God’s Plan of Salvation Completed (Luke 23:26, 32-46)
Rev. Peter Heckert
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation today comes from our Gospel text, especially where Luke records, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …
It’s all led up to this. After three years of ministry, the Jewish leaders accuse Jesus of blasphemy. They had bribed Judas Iscariot to hand over the infamous Rabbi to be tried. They worked quickly behind the scenes to get Jesus falsely convicted and sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate. Jesus then went … willingly … to the cross in order to die for the sins of the world. The gospel accounts record seven sayings Jesus spoke from the cross, His last words. We’ll be examining those words today, and we turn to Luke for the first.
“And as they led [Jesus] away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. … Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on His right and one on His left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’”
Even then. Even though He has every reason to lash out at the ungrateful creatures surrounding Him, to lash out at us, whose sins nailed Him to that tree, instead … He pleads for the Father to turn from the wrath and punishment that we deserve. He asks the Father to give us, instead, mercy and forgiveness.
Luke gives us the second Word from the cross also: “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at Him, saying, ‘Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And He said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.’”
This is, in essence, a deathbed confession. The thief had no time, no opportunity to make amends for the wrongs he had done—as if that could save him. His death was rapidly approaching. All he could do was commend himself into the pierced hands of the dying God next to him. Out of pure love, grace, and mercy alone—without any merit on the part of the thief—Jesus forgives him and gives him the promise of life everlasting with Him.
For Jesus’ third saying, we turn to John’s gospel account. Jesus sees His mother Mary standing by the cross with His disciple, John. Knowing He would no longer be on earth to provide for her, Jesus entrusts her into John’s keeping. He tells Mary, “Woman, behold, your son!” And He tells John, “Behold, your mother!” Even as He’s suffering the pangs of hell, Jesus still cares about His mother and still fulfills His obligation to provide for her. For his part, John is faithful to the charge given him, taking Mary into his home from that very day.
It’s not very long after this that a mysterious darkness covers the land, as Luke records, “It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed.” In the Old Testament, one reads about the “Day of the Lord,” a day of wrath and devastation when God’s punishment is meted out upon the people for their iniquity and sin. When such days would come, there would be some element of the creation undone. With the flood, it was the restriction God placed upon how far the waters could come. Here, on Good Friday, the foundational element of the created order is undone: light. The created light flees as the Creator, the Light of light, is dying in the most horrific way imaginable. The deep darkness blankets all of creation, a pall of mourning as God dies.
This darkness lasts through 3:00 p.m., when we hear Jesus cry out in agony with His fourth saying, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” That should be us. We are the ones who deserve to be forsaken in this lifetime and through eternity, suffering the agony of the undying fires of hell. Jesus … suffered that … in our place. As a result, we who confess our sins and trust in Him will never know what it is to be truly forsaken by God.
Shortly after, John records the completion of Jesus’ suffering and payment for our sins: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’” Then, after drinking the sour wine, He loudly proclaimed the completion of our salvation, “It is finished.” That phrase is a single Greek word, an accounting term we could translate, “Paid in full.” What incredible comfort and assurance that single Greek word brings! The debt of our sins is paid in full! There is nothing we have to do (or can do) to win our place in heaven with God! There is no punishment in this life or after, no purgatory, nothing awaiting us when we die but the outstretched hands of our Savior. Spotless and pure through His blood, His Baptism, we will rejoice in His presence forever!
Finally, restored to His Father, Jesus offers His final prayer, as recorded by Luke. “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!’ And having said this He breathed His last.” As the day drew nearer to its end, the Jewish leaders asked Pilate to break the legs of the criminals in order to hasten their deaths so they would not die on the Sabbath when it was not lawful to take them down. Pilate granted their request. The centurion, the Roman soldier in charge of the crucifixion detail, gave the orders, and the legs of the criminals on Jesus’ sides were broken and both quickly died.
When they came to Jesus, however, they saw He was already dead, so they did not break His legs. Instead, a soldier took a spear and pierced Jesus’ side. Water and blood flowed out of the wound, proving without a doubt that Jesus was, indeed, already dead. From there, some of His secret disciples worked quickly to get His holy body down from the cross before the sun set that fateful day, when the Passover Sabbath would begin. They did what they could, hastily wrapping His flesh in linen cloths and spice blends, laying Him in a brand-new tomb that one of the disciples had purchased and hewn out for himself. They covered the entrance with a very large stone and left. It couldn’t be helped; any additional work would have to be done three days later.
Jesus’ suffering and death fulfilled God’s promises throughout the Old Testament. It satisfied and stilled God’s wrath against our sins and rescued us from an eternity in hell. Satan, sin, and hell lay vanquished. Now one last enemy remained to be conquered: death, a conquest we will hear about next week.
+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.