How does it feel to pay off a bill that’s been looming over you? A mortgage, a car, student loans, credit card debt… It’s a liberating feeling to officially pay off a debt. If you lived in New Testament times, the Greek word tetelestai would have been written on business documents or receipts to indicate that very thing–your bill had been paid in full. And that’s the last word Jesus utters from the cross: Tetelestai!” The price for sin has been “paid in full.”
My father, a pastor, has been with a number of people who are on their deathbeds. He’s even been with people at the moment of death. One particular instance was a fourth-grade boy who had a debilitating disease. As he lay gasping his last few breaths, his parents asked him, “Who loves you?” This dear boy replied, “Jesus.” Then his eyes opened wide as he pointed to the corner of the room. No one else saw anything in that corner, but my dad is certain that the child saw Jesus or an angel coming to take him home. What a lovely way to face death, in faith and peace, with Jesus in sight and Jesus’ name on his lips, following the example of Jesus’ own final words.
On the surface it seems like such a mundane thing to say, hardly worth recording in Scripture. “I thirst,” Jesus says from the cross. Well, yeah. He’d been beaten severely, savagely. His back was ripped to shreds; blood was streaming from His head, hands, and feet. He had lost a lot of bodily fluid, and was therefore dehydrated. So of course He was physically thirsty. That sort of goes without saying. But Jesus wasn’t talking only about His physical thirst. He was thirsting spiritually for our salvation.
There’s a fun little website called Despair that sells demotivational products, a spoof on those motivational posters you see in office buildings. There’s one titled “Loneliness” that has a picture of a solitary tree in a bleak white winter landscape. The caption reads, “If you find yourself struggling with loneliness, you’re not alone. And yet you are alone. So very alone.”
The sword was piercing her own soul. As Simeon had predicted thirty-three years ago in the temple, Mary now understood what he’d meant as she watched her innocent Son bleeding and dying on the cross. What greater pain for a mother than to see her child hurt when she can do nothing to change it? Yet even as Jesus was dying, He was still caring for others. She’d heard Him ask for forgiveness for those who crucified Him. She’d seen Him promise paradise to the criminal next to Him on the cross. And now He uses precious energy to speak again, this time to see to her own welfare.
Crucifixion was the best thing that could have happened to him.
No, I’m not talking about Jesus. I’m talking about the repentant thief next to Him on the cross. Presumably, he’d led a pretty miserable life, resorting to criminal activities that gained for him the death penalty. As he woke up that morning, he was probably looking back upon his life with bitterness and regret, knowing he had wasted his potential and squandered his talents. What he didn’t see coming was an encounter with a man who would alter the course of his eternity.
To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.
This C.S. Lewis quote is beautiful and true, but so very difficult to put into practice, isn’t it? Forgiveness is at the heart of Christianity, and Jesus Himself provides the best example for us. As we enter into Holy Week, it’s appropriate to take some time to look at the words of Jesus from the cross, so I’ve updated some blog posts I wrote a number of years ago when we did the seven words from the cross for our Lenten series. Fittingly, Jesus’ first words from the cross are ones of forgiveness.
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.Continue reading “Forgiving the Unforgivable”