In a TV show a scenario of destiny was established by a supposedly dying man. The man was lying in a hospital bed with his immediate family and church family gathered around. The preacher was holding the dying man’s hand. The preacher asked if the dying man had any last words for his family and friends. The man uttered, “Yes, I did not get all my business done!” And then he expired.
Jesus gave some last words from the cross, which words communicate a great deal. However, He did get His business done, and so, it was time to relinquish His spirit into the hands of the Father. He could confidently give up His spirit on the cross because He had finished His business for which He came into the world.
The last words of a passing loved one are always precious. They are words that the living remember throughout their lives. And so it was with the last words of Jesus from the cross. These are words the Holy Spirit wanted us to remember, and thus, He guided inspired writers to make sure that we remembered the last words of Jesus, for the meaning of the words carry with them some very profound thoughts.
A. Last words of forgiveness:
From the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). These are words that we would expect to hear from the One whose business it was to come for us in our sin. In our ignorance, we did not know how far away from God we had strayed. The cross will always be a reality check of our ignorance while we were steeped in our own self-righteous religiosity. Even in the actual act of crucifixion, those who drove nails through the hands of Jesus were doing so in the ignorance of their own sin to crucify the Son of God.
The self-righteous religious leaders who called for the crucifixion of Jesus were so caught up in their own religion that they called for the condemnation of Jesus because they thought they were preserving the “Jews’ religion” from the influence of a rebel. But the execution of their deed was based on the fact that they did not believe that Jesus was who He said He was. Almost everything that Jesus was and taught was contrary to their self-righteous religiosity (See Rm 10:1-3).
To the Roman soldiers who did the actual deed of crucifixion, Jesus was just another malefactor who had to be executed. Every blow of the hammer was an indication of their ignorance of the incarnate hands through which they drove sharp nails. Nevertheless, while the incarnate flesh of Jesus strained against the nails of the cross, Jesus was still thinking of the business for which He came into the world. Forgiveness was His business, and thus in His last moments on the cross, He was still doing His business.
The preceding words of Jesus concerning forgiveness, reveal that He understood why they wanted Him on the cross. They truly did not know what they were doing. They were as one of their leaders who launched a vehement persecution against those who later gave their allegiance to Jesus as His disciples. This leader (Paul) later wrote after finally relinquishing to the power of the testimony of Jesus’ disciples, “I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and injurious. But I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Tm 1:13). Jesus knew that many of those who cried out that He be crucified, would later, as Paul, believe that He was the Christ and Son of the living God.
Those who nailed Jesus to the cross did so, because at the time, they had no interest in who Jesus really was. The Jewish religious leaders were caught up in their own religiosity. The Roman world of idolatry was fascinated with the gods they had created after their own imaginations. It was of this religious world that Paul later wrote: “This wisdom [about the Son of God] none of the princes of this age has known, for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Co 2:8).
Nevertheless, the disciples who truly followed Jesus after the resurrection emulated the spirit of the last words of forgiveness that Jesus uttered from the cross. When Peter later stood before some of the people in Jerusalem who had aided in the crucifixion, this spirit of forgiveness was revealed. “And now, brethren, I know that through ignorance you did it, as did also your rulers” (At 3:17). On his mission journey to the city of Antioch of Pisidia, Paul also reminded the people of the ignorance of those in Jerusalem who crucified Jesus:
For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know Him, nor the voices of the prophets who are read every Sabbath, they have fulfilled them in condemning Him (At 13:27).
Jesus, who was executed out of ignorance was actually God working through the ignorance men to accomplish the salvation of all those who would eventually confess Jesus as Lord and Christ. We must not misunderstand what was happening behind the scenes at the time of the crucifixion. During the trial and execution of Jesus, Satan thought he was having his best day. He had used well the ignorance of men. But in his deed of deception, God was actually revealing the mystery of salvation that had been held in secret since the garden of Eden (See Ep 3:3-5; 1 Pt 1:10-12). Therefore, we must not forget what Jesus said in His plan to lead Himself to the cross:
My Father loves Me because I lay down My life so that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it up again (Jn 10:17,18).
Jesus gave His life voluntarily for us. The cross was no accident. It was planned and executed by Jesus. He willed that the nails be driven through His incarnate flesh. While on the cross, Jesus could have called on ten thousand angels to deliver Himself from the fate that He had set for Himself. In the garden of Gethsemane at the time of His arrest, He reminded the disciples, “Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me more than twelve legions of angels” (Mt 26:53). We must never come to any conclusion that would bring us into doubt concerning the predestined purpose of the cross. We can sorrow for His suffering while there, but we must rejoice that He was there. Any theology that would presume that the cross as an accident, afterthought, or miscalculation on the part of God in His eternal plan of redemption, must immediately be discarded as false.
Regardless of the torment of pain on the cross, Jesus was practicing that which He had preached throughout His ministry. “And whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple” (Lk 14:27). And when we take up our crosses, we too must be willing to make the same statement from our crosses that Jesus made. Jesus would remind us, “Bless those who curse you and pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk 6:28). It was as if Jesus were practicing what He preached when He prayed that those who crucified Him be forgiven. At the time, they did not know who He really was, or what they were doing.
The prayer of Jesus from the cross was answered fifty-three days later by about three thousand people. When the apostle Peter stood up on the day of Pentecost, he announced to those who had crucified Jesus, “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this same Jesus whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (At 2:36). The message cut the people to the heart (At 2:37). That day, “those who received his word were baptized … about three thousand souls” (At 2:41). They were cut to the heart, because in their own ignorance, they had crucified the Messiah (Christ) of Israel who was now Lord of all (At 2:36).
From that day of Pentecost, those who were informed of the incarnate God who was crucified in ignorance, became obedient to the gospel that was set in motion. “So the word of God increased. And the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly. And a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (At 6:7). There is always forgiveness waiting for those who respond to the gospel of Jesus. The following words of Joy Tidwell express well our thinking:
An angry mob milled round the town,
There was violence in the air;
A man was tried and guilty found,
A cross he had to bear.
Up the hill and down the road,
So heavy it became;
People scoffed, and laughed, and joked,
And revelled at his pain.
He faltered, and a helping hand,
Relieved part of the load;
But no one there could help remove,
What waited down the road.
A crown of thorns upon his head,
Was mockery to the king;
They nailed him high upon the cross,
Their voices they did ring,
“If you be who you say you are,
Come down and prove it true.”
“Forgive them Father,” was all he said,
“They know no what they do.”
The mob that still lives on this earth,
Is just as bad as then;
His cross is just as heavy now,
We load it down with sin.
Up the hill and down the road,
Until his back is sore;
We laugh and joke and gaily live,
And forget the pain he bore.
Oh, we might help him for awhile,
To carry his heavy load;
But we get weary and get tired,
And take off down the road.
We leave him there alone to face,
Again the crown of thorns;
We mock him as the others did,
When his flesh was ripped and torn.
As he did then, he looks down now,
In compassion tried and true;
“Father, forgive them,” he still says,
“For they know not what they do!”