A Dying Man’s Last Words: The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross

The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross by Arthur W. Pink

“The Death of Christ was unique, miraculous, supernatural …Hearken to the words which fell from His lips while He hung upon the cross—words which inform us of the purpose, the meaning, the sufferings, and the sufficiency of the Death Divine.”

Have you ever been in the presence of someone who is on their death bed, at the side of someone who knows he or she will very soon leave this life? Particularly someone with whom you’ve had a long-lasting relationship or care deeply about? The closest I’ve come to experiencing this is in 2008 when my father-in-law, Joe, was gravely ill in the hospital. It was actually Easter weekend when our family decided we should drive to Phoenix to see him (9 years ago now!). My husband and I and our three children (ages 14-18 at the time) each wrote a personal letter that we read to him. Joe wasn’t able to talk with us, but we know that he was aware and could understand all that we shared with him. After having attended a local church on Easter Sunday, we learned that the Lord, in His perfect timing, had taken Joe to be with Him.

In those moments, we were eager to hear anything Joe could verbally express to us. When a person knows he’s about to die, it’s understandable that he would choose very carefully and deliberately who he will speak to and what he will tell them. This was never more true and important than in the case of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose very death was deliberate, intentional, and purposeful. The final words of Christ give us a little insight as to what and who was on His mind and in His heart in those last hours, if we will only pay attention. While He may have spoken other words, these seven statements are the only ones that were specifically recorded for us, so undoubtedly there is something God wants us to learn from these select words of our Lord from the cross.

In his book The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross, Arthur W. Pink shares some insights and practical lessons that we can learn from the statements Jesus made in His dying hours. These words, says Pink, “reveal the excellencies of the One who suffered there; words in which is wrapt up the Gospel of our Salvation; and words which inform us of the purpose, the meaning, the sufferings, and the sufficiency of the Death Divine.”

Before reviewing these sayings of Christ, it’s important to note that Jesus was a real man who really suffered and died a real death. There were eye witnesses and a burial. Also, as we read of the accounts of the events that led up to His execution, we can see that Jesus was not an unwilling victim of a vengeful mob or corrupt government; He was in control the entire time and knew what He was doing. He set “His face like a flint” towards the cross (Is. 50:6-8), for it was for this primary purpose that He was born. It’s also noteworthy that much of what occurred with regard to Jesus’ crucifixion fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, proving that it was of Him that they speak (see Psalm 22, and Isaiah 50 & 53, for example).

Pink’s book dedicates one chapter to each of the Seven Sayings of Christ as follows:

  1. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34) – The Word of Forgiveness
  2. (In response to the penitent thief on the cross), “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) – The Word of Salvation
  3. (To His mother), “Woman, behold your son!” (and to John, His disciple), “Behold your mother!” (John 19:26) – The Word of Affection
  4. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46) – The Word of Anguish
  5. “I thirst.” (John 19:28) – The Word of Suffering
  6. “It is finished!” (John 19:30) – The Word of Victory
  7. “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” (Luke 23:46) – The Word of Contentment

I’d like to share some of the main points that Pink brings out about each of these.

The Word of Forgiveness: “Forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Here we see the compassion and intercession of Christ, the depravity of man, and the holiness of God. In the midst of His suffering, Jesus takes a moment to pray for His enemies, the very ones who have mocked, abused, and crucified Him. These individuals are so sinful, that they don’t even realize they need forgiveness, and have no desire or inclination to repent and ask their victim to do so. In fact, it’s interesting to note that Jesus Himself does not extend forgiveness to them, but rather He makes it clear who it is that they have actually offended — His holy heavenly Father, before whom they would one day be held accountable for their sins. Yet, we know that the Father hears the prayers of His Son and amazingly, He surely answered by forgiving and saving some of these. In fact, did He not do the same for you, who were once His enemy and unaware of your lost condition and need of forgiveness? Where would any of us be were it not for the compassion and intercession of Jesus on our behalf?

The Word of Salvation: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” In His sovereign plan, God ordained that Jesus would be crucified between two criminals. There must be a purpose for this, for nothing that God does is arbitrary. Here we see the only two possible responses to the Gospel message played out: “a sinner repenting and believing, and a sinner, reviling and rejecting.” Both men are in a similar helpless state, equally deserving of punishment, having the same information and opportunity. The believing thief demonstrates both repentance and faith in his conversations with Jesus and the other thief. Having come to the end of himself and helpless to save himself, he acknowledges that he is sinful and deserving of punishment and recognizes Christ as the only one who can save him and give him life. He humbly yet boldly asks Jesus to remember Him. He bore testimony of who Jesus was: the sinless King who is able to save.

Additionally we witness Christ’s readiness, willingness, and power to save, even when He appears to be in a physically weakened and helpless state.  While the crowd challenges Him to come down from the cross and ridicules Him for being unable to save Himself, He indeed does save this one who is in great need and cries out for help. Christ’s words of promise to the penitent thief indicate not just where he would go after he passed from this life, but with whom. For indeed, “Heaven without Christ would not be Heaven.”

This interaction shows how a sinner may and should come to Christ. The scene gives hope that no one is beyond saving and that it’s never too late to repent. But that being said, there are no guarantees that anyone will have one last chance to repent. Pink observes,

Many are cut off suddenly, without any opportunity to lie down and die…As said one of the Puritans, “There is one such case recorded that none need despair, but only one, in Scripture, that none might presume.”

The Words of Affection: “Woman, behold your son!” and “Behold your mother!” We can only try to imagine what grief the mother of Jesus felt as she stood at the foot of the cross. As a faithful keeper of God’s law and a dutiful son, Jesus honors His mother (undoubtedly a widow by this time) by showing His love and concern for her welfare as He is about to leave her. Although He was about His Father’s business, He doesn’t forsake His earthly obligations and relationships. A useful lesson is here for those who are in full-time ministry. In this chapter, Pink also briefly discusses the wrong view of Mariology in which Mary is held up as the “Queen of Heaven” rather than a fallen human in need of salvation.

The Word of Anguish: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” These are probably some of the most heart-wrenching words ever spoken, within or even outside of Scripture. We know that Jesus suffered greatly both physically and emotionally, but no man suffered such spiritual anguish as Jesus when His Father turned His back on Him, even if just temporarily. Up until this time, Jesus had, from eternity past, enjoyed perfect union and fellowship with the Father. All of the ridicule, torture, and abandonment He experienced from His fellow man – His enemies and even His friends – were nothing in comparison to the abandonment of His beloved Father.

Jesus’s words show just how terrible sin is and how it affects our relationship with a holy God. Physical death is a result of the curse that came with Adam’s first sin, but spiritual death is what separated man from God. It would require an eternal, holy being to die in order to pay for sins committed against an eternal, holy God. While Jesus was completely innocent of sin, He became sin and was made a curse on behalf of the people for whom He died. While bearing those sins on the cross, it meant He would be separated from God the Father. In anticipation of this, we can understand why Jesus prayed as He did in Gethsemane. Yet Jesus trusted His Father and knew that He would not abandon His soul in the grave.

Have you ever felt abandoned and forsaken by God? You too may trust in His promises, when encompassed by darkness and despair as well as when surrounded by sunlight. That Jesus was willing to endure this anguish shows the great depth of His love for those for whom He died as their substitute, for this love was His motivation (John 13:1).

The Word of Suffering: “I’m thirsty.” Jesus was always mindful of who He was and the purpose for which He came. The Old Testament scriptures speak of His birth, life, and death, and we see many occasions in which it is stated that Jesus said or did something, “that the Scriptures should be fulfilled,” this being one of those occasions. In order for His death to accomplish what it was meant to, it was just as important for Christ to be a man as it was for Him to be God. As a man, He was a fitting substitute for men. As a man, He can identify with even the most basic deprivations and suffering that we undergo. He was willing to subject Himself in obedience to the smallest detail that was part of His Father’s plan. He humbled Himself and limited Himself even when He was more than capable of taking action to bring relief or comfort to His body or soul. May we remember this example of Christ when we start to complain against God’s providence when we experience the smallest inconvenience or discomfort.

The Word of Victory: “It is finished!” If Christ’s utterance of anguish is the most heart-breaking, this word of Christ is the most heart-lifting! So what was finished, exactly? Well, to sum it up, the Work of Atonement. But let’s break it down further, for at His dying moment, Jesus accomplished quite a bit. He fulfilled every prophecy written of Him that needed to be fulfilled before His death. His physical sufferings were come to an end, along with His state of humiliation. Satan was defeated and his power was broken. The purpose for His incarnation had been achieved. All the sins of every believer were paid for. Jesus could now say to His Father, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4). And the atoning work that He finished on the cross, He finished perfectly, once for all time. There is nothing else that anyone could or need do to add to the finished work of Christ.

The Word of Contentment: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having finished the work He came to do, Jesus is reunited once again with His Father and may rest from His work. He had said, “I have the power to lay down my life, and I have the power to take it up again” (John 10:17-18). Having willingly delivered Himself into the hands of wicked men previously, He now willingly delivers Himself into the hands of His loving Father. Unlike the two criminals who would continue to fight for breath on either side of Him, Jesus is content and ready to yield up His life. He is confident that the sacrifice He offered has been accepted and that the Father is pleased with Him. And He is assured that in His Father’s hand His soul will be eternally safe. Believer, you too may be assured that your soul is and ever will be secure in the hands of your Heavenly Father!

The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross is certainly appropriate reading for Easter season, but makes for good devotional reading. As we go into what is commonly referred to as Passion Week, I encourage you to read through the passages that describe the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, as found in Matt. 27-28; Mark 15-16; Luke 23-24; John 19-20. May this week give you fresh opportunity to contemplate what He willingly suffered and rejoice in what He accomplished for His people. However, if you are a sinner who has not looked to Christ for salvation, consider this: if God did not spare His own Son as He willingly bore the sins others, what makes you think He will spare you, who stubbornly choose to hold on to your sin?

See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
– Isaac Watts

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