Friday, March 29, 2024

Thoughts on Jesus' Seven Words from the Cross: The First Word

Thoughts on the First Word from the Cross

by Rev. Joel A. Brondos

The Crucifixion, by Bellini

Being retired, I rarely preach anymore, but after some 40 years of preparing sermons (I graduated from Concordia Seminary - St. Louis in 1984), I still ruminate on various texts. Here are some thoughts I would have shared on Christ's seven "words" from the cross (in Greek and Latin, "word" can refer to thoughts and sentences).

"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34)

With these words from the cross, our Lord showed what was on His mind while He was suffering on the cross.

His thoughts were not about anger, retribution, vengeance, or justice -- but forgiveness. It was for forgiveness that He was nailed to the accursed cross. He had not come to condemn the world of sinners, but that the world through Him might be saved [John 3:17].

Those who sneered while looking upon Him used their words to mock, blaspheme, and ridicule Him. They, too, were included among those for whom He was giving His life. The ones right under His nose, turned up their noses and held Him in contempt -- yet He did not respond in kind.

He did not threaten them in reply, saying, "When I rise from the dead, you guys are in for a world of hurt! I'm going to kill you!" but rather, "when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Peter 2:23).

Christ's enemies did not know what they were doing. Now, ignorance is no excuse for breaking the Law. Any sheriff can tell you that, but the thought is also expressed in the Old Testament (Leviticus 5:18; Ezekiel 45:20). And yet, there was a sense in which they had to be ignorant. Who would have driven nails into the hands and feet of Jesus utterly convinced that He was both true God and true man. Those who had come to arrest Jesus in the garden got a glimpse that Jesus was the great I AM, and they fell back when they heard Jesus say, "I am He." Or as we read in Colossians 2:8, "which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."

The hatred and invectives of those enemies of the cross did not stop at Golgotha. When they no longer had Jesus to kick about, they went after His disciples. They went after Stephen.

Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3,5), never had the opportunity to read any of Paul's epistles. The words which Paul wrote to the Philippians were never read to Stephen: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . . [who] humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross."

Nevertheless, Stephen had the mind of Christ, forgiving those who were stoning him to death, crying out with a loud voice, out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin," calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" as he knelt down and "fell asleep."

But even though Stephen never knew anything about Paul's letters, Paul (who at that time was Saul) had the opportunity to hear Stephen. Saul had consented to the stoning of Stephen. He breathed threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. In Acts 22:20, Paul himself confessed: "when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him."

If anyone was an "in" + "amicus," literally, "not a friend" -- if anyone was an enemy of the cross -- it was Saul. But in the forgiveness of Christ's cross conveyed through the words on the dying lips of Stephen, Paul came to know "For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Romans 5:10) and again, "And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled" (Colossians 1:21).

Today's world spends billions of dollars to have vengeance and retribution streamed onto their 84-inch smart screens or to read about such things on their tablets. Writers and directors set us up in the beginning of movies and novels to be shocked at some abhorrent evil or injustice. By the end of the movie or book, we expect to see the antagonists die a most gruesome death. We expect the enemies to get justice from a wide array of implements of destruction. It is not likely that the same amount of revenues could be collected in a story which ends with the enemies being forgiven (though there are a few).

We, by nature, are not friends of the Lord God almighty. We demonstrate this by our selfishness, our carelessness, our lusts, our pride, our complaints, our wasted time, our willfulness -- our sinfulness. We justly deserve temporal and eternal punishment. We cannot plead ignorance, but with the apostle Paul, we confess, "For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord" (1 Corinthians 4:4).

And yet by the grace and mercy of our crucified Lord, we do not come to a bitter end. We do not face the holy and righteous justice of the almighty Lord God. Jesus faced that bitter end for us on the cross.

Christ died for enemies like us. And by His grace, mercy, and peace through faith, through Christ's words of forgiveness from the cross, we, too, are enlivened to "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).

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