the presence of our sin in His Son that caused the Father to turn away in disgust. This is the event that caused Jesus to cry out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
What is involved in the fact that God forsook Jesus? No man can really know. The closest we can come is to understand that the curse and sin of the world covered Jesus. Jesus was sinful – not with His own sin, but with ours. His sinful condition disgusted God and so the Father turned away. All that we can say is that Jesus could pay the penalty for our sin only if the Father abandoned Him in this way. The Father abandoned the Son so that we need never cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
T Fifth Homily T
It is not at all unusual for someone to thirst after they have endured the trauma that Jesus endured on the day He died. It is a hot, dry climate. There was already a loss of blood and other fluids due to the whip that tore open His skin earlier in the day. He walked from Jerusalem to the site of the crucifixion, and He carried His cross at least part of the way there. Dehydration is a normal part of the torment for victims of crucifixion.
Never the less, some of the ancient church fathers wondered if there wasn’t a little more than mere physical suffering in Jesus’ thirst. Remember the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane. [Mark 14:36] He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” When He spoke of the cup in this prayer, He was speaking of the cup of suffering.
He was following the example of the Holy Scriptures, for Isaiah wrote, [Isaiah 51:17] “Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering,” and again, [Isaiah 51:21–23] “Therefore hear this, you who are afflicted, who are drunk, but not with wine: Thus says your Lord, the Lord, your God who pleads the cause of his people: ‘Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more; and I will put it into the hand of your tormentors, who have said to you, “Bow down, that we may pass over”; and you have made your back like the ground and like the street for them to pass over.’ ”
Jeremiah also wrote, [Jeremiah 25:15–16] “Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. 16 They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.’ ”
Is it possible that Jesus was not just physically thirsty? Is it possible that Jesus was indicating that He is ready to drink more of the Lord’s wrath against our sins? Jesus already endured the physical torture of the cross. Even more, He endured the torture of forsakenness by God. He endured the effective punishment of eternity in hell for each and every individual human being who has ever lived or will ever live. Even after all of this, do His words, “I thirst,” indicate that He is ready, able, and willing to take on even more for you … for me?
Jesus knew that all was finished, and still He said, “I thirst.”
T Sixth Homily T
“It is finished.” In the original Greek, it is τετέλεσται. The root of this Greek word is τέλος. This little word may be translated as accomplishment, goal, achievement, objective, and so forth. It is a thing that requires work to attain. In the world of finance, it has to do with an obligation either to pay a debt or to fulfill a contract. The prefixes and suffixes that convert the root τέλος into τετέλεσται modify the meaning of the root. Now it means that the accomplishment has been accomplished; the goal has been made; the achievement has been achieved; the objective has been reached; the contract has been fulfilled; the debt has been paid in full. In fact, archeologists have found ancient Egyptian papyri of bills of sale with the word τετέλεσται written on them to indicate that the bill has been paid in full. It is finished.
The τέλος that brought Jesus to the cross was the bowl of God’s wrath against our sin. It was Jesus objective to drink it down to the dregs, and then to lick off the sides of the bowl so that not even a trace of His wrath would be left behind. As the Lamb of God sacrificed on the cross, He drank down the fire of God’s wrath against us. He drank it all.
Finally, as He maintained his thirst for more and more of God’s wrath, the bowl was empty. It is dry. Nothing remains. God’s wrath has been, is, and will always be satisfied. The debt has been, is, and will always be paid in full. Τετέλεσται. “It is finished.”
τετέλεσται means that there is nothing we can do or need to do for our salvation. It is guaranteed, paid in full, no hidden charges. τετέλεσται means that our salvation is full, complete, eternal. τετέλεσται means that we are now and will forever be God’s dear children and our home is with Him and His home is with us. Our confidence is complete in the word from Christ on the cross: Τετέλεσται. “It is finished.”
T Seventh Homily T
It has been a long day for Jesus. He has been awake for close to forty hours. He has endured physical torment that most people can’t even imagine. He has endured spiritual torment that no one can imagine: the burden of our sin and the wrath and forsakenness of God as the Father turned away from that sin burden. He had endured. He has perfectly fulfilled all things. He has done all things well.
The Father no longer forsakes Him. It is time for Jesus to take a Sabbath … a rest. Jesus spoke one more word to His Father before He died. Jesus used this last opportunity to lay His human spirit into His Father’s hands. He opened His mouth and prayed the prayer every good little Jewish boy and girls prayed before drifting off to sleep. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” It is almost as if He was laying His head down on the pillow and commending Himself to the Father before drifting off for another night’s sleep.
Of course, this sleep was no ordinary sleep. It was the sleep of death. Jesus had done all things well. His job was finished. The worst was behind Him. He was ready to leave His body behind and proclaim His victory to the spirits in prison. (1 Peter 3:18–19) There was satisfaction and joy in His voice as He shouted this last word. Then He breathed His last.
At the completion of the six days of creation, we read: 1Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:1–3) Although God needs no rest, He rested from the work of creation. Although God must work continuously to support and maintain His creation, there is still a way in which he rests.
Now Jesus has finished His work, not of creation, but of redemption. It is time for Him to rest on the seventh day from all his work that He had done in redemption. Although He works continuously to support and maintain His new, redeemed creation, there is still a way in which he rests.
This last word from the cross is different from the other words. All the other words from the cross tell us about things Jesus endured so that we don’t have to. From the cross, He gives forgiveness, paradise, and righteousness to us. We will never ask why God has forsaken us. Those who believe will never endure the thirst of hell. Jesus finished the work of redemption that we could not even begin. On the other hand, because Jesus has done all these things for us, we can follow the example of His last word. We can lay our heads down with the confidence of a little child saying bedtime prayers. It is as we sing in the third stanza of “All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night” (LSB 883): Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed. Teach me to die that so I may rise glorious at the awe-full Day. We can place our spirits into the Father’s hands with the words of Jesus. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”
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