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The Utterances On The Cross

"We were not with the faithful few

Who stood Thy bitter cross around,

Nor heard Thy prayer for those who slew,

Nor felt the earthquake rock the ground.

We saw no spear-wound pierce Thy side;

Yet we believe that Thou hast died" (H. J. Buckoll).

"Father, forgive them" (Luke 23:34)

Death by crucifixion was first conceived by the Phoenicians, and copied by Rome. Stoning was Israel's punishment; yet the piercing of the hands and feet of the Lord was a fulfilment of prophecy (Psa. 22:16; John 19:37). The wooden cross, or stake, was laid on the ground, and the soldiers wrestled the victim into a prostrate position on it. His hands and feet were held forcibly in place as the spikes were ruthlessly driven into the flesh, binding the victim to the wood.

"Hark, I hear the dull blow

Of the hammer swung blow,

They are nailing my Lord to the tree."

"And it was the third hour and they crucified Him" (Mark 15:25). How amazed the soldiers must have been by the gentle, willing, and completely unresisting attitude of the Lord Jesus! No reviling, only a heart-rending, prayerful cry, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do". What a marked contrast He is to all others! How He stands out so nobly, so majestically! And His cry was of forgiveness! Was it for His executioners? Or was the plea to heaven's Throne for His own people? Or was it a universal prayer of forgiveness? The Lord predicted that the Jews would deliver Him to the Gentiles for crucifixion (Matt. 20:19); and the early disciples distinguished between "Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and peoples of Israel", being gathered together against the Lord Jesus. It was all part of the prophetic fulfilment in its embracing of the Gentiles and the kings of the earth (Acts 4:25-28). None then, need be exempt from the Saviour's plea for forgiveness. The living words contain the divine power for saving any man's soul.

"Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43)

Callous indifference; cruel mocking; scoffing and taunting, all contributed to the tense atmosphere which built up around the Cross whilst, untouched by the excruciating pain endured by the crucified, the Jewish rulers vented their spleen on the Lord Jesus. "He saved others: let Him save Himself, if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen", they shouted. The soldiers joined them taunting, "If Thou art the King of the Jews, save Thyself" (Luke 23:37). The two robbers added their chorus of reproaches, but the Lord quietly suffered it all (Matt. 27:44). Then followed a dialogue between the two thieves which resulted in one condemning and the other defending the Saviour. "This Man", the one exclaimed, "hath done nothing amiss". What an awakening! What a discovery! It led to his salvation. He realized that the Man in the midst was the King. With newly found faith he cried, "Jesus, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom". Instantly came the reply of total forgiveness and eternal hope, "Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:39-43). Only the Eternal One could make such a promise and fulfil it.

"Woman, behold, thy son!... Behold, thy mother!" (John 19:26,27)

A strange assortment of humanity was drawn, as by a magnet, to that "Green hill ... outside the city wall". Those who enjoy the gruesome joined those who scorned; and those who were intrigued by the spectacular end to the gentle Man who performed miracles, and who spoke kindly words, might have stood sympathetically with those who loved the One on the middle cross. The location of Peter is not recorded. There were some disciples who stood afar off. Is it the fear of identification with Him which causes this, or the physical inability to cope with the close-up view of a loved One enduring prolonged grief and pain? Neither deterred the faithful women, who held silent, loving vigil with John, so close to the suffering Saviour. John records: "But there were standing by the Cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple standing by, whom He loved, He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold, thy Son! Then saith He to the disciple, Behold, thy mother! And from that hour the disciple took her unto his own home" (John 19:25-27).

Mary had been chosen by God from among all women to give birth to the Christ-child. Her eyes must have filled with tears of joy when she first nestled the Babe in her arms. She had been highly honoured by heaven in the care, the feeding of, and in providing for, the young Child, the Youth and the growing Man. And now in His closing hours she beholds Him hanging on the accursed Cross. No tears of joy in this scene, but many of grief and sorrow. How the deep emotions of a mother's love must have flooded her soul as she looked on His suffering body and pain-wracked yet gracious face. The moment had also now come for her delicate soul to receive the piercing of the sword foretold at His birth, "that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:35). It took the Cross, and words from the Saviour Himself, to reveal to Mary her part in the great divine plan enacted by Him to bring eternal blessing to the human race. He who in early life was sheltered by this dear woman, now makes provision for her before He dies. It was the second of His final bequests. The first was a place in Paradise for the dying thief; and now He committed Mary into the care of John, the beloved, who took her to his home.

"My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matt. 27:46)

Three hours of excruciating torture have been endured without complaint by God's dear Son. In the light of such intense suffering our redeemed hearts are forced to enquire: "I wonder what He saw in me suffer such deep agony". Mercilessly the sun's rays have beaten down on His defenceless head, intensifying His sufferings; then, mercifully, the sun was obscured and darkness descended upon the whole land.

Can we not see through the eyes of faith that He must know this darkness that we might be saved from the blackness of darkness for ever? He must sink in deep mire, where sin has taken us, that we might know beneath us the strength of the Everlasting Arms. He must know the waves and billows of God's wrath, that we might escape the storm. He must know the fire of God's judgement, that we might be saved from the fires of hell. The blackness, the fury, the fire, were all our due, but He, as our sin-Bearer, endured it all. We deserved to be forsaken by a holy God because of sin, but He willingly took our place.

Mystery of mysteries, that God should forsake His Son! If the burning bush was holy ground for Moses, how much more Calvary to the redeemed heart. Holy ground, burnt ground; for where He was consumed in our place by the fires of God's wrath, we stand protected, knowing that the fire cannot touch that place again.

"'Neath Thy cross I stand and worship, Suffering Man, yet conquering God!

Resting on Thy death-atonement, Weary, I lay down my load."

"I thirst" (John 19:28)

Out of the prevailing darkness came the Lord's cry, "I thirst". Yet another of the prophetic utterances must be fulfilled. "My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and My tongue cleaveth to My jaws" (Psa. 22:15). "I am weary with My crying; My throat is dried" (Psa. 69:3). "And in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink" (Psa. 69:21). The One who cried to a thirsty nation, "Come unto Me, and drink" (John 7:37), Himself knew extreme thirst on the Cross. The One who gave to a needy, sinful woman the water of life, was Himself forced to cry, "I thirst". When He sat at Sychar's well He was weary with His journey and asked the Samaritan woman, "Give Me to drink". "The well is deep" said the Samaritan woman when the Lord spoke of the living water which He would give; but it was not so deep as the well of His suffering on the Cross.

It is about the ninth hour of the crucifixion day when His desperate cry is heard. The end of the battle of all battles is now in sight and the divine Warrior, the Captain of our salvation, longs for a thirst-quenching drink of cool water. The response to His cry, "I thirst" appeared to be immediate; but the callous nature with which man had been imbued by sin, revealed itself in a sponge full of vinegar being pressed to His parched lips. "Marah" might well be written across these closing moments of His sufferings.

"It is finished" (John 19:30)

Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us that the Lord cried out with a loud voice before giving up His spirit. It is John who tells us that He cried, "It is finished". In the Greek it has a ring of triumph about it: Tetelestai! His work of salvation was perfect and complete so that nothing more needs to be done.

In His memorable prayer of review of His earthly labours, the Lord Jesus speaks to His Father as though all things have been accomplished. "I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do" (John 17:4). Only a matter of hours awaited the literal fulfilment of His words, when He was to become the great sin-Purger. All the demands of a holy God were met at Calvary. There sin, Satan, and hell were all defeated. Salvation, justification, eternal life are now freely available to every sinful person. One has explained that the Greek sculptor would cry, "Tetelestai!" when his work was finished; no finishing touches necessary; nothing more needing to be done.

"Christ has done the mighty work;

Nothing left for us to do

But to enter on His toil,

Enter on His triumph too."

"Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit" (Luke 23:46)

Christ's work upon the Cross began and ended with a cry to His Father. The wondrous eternal relationship remained unbroken. The moment has now come when the waiting Father receives the offered spirit of His Son. Heaven must have been hushed when this remarkable happening took place. Men were waiting to put an end to His life; the Father waited for Him to bow His holy head and dismiss His spirit. Voluntarily He laid down His life; voluntarily He gave up the ghost. No man took His life from Him. The soldier pierced His side, and out flowed blood and water. A centurion glorified God saying, "Certainly this was a righteous Man" (Luke 23:47). And the closing scenes reveal multitudes smiting their breasts when they beheld the things which were done.

"The One who suffered grief and shame

Is raised and glorified.

We sing the triumph of His name,

Who groaned and bled and died."