Seven Words of Love

In 1986 the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article detailing the likely physiological and psychological effects of the crucifixion of Jesus. In 2004 Mel Gibson produced “The Passion of the Christ,” a movie that graphically portrayed the extremity of the Lord’s agony. Yet the descriptions we have in the gospels seem relatively unemotional when compared to the violence and terror of the actual event.

We are approaching the time of year when Christians are called again to contemplate the cross and its significance. The writers of the New Testament must have felt a deep reverence and devotion as they described the crucifixion. But they were remarkably restrained.

To be sure, they reveal much in their telling of the scenes of mockery, flogging, hardened soldiers, condemned criminals, thorns, nails, and spear. But there is no lurid sensationalism or cheap emotionalism. Instead, their purpose is instructive, not merely descriptive. The writers want us to see beyond the physical horrors of the crucifixion to something deeper, its spiritual meaning and purpose.

This is evident in the recorded words of Christ from the cross. Students of scripture have always found in these statements a revelation of the divine-human nature of the Lord Jesus, and of the value of his finished work of redemption. For this reason, I invite you to join me in meditating on the “Seven Last Words of Christ” during the coming weeks.

I hope a re-reading of these seven words of love will attract us to the dying Savior. This was his intention. He said, “And I if I am lifted up from the earth, “will draw all people to  myself.” “He said this,” the apostle John reports, “to show the kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:32-33). 

This is the universal attraction of the gospel. It is for people of every nationality, economic status, and ethnic identity. People of all cultures can identify with the emotional, relational, physical and spiritual states reflected in our Lord’s seven words from the cross.

Beginning next Friday, in this space, we will contemplate his prayer for his tormentors, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). This will be followed by an examination of his promise to the criminal on the cross next to him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

“Woman, here is your son,” spoken to Mary, and to the apostle John, “Here is your mother” (John 19:26-27), provided an earthly home for his mother, whom he entrusted to that beloved disciple who stayed with Jesus until he died.

The words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) take us into the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the meaning of Christ’s sacrificial death. “I am thirsty” (John 19:28) is a stark reminder of the Lord’s humanity and his identification with the rest of humanity.

The final words are rich in spiritual and theological significance. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” ( Luke 23:46) and “It is finished” (John 19:30), remind us that the Lord Jesus gave his life voluntarily to pay the debt for the sins of the world. This is the teaching of the New Testament.

Whether or not you were brought up in a church that observed the liturgical practices of the Christian year (I was not), it can be spiritually edifying to use the weeks between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday as a season of preparation. To meditate on the Lord’s death, remembering what he endured on the cross. To give thanks for his sacrifice. To worship the One who came to draw us to himself for salvation. To repent of our sins and deepen our faith in him.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner