Session #20  (Most quotes are NIV)


All four Gospels give an account of the crucifixion, but each one offers different details, depending on the aspects of our Lord’s sacrifice they wish to emphasize.  For example, we know that Jesus spoke AT LEAST seven times when He was on the cross, but we need all four Gospels to access all of these “Seven Words on the Cross.”  

For example, Luke 23:34 seems to offer the first utterance: Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”  Arthur Just, Luke, Vol. 2, p. 924, points out that “said” is an imperfect verb, not a past tense.  This means that Jesus “kept saying it for a period of time.”  It was not just a one-time statement.  Think about the difficulty of breathing while hanging on the cross, and then notice that our Lord expends a great deal of energy to emphasize forgiveness.  Forgiveness is what His crucifixion is all about.  What better way to emphasize that fact than to keep forgiving the people who did this to Him?  Taking Christ’s example, our ministry, our mission and our lives also ought to be about forgiveness!

INRI (In-ree?)

The next thing to notice about the crucifixion story is that all four Gospels tell us that Pilate posted a note above the cross which read “The King of the Jews” (Mark); “”This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Matthew); “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke); “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John).  Why are these Gospels different?  John 19:20 gives us the probable answer: “Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.”  These languages would not all have read the same.  Matthew would likely have gone for the Aramaic, Luke for the Greek, etc.

Perhaps you have noted paintings of the crucifixion with “INRI” posted above Jesus’ head, or perhaps you have seen a church with the “INRI” within a symbol or a stained-glass window.  What does that mean?  It comes from Latin:  IESVS NAZARENVS REX IVDÆORVM (in Latin, “J” is an “I” and “U” is a “V.”  If these changes are made it comes out Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum OR “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”   I-N-R-I are the first four letters of the Latin version of Pilate’s note.

Only the Gospel of John gives the detail that the Chief Priests were angry with Pilate for his wording.  Pilate must have gotten a kick out of what he wrote.  It is just one more thing to make the leadership hate him—and he doesn’t care!  Perhaps a touch of Anti-Semitism?


There were two others crucified at the same time.  Matthew and Mark both acknowledge these two felons.  Matthew calls them “robbers” and Mark doesn’t call them anything, but both
these Gospels note that the two participated in the mocking of Jesus.  Remember that crucifixion was reserved for the most serious of criminals.  We don’t know what these two did, but it was much more than stealing candy from the local store!  One even says “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.’ (Luke 23:41)

I am puzzled that these two would expend that much energy and endure so much pain just to flap their mouths and engage in our Lord’s denigration.   Yes, they have “nothing better to do,” and they KNOW they are dead men.  And yet Jesus causes a division (which He always does).  The one is impenitent, the other full of contrition.  The one is headed for hell, and the other promised heaven immediately:  “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, TODAY you will be with me in paradise.’”  Again, we are looking at forgiveness personified!  That is what this crucifixion is all about—not only THEIR forgiveness, but OURS as well!

How does this crucified man (who may never have done a good or kind thing up to this point!) rate a free trip to heaven that afternoon?  Read Luke’s story (23:39-43)  He brings NOTHING to “the party” but his plea:  “I’m totally relying on YOU, Jesus, to fix the mess I am in!”  We can learn much from this criminal!


Totally not!

Matthew, Mark and Luke have the same message, but use different Greek words:  from 12:00 noon until 3:00 p.m., the earth becomes pitch black in darkness. The prophet Amos (8:9) had predicted this day:  “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord,  “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.”   

There is no solar eclipse scheduled, no cloud cover to explain this.  God controls all things, and this will be one black session for our Lord and His suffering.  Things are about to get ugly!  John’s Gospel tells us (1:4)  “In him was life, and that life wasthe light of all mankind.”  And what we see is that “the light of all mankind” was about to lose his life.

Throughout the Bible, there is a play of light (God) versus darkness (Satan), even in Genesis 1 when God separated the light from the darkness.  Our format is too narrowly focused to do a complete study of light vs. dark in the Bible.  We are assured that it is not equal:  the light always overcomes the dark (and good over evil as well!).  But at this hour on the cross, it looks like Satan is going to win.  God himself is facing death!  It is Satan’s hour to howl.


It is not my intent to cover everything said and done during our Lord’s six hours on the cross.  However, one of Jesus’ utterances cannot be overlooked:  “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”  (The Aramaic is in our English Bibles: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”)

This is the opening verse of Psalm 22.  Our Hebrew Bibles say it is מִזְמ֥וֹר לְדָוִֽד(a Psalm of David!).  Well, this is a little odd, to say the least:  David wrote this Psalm, but—as far as we know—none of the activity which is in the Psalm ever happened to David!  This is a Psalm about the Messiah.  It echoes the great Suffering Servant chapter of Isaiah (Is. 53 is worth reading again, if you haven’t read it lately!)  

The people gathered around the cross knew the words of this Psalm better than Lutherans know the first verse of A Mighty Fortress!  Imagine if Jesus recited THE ENTIRE PSALM on the cross.  Some scholars believe he did, and I too am in this camp.  It would have scared this crowd to its core!  In Hebrew, David has written phrases that are reminiscent of short gasps of air.  Listen to what they might have heard:

  • My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.
  • But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people
  • All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
  • Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
  • I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint
  • They piercemy hands and my feet.All my bones are on display;
  • They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment
  • All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord 

There’s more, but you get the idea.  This Psalm is being fulfilled while the people are standing by and watching.  With the words “Eli, Eli…” they thought he was calling Elijah.  But if Jesus kept reciting, that notion of calling Elijah would dissipate fast.  I wonder how many people at the foot of the cross, hearing that Psalm, said to themselves:  “Oh, my God, what have we done?”