Seven lessons from the cross (1)
‘Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.’ Luke 23:34 TM
Lesson 1: Forgive those who hurt you. Two children were playing when one accidentally hit the other with a stick. That night the injured boy’s mum said, ‘Son, you must forgive Harry before you go to sleep.’ Grudgingly he replied, ‘Okay, but unless I die before I wake up, he’d better watch out tomorrow morning!’ Hello! When people hurt us, it’s hard to believe it could’ve been unintentional or done in ignorance. Yet amazingly, after being flogged, humiliated and nailed to the cross, Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.’ Forgiving means refusing to remain a victim. By not holding grudges or retaliating you free yourself from the control of those who offend you. Jesus said, ‘Pray for anyone who mistreats you’ (Mt 5:44 CEV). Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was persecuted by the Nazis, said, “God doesn’t promise that when we bless our enemies they’ll not despitefully use us. They will. But that can’t hurt or overcome us, so long as we pray for them. By praying for them, we are doing for them what they can’t do for themselves.”
Professor Tony Campolo routinely asks his secular college students what they know about the teachings of Jesus. The response is always the same: ‘Love your enemies.’ More than anything else this command stands out as the thing that differentiates Christians from non-Christians. Jesus said, “Give as freely as you have received!” (Mt 10:8 NLT). Practicing forgiveness stems from a deep gratitude to God for wiping out a debt so great, we could never have repaid it.
Seven lessons from the cross (2)
"Assuredly...today you will be with Me in Paradise." Luke 23:43 NKJV
Lesson 2: Reach out to others. When Jesus was hanging on the cross the Bible says, “One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed him” But the other...made him shut up: “Have you no fear of God” We deserve this” He did nothing.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.” [Jesus] said, “Today you will join Me in paradise”“ (Lk 23:39-43 TM). While one man mocked, the other acknowledged his sins and received mercy. The truth is, as much as it galls judgmental people, God said, “If you confess and reject [your sin], you will receive mercy” (Pr 28:13 NCV). And that promise is for the lost, the least, and the lowest among us.
Jesus could have been so focused on His own pain that He failed to see the suffering of those around Him. But instead He reached out in love as a fellow-sufferer. In the depth of His own agony He not only promised the thief on the cross eternal life, He comforted him with these amazing words; “Today you will be with Me in Paradise!” There’s a lesson here for you, one that Job the patriarch learned. Job lost all his children and his fortune in a single day. Yet he found healing and went on to greater things. How? Listen: “After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. After this, Job saw his children and their children to the fourth generation.” (Job 42:10 &16 NIV). It’s in reaching out to others, that we ourselves become whole.
Seven lessons from the cross (3)
"Woman, here is your son." John 19:26-27 TM
Lesson 3: Take care of the people who depend on you. In addition to losing her son, Mary was also losing His protective covering in a society where women were often treated as second-class citizens after the family males died. So as well as coping with her grief as a mother, Mary may have been wondering what the future held for her. Jesus recognized that. In the midst of the chaos, when He saw her and the disciple He loved standing near He said to His mother, “Woman, here is your son. Then to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” When the other disciples fled in fear, John followed Jesus all the way to Calvary. Then he went even further. The Bible tells us (and history confirms it) that once Jesus committed Mary to his care, John fulfilled that charge, and from that moment accepted her as his own mother? (Jn 19:27 TM).
Here’s what we learn from this. Never let your own suffering blind you to the needs of those who depend on you. When you’re enmeshed in your own problems it’s easy to assume that your loved ones automatically understand where you’re coming from. Not necessarily. While it’s okay to let them help, never dump your stuff on them, or expect them to suffer because you’re suffering. The Bible says, “Do not let selfishness be your guide...give more honor to others than to yourselves. Do not be interested only in your own life, but in the lives of others? (Php 2:3-4 NCV). Jesus was always more concerned with other people’s needs than His own and we should take our cue from Him.
Seven lessons from the cross (4)
"God, why have You forsaken Me?" Matthew 27:46 NKJV
Lesson 4: Direct the hard questions to God. At Calvary Jesus asks one of the most heart-wrenching questions ever recorded, “God, why have You forsaken Me?” These words are also found in Psalm 22:1-3 (TM), where David poured out his soul in despair, asking God, “Why did you dump me...Are you indifferent?” Ever felt like that? The Bible says that at Calvary God made Jesus who knew no sin, to be sin so we might become the righteousness of God in Him? (2 Co 5:21 NASB). In order to break sin’s hold on us and make salvation possible, Jesus underwent a temporary separation from His Father. At that precise moment He felt Godforsaken. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed and abandoned, you know from experience that there’s not another living soul who has a satisfactory answer to your Why? With the best of intentions our loved ones can only go so far. Only God can pour His healing balm into your breaking heart and help you make sense (or at least accept) what’s happening. That’s why you need to go to Him for your answers.
But here’s the flip side to directing the tough questions to God you must be willing to accept His answer and do what He says. The Bible says, “God has given us His promise and His oath” (He 6:18 NLT), so even if you don’t get the answer you want, you can rest assured He hears you. You can also be certain of something else: the One who makes everything work together for good (Ro 8:28 NLT) always sends the answer that’s in your best interests. So you can trust Him!
Seven lessons from the cross (5)
"I’m thirsty!" John 19:28 TM
Lesson 5: Acknowledge your humanity. Combine the torment of being crucified in the intense Judean heat with the loss of bodily fluids, and you can understand why Jesus was thirsty. However, the Bible says that when they offered Him water containing a mild painkiller He wouldn’t take it. (Mk 15:23 TM). Why? Because it would have dulled His senses and He wanted to stay alert. Make no mistake, Jesus could have summoned a host of angels to deliver Him. But He chose to die for our sins. He said, “No one takes My life I give it up willingly!" (Jn 10:18 CEV). This also explains why John wrote: “Jesus, seeing everything had been completed (He fulfilled every prophesy concerning His crucifixion) said I’m thirsty!” His next statement would be so history changing, that He wanted His voice to be loud and clear: “It is finished!” When you’re in a dark valley like Jesus was that day, it can cloud your thinking and make you lose perspective unless you voice your needs to those around you. By acknowledging His physical thirst, Jesus reminded each of us that there are times when we’re not self-sufficient; when we need help from others. Why else would Paul write: “Bear one another’s burdens, and fulfill the law of Christ?" (Gal 6:2 NASB)
David writes: “As a father has compassion on his children the Lord remembers that we are dust.” (Ps 103:13-14 NIV). God remembers we are just human, we’re the ones who forget! The bottom line is, Jesus was humble enough to acknowledge His humanity, and we need to learn to do the same.
Seven lessons from the cross (6)
"It is finished." John 19:30 NKJV
Lesson 6: You can add nothing to it. In the Old Testament tabernacle there were different items of furniture, such as the table of showbread representing our need for fellowship, the lampstand representing our need for light and understanding, etc. But there were no chairs. Why? The priest’s work was never finished! He couldn’t sit down. But after Jesus cried, "It is finished,” He returned to heaven and sat down at the right hand of His Father. The work of redemption was complete! The Greek words for “It is finished” literally mean paid in full. It’s what folks in those days wrote across a receipt when the bill was paid in full. Christ’s death covers your every sin from the cradle to the grave. And to offer your good works as partial payment, insults God.
You can’t add to a finished work! Imagine seeing a finely crafted coffee table sitting in a carpentry shop ready for delivery. You reach for a wood plane and say, ‘It’s good, but not good enough, let me show you.’ The master carpenter immediately steps in and says, ‘No, you’ll ruin it!' Or imagine receiving a very expensive gift from a loved one. Immediately you pull out a $5 bill and say, ‘Here, let me help you with the cost.’ No, the smaller the gift the greater the offense. You’re robbing the giver of his joy and the sacrifice of its worth. Listen: This is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9 NIV). Saving faith simply means trusting only in a finished work of Christ!
Seven lessons from the cross (7)
"Into Your hands I commit My spirit." Luke 23:46 NKJV
Lesson 7: Release it to God. Some of the issues we struggle with seem to be never-ending; like money worries, family problems and health concerns. Even when we get a break and should be resting, we sit up anticipating the worst, wondering, How long, Lord? The only way to have real peace is to commit the outcome to God. When Jesus cried, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” it wasn’t a cry of defeat or resignation. No, it was an act of trust that meant surrendering control to the Father. The atoning blood had been shed, salvation’s work was finally complete. But before Jesus could pray that prayer, He first had to pray, “Not My will, but Yours be done” (Lk 22:42 NIV). In other words, “Father, I release the outcome to You!”
In Philippians 3:10 Paul wrote, “I want to know Christ and the power that raised Him to life to suffer and die as He did that I may be raised to life” (CEV). We all want to rule and reign with Christ some day, we just don’t want to submit our will to His today. But it doesn’t work like that. Jack Hayford writes: “The charted course always has been the way of the cross. The cross not only calls us to Jesus, it also calls us to a life, to the wisdom of God’s ways in all our relationships and pursuits to the pattern of Jesus in the face of our deepest struggles.” So whatever you’re wrestling with today, release it to God once and for all. When you do you’ll experience His peace, and you won’t be disappointed with the outcome.