The First Word
"Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing."
The Seven Last Words of Christ for Holy Week
Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of our Holy Week journey to the cross of Christ, and through the cross to the resurrection on Easter morning. Beginning today and continuing throughout the week, I'd like to focus my reflections on the seven last words of Christ from the cross.
In actuality, the seven last “words” of Christ are seven sentences spoken by Jesus from the cross. They are found in the four biblical Gospels: Matthew/Mark (1 word); Luke (3 words); John (3 words). For centuries, Christians have focused on these words so as to understand and experience the cross of Christ more truly and deeply. Beginning today and continuing throughout Holy Week, my reflections will focus on the seven last words of Christ so that we might enter more completely into the passion, mercy, and glory of Jesus.
It makes sense that the first word of Jesus from the cross is a word of forgiveness: "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Forgiveness is central to the cross, after all. Jesus was dying so that we might be forgiven for our sins, so that we might be reconciled to God for eternity.
But the forgiveness of God through Christ doesn't come only to those who don't know what they are doing when they sin. In the mercy of God, we receive his forgiveness even when we do what we know to be wrong. God chooses to wipe away our sins, not because we have convenient excuses, and not because we have tried hard to make up for them, but because he is a God of amazing grace with mercies that are new every morning.
As we read the words, "Father, forgive them," may we understand that, we too, are forgiven through Christ. Remember what John writes in his first letter, "But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness" (1 John 1:9). Because Christ died on the cross for us, we are cleansed from all wickedness, from every last sin. Moreover, we are united with God the Father as his beloved children. We are free to approach his throne of grace with our needs and concerns (Heb. 4:16). God "has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west" (Ps. 103:13). What great news!
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Do you really believe God has forgiven your sins? Do you take time on a regular basis to confess your sins so that you might enjoy the freedom of forgiveness? Do you need to experience God's forgiveness in a fresh way today?
PRAYER: Gracious Lord Jesus, it's easy for me to speak of your forgiveness, even to ask for it and to thank you for it. But do I really believe I'm forgiven? Do I experience the freedom that comes from the assurance that you have cleansed me from my sins? Or do I live as if I'm "semi-forgiven"? Even though I've put my faith in you and confessed my sins, do I live as if sin still has power over me? Do I try to prove myself to you, as if I might be able to earn more forgiveness by my own effort?
Dear Lord, though I believe at one level that you have forgiven me, this amazing truth needs to penetrate my heart in new ways. Help me to know with fresh conviction that I am fully and finally forgiven, not because of anything I have done, but because of what you have done for me.
May I live today as a forgiven person, opening my heart to you, choosing not to sin because the power of sin has been broken by your sacrifice on the cross.
All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, for your matchless forgiveness! Amen.
On Sunday morning, we wave our palms and sing Hosanna in the Highest. It is not hard to get caught up in the celebration and wonder if the stones are indeed crying out. Yet in the midst of this great joy there is a chilling stillness.
Thus begins the journey to the cross. A week of little deaths, that’s what Holy Week is for us.Celebration and mourning take turns to stir deep places.
During Holy Week at The High Calling, we invite you to focus solely on the story of our faith. May your eyes be opened to the truth: we cannot follow Christ and remain unchanged.
Image above courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in The H. E. Butt Family Foundation.