The Cries from the Cross
by Kevin Jones
To understand Christ’s death on the cross, we need to examine the words He spoke, as He endured crucifixion. The Old Testament prophesied His death, the Epistles explain His death, but His own words reveal the heart of the lamb. Each sentence spoken with specific intent and spiritual insight helps us understand the significance of the crucifixion. They are not the faint cries of a dying man; they are words spoken with intent and precision; spiritual proclamations to a dying world. Here we do not only see Christ’s death, but we lift the veil on the mystery of death itself.
At the crucifixion we see God’s glory revealed through weakness, as death and sin are taken into the heart of God, and their power is eternally defeated. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57
Jesus spoke seven times from the cross; we will mention just four of the cries. The first is recorded in Luke 23:33-34 and should be seen as Christ’s High Priestly Prayer. “When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals-one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”
This prayer depicts our need, the Father’s mercy and Christ’s mediation.
Jesus as mediator of the New Covenant asks forgiveness from an offended God. He is not simply praying for His executioners, but for all who are ignorant of their sin. As our Great High Priest, He is interceding with the Father, and the scope of His ministry is eternal. The High Priest’s ministry is described in Heb 5:1 “Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins”.
The timing of this first cry is important. It came as Jesus was being nailed to the cross. ‘“When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified Him -- Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”’ The moment the crucifixion began, Jesus prayed, for our forgiveness. The first Bishop of Liverpool, J.C. Ryle, wrote: “As soon as the blood of the great sacrifice began to flow, the Great High Priest began to intercede”. In this prayer Christ offers His blood as the one eternal sacrifice for sin, with His sacrifice the way into God’s presence is open.
Christ’s second and third words are to individuals, to Mary Jesus says, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” John 19:26-27 and John receives her into the heart of the church ready for the day of Pentecost. (See Acts 1:14.) To the repentant thief He offers grace, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43. But perhaps the most profound cry from the cross is the great cry of dereliction “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 KJV.
As the hours pass the Old Testament sacrifices are fulfilled, and the full weight of human sin descends upon Jesus. He is abandoned to the fate of the God-forsaken. The darkness and brooding evil of sin are mirrored in the darkness at mid-day. This is no eclipse; it is a tangible, spiritual darkness. Evil gathers over the head of Christ and God the Father withdraws, leaving God the Son to bear sin alone. Wesley writes, “See all your sins on Jesus laid: The Lamb of God was slain, His soul was once an offering made, for every soul of man.” Isaiah said “He trod the wine press alone” Isaiah 63:3.
We are now at the heart of the mystery of the cross. A divine exchange is transacted here. Our sin is laid on Christ; our curse is born by Him, the sinless one is counted guilty and we, the guilty ones, are freed. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. -- God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” 2Corinthians 5:19 21. The sins of the ages are literally placed on Christ. He becomes the lamb slain from the foundation of the world, the Scapegoat and Divine sin bearer.
The concept of a “Scapegoat” comes from Leviticus 16:7-10. Two goats were chosen, one was sacrificed as a sin offering, and the other released into the wilderness. The Priest placed his hand upon both goats symbolically passing the peoples’ sins onto the animals. Both animals bore the penalty of sin, one in sacrificial death; the other was forsaken in the desert, pictorially carrying sin into the fire of hell.
As scapegoat Christ:
Gave His life as the final sacrifice for sin.
Cleansed our sin through a blood sacrifice.
Bore sin to the grave, becoming our representative in death.
Carried our sin to the place of punishment. (Ephesians 4:9, 1Peter 3:19)
Then He rose immortal, leaving sin in the grave, offering cleansing and immortality to all who call upon His name.
God the Son, exchanged places with sinful humanity, as the Scapegoat did with the Israelites. In that moment ‘The Father’ who hates sin turned from ‘The Son’; judgement fell and Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Christ literally became cursed for us, and because He was cursed, we will never endure God’s curse. God’s righteous anger fell in full fury on the Son, as God in Christ became the sin bearer. Sin entered into the very being of God and ripped apart the heart of the Eternal; the curtain was torn and we are drawn into life, though death entering the Godhead. Our future is secured, our sin is forgiven, and our relationship is restored for “by His wounds you were healed.” 1Peter 2:24. Hallelujah what a Saviour.
The Revd Kevin Jones is Superintendent Minister, Southport Banks and Hesketh Bank. This article is abridged from “Understanding Easter - The Seven Last Words of Christ”, a comprehensive study guide and resource book for Eastertide by Rev D Kevin Jones available from Amazon or direct from the author £7.50 Email firstname.lastname@example.org