On Saturday 13 August 2016, we hosted our very first Bible conference with Phil Parsons (New Jersey) as our speaker on the subject “Encounters with the Master”. The audio for those sessions is now available under Audio Messages.
Audio files from the 2016 Kilkenny Conference are now available to listen to under Audio Messages. Uel Crothers brought ministry from the book of Romans.
The sixth of Jesus’ seven sayings on the Cross is a climactic shout of victory: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). These are not words of resignation or defeat. In fact, in Greek it is a single word, “Tetelestai”. Archaeologists have discovered first century tax receipts with this Greek word written across them. On receipts, the idea is clearly, “Paid in full!” On the cross, the idea is the same. The work which Jesus completed on the cross was the payment of the debt our sins had incurred (Colossians 2:13-15).
Our tendency is to minimize, trivialize, rationalize, glorify and redefine sin. And while we are born with an active conscience that alerts us of our sins, we ignore it and suppress it until it becomes ineffective. We love darkness rather than light because our deeds are evil and will not come to the light lest our deeds be exposed by the light (John 3:19-20). Like Adam, we hide from God and blame Him for our problems rather than coming to Him and seeking His grace and forgiveness.
While it is true that God is a loving Father, He is also a righteous judge who cannot simply ignore our sins. So He devised a plan whereby He might be just and still forgive sin and that required sending His one and only Son as our substitute. He came to save people from their sin and did this by bearing our sins in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24).
The sorrow of the earliest disciples at the death of Jesus indicate that clearly they had not understood the necessity of His death (John 3:14). However, His resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit quickly and radically transformed their view of the work of Christ and enabled them to understand that this was what He himself had foretold (John 3:16-17). By His death, He destroyed the one who had the power of death (the devil) and released those who were in bondage to sin (Hebrews 2:14-15).
Those who like the apostles have grasped the power of the cross can rejoice in the victory Jesus proclaimed: “It is finished!”
The gospel writers are remarkably reticent to speak of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus on the cross. Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, dramatically portrayed the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus, but in the Gospels we meet the simple, unemotional words: “Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him,” (John 19:1); “And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him,” (Luke 23:33).
However, as the prophets of the Old Testament looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, they foretold the sufferings He would endure. David prophetically wrote in Psalm 22: “all my bones are out of joint,” (v. 14); “my tongue clings to my jaws”, (v. 15); “they pierced my hands and my feet,” (v. 16).
Now for the first and only time, the Lord Jesus makes reference to His physical sufferings. After offering pardon to His persecutors, promising a place to the dying thief, and making provision for His mother, He says simply: “I thirst,” (John 19:28). Here we see the humanity of the Lord Jesus. During His earthly life, we know He suffered hunger and thirst on numerous occasions. And now, after being scourged, after hanging in the hot, Mediterranean sun, after having earlier refused the sour vinegar mixed with gall, He is thirsty. How simply stated this is. Not spoken as a complaint. Not spoken in anger. Rather these words are spoken in the knowledge that God’s eternal purposes were being fulfilled, step by step. John records, “Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!’” It was no momentary lapse of weakness that caused Him to speak of His need, but a determination to bring all things to completion.
The One who offered living water to the woman at the well (John 4:10-14) and who promised that faith in Him would result in rivers of living water flowing out of our hearts (John 7:38), did not seek to satisfy His own physical needs but fully drank the cup of suffering His Father had given Him (John 18:11) to satisfy our spiritual need: the righteous forgiveness of our sins through the shedding of His own precious blood (Ephesians 1:7).
The three previous sayings of the Lord Jesus, were simply that, sayings. He prayed, “Father forgive them…” To the dying thief he said, “Today you will be with Me…” And to His mother He said, “Behold your son.” But these words are deeply emotional, wrenched from the depths of His soul. He cries with a loud voice, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
It is difficult for us to comprehend how difficult it was for the Lord Jesus to cry out in this way. As the weight of His body hung on His hands and His feet, He would have struggled for each breath. But so deep is the emotion of His heart, that He draws a deep breath and cries out.
This cry has been called the orphan cry of the Lord Jesus. His first words were, “Father, forgive them…” His final words were, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.” But here, at the end of those hours of darkness, He does not speak to God as His Father, but cries out to Him as His God.
It is a cry of abandonment. Forsaken! Isn’t it interesting that we describe a desolate place as being “God-forsaken”? But to think of the eternal Son of God in His hour of deepest need forsaken of God? How could a loving Father forsake His beloved Son? These things are truly clouded in mystery, and are too sacred to investigate. Alexander McLaren wrote: “What went on beneath that dread veil, we are not meant to know. Nor do we need to ask its physical cause or extent. It wrapped the agony from cruel eyes; it symbolised the blackness of desolation in His spirit, and by it God draped the heavens in mourning for man’s sin.”
How little the religious leaders of that day understood when they mockingly said, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:42). What we now know is that if God had rescued the Lord Jesus, He could not have rescued us. God’s abandonment of His Son made it possible for those who come to Him in faith to become sons of God (John 1:12).
Simeon was obviously a man who enjoyed intimacy with God who had personally promised him that he would not die before he saw the Messiah (Luke 2:25-26). We don’t know how long he had to wait, but one day he was led by the Spirit of God to the temple and when he saw Mary and Joseph with the Child, Jesus, God revealed that this was indeed the Christ. As he took the baby in his arms, he blessed God, saying, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation” (Luke 2:29-30). But unexpectedly, Simeon warned Mary that one day a sword would pierce through her soul (v. 35).
Perhaps Mary remembered those words as she stood at the foot of the cross, looking up at her son bleeding and dying. The only biblical record of Mary’s words other than in the birth and early childhood narratives occur at the wedding of Cana in Galilee at the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry. Therefore, we can only guess what was going through her mind at the cross, but surely like any mother her emotional turmoil would have been intense.
It is truly remarkable to consider the thoughtfulness of Jesus and His tender care for Mary, despite the intensity of His own sufferings, and the burdens He was bearing at that time. He said, “Woman, behold your son!” (John 19:26). Clearly something is lost in translation but this expression “Woman” was apparently a term of respect, though it lacks the intimacy and warmth you would expect from a loving son. Mary had fulfilled the work God had given her and as Jesus completes the work His Father had given Him, He makes His final arrangements. It is probable that Mary was now a widow and though the gospel writers refer to other brothers and sisters of Jesus (Matthew 13:54-56), they did not at this time believe in Jesus themselves (John 7:2-5). Jesus knew He would not be there to care for her but confidently entrusts her to a kindred spirit, his dear friend and disciple, John. And with these simple words, Mary’s role in salvation history came to an end.
Two men hung alongside Jesus of Nazareth, one on either side. Those who had been victims of their crimes were no doubt glad to see them receiving the just reward for their deeds. Justice was being served.
We don’t know if they had had any previous contact with Jesus. Perhaps they had heard stories about this man some believed to be the Messiah. We do know they heard the words the Gospels record were spoken. They also heard those who mocked Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, to be the king of Israel , and to be the Saviour (Matthew 27:39-43). And they exposed the vileness of their hearts as they joined the crowds in heaping insults on the sinless Son of God (Matthew 27:44).
But somewhere along the way, a change came over one of these men. He came to believe that the words spoken in mockery were true and that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, the king of Israel, and the Saviour. We know this because he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). This is an astounding expression of faith concerning a man not only condemned to die on a Roman cross, but already hanging on it!
The words of promise he heard in response were truly words of hope: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). These words directly contradict what many people today believe about the nature of salvation. This man by his own admission was suffering the rightful consequences of his actions. He did not deserve Paradise but was promised he would be there that very day. Nowhere does the Bible teach that we can earn our salvation by our own good deeds; rather it is freely given as a gift to those who believe in the Lord Jesus. Neither does the Bible ever teach that there is a place where we can go after death to purge away our sins to fit us for heaven. Rather, it is appointed to men to die once and after this the judgement (Hebrews 9:27). But like this unnamed convict, if we call upon the Lord today in faith, we too can be guaranteed a place in Paradise with Christ.
It was said of Jesus during His earthly ministry, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46), but those words spoken during the hours during which the Lord Jesus hung on the cross surely deserve our most careful attention.
The four gospels provide us with seven recorded sayings of the Lord Jesus uttered as He hung on the cross. Remarkably, the first words spoken were words of pardon: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Having been arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus has in a few short hours endured six illegal trials (three at the hands of the Jewish authorities, two at the hands of Pilate, and one before Herod) during which He has been falsely accused and abusively treated. Though both Herod and Pilate found Jesus innocent of all charges, Pilate still has Jesus flogged in a last ditch effort to save Him from the Jews (Luke 23:14-16, 22).
It is difficult for us to conceive of the brutality of a Roman scourging yet the Gospels mention it almost in passing (Matthew 27:26). But even this fails to satisfy the blood lust of the mob and Pilate turns Jesus over to their hatred and envy.
The soldiers lead Jesus away to the Praetorium, gather the entire battalion around, and then heap abuse upon Him. They dress Him in a purple robe, plait a crown of thorns, and “With this ‘crown’ the soldiers unwittingly pictured God’s curse on sinful humanity being thrust on Jesus” (John Grassmick). Then they lead Him out to crucify Him.
Face to face with the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8), these soldiers nail Him to the cross. At a time when most would be naturally self-absorbed, we find Jesus praying for others. Not His family, not His disciples, but those responsible for His suffering and death. It is perhaps best to see this prayer for pardon being extended to all those who were responsible for His death, and that includes you and me.
Was this prayer of the Lord Jesus answered? Certainly His death provided the righteous basis on which God could extend forgiveness to sinners, but forgiveness is always dependent upon repentance by the offending party. If we would avail of this gracious offer of pardon, we must acknowledge our sins before a holy God and ask for His forgiveness. The thief on the cross found this to be true.