From the cross, Jesus doesn’t say much, only about 60 words in seven statements. With the parables said, the healings performed, the warnings pronounced, the endless walking done, Jesus is now perched on a cross for all people to interpret. Similar to Moses’ raised pole in Numbers 21:4-9, where anyone who stopped and really looked avoided death, Jesus is raised up. Do we see him? Are we inviting our congregations into a fuller understanding of what happened and why?
Sermons From The Cross
We all have friends who seem to “be over” Jesus’ death and resurrection. They view the events as unnecessary, as folklore, as out of step with the all-inclusive 21st century God. As pastors, we never want to be over his death and resurrection. We want him to shape us through it. We want this of our parishioners, too.
Let’s get up close with the women and John… close enough to the cross to hear Jesus utter his dying words. In them, we’ll find life and ways to draw others, through our sermons, to his “precious bleeding side”, as the hymn writer Fanny Crosby writes.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)
Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22, where David has much more to say about feeling abandoned by God. Since we know Jesus was intimate with Scripture, we can assume he knew the complete psalm. It pulls back and forth in accusation of God’s silence and the mercy seen in his actions. In verses 1 and 2, David asks honest questions about God’s active presence in his life, then declared God’s authority and mighty works in the past (3-5). David realizes his lowly state calling himself a worm, scorned by everyone (6-8), but he knows God has brought him into the world for a preordained purpose despite the roar of lions and the dust of death (9-15). Before David’s verses of praise that circle back and eat up the question in verse 1, we see an applicable depiction of Jesus’ current state: “All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment” (17-18). As we move through Jesus’ dying words, we’ll see this feeling of abandonment resolved in the words, “It is finished,” much like David’s conclusion of Psalm 22: “They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!”
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34)
This prayer can’t come easy. He’s caught between Heaven and Earth, both of which he’s fashioned, dying by the hands of the people he created to bear his image. Jesus said once to forgive our brother seventy times seven, essentially telling us to lose count and have a posture of forgiveness. Jesus said after his parable about the unmerciful servant, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matthew 18:21-35). On the cross, Jesus puts into practice the truth of forgiveness and breaks through those barriers of bitterness and retribution we like to build when we’re offended.
I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)
Salvation is found in no one else. This deathbed conversion, as we might call it, represents the power of Jesus. He alone is the way, truth and life. He alone is the bread of life and the living water. He alone says that, “if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” Take it into our context of evangelism: it’s not our wisdom, our worship style, or our presentation. It is God himself, through the revelation of Jesus and the working of the Holy Spirit, that brings salvation. The thief on the cross had no baptism or confirmation or Sunday School lessons to fall back on and help make sense of the cross. He only had Jesus. It’s a reminder of what we already know but may forget in practice: we only have Jesus, too. It doesn’t mean we throw out discipleship. We are called to make disciples. However, our intentions matter, especially when it comes to the question of who we’re falling in love with and where we place our confidence. If we are singing and saying and doing things to satisfy an obligation, we will likely fall in love with ourselves and our own felt righteousness. If we realize more and more our brokenness and poverty before the living God, our affections toward him will only increase as we take up our cross and follow.
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. (Luke 23:46)
A sure way to better understand the heartbeat of Jesus is to read the Old Testament. He knew them well and quoted them often. Remember where Mary and Joseph find him early on? He was on the steps of the Temple conversing about the Scriptures. Fast forward and he’s in his local synagogue interpreting Isaiah, as well as the actions of Elijah and Elisha, into the lack of faith in Nazareth (Luke 14). For that comparison, he nearly gets thrown off a cliff. Everywhere we turn, Jesus is hearkening us back to the Old Testament and the workings of God through the story of his people. It’s no wonder that one of the last things he says comes from Psalm 31 –
In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God. (1-5)
Dear woman, here is your son… Here is your mother. (John 19:26-27)
Jesus says in John 13:36, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” In the meantime, he knew he was leaving behind his mother Mary and many followers. Jesus disrupts his harsh words from Luke 14:26, when he says to hate your father and mother, etc, for the sake of following him, with the human experience. Perhaps in Luke he was speaking hyperbole. That’s a safe interpretation, but that’s probably Jesus’s point. He’s not safe. There are huge risks involved in following him. His direct engagement with Mary and John from the cross is a moment of care and compassion; it’s a moment that reiterates community in the family of God. Following Jesus means taking up our cross. It means sacrifice and decisions based in an eternal reality none of us has seen.
I am thirsty. (John 19:28)
Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). In Isaiah 49:10 and Revelations 7:16, we receive a promise: “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst…” Yet, here, in the dying breaths of Jesus, he declares he’s thirsty. The Bible references water and thirst many times, from the encounter with Moses and the grumbling Israelites to Hezekiah’s tunnel into Jerusalem. The Psalms say, “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you”, and, “I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land.” (63:1; 143:6). Jesus’ thirst on the cross is about his humanness. And what do the guards do? They give him vinegar, not water. Giving Jesus vinegar is a sign of humanity’s brokenness and cruelty and downright rotten sin.
It is finished. (John 19:30)
In John 4:34, Jesus says that his food–what sustains him day in and day out–is to, “do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” Jesus knew that every second of every minute of every hour of every day and year led here, to three words that demonstrated God’s great love for the world. What is our finishing point? Hebrews says we are to, “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (12:1-3). If our modern lives make void the call to abandon all of the world’s charms for Christ and his kingdom, then we’re on a road that finishes short of the cross. Yes, we might see it in the distance and even know what happened, but we’ll never know who it happened to unless we run and persevere and fix our eyes on him and him alone.
Zach Kincaid is a part of the Sharefaith Editorial Team. He manages workoutyourfaith.com and has written on C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and general Christian thought for more than 15 years. He is a husband, father, and collaborator on a variety of Christian outreach projects, including films and educational resources.