Thursday, April 13, 2017

Crosswords, and Important Last Words

Being the “wordsmith” some people describe me to be, I find doing crosswords an enjoyable pastime. I have smartphone apps that challenge my word skills, and occasionally I work crossword puzzles in the newspaper. But this time of year, a different kind of “crosswords” comes to mind.

As Good Friday and Easter approach, our church presented a series of messages titled, “Crosswords,” exploring words of Jesus Christ linked to His crucifixion. In reviewing the biblical accounts, two “cross words” caught my attention in particular, ones that can be truly life-changing, if only we can grasp their magnitude both for now and for eternity.
         The words are: Forgive and finished.

Despite the excruciating pain and trauma of the cross, Jesus managed to utter several things as He endured His tortuous – and totally undeserved – execution. But in those two words He largely summed up His purpose in willingly enduring the cross.

As He hung from it, surrounded by a mainly angry, blood-thirsty mob spewing venomous insults and epithets, Jesus would have been fully justified in spitting at them, or returning their verbal abuse. Despite incomprehensible pain – coupled with great sorrow in being rejected by so many – He felt compassion instead, and called for grace. “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’” (Luke 23:34).

Simple words, “forgive them,” carrying volumes of meaning. Who among us has never yearned for forgiveness for wrongs committed? Sometimes we find it futile even to forgive ourselves. Also, who hasn’t struggled to forgive others for pain they’ve inflicted on us, intentional or not? Yet in saying, “forgive them,” even on the cross Jesus was interceding, asking God the Father to extend mercy, to offer what His enemies – including us today – did not deserve. Forgiveness, once and for all.

With those two words, Jesus was not only assuring each one of us that we can experience forgiveness from the God of all creation, but also was telling us that it’s incumbent upon us all that we, too, forgive. Pastor and author John MacArthur has made the observation, “Never are you more like God than when you forgive.” Many are quick to observe, “God is love,” asserting we should act in kind. But we’re not as fast to recognize the equal truth that God is forgiving – as we should be.

But Jesus was not quite done, even in His dying moments. Upon taking a sip of wine vinegar lifted to his lips on the stalk of a plant, Jesus’ last words were, “’It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).

The word “finished” was not referring to the conclusion of His earthly life, but the culmination of His mission, His purpose for being God incarnate – “God with us,” as Matthew 1:23 expresses it. Some saw Jesus as a great teacher, or a prophet. Today some regard Him as a model, an eminent example of right living. But Jesus walked among us for much more than that.

He came to become the Savior of mankind, the propitiation for sins, the atoning sacrifice. John 3:16-17 informs us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” He was the promised Messiah who had been prophesied thousands of years before.

In coming to Earth, Jesus arrived to address an unsolvable, irreconcilable problem confronting humankind: Sin. We don’t often hear people talking about sin these days, even preachers, except in giddy conversation. But to God, there’s no humor in sin; not in the least. Sin was so serious, He took upon Himself its punishment, satisfying His justice and absorbing His wrath, while offering a singular way for men, women and children to experience an everlasting, living relationship with Him.

All that needed to be done was done, except for us to receive the free gift He offered.

Two “cross words” – forgiveness and finished. So, as we contemplate the gathering darkness of Good Friday, and the exquisite jubilation of Easter, let’s keep both in our minds, and on our hearts.

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