notre dame montreal

Sermon Preached by The Reverend Charles Royden on Ash Wednesday 2004

The Seven Sayings of Jesus from the Cross


Crucifixion of Jesus

In the Gospel of John there are signs

  1. The turning of water into wine

  2. The healing of the nobleman's son at Capernaum 4:46-54

  3. The healing of the paralysed man at the pool 5:1-9

  4. The multiplication of loaves and fishes  6:1-14

  5. The healing of a man born blind  9:1-12

  6. The raising of Lazarus 11:1-44

But six is not right where is the seventh sign?  We all know how important the number seven is in the Bible, the seventh sign is surely the most important?.

Well, throughout John’s Gospel we have been told that Jesus will be lifted up

 In Chapter 8 :25 John says this

 "Who are you?" they asked. "Just what I have been claiming all along," Jesus replied.

 "I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world."  They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father.  So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.

 In Chapter 12:32 John record the words of Jesus

But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." 

 John is especially helpful because he ho puts in the little comment after these words 

 ‘He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.’

 So we know from John’s Gospel that this time of lifting up on the cross is a defining moment. It is at this event which Jesus tells us is the final sign which reveals who Jesus is and which reveals God’s glory.

So it is that tonight on Ash Wednesday I want to spend a little time thinking of that sign and what it means. What was the death of Jesus about? I want to explore this through the words of Jesus. There are in the Gospels seven saying of Jesus from the cross. Surely when Jesus spoke words from the cross, that most significant even, he must have known that they would have been remembered as significant words. Words though which we would seek to interpret how he viewed his death

Jesus hung on the cross for six hours before he died. In that time, he spoke to

1.   his friends,

2.   to the criminal crucified next to him,

3.   and to God.

So let us look at these moving words from the Bible, the last words which Jesus spoke before he died.


Saying One


When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals--one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Luke 23:34

These words of Jesus surely tell us something about the love of God and the difference between God’s forgiveness and ours. We can at best forgive those who repent and turn away from wickedness. What kind of forgiveness is it which is able to forgive the sinner whilst staring into the faces of those in the act of committing the crime?

There is no seeking of forgiveness by those who crucified Jesus. There is no response of gratitude at having been forgiven, indeed they go on and divide up his clothes.

All that we see is the unmerited act of forgiveness of Jesus to his executioners because that is what God it is like   -  and the nature of God is to forgive and not to condemn.


Saying Two

Then the criminal said to Jesus, "Remember me when you come into power!" Jesus replied, "Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise."
Luke 23:43

The criminal does not join in with the soldiers in humiliating the broken Jesus on the cross next door. Something must have touched him about Jesus as it had so many people who met Jesus through his ministry.

A death-bed conversion! Hanging, said Dr Johnson, wonderfully concentrates the mind. But if you think carefully about the words of the criminal, he doesn’t actually ask for forgiveness, he asks for a freebie.

 ‘Remember me when you come into your power.’

He thinks that asking a favour of Jesus might enable him to avoid the kind of condemnation which he probably thought he deserved.


We might respond

  • its too late now to try and wangle your way into God’s good books

  • don’t go thinking that you can suddenly say have what you don’t deserved

But the response of Jesus is altogether different. There is no resentment, Jesus is not begrudging, he confidently proclaims

‘today you will be with me in paradise.’

Jesus shows just how immediate and willing is his forgiveness. Jesus doesn’t tell us what it will be like when we die, but he uses a word which reassures us that there is nothing of which we need to be afraid. Jesus is able to open the doors to a place called ‘paradise’


Saying Three

He said to his mother, "Woman behold your son, then he said to the disciple, son behold your mother."
John 19:26-27

The Roman Catholic Church has of course interpreted the meaning of this to be that the care of the disciples was entrusted into the safe keeping of Mary, she becomes the mother of the church. This is new Eve typology

This is something which many Christians will find comforting. I am not sure about this interpretation myself, perhaps because it is followed  by the phrase

'From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.'

It has been asked why Jesus would commend his mother to this disciple, not to his brothers. You will remember that brothers of Jesus were not well disposed towards his ministry a few months earlier.7:5. Indeed even his mother Mary had her doubts (Mark 3:20) about what Jesus was up to.   

A dramatic change took place after the resurrection of Jesus when his family would have bee dramatically reassured about who Jesus was. What brought about that change is of course explained to us in the passage from 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

'For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,  and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.'

The doubting by the family of Jesus would undoubtedly have been reversed when Jesus appeared to James after the resurrection.

I personally like to see these words as an expression of the care and compassion which Jesus has for his mother. Whichever way we see it is nonetheless an example of Jesus showing care for those who he leaves behind.


Saying Four

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"--which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"   Mark 15:34

We do not like the words God forsaken. Surely there can be no such thing? This is something which we cannot comprehend.  All of the theologies and dogmas in the world will never explain what on earth was going on that cross when Jesus uttered those words.

What we do know is that these words on the lips of Jesus are so stark, so embarrassing to the Christian Church, that they would never have been recorded if they were not fully true. Such words  must indicate the authentic voice of Jesus and so we have to try and grasp something of what was taking place

How was Jesus God forsaken?

When we speak to people who are troubled we say to them that they might feel that God has abandoned them but he hasn't, it just feels like that.  Then we give them a copy of Footprints and tell them that at the difficult points of life God carries us and that’s all right. (not)


But not so with Jesus, there is something more happening, the cross is literally the culmination of the earthly ministry of Jesus

In Matthew’s Gospel we are told that Jesus

had not come to be served, but to serve,

and to give his life as a ransom for many."   20:28

Jesus had spoken about his death, not as just a physical event, but as a spiritual deliverance. The taste of death might have us cry out to God in despair, but this was not the reason why Jesus felt abandoned. From scriptural precedent Jesus would have seen the darkness which covered the land as a sign of God’s judgement, (Joel 2:2    Zeph 1:15). As he hung on the cross it was a time when the whole weight of the worlds evil and sin converged upon him and was judged.

The light of the love of God was blotted out as surely as the sun did not shine for three hours from noon until 3.00pm. Jesus was forsaken, alone in way which nobody had been alone before or since, or ever will be. The forsakenness which Jesus endured was unique because at that time Jesus accomplished something which only he could. It was only God in human flesh that could ransom the world from sin.

This time of cosmic darkness, when Jesus experienced forsakenness  was when Jesus gave of his life as ransom for many. It is this weight of sin which he bore on behalf not of himself, but for the many, for us, it is this weight of sin that causes the abandonment and God forsakenness which Jesus endured.

  • We will never feel that abandonment

  • We will never know that separation from God

This is because Jesus through his death has enabled the love of God to transcend sin and evil.

  • We are never alone
  • We are never forsaken by God

because Jesus has been forsaken for us.  

We may well feel discouraged, beaten by the enormity of the trauma of life, our hearts may low be laid, but we know from the cross and the words of scripture that we are never forsaken, never alone.

Saying Five

Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty."     John 19:28

Was Jesus fulfilling Psalm 22  or Psalm 69, 42 or 63 ? We will never know for sure, but what is plain is that these simple words remind us of the pure humanity which Jesus shared with us. As much as this was a spiritual conquest of good and evil, there was also the man Jesus who died a painful human death.

God lived not an apparent human life but a real one. He didn’t just have human appearance he was human. He had the same physical and emotional feelings which we have. Jesus was in no way immune from the pains of the flesh in all of its forms.


Saying Six

Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.  Luke 23:46

It was in spite of the pain of the cross that Jesus held faith and placed the care for his life into the hands of God. Again the humanity of Jesus is real as he faces human death with all of its hidden secrets.


Saying Seven

When Jesus had received the vinegar he said “It is finished”.
John 19:30


The Americans have a wonderful word which keeps cropping up in television programmes and which is increasingly finding its way into our language. These people all need this word

  • People who have lived through a bad incident and who have always been troubled by it

  • Or people who have some terrible anger which has never been resolved

  • Perhaps somebody who has never forgiven themselves or somebody else


All of these people are said to need this word, and the word is closure.

 Jesus sees in the event of the cross that he has secured closure. We often speak of the work of the cross. This is a good word ‘work,’ because it reminds us that there was some effective spiritual activity taking place, something more than the transparently obvious business of being killed.

So it is that when Jesus says these words ‘It is finished’ we know that God has achieved closure.

The word   translated ‘It is finished’ is a single word — tetelestai  (from teleo)

It’s the same word which people would write on a bill after it had been paid. It means that the debt is dealt with, it is finished. The price has been paid. You will all know what it feels like to pay off a loan, to settle a debt and not to have to worry about it any more. There is a feeling of release, of achievement. The word has the connotation of having fulfilled one’s obligation.

Jesus work is now complete and we can only guess at how that must have felt for Jesus.

So we are told that he bows his head and dies.

Jesus has finished the work which his father gave him to do, he has accomplished the full and final task.  It is upon that finished, complete work of Christ that we can now build our own lives. Jesus gave his life as a ransom for us the many, so that no longer have to fear the wrath of God. We can pray confidently because we know that there is no obstacle of sin between us and God. He does not consider our offences but looks at us only through the eyes of forgiveness, those same eyes through which Jesus looked at the soldiers and pronounced forgiveness.

We need not be weighed down by the pains and guilt of the past because Jesus has provided the closure which we could never find by ourselves.

This is why the Christian life is so very different and when we speak of the freedom of Christ we mean the freedom to live in the knowledge that we too can commend our spirits into the hands of the Father. For the Christian there is nothing of which they need be afraid, not even death itself, for Christ has conquered sin and death and allowed us to walk the path of life.