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Jesus Christ's Last Sermon
Good News Magazine
February 1983
Volume: VOL. XXX, NO. 2
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Jesus Christ's Last Sermon
James P Lichtenstein

Have you ever read the sermon Jesus preached the day He died? It is not all reported by anyone gospel writer, and is easily overlooked. Here is what Jesus said to mankind — from the stake — that day.

   Jesus Christ, God's only Son, spent His final hours of human life on earth nailed to a stake, despised and rejected by the humanity He created and came to serve.
   The night before, His disciples had deserted Him in fear for their lives. One of them had betrayed Him to death. And then He, the only perfect person who ever lived, took upon Him s elf the consequences for every sin the rest of humanity had ever or would ever commit.
   From a place called Calvary or Golgotha, outside the city walls of Jerusalem, Jesus Christ spoke for the last time before His resurrection from the dead. His words that spring day are preserved for us in the New Testament.
   Jesus spoke seven times from the stake — three times to God, four times to those nearby. No one gospel writer records all the things He said. Matthew and Mark tell us one, Luke and John each give us three.
   Together these sayings of Jesus present us a powerful sermon from the depths of our Savior's mind and heart during the hours of His greatest personal agony and pain. Each of Jesus' utterances gives us a window into the thoughts that filled His mind as He poured out His life for us.
   Jesus Christ did far more than die for mankind that day — as if that weren't enough! He proclaimed the good news of our hope for victory over sin and death through His sacrifice for all. He overcame every obstacle Satan and deceived men placed in front of Him.
   His final words stand as a source of encouragement for all believers. Because they are spread throughout the gospels, the impact of Jesus' words could be overlooked. Here they are in the order they were said, that you may consider the message of God's love given by Jesus Christ the day He died.

"Father, forgive them"

   Jesus first spoke to God from the stake. Only Luke tells us what He said. Shortly after Jesus was crucified, He raised His voice to God and prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34).
   Within hearing range of His words were Roman soldiers, some of whom were gambling for His clothes and mocking Him; common people, stirred up with hate by the religious leadership and thirsty for His blood; and the curious, who came to see the spectacle of His death.
   The chief priests, scribes and elders mocked Him, pretending they would believe in Him if He would come down from the stake and save Himself from death (Matt. 27:42). On His left and right hand were two criminals who, condemned to die with Him, could also hear His every word.
   Not everyone there to observe the crucifixion was hostile to Jesus. In the crowd were faithful women who had followed Him during His ministry; they were torn with grief and despair (Luke 23:27). Some of His disciples now came forward to show some support for their teacher and Lord. His mother, Mary, was also present that day, to mourn the Son God had given her by special miracle more than 30 years before.
   Pilate had pronounced Jesus innocent of any crime and not deserving of death (Matt. 27:24). Judas, who betrayed Him, was sorry for what he had done and confessed Jesus' innocence to the chief priests and elders, but to no avail — their hearts were set on His death (verse 4). At the instigation of the chief priests and elders; all the people at His trial before Pilate demanded the death of the only guiltless person who ever lived (verses 20-22).
   Though innocent of any crime against God or man, Jesus had been taken prisoner, beaten and condemned in a mock trial. He was then scourged in the cruel and painful Roman manner in preparation for His crucifixion. Now, from the stake at Calvary, Jesus' thoughts reached above the pain and rejection by the people He had given His life to serve. In His intense prayer to God He asked forgiveness for those responsible for the evil done to Him that day.
   His prayer was simple, direct and heartfelt. He called God "Father." While facing death in agonizing pain, Jesus felt the same closeness and unity with God He always had throughout His life. He knew God would hear and answer His prayer. God always did (John 11:42).
   Jesus harbored no resentment. He told God in prayer how He could ask for the forgiveness of His murderers' sins: "For they do not know what they do."
   While an ordinary mortal would have been totally consumed with concern for his own pain and miserable condition, Jesus Christ instead testified to the greatness of His love and commitment to serve all who through ignorance have gone the way of sin and death.

"Be with me in paradise"

   Jesus next spoke to minister encouragement to a pitiful human being, one of the criminals crucified with Him (Luke 23:43). The Bible does not tell us whether Jesus spoke to the one on His left or right. That does not matter. Both criminals were men worthy of the death sentence imposed on them according to the laws of the time. They were both, most likely, thieves or murderers.
   At the beginning of their shared ordeal both criminals joined the others in reviling Jesus: "And those who were crucified with Him reviled Him" (Mark 15:32). During the course of the morning hours, however, a miraculous change in attitude took place in one of the criminals. He came to believe.
   We are not told of any conversation between the thief and Jesus other than this brief exchange. There was probably no additional communication between them (Isa. 53:7, I Pet. 2:22-23). Perhaps only Jesus' example and prayer to God, overheard by the thief, moved him in so deep a fashion.
   Both thieves spoke to Jesus: "Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, 'If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us'" (Luke 23:39). This thief remained unrepentant. He only wanted escape from his pain. He had no faith — no desire to change personally.
   Jesus did not answer him. The gulf between them cannot be bridged until this criminal comes to truly know his Savior and repent of his sins. This may yet occur when he is brought back to physical life and has his eyes opened in the Great White Throne Judgment, after the Millennium (Rev. 20:12).
   The other thief was just as guilty of sin as the first and, by his own admission, deserved to die (Luke 23:40-41). Earlier in the day he, too, had rejected and mocked Jesus. But now he rebuked his fellow thief for his attitude. A change had taken place in his thinking. He turned his head toward Jesus and said to Him, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom" (verse 42).
   Jesus spoke to the repentant thief and gave him hope for the future: "Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43, AV).
   The two thieves are typical of all people who come into contact with either God's truth or a representative of God. Most, like the first thief, reject Jesus Christ and His way of love and giving. Their petitions to God go unanswered. But all who repent and surrender to Him as Lord and Savior receive a lasting hope for the future and strength to face the present.
   Jesus was confident in His response to the repentant thief. There was a future beyond the grave. Eternal life in God's Kingdom lay ahead for those who would believe in Him as Lord and Savior and change their lives accordingly.

"Woman, behold your son!"

   Jesus' third message expressed concern for His mother's welfare. When it seemed impossible for Him to help anyone, Jesus provided for His mother through another human being, His disciple, John.
   "When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, 'Woman, behold your son!' Then He said to the disciple, 'Behold your mother!' And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home" (John 19:26-27).
   Jesus honored His mother, Mary. Evidently Joseph was dead. Jesus committed the care of His mother to one He knew would be faithful to this trust.

"Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani"

   Next, for the first time, Jesus focused His thoughts on Himself. He cried out, "'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'" (Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34). Jesus' actual words, spoken in Aramaic, are left untranslated by both Matthew and Mark and are interpreted by them as a kind of testimony to the impact this statement had on the writers themselves.
   This cry of Jesus is different from His other sayings that day. It is the only one that was a question. [t appears to be a statement of doubt and fear, and has puzzled many. Was Jesus afraid? Had He been abandoned by God when He needed His Father most?
   Jesus' cry was intense. It reflected His inner feelings. We can easily overlook that Jesus Christ was as fully human as we. Even though God was His Father, Jesus was born of a woman and was subject to all the feelings of mind and body that any man is.
   These words were spoken about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, after three hours of supernatural darkness covered the land (Matt. 27:45). As Jesus hung on the cross He was alone, without God near, bearing in His body our sins. He stepped into our place to experience the pain and anguish of total separation from God that results from sin (Isa. 59:1-2).
   These hours spent in darkness without the comfort of God's presence were undoubtedly the most difficult part of Jesus' ordeal. God had always been with Him before. Yet now, the Father withdrew from His Son, leaving Jesus to suffer alone for sins.
   Without God there Jesus experienced a tremendous sense of aloneness. Yet His cry was not faithless: He still addressed the Father as "My God."
   Left alone by His Father, Jesus fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy: "Surely He has borne our griefs land carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted" (lsa. 53:4). Isaiah further tells what Christ experienced for us: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, everyone, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (verse 6).
   Soon Christ would be able to savor the sweetness of eternal victory over sin and death. His final three statements came in rapid succession.

"I thirst!"

   These next words may have startled some. Death drew near for Jesus and all knew it. Jesus surely realized it was close to the time of sacrifice.
   He had endured the heat, pain, rejection, loneliness and all the temptations Satan surrounded Him with that day. He overcame them all. He could have suffered silently to His death but He didn't. He did the unexpected. He asked for human help. "After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, 'I thirst!'" (John 19:28).
   There is probably nothing most of us would ask of a gawking crowd waiting to see us die, or of soldiers who inflicted pain and abuse. Jesus asked for a drink. He could have suffered without one just a little while longer but He asked. His request and what was given Him to drink, vinegar, had been prophesied by David a thousand years before (Ps. 69:21).
   Jesus' attitude while suffering made a profound impact on many that day, including the battle-hardened soldiers who were used to the cruelties of war. Scripture tells us, "And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink" (Matt. 27:48, John 19:29, AV).
   A soldier answered Jesus' request immediately. He ran. He was moved with feeling for the man he had at first scorned and ridiculed. At the last he hurried to serve.
   The soldier may not have had faith in Jesus as the Son of God, but he had come to suspect Jesus was more, than an ordinary man. He said, "Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down" (Mark 15:36).

"It is finished!"

   Jesus Christ had now completed His Work on earth as a mortal man. His sixth message is one of triumph: "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost" (John 19:30, AV). He had done it all. Before God and the angels and in the hearing of all there that day He proclaimed His Work and mission fulfilled.
   His humility rings out clearly in His words. He had no vanity, no pride, no attitude of "I showed you." Jesus did not even say, "I did it." He took no credit to Himself. He claimed no pity. His message was not, "I'm dying now."
   To the end of His life, Jesus' mind was on the Work God gave Him to do. In front of all there, He announced, "It is finished."

Jesus' final words

   Matthew tells us, "Jesus, when He had cried out again with a loud voice, yielded up His spirit" (Matt. 27:50, see also Mark 15:37).
   Only Luke preserves Jesus' first and last prayers to God: "And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, 'Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.' And having said this', He breathed His last" (Luke 23:46). In this final prayer, as in the first, Jesus called God "Father."
   Jesus Christ dedicated His life to serving God. God is love, and Jesus' ministry shows us what true love is. He totally gave Himself for mankind.
   He totally trusted His Father. He knew no doubt. Jesus accomplished nothing by His own human power. He said so (John 5:30, 14:10). His strength came from His Father in heaven. His final message to man before His resurrection was an affirmation of the greatness and glory of God.

God's Work still being done

   Jesus Christ's sermon that day was by word and example, the most effective kind of preaching possible.
   The fruits of Jesus' ministry began to be borne immediately, even before Jesus' death, in the transformation of a repentant thief, who became the first of many to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and appeal for His mercy. Jesus gave the thief hope.
   After Jesus' death an officer of the Roman army, a centurion, fulfilled Jesus' prophecy of John 8:28 and professed, "Truly this Man was the Son of God" (Mark 15:39).
   Jesus Christ's Work is still being done today. On that Passover more than 1,900 years ago, Jesus completed His own physical part in that Work. But the Work lives on now in His Church, in those who look for His imminent return as King of kings and Lord of lords to rule with great authority and power.
   Then all who have faithfully served Him will receive the eternal inheritance He made possible, by the resurrection of the dead and being born as literal, spirit-composed members with Him of the Family of God.
   This is the wonderful message of good news that Jesus Christ gave to man the day He died for all.

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Good News MagazineFebruary 1983VOL. XXX, NO. 2
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