“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
The Seven Last Words of Christ for Holy Week
Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of our Holy Week journey to the cross of Christ, and through the cross to the resurrection on Easter morning. Beginning today and continuing throughout the week, I’d like to focus my reflections on the seven last words of Christ from the cross.
In actuality, the seven last “words” of Christ are seven sentences spoken by Jesus from the cross. They are found in the four biblical Gospels: Matthew/Mark (1 word); Luke (3 words); John (3 words). For centuries, Christians have focused on these words so as to understand and experience the cross of Christ more truly and deeply. Beginning today and continuing throughout Holy Week, my reflections will focus on the seven last words of Christ so that we might enter more completely into the passion, mercy, and glory of Jesus.
It makes sense that the first word of Jesus from the cross is a word of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Forgiveness is central to the cross, after all. Jesus was dying so that we might be forgiven for our sins, so that we might be reconciled to God for eternity.
But the forgiveness of God through Christ doesn’t come only to those who don’t know what they are doing when they sin. In the mercy of God, we receive his forgiveness even when we do what we know to be wrong. God chooses to wipe away our sins, not because we have convenient excuses, and not because we have tried hard to make up for them, but because he is a God of amazing grace with mercies that are new every morning.
As we read the words, “Father, forgive them,” may we understand that, we too, are forgiven through Christ. Remember what John writes in his first letter, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9). Because Christ died on the cross for us, we are cleansed from all wickedness, from every last sin. Moreover, we are united with God the Father as his beloved children. We are free to approach his throne of grace with our needs and concerns (Heb. 4:16). God “has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:13). What great news!
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Do you really believe God has forgiven your sins? Do you take time on a regular basis to confess your sins so that you might enjoy the freedom of forgiveness? Do you need to experience God’s forgiveness in a fresh way today?
PRAYER: Gracious Lord Jesus, it’s easy for me to speak of your forgiveness, even to ask for it and to thank you for it. But do I really believe I’m forgiven? Do I experience the freedom that comes from the assurance that you have cleansed me from my sins? Or do I live as if I’m “semi-forgiven”? Even though I’ve put my faith in you and confessed my sins, do I live as if sin still has power over me? Do I try to prove myself to you, as if I might be able to earn more forgiveness by my own effort?
Dear Lord, though I believe at one level that you have forgiven me, this amazing truth needs to penetrate my heart in new ways. Help me to know with fresh conviction that I am fully and finally forgiven, not because of anything I have done, but because of what you have done for me.
May I live today as a forgiven person, opening my heart to you, choosing not to sin because the power of sin has been broken by your sacrifice on the cross.
All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, for your matchless forgiveness! Amen.
“I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The Seven Last Words of Christ for Holy Week
As Jesus hung on the cross, he was mocked by the religious leaders and the Roman soldiers. One of the criminals being crucified with him added his own measure of scorn. But the other crucified criminal sensed that Jesus was being treated unjustly. After speaking up for Jesus, he cried out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42).
Jesus responded to this criminal, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43). The word “paradise,” from the Greek word paradeisos, which meant “garden,” was used in the Greek Old Testament for the Garden of Eden. In Judaism during the time of Jesus, it was associated with heaven, as well as with the future when God would restore all things to the perfection of the first Garden. Paradise was sometimes thought to be the place where righteous people went after death. This seems to be the sense of paradise in Luke 23:43.
Here we encounter one of the most astounding and encouraging verses in all of Scripture. Jesus promised that the criminal would be with him in paradise. Yet the text of Luke gives us no reason to believe this man had been a follower of Jesus, or even a believer in him in any well-developed sense. He might have felt sorry for his sins, but he did not obviously repent. Rather, the criminal’s cry to be remembered seems more like a desperate, last-gasp effort. He believed in Jesus just enough to shout: “Jesus, remember me!” And that’s exactly what Jesus promised to do.
Though we should make every effort to have right theology, and though we should live our lives each day as disciples of Jesus, in the end, our relationship with him comes down to simple trust. “Jesus, remember me,” we cry, not unlike the desperate criminal on the cross next to Jesus. And Jesus, both communicating and embodying the mercy of God, says to us, “You will be with me in paradise.” We are welcome there not because we have figured out all of the answers, and not because we are living perfectly, but because God is merciful and we have put our trust in Jesus, the Savior, the one who will remember us. Thanks be to God!
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Have you staked your life on Jesus? Have you put your ultimate trust in him? Do you know that, when your time comes, you will be with him in paradise?
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, how I wonder at your grace and mercy! When we cry out to you, you hear us. When we ask you to remember us when you come into your kingdom, you offer the promise of paradise. Your mercy, dear Lord, exceeds anything we might imagine. It embraces us, encourages us, heals us, saves us.
O Lord, though my situation is different from the criminal who cried out to you, I am in many ways quite like him. Today I live, trusting you and you alone. My life, both now and in the world to come, is in your hands. And so I pray:
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom! Jesus, remember me today as I seek to live within your kingdom! Amen.