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Tonight, with Gods blessing, well start a new Puritan study called Matthew Henry on the Seven Sayings. The seven sayings, of course, refer to the words of our Lord on the cross. Im slow to find symbolism in the numbers of the Bible, but here I think we have some. If seven is the number of perfection, then we can say our Lord said everything He needed to say on the crossand nothing more. Even in death, He was the perfect Man, the one who did,
The seven sayings are spread all over the four Gospels. The first two are found here in Luke 23. Well look at the first one tonight, with the Lords help. The first thing our Lord said on the crossafter a night of agonizing prayer and brutal treatment at the hands of men is
The first thing Matthew Henry says about the passage is very interesting. It never occurred to me and I wonder if it has to you? He explains why the Lord must die on the cross, and not in some other way, such as hanging or stoning or being beheaded. He says,
HangingI supposewould have allowed for an atonement. The Law, after all, said, Cursed is every one who hangs on a tree. Our Lord could have borne the curse of the Law by a death far quicker and less painful than crucifixion. But He didnt. Henry says the cross was needed so that Christ could finish His work of glorifying God and blessing others by His words.
This means we are required to speak well even when things arent going our way. When were under pressure, we often lash out at others and justify ourselves for itafter all, I had things on my mind! But the example of our Lord says otherwise: even when suffering the pain an disgrace of a crucifixion, the law of kindness was upon His tongue. We need to remember that: problems do not excuse bad words. There are no time outs in the life of holiness. The Law of God is in effect at all times.
Cut others some slack when theyre stressed outoverlook their thoughtless or angry words by all means. But dont cut yourself any slack. The Bible tells us to be patient with the sins of other people, butas far as I can seeit never tells us to be patient with our own sins. Wed be holier people if we were as hard on ourselves as we are on others and as soft on others as we are on ourselves!
Even in death the words of our Lord Jesus Christ glorify God and bless those who hear Him.
The other thing to note here is also important: the prolonging of our Lords pain and humiliation served a good purpose. When Abraham was commanded to slay his son, Isaac, he wasnt told to torture him first! Isaacs death would have been quick and relatively painless. But when God slew His Son, He did it slowly, over six hours. Why?
Not because He enjoyed seeing the Lords suffering, of course, but because He had things for Christ to do in His last hours. We need to remember this: God wants us to glorify Him until the end of our livesand not to quit a split-second before that time.
John Calvin was a severe asthmatic. During the last weeks of his life, while struggling mightily to breathe, he kept up the pace of his work. His friends told him to take it easyhed done more than others could do in ten lifetimes. Yet Calvin was taken aback by their words and rebuked them,
The Lord was coming for him in deathCalvin knew that perfectly well. He would work till the very end, doing as much as he could until God said, thats enough. In this way, Calvin followed the Lords example very well. If Christ has six hours on the cross, He fills the time doing good.
About the prayer itself, Henry notes how unexpected it was.
But, of course, He doesnt. He might have, and if He had, He could have quoted Bible verses to support Him. If you read the Psalms, in particular, youll find a lot of them are full of denunciation, inspired men pleading with God to destroy sinners, to blot them out, to starve their children, and so on.
But our Lord doesnt pray that way. No, His first prayer is for His executioners pardon. Why? There are two reasons, the first in unique to our Lord, the second applies to you and me as well.
First of all, our Lord was a High Priest andas suchHe was required to make an offering for the sin of His people and also to intercede for themthats what the High Priest did on the Day of Atonement. Well, this, is the True Day of Atonement, and our High Priest is doing His job. The sacrifice He offers to God for us is Himself. After doing that, He prays for us, that God would accept the sacrifice and give us the blessings that flow from itthe first of which is forgiveness.
In the second place, our Lord prayed for His killers because He loved His enemies. If He tells us to do it, He does it Himself. Other preachers dont always live up to their sermonsme, for example! But Jesus Christ does! Everything He demands of us, He demands of Himselfand gets it.
Never has a man been treated so unjustly, so cruelly. The Bible says, He was hated without a cause. Yet He prays for the guilty.
How unexpected this is. Weve read it so oftenheard so many sermons on itthat weve lost the wonder of it all. How splendid our Lord Jesus Christ is to pray for the ones who crucified Him.
And how petty we are when we harbor wicked thoughts against people who havent done us nearly as much harm as they did Him.
And pray for me, too!
Henry goes on to note the generosity of the prayer.
Theres a kind of man who always thinks the worst of others. If others do good, he says their hypocrites. If they make a mistake, he says they did it on purpose. If they sin, he exaggerates their guilt. If they apologize, he says they dont mean it. Hes the kind of person who searches every silver lining for the dark cloud around it.
But the Lord is not this way: He assumes that the men who crucified Him had no idea of how great their sins were. He does not whitewash them as though they were sincerely trying to do the right thingHe knew better than that. Yet, instead of maximizing their guilt, He minimized it.
Was He right? Yes He was. If Jesus Christ says, They know not what they do, then they didnt! Again, theyre not innocentPeter says so on the Day of Pentecostbut they didnt realize the enormity of what they did.
Here, too, the Lord shows great love for sinners. In I Corinthians 13, Paul says,
That is, love is not suspicious, its not eager to find fault or to think men worse than they really are. What love the Lord Jesus Christ had for sinnersand has! How kind He is, how patient, how good and generous His thoughts are toward us!
Once again, how far short we fall of His example! Are you generous with the faults of other people? Or do you put the worst construction on everything they say or do? We ought to be ashamed of ourselves! If our Lord says His murderers didnt know what they were doing, how can we impute the worst motives to people who do us wrong?
Henry says one more thing here:
When someone treats you badly, just assume they didnt know any betterthat, maybe, their parents didnt teach them better or that their prejudice got in the way, or, maybe theyre just not very smart. Pity these people, and pray for them.
Henry goes on to remind us that the prayer of our Lord was soon answered.
The Day of Pentecost occurred fifty days after the crucifixionand in the same place. When Peter said, You took Him and with wicked hands crucified and slew Him, he didnt mean you generically. No, he mean you in particular did it! Not your fathers, not the Jews, not the whole human race, but you did it.
What happened? When they heard it, Luke says, they were Cut to the heart and cried out, `What must we do?
Peter said, repent, which they did.
This is a great encouragement! When we pray for our enemies, we can hope that God will hear us and give them repentance! He did it for the Lordand not just for Himbut for others too.
Three of the wickedest men who ever lived were forgiven because the man they tortured prayed for them. Their names? Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar. Their friend was named Job. When he prayed for them, God pardoned them.
We can hope for the same when we pray for those who do us wrong. So do it! To help you pray for your enemies, do two things:
Put yourself in their place. If you were the sinnerinstead of the sinned againstwouldnt you want someone to pray for you? If so, Whatever you would have men do unto you, do unto them.
Meditate on what your Savior did for His crucifiersand for you, too.
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