The one and only time that Lord Jesus displayed a rare moment of agony and suffering during His stay on the earth was when He found Himself totally alone, bearing the burden of the sins of mankind. His anguished cry “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46) was not to the Father but to a God who is just, despite being full of love. All through His sojourn on the earth Lord Jesus maintained a joyful and loving attitude even during extreme provocation by Satan and his agents- both spirit and human beings for He always remained in union with God, always doing His Will. “Joy is not the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God” and the moment God turned His face from His very Own Son, in Whom He was well pleased, due to the darkness of our sins that had engulfed Him on the cross, Lord Jesus lost His joy and was in agony. And His coming was to end our agony and lead us in to eternal joy in God’s presence. His seven messages/declarations from the cross are a testimony of His doing what He preached to reveal to us that the two commandments about loving God and our neighbor are definitely doable, even under extreme duress.
Meaning of the cross – The cross represents different things to different people and every believer has to discern its meaning to him. The cross to some is a wooden piece of a particular size, while to others it is an item of gold/rare metal studded with diamonds to be worn around the neck as a talisman to display to others. The cross represents various different things to different individuals. To the Romans and the Jewish Elders, including Chief Priests, Pharisees and Sadducees, the cross was an instrument of fulfillment of their evil desire of putting to a very humiliating death the Savior Messiah. To Lord Jesus it represented the final step in fulfillment of His Divine mission of redemption of mankind in total obedience to the plan of the Father. To believers then and today the cross is the altar where we lay before God, as His blessed children, all our sins, our pains, diseases, sufferings and weaknesses to receive their removal through the blood of His Son that was shed on the cross for us. The cross is the ultimate symbol of God’s love for humanity to receive them back to Him. It is the bridge that covers the wide gulf between this sinful world and our lives to transport us into the Holiest of Holies into the very presence of God.
The cross is the fulfillment of all prophesies about the Messiah and end of the Law of Moses as given by God and onset of the period of grace and mercy. It opens the door to heaven for the repentant sinners who humble themselves before Lord Jesus’ throne of mercy and surrender themselves to be transformed in to His image and likeness. It provides the key to unlock the blessings of God’s promises and a beacon that attracts the sinners to lead them to eternal life.
Actual situation at Lord Jesus’ crucifixion – The Savior Lord was born sinless as Adam was created by God and since all authority over every creature on the earth was given to Adam by God Himself (Genesis 1:28) and as such this same authority rested in the Second Adam- the Messiah. As Creator of everything that exists in heaven and the earth all the angelic beings are also subject to Lord Jesus and Joshua meets the Lord while he was planning for the battle for capture of Jericho. Joshua’s question about which side “the man with a drawn sword in His hand” was representing was answered “Neither, but as Commander of the army of the lord I have come”. And Joshua ‘worshipped Him’ (Joshua 5:12-15). As Commander of the Heavenly Army, Lord Jesus wields complete control over the heavenly fighting forces.
In the wilderness “He was for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with wild animals, and angels attended Him” (Mark 1:12-13). This simple status report by Mark lists out three important aspects; firstly the enemy forces as represented by Satan, and some interpret that the wild animal or wild beasts of the second part of the statement, by virtue of their fallen nature were part of the forces of darkness but Lord Jesus as Redeemer has power over every such force to change basic nature also. He, therefore, exercised all power over wild beast as well and this is further illustrated by the big catch of fish for Peter and his friends ‘as if the fish were struggling with each other to ‘obey the Lord’s desire’ and get caught to die. The final part is of the ‘angels ministering to Him’ and even in Gethsemane Park an angel same to the Lord after He had finished His prayers (Luke 22:43).
The same fact is confirmed by the Lord Himself a little later after the multitude led by Judas Iscariot was about to arrest His and Peter slices off the Chief Priest’s servant Malchus’ ear. Lord Jesus forbids him from using the sword and then reveals His power to call for and receive “more than twelve legions of angels from His Father” where a legion hold a strength of 6,000 troops each thus making a total of “more than 72,000 angles” being made available to fight for Him (Matthew 26:53). The fighting prowess of an angelic warrior was displayed by God to Senacherib, the King of Assyria, when “an angel killed 1,85,000 warriors in the night” excluding the day time for fighting any enemy. Thus a ‘fighting contingent’ of angels with more than twelve legions could have destroyed the entire population of the earth more than once. The seven statements of the Lord from the cross are sayings from a position of great strength and not of any weakness.
Importance of the Seven Sayings on the cross – In legal terms the last stamen of a witness just before his impending death becomes more credible for it is said that “A person never lies just before dying”. Lord Jesus is “the Truth, the Way and Life” (John 14:6) and He openly challenged the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Jewish elders to “convict Me of sin” (John 8:46). His presence on the earth as man was always open to public scrutiny not only by His followers always living with Him but also by His detractors. Each and every word that escaped His lips was, is and will eternally remain true. The first three statements relate to the life on the earth while the fourth to the sixth are about spiritual and heavenly things and the seventh is about both worldly and spiritual existence. We must understand these facts to understand the deep mysteries contained in the same.
The First- “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34) – All along His Ministry Lord Jesus taught the disciples about the significance of forgiveness and Peter is even told the number of times – seventy times seven, (Matthew 18:21-22) and this is probable in a day for the same mistake. Thus a repeat offender also deserves forgiveness for his crimes against us. In answer to the disciples question about teaching them to pray He provided us a sample prayer that is known as Lord’s Prayer; though John 17 contains verbatim the only recorded prayer of Lord Jesus. Thus the Lord’s Prayer is for us a guiding tool and becomes a basic format for prayer for us (Matthew 6:9-13). This prayer also has different parts- the first three utterances are about God – our relationship with Him; His Kingdom and His will and the next is about us and our needs and worldly life and the seventh is a statement of fact concerning this and the life hereafter.
Importance of Forgiveness – Forgiveness as we seek from our Father is a conditional blessing in the Lord’s Prayer – “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”. By implication, if we do not forgive our debtors, we also do not deserve forgiveness from the Father. The Greek word translated as debts is “opeilema” meaning – a debt, moral obligation or a fault. Through the sin committed by Adam we became subject to the authority of Satan due to our fault and resultant moral obligation to pay the penalty. Lord Jesus’ sacrifice provides us forgiveness for our debts to the devil forces and this forgiveness is conditional to our forgiving our debtors. Greek word ‘aphiemi’ is translated as forgiveness, laying aside, omit, put away, remit or suffer. When we forgive someone we are required to fulfill these terms of forgiveness to totally put away the faults or sins of others or suffer the same.
Is it right to forgive without being asked? – Our Lord’s act of forgiveness of those who caused His crucifixion even without their asking raises two important points. First, forgive even if the offender is unrepentant like the Jewish elders etc were unrepentant and kept on ridiculing Him all throughout the six hours period of His hanging on the cross. The second point is the act of sin, whether it is committed with full knowledge, intentional and deliberate or out of weakness, fear, greed, lust, ignorance, unknowingly being misled by others, the act is forgiven. Thus our Lord showed us that He will forgive all types of sins committed by us once we believe in Him and accept Him as our Savior to become the ‘children of God’.
The act of sin has two components – the act and its consequences. The act of sin is forgiven by the Lord but the consequences must be borne by the guilty. The criminal on the cross suffered punishment “for we receive just reward of our deeds” (Luke 23:41). In like manner King David repented before God for his sin and the message from God was of forgiveness but three choices for facing the punishment (1 Chronicles 21:8-10). David sinned with Bathsheba and her husband died in battle due to this, David sought and received forgiveness from the Lord God for his sin but his son from this had to die. All sexual sins carry the possibility of disease, unwanted pregnancy, humiliation and falling prey to the evil demonic forces and these have to be suffered by the sinner. Lord Jesus has established the kingdom of heaven in our hearts through the presence of the Holy Spirit and this has led us to a new covenant of grace and mercy. Peter denied the Lord three times but when the rooster crowed “the Lord turned and looked at Peter” and Peter went out and wept bitterly. Peter saw in the eyes of his Master no condemnation but understanding, love and forgiveness and this made him feel remorse for his weakness. The once boastful Peter was changed with this look of mercy and expressed only affection (phileo) for the Lord and not of loving and placing Him before self (agape). While God forgives our sins but we must also be ready to forgive others their sins committed against us to become eligible for the same from God.
Affect of the ‘First Saying’ – The merciful act of forgiveness of the Lord firstly changed the heart of the two important members of the Jewish Council – The Sanhedrin- Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (who visited the Lord at night). They managed to shed their fear of social isolation and boycott by the Jewish elders and proceeded to not only seek Pontius Pilate’s permission to receive the Lord’s body from the cross but also arrange for Him a King’s burial in a new tomb. Secondly, Gamaliel, the most respected teacher of the Scripture of that time is supposed to have changed His faith to accept the Lord as his Messiah and later buried the first martyr, Stephen’s body, after he was stoned to death in his own house ‘Bedit-Gamaliel’. The tomb of Joseph of Arimathea was also found in the same house with the tomb of Gamaliel himself.
Essentially the teaching is to forgive others irrespective of their sins and whether they seek forgiveness or not to receive forgiveness from the merciful God.
The Second Saying – Paradise for the criminal – “I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 22:41-43). The statement of the criminal admonishing his partner and Lord Jesus’ promise emphasize five points – firstly; the criminal recognized that he was guilty and sinful and his punishment was just. Secondly; he understood the true stature of the Lord about His being sinless and the He could save him from further punishment. Thirdly, Lord Jesus’ statement confirms His control and authority over everything including future destiny of His Own Self as also of the criminal. His words to the disciples were clear that He had the power to take His life again after He would lay it down (John 10:17-18). He also always controls not only the events but their schedule also by con firming the move to Paradise “this day”. The fourth point is the Lord’s compassion for the repentant sinner and the final aspect is of finality and completion of the action “will be with Me in paradise”. The promise is exact and the Greek word ‘semeron’ used here is translated as ‘today, this very day itself’ and there is nothing left for the future days/years.
Is not baptism necessary for entry into heaven? – The promise as contained in the Scripture for becoming the ‘children of God’ is to “those who receive Him… to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). The act of receiving and believing in His name is an act of faith to accept Him as the Messiah and this is through the change of heart. This change does not necessarily come from the symbolic act of baptism but baptism is a confirmation of the first part. The criminal had not been baptized as we know though he might have been baptized by John the Baptist. In the Old Testament a sale of any property was confirmed in the presence of the elders, after due paper work, by the seller leaving his shoe there, thus ceding all rights of movement in the same to the buyer. Baptism though not necessary is in like manner sealing of the relationship with the Savior Lord to authorize Him to take control of our lives.
Is Paradise the same as heaven? – The Greek word ‘paradeiso’ is paradise as promised to the criminal to the Lord, though in translation in Hindi it is referred to as ‘swarg’. Lazarus the beggar and the rich man landed up in two different places but visible to each other (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man was suffering hell fires while Lazarus was in Abraham’s bosom, recognized by the Jews as heaven. Since hell is below the earth, paradise is also in the same region and all righteous servants of the Lord God from Adam onwards went to Paradise, separated from God. They were held captive there after death and Lord Jesus through His resurrection opened the way for them also to follow Him into heaven. “You have ascended on high. You have led captivity captive” (Psalm 68:18 & Ephesians 4:8) and Lord Jesus went into hell, the place where we as sinners were supposed to go but being sinless could not be held captive. Instead He led those already in captivity in paradise to heaven and after His death on the cross graves were opened and after His resurrection many of the dead appeared to others in Jerusalem (Matthew 27:52-53). Heaven is ‘ourano’ meaning spiritual heavens, sky, starry heavens and is above the earth (Matthew 13:44 & Revelation 4:2-4). Lord Jesus seeks our surrender to His authority in repentance and He will lead us in to heaven.
To carry the heavy burden of revenge is like being in hell and suffering the burning fires which can only be quenched by the simple act of forgiveness and letting go. Lord Jesus showed us the way on the cross by forgiving the Jewish leaders who had caused His crucifixion without even their asking for it and led the criminal into heaven for he repented and sought forgiveness. Entry to heaven up above can only be attained with no baggage on our backs – while the baggage of confessed sins gets transferred to the cross the weight of revenge anchors us down.
Let go and fly away to “The Lord’s Bosom” in heaven.