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.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
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.”
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. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 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.
It’s been a long day so far and it’s only noon. Here, at the place of The Skull, stands Jesus, along with two criminals waiting to be crucified. It has been a kangaroo court trial from the very beginning, and Jesus is on the losing end of it, or at least that’s how it appears. From the cross, Jesus cries out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But who does Jesus mean when He says “them” and “they”? Is He talking about the criminals? Is He talking about the Romans who are crucifying Him? Is there someone else Jesus is referring to? Jesus prayed for all those blind to their actions. That means Jesus was praying for the criminals. That means Jesus was praying for the Romans. That means Jesus was even praying for His disciples who scattered following Jesus being arrested. The forgiveness that Christ extends is not just for the soldiers, but for Pilate, Herod, the Sanhedrin, the chief priests, the rulers, and indeed all people.
After our Lord speaks words of forgiveness for the people, they react just as we think they would: uncaringly and ungrateful. There are two responses following Jesus’ invocation of the Father’s absolution. The soldiers who will mock Jesus completely disregard Jesus’ absolution and instead cast lots for His clothes and offer up sour wine and the people standing there just watching as the events take place. There is no concern shown from them; there is no emotion at all – just standing and watching.
How ungrateful this scene is! Jesus asks for God to forgive them one moment and the next moment they’re gambling away His clothing and watching Him die. These are the people that Jesus came to live and die for? People who want nothing more than to see Him die? People who want nothing more than to make a public mockery of justice for their own gain? People who stand around doing nothing? Yes, that is exactly who Jesus came to live and die for. What is even more amazing is that Jesus came to live and die for more people than that. He came to live and die for the people that don’t believe in Him. He came to live and die for the people that want nothing to do with Him. He came to live and die for the people that are self-righteous and can do everything on their own. He came to live and die for the people who recognize their sins and their need for a Savior. He came to live and die for the people who just a few days earlier cried out, “Hosanna!”, “Lord, save us!” He came to live and die for you.
The rulers of the day were correct, they just didn’t know it. When they shouted, “He saved others, let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his chosen one!”, they couldn’t have been more right. He had saved others. He had saved others from disease and death. Surely there was more that this King of the Jews was going to do. Jesus was not going to disappoint.
With outstretched arms, hands that were pierced and nailed to this tree of death, He was going to save the people in a way that the Romans, the chief priests, the rulers and all the people could not understand: He was going to die. He was going to sacrifice His life for the life of the people. Christ was delivered up to death; He was delivered for the sins of the people. That means that He died for you and for your sins. What He says to the one criminal, He says to you and to me: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The events about to unfold are events that are for you and for me.
Darkness has fallen. For the next three hours, it’s as dark as night and it is the middle of the day. Having been at this since the previous day, here is where everything reaches the climax. Here, around 3:00, the light of the sun has failed. There is no explanation to what has just taken place. It is too early for sunset. In fact, there is no sun at all, just darkness. The darkness signals the imminent conclusion of God’s work of redemption.
While there is darkness, another sign occurs that no one at the cross could witness. Some fifteen hundred feet away in the temple, the curtain between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom. This is significant because the curtain separated the people from the Holy of Holies of the temple, the place where God resided, the place where the high priest would enter once a year to make a sacrifice on behalf of the people. It was the one place of the temple that was off limits to the people. Now, there is nothing that separates the people from God because a sacrifice has been made that surpasses and exceeds every other sacrifice that has been made, from the times of the Old Testament, to that time, and forever more. This open access to God is represented by the temple curtain torn asunder. God’s presence no longer resides in the temple; now God’s presence is wherever Jesus is, for Jesus is the new temple!
With His hands pierced and nailed to the cross, “Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” Jesus did this for you. He did this for you before you were born, before you were ever thought of. He did this for your sins. His pierced hands are hands that saved you from what you deserve: death and damnation, eternal separation from God.
This is truly a Good Friday, because Christ’s death has given to you everlasting life. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.