The Last Hours of Jesus #9: Death on a Cross
Last Sabbath Jesus told the repentant thief, “you will be with me in paradise.” But today, we come to the final breath. Jesus dies on the cross.
The passages especially helping us today are:
We began our Bible journey in the garden of Gethsemane, and today, at last, it takes us here, to the Cross. Jesus, crucified for being the King of the Jews, will die, today, on the cross, for all mankind.
The exact chronology is challenging. There is Jewish time reckoning and Roman, each a bit different. In any case, we pick up the flow of events with darkness from the sixth to the ninth hour, a three hour period. It is roughly Friday afternoon and it is dark everywhere in Judea.
Jesus continues to hang on the cross and suffocate to death. Every inhalation is torture. Eventually, Jesus cries out (Matthew 27:46) “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Jesus feels entirely alone. The Father and the Holy Spirit are with Him but He is withholden from sensing their presence. He feels ultimate separation, ultimate forsakenness.
Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani
As Jesus hangs on the cross, His thoughts return to something in the Psalms—some of the most burning, scorching lines in all the Bible. Let’s turn to Psalm 22:1ff.
My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from the words of My groaning? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent. But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel. Our Fathers trusted in You, and You delivered them. They cried to You, and were delivered; they trusted in You and were not ashamed. But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised by the people. All those who see Me ridicule Me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!
These words and feelings surely apply to several of the last hours of Jesus. Jesus has been driven back and forth, tortured, beaten, mocked, falsely accused, spat upon, and now, nails are driven through His hands and feet. People and then rulers have passed by the cross, mocking and prodding, goading Him, trying to manipulate Him, trick Him, in His much weakened state, to come down off the cross. And who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t gratefully flee torture? But there He hangs, absorbing all their wicked railings.
Psalm 22 prophetically foreshadows this moment in time, this extreme moment, the murder of God. Psalm 22 continues at verse nine:
But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God. Be not far from Me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help. Many bulls have surrounded Me; strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. They gape at Me with their mouths, like a raging and roaring lion.
Jesus from His birth as a human baby was Himself helpless and in the position of someone who truly must trust others. How quickly we pass from the innocence of childhood into that space where we are morally accountable, and assailed yet more closely and viciously. At the cross we face the decision to trust all in Jesus or to fold and be bullied into submission to the prince of this world and to participate in our own ultimate destruction. Verse 14:
I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.
And so, Jesus hangs; for hours He hangs. He feels utterly forsaken. He is alone, so alone, like never all eternity, alone. He is dying for you. He is paying the price for your sins.
Someone runs and takes a sponge, dips it into sour wine, offering it to Jesus to numb the pain. But that is just exactly the problem. He must experience all of the pain. He is the Redeemer. He is connected to us. When you get all the way down to the sacrifice Jesus is making, there is no numbing agent, no psychotropic, no gassing Him into a sleep state, injection of narcotic, addition of uppers or downers He can take. He is taking our punishment. That can only happen with Jesus alive and alert, awake and fully sensible to the torture He is experiencing.
John adds, that later, at the very end, Jesus said, “I thirst.” Someone offers him a sponge full of sour wine. But now the test is over. The sponge brushes His parched and bleeding lips, and He has one last thing to say…
It is Finished
Jesus cries out one last time. Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not describe what this cry was, but in John’s gospel, Jesus’’ last words are an utterance of triumph: “It is finished,” or literally, “It has been completed.” That is a very triumphant thing to say. It is a cry of victory. Have you ever sat for an exam and you were working on the written answer to tone of the questions and the time expired and you were told, “stop writing, the time has expired.” Your answer is incomplete, but time has run out. You cannot look at your answer and say, “it is finished.” It is unfinished.
When Jesus suffered for us in Gethsemane and on the cross, He could in the end say, “It is finished.”
But let’s go back to the twenty-second Psalm one more time. I want you to see something.
We were reading and we left off at verse 19. Let’s continue…
But You, O Lord, do not be far from Me; O My strength, hasten to help Me! Deliver Me from the sword, My precious life from the power of the dog, Save Me from the lion’s mouth and from the horns of the wild oxen!
This a plea for help. In every other case one might expect help from God. But Jesus is draining the last dregs from the cup of everyone’s woe. He is dying for every human being who will ever be born, ever have the potential to repent. He has to drain it to the last, to the very bottom of all suffering. So, Jesus does. Then comes the “it is finished.”
But there is one more phrase in the verse. At the end of verse 21: “You have answered Me.” Here is what is interesting. Psalm 22 has two parts: verses 1-19 and verses 20-31. The first section corresponds to Jesus’ suffering on Calvary. But what is going on in the last part? We won’t read it here, but it is a cry of victory.
Remember, there were no numbered verses in the Bible in the time of Jesus; those came in the middle of the 1500s. That feature was added by editors. How did people talk about the Bible before that with each other without versification? They would recite Scripture by sharing quotations. Sometimes we sing the first and last stanza in a hymn. In Jesus’ time, they would sometimes quote a passage beginning with the very first part and then reading the very last part. What is the very beginning of Psalm 22? “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me.” And what is the very last bit in Psalm 22? “He has done this,” “He has completed,” or “He has finished.” How would you say that in New Testament language? How about “It is finished”?
Revisiting Jesus’ words on the cross, He is giving us evidence that in those hateful hours, He saw Himself fulfilling the Messianic content of Psalm 22. He quoted it out loud; those listening were directed to it. And then, when He had drained the cup to the very bottom, He spoke also verse 31, the last part of Psalm 22.
He hath done this. (KJV) He has done it! (NIV2011) He has done this. (NKJV) He has done it. (ESV) He has performed it. (NASB)
In The Desire of Ages, Ellen White writes,
Christ did not yield up His life till He had accomplished the work which He came to do, and with His parting breath He exclaimed, "it is finished.” John 19:30. The battle had been won. His right hand and His holy arm had gotten Him the victory. As a conqueror He planted His banner on the eternal heights. (p. 758)
As the last part of Psalm 22 praises God for giving Him the victory, almost the very last words of Jesus on cross do the same. Jesus died in assurance that He had been successful. Let me share one additional paragraph from White’s book.
The law requires righteousness,—a righteous life, a perfect character; and this man has not to give. He cannot meet the claims of God's holy law. But Christ, coming to the earth as a man, lived a holy life, and developed a perfect character. These He offers as a free gift to all who will receive them. His life stands for the life of men. Thus they have remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. More than this, Christ imbues men with the attributes of God. He builds up the human character after the similitude of the divine character, a godly fabric of spiritual strength and beauty. Thus the very righteousness of the law is fulfilled in the believer in Christ. God can ‘be just, and the justifier of him which believe it in Jesus.’ Romans 3:26.(p. 762)
So you see what Jesus did for you. He came here as a man. He lived a holy life. He developed a perfect character. He offers “these.” Again, that is (1) Jesus’ being human as we are, (2) His holy life, and (3) the perfect character He wrought out. “These” He offers as a free gift to all who will receive them. “His life stands for the life of men.”
But Jesus didn’t stop there. “More than this.” I love it when we read “more than this!” And I’m going to personalize this for me and suggest you to personalize it for you. Jesus imbues Larry with the attributes of God. He builds up Larry’s character after the similitude of the divine character. So He makes Larry’s character a “godly fabric of spiritual strength and beauty.” “Thus, the very righteousness of the law is fulfilled in [Larry] the believer in Christ.”
Do you take hope in that?
So the cross is an unspeakable moment tragedy, but, it is also yours and my moment of hope.
At last Luke 23:46 tells us Jesus speaks Psalm 1:5: “Into Your hands I commit My breath.” And He dies.
In the same moment when Jesus cries out His last, the veil of the temple is torn from top to bottom. This is a fabric a couple of inches thick. No one is up there to rip it but the angels. There is a mighty earthquake. Matthew tells us some of the graves were shaken open by the earthquake.
Truly this was the Son of God
Standing directly across from Him is the centurion, perhaps the commander of the soldiers who had the task of crucifying Jesus. He has been on duty all day and seen it all. When Jesus died, then from His pagan soldier lips came the statement, “Truly this Man was the son of God.” Mark 15:39.
This is the epic declaration. It is the climax of the Gospel of Mark. The ruffian declares Jesus to be the Son of God. So many of the Jews had rejected Him, but here is a pagan Roman declaring that Jesus was divine. Here’s the deal. He had been watching Jesus all day. He had seen everyone’s behavior. The haughty priests, and elders and scribes and chief priests had not impressed him in any positive way. But the character that Jesus developed did.
Matthew tells us that multiple soldiers actually said this, so even more pagan soldiers were impressed. I wonder how many Roman soldiers from the time of Jesus we will meet in the kingdom?
The priests are still angry about the sign placed over Jesus’ head, “King of the Jews” and now that Jesus has died they are actually more afraid than ever. They want Jesus removed from the cross speedily before Sabbath. Soldiers are sent to break the legs of the crucified to speed their death. They break the legs of the two thieves but they find Jesus already dead. This was surprising because usually people took longer to die. A spear is thrust into the side of Jesus’ corpse, and water and blood come out. He’s quite dead.
Joseph asks for Jesus’ body and buries Him in his own new tomb. Soldiers come and place a seal on the tomb. Quickly Jesus is buried. It is at the verge of Sabbath.
Jesus fought no mock battles for us. He actually came in our flesh, fought the devil and won with the same tools we may use. His strongest weapon was faith. He trusted in the Father and that also meant trusting the Bible promises. He overcame not in His own power although by right He had divine power. He did not tap that. He overcame by the power of the Holy Spirit exactly as we may overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit. As claimed in The Desire of Ages, p. 24, “His life testifies that it is possible for us also to obey the law of God.”
Although all this is true, this is not our main point today. It is not about us overcoming. We are at the cross. The cross is about Jesus overcoming. So I’m going to invite you to rejoice about how He transforms you but at the same time I’m going to remind you that we are not the stars, we are not the center. At the cross Jesus is always the center. The last hours of Jesus show His love and care for us, His suffering for us, and in reviewing them we should be drawn out to love Him more.
Is this series over? I’ll say this. We are not going to leave Jesus in the tomb. No way! May God help us to love Jesus more.
— 2022-03-05 Fremont MI Seventh-day Adventist church
— 2022-03-05 Muskegon MI Seventh-day Adventist church