The Last Words of Christ

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

(John 15:13)

If that doesn’t sound entirely familiar to the Mormon congregation, it’s because I’ll be using text from theimages (3) World English Bible for ease of reading. And maybe a quote or two from the NIV. Both of these have some very interesting translations from texts older than the King James Version that tend to clarify the LDS perspective now and again. You can follow along in your King James Bible if you can keep up, just to keep me honest.

There’s an Easter custom not very familiar to LDS tradition, but very common throughout the rest of the Christian world, of celebrating the “Seven Last Words of Christ.” Great artists and composers have based paintings and symphonies after this Seven-Word theme.

Basically the Seven Last Words phrase refers to the seven last statements made by Christ as recorded in the four gospels. The gospels don’t agree entirely on this issue and some of Christ’s last expressions only exist in one or two gospels. The list of Christ’s seven last words and the order in which they are traditionally assigned, comes from a combined and harmonized collection of all four gospel texts.

THE FIRST WORD

Father, forgive them, for they know not know what they do.”

(Gospel of Luke 23:34)

This first word appears only in the Gospel of Luke, just after He was hung on the cross between two thieves. Most images (1)readers assume that Jesus is asking His Father to forgive the soldiers below Him, who are parting His raiment, mocking Him and have barely finished binding and nailing him to the cross. But this can also apply to all of His enemies in the crucifixion–Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin; Pontius Pilate and Herod; and the many other soldiers and guards who have scourged him, mocked him and tortured him. This could also be extended to His Apostles and companions who have deserted him, to Peter who has denied him three times, to the fickle crowd, who only days before had praised him on His entrance to Jerusalem, and then days later chose him over Barabbas to be crucified.

We could also also apply this gift of forgiveness to us, who daily forget him in our lives.

Right up to His final hours on earth, Jesus preached forgiveness. He fervently taught the importance of forgiveness in the Lord’s prayer:

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”

(Matthew 6:12)

When asked by Peter how many times we should we forgive someone, Jesus answered “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). At thezhivago-last-supper-st-isaacs-cathedral-1600x1200x72 Last Supper, Jesus explains His crucifixion to His Apostles when He tells them to drink of the passover cup:

“Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”

(Matthew 26:27-28)

Christ’s whole mission on earth was in fact so that He could effect our atonement and return us to our Father in Heaven, through the forgiveness of our sins.

THE SECOND WORD

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

(Gospel of Luke 23:43)

As Christ was first raised to the cross, He got mockery from even one of the two criminals hung on either side of him, dropping from the status of at first being mocked by the high and mighty, to now being ridiculed by common thieves. But the thief on the right spoke up for Jesus, accepting the fact that he and his fellow criminal were receiving justice. He then pointed to Jesus, saying:

…This man has done nothing wrong…Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

(Luke 23:42)

Jesus reassures him that this glimmer of faith promises him a place of glory in images (3)the next life. Even Christ’s own disciples have doubted, betrayed, denied, and wandered off in general to avoid the incrimination of being associated with Jesus at this point. Even after Christ’s resurrection Thomas had to physically handle the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and feet, and test the scar in the Savior’s side before he would believe He was the Christ. Whatever this thief or robber did to be sentenced to the cross, he knew that he deserved it. Likewise he knew that Jesus was not only innocent, but had to be the Messiah or at least some great prophet, to suffer such pain and persecution without complaint as an innocent man.

Jesus taught by example. Jesus taught us first and foremost forgiveness, this time directed not at an ignorant offender, but to a confessed, deliberate criminal and sinner. We should alsojesus-to-the-thief-on-the-cross[1] note that the thief simply asked to be remembered, he had expected no great reward. Jesus in response to this humility, gave him paradise to look forward to.

Jesus had previously told the parable of the workers in the vineyard who got in on the job on the last hour of the day because the farmer apparently needed a big rush of labor towards the end to finish up. These latecomers got the same pay as the those workers who spent the whole 12 hour day sweating in the field. Even in the case of this repentant thief who literally found Jesus on his deathbed, a guilty sinner and criminal, in the act of being executed for his crimes, the Lord of the vineyard, taught Jesus, will reward His laborers as He sees fit. Jesus Christ is the only perfect judge of conscience and character, and though the circumstances of this repentant criminal’s life had stained and convicted him to a physical death, the Lord promised him a paradise beyond this life as a reward for his faith.

Or as Jesus said in Matthew 19:29-30:

Everyone who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive one hundred times, and will inherit eternal life.

But many will be last who are first; and first who are last.

Personally I interpret this to mean, it’s not so much when you repent, or how much you give up to repent, it’s just important that you do repent.

THE THIRD WORD

Jesus said to his mother: “Woman, this is your son”.

Then he said to the disciple: “This is your mother.”

(Gospel of John 19:26-27)

There were four at the foot of the cross below Christ as He suffered–Mary the images (4)Mother of Jesus, John, the disciple sometimes called “John the Beloved,” Mary of Cleopas, His mother’s sister, and Mary Magdalene. This third word of Christ on the cross, is addressed to Mary and John. Jesus looked out at those He would be leaving behind and showed compassion for His mother. To assure that she was taken care of, Jesus personally assigned His best friend to take over His role as Mary’s son and provide for her. It was also an honor for His disciple.

THE FOURTH WORD

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

(Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)

Both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark relate that this expression came in the ninth hour, and that Jesus cried it out loudly. It’s from the opening of Psalm 22:

1 My God, my God, why have  you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.

3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises.

6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.

7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.

8 “He trusts in the LORD,” they say, “let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”

Also in Psalm 22 David made a prophecy concerning Christ’s crucifixion:

They have pierced my hands and my feet, they have numbered all my bones…they divide my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots…

(22:16-18)

But Jesus knew full well what had toChristCrucified14 happen. He had to die. That was the plan from the beginning. It is only through the resurrection of Jesus the Christ that we are redeemed. That is His mission. It was a mission He had to accomplish alone.

For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.

(l Timothy 2:5-6)

THE FIFTH WORD

“I thirst”

(Gospel of John 19:28)

Jesus is now in shock. The wounds inflicted upon him in the scourging, the crowning with thorns, and the nailing upon the cross are now taking their toll. He lost blood and vital hydration on the three-hour walk through the city of Jerusalem to Golgotha. But even before this came His ordeal in the Garden of Gethsemane where He took upon Himself the sins of the very world He had created, and suffered so greatly that He wept blood from every pore. But it wasn’t enough to figuratively pay the price of sin, He literally had to fulfill the whole law and1AD43 the prophets. He had to lay Himself down as a sinless sacrifice without blemish or spot. He had to seal His mission with His blood.

He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross,

so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.

By his wounds you have been healed

(l Peter 2:24)

THE SIXTH WORD

“It is finished.”

(Gospel of John 19:30)

Jesus then bowed His head and surrendered His spirit to His Father in Heaven.

It wasn’t finished however. Only the earthy portion of Christ’s mission had ended. His Eternal mission continues. For us, as His disciples, husbands, wives, priesthood holders and fellow children of our Father in Heaven, the sacrifice Jesus made at the cross represents only the very start of our personal Christian missions on this earth. We have been commissioned to pick up His work where He left off. And one day through our faith in His sacrifice, we too can ascend to meet Him at His throne as part of the covenant we make with Him at baptism.

Christ did not however leave us alone to fend for ourselves. At the Last Supper, Christ announced He would ask the Father to send:

“another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth”

(John 14:16-17)

The word Advocate is also translated as Comforter, Helper, or Counselor.

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you”

(John 14:26)

THE SEVENTH WORD

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

(Gospel of Luke 23:46)

The seventh word of Jesus is from theimages (6) Gospel of Luke, and is directed to His Father in heaven. Just before He dies, Jesus recalls Psalm 31:5 –

“Into thy hands I commend my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.”

I’d like to close as Jesus did, if I may presume to do so, with a condensed reading from the same Psalm:

5 Into thy hands I commend my spirit, thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

7 I will be glad and rejoice in your love,for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.

9 Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow,my soul and body with grief.

10 My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.

11 Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors and an object of dread to my closest friends—those who see me on the street flee from me.

12 I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery.

23 Love the LORD, all his faithful people! The LORD preserves those who are true to him, but the proud he pays back in full.

24 Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.

May the blessings of Easter be uponLG132112701 you all year ‘round. In the name of Jesus Christ…Amen.

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About Royce Lerwick

I have a lot to say about a lot of things. This is probably because I have a brain the size of a small planet. To prevent my cranium from exploding from the sheer mass of intelligence it is forced to contain, I am compelled to spew it somewhere. This is where I have chosen to spew it. My apologies. Get over it. Move on.
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