Week 26 The Story
Today, ‘Ash Wednesday’ is the first day of Lent.
Love’s as hard as nails,
Love is nails;
Blunt, thick, hammered through
The medial nerves of One
Who, having made us, knew
The thing he had done,
Seeing (with all that is)
Our cross, and His. (C. S. Lewis, 1964)
C. S. Lewis also said that the cross “is the diagram of Love himself, the initiation of all loves.” Love is the Son of God hanging by his arms, his muscles paralyzed and unable to respond. Love is God’s son fighting to raise himself in order to get just one short breath. Love is carbon dioxide mounting in the lungs, cramps partially subsiding, allowing our Lord to push himself spasmodically upward for life-giving oxygen. This is a picture of God’s love. Still, it is only suggestive of his deeper love, his willingness to bear our sin and suffer separation from his beloved Father.
In John 19 we see our Lord repeatedly agonizing upward for breath, while below him the Roman soldiers divide his clothing (vv. 23-24). Those soldiers also gave a potent reminder that the world is a cold place. Jack London said the same thing through his antihero Wolf Larson, who says, “Life, Bah! It has no value. Of cheap things it is the cheapest. Everywhere it goes begging. Nature spills it out with a lavish hand . . . and it’s life eat life till the strongest and most piggish is left.” We live in a cold world. Just ask the Roman soldiers.
Our text contains a contrast between this group and another group, itself a microcosm of those under Christ’s care. Four others, besides the Roman soldiers stand at the foot of the cross. Verse 25 identifies them as “his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” The contrast is unavoidable. I believe this was the purposeful work of our sovereign God so that Jesus’ loving heart would be clearly seen in his care and provision for his own.
Can anyone imagine the pain of those four women? Those of us who have lost loved ones in the spring of life can understand much more than the rest of us. Mary stood there before her son. When Jesus was an infant, she and his father took him to the temple to present him to the Lord. The aged Simeon, a righteous and devout man, was overcome by the Holy Spirit and sang of the blessing Jesus would bring (Luke 2:34-35).
There, on the cross, was the baby Mary had nursed, the boy she had held, the man who had brought her nothing but joy. But now a sword was piercing her heart.
Parallel passages (Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56) tell us that the second woman, “his mother’s sister,” was Salome, Zebedee’s wife, the mother of James and John. She had been severely rebuffed by Christ for her ambitions for her sons, but she had seen love in that rebuke. Now, as Mary’s sister, she was experiencing not only personal agony but sister-to-sister filial agony.
We know nothing of “Mary the wife of Clopas,” the third woman. But we do know much about Mary Magdalene. Seven devils had been cast out of her (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). Jesus described her as who one had sinned much and loved much. Mary was the one who had come to Jesus in a Pharisee’s house while the Savior reclined at dinner. She washed his feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, and anointed them with perfume. What misery she experienced at the foot of the cross.
Those women were really hurting!
“When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on this disciple took her into his home” (vv. 26-27).
The Greek indicates that Jesus was very much in control, almost matter-of-fact as he spoke these tender instructions. His words reveal the depth of his love and care for his own. And he who thought so perfectly of his own in the time of his extreme suffering bears the same heart, the same depth of love, in his present exaltation. He still cares intimately and completely for his own! We have a Savior who loves us so deeply that when we are hurting, he will come to us without fail.
Jesus’ instructions from the cross also reveal just how perfect his love and care are. The phrase in verse 26 describing John as “standing nearby” means John was standing beside Mary. Evidently he was the only disciple at the cross, and he stood alongside Mary, supporting her. As. R.C.H. Lenski said, “These two belonged together because these two were losing in Jesus’ death more than the rest. Mary was losing her son, John the master who loved him beyond the rest.”
The foundation of Jesus’ love and care is seen in the words Jesus used (vv. 26-27). As Jesus made Mary John’s responsibility, he called Mary his “mother.” Yet in speaking directly to Mary, Jesus addressed her as “dear woman.” As Jesus approached the work of redemption, a new relationship was beginning to develop with Mary. Their special earthly relationship as mother and son yielded to a higher, holier relationship as he became her Savior. This is the foundation of his love and care for her and for us. Mary, and those with her at the foot of the cross, found their comfort in his atoning work for them. In the ensuing days they would experience the continual refreshment of his having born their sins, a growing sense of grace and freedom. This is the ground of our comfort as well. In this fallen world Christ still offers loving care and provision for his own. His love for us is so deep that he experienced untold agony for us and meets our deepest needs.
Darkness fell upon the land from the sixth hour until the ninth hour (Matthew 27:45). Was this darkness meant to hide Christ’s hideous physical sufferings? No. it hid the agony of the Son as he became a curse for us. In Jewish thinking, to be cursed was to be separated from God and to have his blessing was to have his face looking upon you with approval. Jesus had never known anything but the face of the father. They had worked together in the creation of the universe. They were one another’s delight. But now as Jesus bore our sins, he became a curse. “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law” (Galatians 3:10). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).
At this moment of separation the pain from the nails was nothing to Jesus. Neither was the flayed back and the uneven stake. He may not have even been aware of the physical pain, for there is no experience so painful in the world or universe as separation from God. Jesus cried in the darkness, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” No human has ever known such terror. A billion crucifixions cannot equal the pain of the curse Christ experienced for you and me.
During the darkness three sayings passed Christ’s lips: “I am thirsty,” “It is finished,” “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” John recounts the first two (vv. 28, 30). The third is given in Luke 23:46).
“Later, knowing that all was not completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips” (John 19: 28-29). Paul tells us, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3). At this moment he fulfilled Psalm 69:21: “. . . and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” Even the unusual use of a branch of hyssop to extend the sponge to Christ’s lips suggests Scriptural parallels, because hyssop was the plant prescribed in Exodus 12:22 to be used in the application of the blood of the Passover lamb to the doorpost so the death angel would pass by.
The body of Jesus was by this time in extremis. He could feel the chill of death creeping through his limbs. Did he with great effort pull himself up and whisper an additional plea for relief? No. He shouted, “It is finished” and “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (v. 30).
“It is finished” was not a submissive cry but a shout of victory. In the Greek it was only one word, in the Greek perfect tense, meaning, “It is finished and always will be finished!” what had Christ finished? The Law itself (he had completed and fulfilled it). The Old Testament types in the ceremonial law. The Messianic prophecies. But most of it all, he had finished the atonement.
His cry of victory came not because he was dying a horrible death, but because “God make him who had no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He became a curse for us and was separated from God so we would never have to know the horror of eternal punishment for sin. But Christ suffered total separation from the Father as he bore our penalty, then cried out with a joyous shout, “It is finished.”
Because he paid for our sins, we must come to him empty-handed. To come to Christ with some of our own work or goodness in hand is to commit the infinite insult. We must come as the hymn says, “Nothing in my hand I bring/Simply to the cross I cling.”
If we have received Jesus Christ as our Savior, we will never be separated from God but rather will eternally enjoy fellowship with the Father and the Son and the Spirit! God’ face will shine upon us forever.