Devotional Reflections on Christ’s Seven Last Word’s from the Cross, Good Friday, April 19, 2019

“The Seven Last Words of Christ” (1898), by Fred Holland Day (1864-1933). The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Preached as part of a Tenebrae Service at Living Savior Lutheran Church, Fairfax Station, Virginia.


The Second Word from the Cross:

“Christ on the Cross” (ca. 1745-1750), by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770). St. Louis Art Museum.

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43, NIV)

In an hour of purest pain, agony, and despair, a sinful man has heard the greatest words that could ever be spoken to any member of this sinful generation.  A highwayman has been given hope where he once had none; he was given a tremendous gift when he did not expect it. For this criminal, condemned to death by the sword of the Law, has been given the Gospel in all its sweetness from the mouth of his Messiah.  He knew that he had deserved his punishment, though what he did, we do not know. Mark says he was a robber, Luke, a “criminal,” and as such he may have been guilty of murder and terrorism as well. Nonetheless, he knew that he must suffer death under the Law  for his sins, but he also knew that the carpenter crucified next to him deserved no such fate, and so he confessed his sin and proclaimed the carpenter beside him blameless: “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

“Christ and the Thief” (1893), by Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge (1831-1894)

Did he merely think of the messianic kingdom the one crucified next to him had spoken of as some far-off event, or perhaps as something figurative?  It really doesn’t matter, because what he assumed would happen in the future would actually happen in the here and now, that very day. Having acknowledged his sin and his need for a Savior, and having placed his trust in this man beside him— “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom”— his Lord spoke to him the promise of salvation.  “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Not tomorrow, not next week, not ten years from now, but today.  Christ’s promise to him is instantaneous.  He will be with Christ; he, the first to embrace Christ as the one who saves others, will know his saving power, and live with him in blessedness in the salvation he won on the cross.

Sebastian Altar, “Right Inner Wing, Crucifixion” (1509-1516) at St. Florian’s Priory, by Albrecht Altdorfer (1480-1538). Sankt Florian, Austria.

And it is the same for us.  We, too, are sinful and deserve nothing less than death under the law for our sins.  We may not have done what the “thief” on the cross did, whatever it may be, but we nonetheless are guilty, and the sentence is the same.  But Christ speaks this promise to us as well when we turn to him in faith, and while the criminal on the cross trusted that Christ would do what he said, we know that he has done it.  Christ’s work of salvation has been completed for us, and in him our sins no longer count against us. We, too, have the promise of forgiveness of sins and paradise with him today, tomorrow, and for all time.

The Fifth Word from the Cross:

“Crocifissione” (ca. 1610), by Giovanni Battista Caracciolo (Battistello Caracciolo) (1578-1635). Museo di Capidomonte, Naples.

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28, NIV)

“I thirst.”  Jesus spoke these words from the cross knowing that all things have already been finished, in order that the Scripture might be accomplished.  And what Scripture might that have been? No clear prophecy exists— the Psalms speak of suffering with no relief, of horrible pangs of thirst, yet here Jesus’ thirst is slaked.  What words are fulfilled? Jesus knows all things have been accomplished. The strife is over, the battle done; he has felt God the Father’s full wrath on the cross and has suffered the agony of separation from God for three hours in darkness, but now, that act is over.  All that Scripture foretold has come to pass regarding his suffering for the sins of mankind, and so Christ asks for drink so that he might preach the good news of his work’s completion. He cannot make his final cry with a cracked and dry throat, and so he asks for a drink so that all those present at Golgotha might clearly hear his proclamation and he might rest from his labors.  He does not ask for drink in desperation, but merely so that the whole world might know that the Scriptures concerning the work of the Son of Man have been fulfilled: “It is finished!”

“Mortal anguish he endures. All the mortal anguish of all men and women,” from
Hij was een van ons (“He was One of Us“) (1974), by Rien Poortvliet (1932-1995).
“What Our Lord Saw from the Cross” (1886-1894), by James Tissot (1836-1902). Brooklyn Museum.

And he asks for drink so that we too may hear his final preaching ringing down to us across the ages.  For all of Christ’s work has already been finished for us; as it was then on that hill far away on an old, rugged cross, so it is now for us.  We were to have suffered the greatest of punishment for our sins, but Christ took our sins upon himself and bore it all. And with it all having come to be finished, he asked for something to drink, and with his thirst quenched, shouted out the confirmation of Scripture’s fruition so that all people, we included, would know that he had indeed saved us from our sins.  He drank vinegar so that we might know that we have been reconciled to the Father through the suffering and death of the Son, so that we might hear his call and come to him to receive the water of life and thirst no more.

A Poem for Good Friday: George Herbert, “The Sacrifice”

“The Sacrifice,” from The Temple, by the 17th Century Anglican poet and priest, George Herbert (1593-1633).  A beautifully moving poem for Good Friday.


 

Oh all ye, who passe by, whose eyes and minde
To worldly things are sharp, but to me blinde;
To me, who took eyes that I might you finde:

Was ever grief like mine?

The Princes of my people make a head
Against their Maker: they do wish me dead,
Who cannot wish, except I give them bread:

Was ever grief like mine?

Without me each one, who doth now me brave,
Had to this day been an Egyptian slave.
They use that power against me, which I gave:

Was ever grief like mine?

Mine own Apostle, who the bag did beare,
Though he had all I had, did not forbeare
To sell me also, and to put me there:

Was ever grief like mine?

For thirtie pence he did my death devise,
Who at three hundred did the ointment prize,
Not half so sweet as my sweet sacrifice:

Was ever grief like mine?

Therefore my soul melts, and my hearts deare treasure
Drops bloud (the onely beads) my words to measure:
O let this cup passe, if it be thy pleasure:

Was ever grief like mine?

These drops being temper’d with a sinners tears,
A Balsome are for both the Hemispheres:
Curing all wounds, but mine; all, but my fears:

Was ever grief like mine?

Yet my Disciples sleep: I cannot gain
One houre of watching; but their drowsie brain
Comforts not me, and doth my doctrine stain:

Was ever grief like mine?

Arise, arise, they come. Look how they runne.
Alas! what haste they make to be undone!
How with their lanterns do they seek the sunne!

Was ever grief like mine?

With clubs and staves they seek me, as a thief,
Who am the way of truth, the true relief;
Most true to those, who are my greatest grief:

Was ever grief like mine?

Judas, dost thou betray me with a kisse?
Canst thou finde hell about my lips? and misse
Of life, just as the gates of life and blisse?

Was ever grief like mine?

See, they lay hold on me, not with the hands
Of faith, but furie: yet at their commands
I suffer binding, who have loos’d their bands:

Was ever grief like mine?

All my Disciples flie; fear puts a barre
Betwixt my friends and me. They leave the starre,
That brought the wise men of the East from farre.

Was ever grief like mine?

Then from one ruler to another bound
They leade me; urging, that it was not sound
What I taught: Comments would the text confound

Was ever grief like mine?

The Priest and rulers all false witnesse seek
’Gainst him, who seeks not life, but is the meek
And readie Paschal Lambe of this great week:

Was ever grief like mine?

Then they accuse me of great blasphemie,
That I did thrust into the Deitie,
Who never thought that any robberie:

Was ever grief like mine?

Some said, that I the Temple to the floore
In three dayes raz’d, and raised as before.
Why, he that built the world can do much more:

Was ever grief like mine?

Then they condemne me all with that same breath,
Which I do give them daily, unto death.
Thus Adam my first breathing rendereth:

Was ever grief like mine?

They binde, and leade me unto Herod: he
Sends me to Pilate. This makes them agree;
But yet their friendship is my enmitie:

Was ever grief like mine?

Herod and all his bands do set me light,
Who teach all hands to warre, fingers to fight,
And onely am the Lord of hosts and might:

Was ever grief like mine?

Herod in judgement sits, while I do stand;
Examines me with a censorious hand:
I him obey, who all things else command:

Was ever grief like mine?

The Jews accuse me with despitefulnesse;
And vying malice with my gentlenesse,
Pick quarrels with their onely happinesse:

Was ever grief like mine?

I answer nothing, but with patience prove
If stonie hearts will melt with gentle love.
But who does hawk at eagles with a dove?

Was ever grief like mine?

My silence rather doth augment their crie;
My dove doth back into my bosome flie,
Because the raging waters still are high:

Was ever grief like mine?

Heark how they crie aloud still, Crucifie:
It is not fit he live a day, they crie,
Who cannot live lesse then eternally:

Was ever grief like mine?

Pilate a stranger holdeth off; but they,
Mine own deare people, cry, Away, away,
With noises confused frighting the day:

Was ever grief like mine?

Yet still they shout, and crie, and stop their eares,
Putting my life among their sinnes and fears,
And therefore wish my bloud on them and theirs:

Was ever grief like mine?

See how spite cankers things. These words aright
Used, and wished, are the whole worlds light:
But hony is their gall, brightnesse their night:

Was ever grief like mine?

They choose a murderer, and all agree
In him to do themselves a courtesie:
For it was their own cause who killed me:

Was ever grief like mine?

And a seditious murderer he was:
But I the Prince of peace; peace that doth passe
All understanding, more then heav’n doth glasse:

Was ever grief like mine?

Why, Cesar is their onely King, not I:
He clave the stonie rock, when they were drie;
But surely not their hearts, as I well trie:

Was ever grief like mine?

Ah! how they scourge me! yet my tendernesse
Doubles each lash: and yet their bitternesse
Windes up my grief to a mysteriousnesse.

Was ever grief like mine?

They buffet me, and box me as they list,
Who grasp the earth and heaven with my fist,
And never yet, whom I would punish, miss’d;

Was ever grief like mine?

Behold, they spit on me in scornfull wise,
Who by my spittle gave the blinde man eies,
Leaving his blindnesse to mine enemies:

Was ever grief like mine?

My face they cover, though it be divine.
As Moses face was vailed, so is mine,
Lest on their double-dark souls either shine:

Was ever grief like mine?

Servants and abjects flout me; they are wittie:
Now prophesie who strikes thee, is their dittie.
So they in me denie themselves all pitie:

Was ever grief like mine?

And now I am deliver’d unto death,
Which each one cals for so with utmost breath,
That he before me well nigh suffereth:

Was ever grief like mine?

Weep not, deare friends, since I for both have wept
When all my tears were bloud, the while you slept:
Your tears for your own fortunes should be kept:

Was ever grief like mine?

The souldiers lead me to the common hall;
There they deride me, they abuse me all:
Yet for twelve heav’nly legions I could call:

Was ever grief like mine?

Then with a scarlet robe they me aray;
Which shews my bloud to be the onely way,
And cordiall left to repair mans decay:

Was ever grief like mine?

Then on my head a crown of thorns I wear:
For these are all the grapes Sion doth bear,
Though I my vine planted and watred there:

Was ever grief like mine?

So sits the earths great curse in Adams fall
Upon my head: so I remove it all
From th’ earth unto my brows, and bear the thrall:

Was ever grief like mine?

Then with the reed they gave to me before,
They strike my head, the rock from whence all store
Of heav’nly blessings issue evermore:

Was ever grief like mine?

They bow their knees to me, and cry, Hail king:
What ever scoffes or scornfulnesse can bring,
I am the floore, the sink, where they it fling:

Was ever grief like mine?

Yet since mans scepters are as frail as reeds,
And thorny all their crowns, bloudie their weeds;
I, who am Truth, turn into truth their deeds:

Was ever grief like mine?

The souldiers also spit upon that face,
Which Angels did desire to have the grace,
And Prophets once to see, but found no place:

Was ever grief like mine?

Thus trimmed forth they bring me to the rout,
Who Crucifie him, crie with one strong shout.
God holds his peace at man, and man cries out:

Was ever grief like mine?

They leade me in once more, and putting then
Mine own clothes on, they leade me out agen.
Whom devils flie, thus is he toss’d of men:

Was ever grief like mine?

And now wearie of sport, glad to ingrosse
All spite in one, counting my life their losse,
They carrie me to my most bitter crosse:

Was ever grief like mine?

My crosse I bear my self, untill I faint:
Then Simon bears it for me by constraint,
The decreed burden of each mortall Saint:

Was ever grief like mine?

O all ye who passe by, behold and see;
Man stole the fruit, but I must climbe the tree;
The tree of life to all, but onely me:

Was ever grief like mine?

Lo, here I hang, charg’d with a world of sinne,
The greater world o’ th’ two; for that came in
By words, but this by sorrow I must win:

Was ever grief like mine?

Such sorrow, as if sinfull man could feel,
Or feel his part, he would not cease to kneel,
Till all were melted, though he were all steel:

Was ever grief like mine?

But, O my God, my God! why leav’st thou me,
The sonne, in whom thou dost delight to be?
My God, my God –

Never was grief like mine.

Shame tears my soul, my bodie many a wound;
Sharp nails pierce this, but sharper that confound;
Reproches, which are free, while I am bound.

Was ever grief like mine?

Now heal thy self, Physician; now come down,
Alas! I did so, when I left my crown
And fathers smile for you, to feel his frown:

Was ever grief like mine?

In healing not my self, there doth consist
All that salvation, which ye now resist;
Your safetie in my sicknesse doth subsist:

Was ever grief like mine?

Betwixt two theeves I spend my utmost breath,
As he that for some robberie suffereth.
Alas! what have I stollen from you? death:

Was ever grief like mine?

A king my title is, prefixt on high;
Yet by my subjects am condemn’d to die
A servile death in servile companie:

Was ever grief like mine?

They gave me vineger mingled with gall,
But more with malice: yet, when they did call,
With Manna, Angels food, I fed them all:

Was ever grief like mine?

They part my garments, and by lot dispose
My coat, the type of love, which once cur’d those
Who sought for help, never malicious foes:

Was ever grief like mine?

Nay, after death their spite shall further go;
For they will pierce my side, I full well know;
That as sinne came, so Sacraments might flow:

Was ever grief like mine?

But now I die; now all is finished.
My wo, mans weal: and now I bow my head.
Onely let others say, when I am dead,

Never was grief like mine.


HT: Gene Edward Veith