The Last Will and Testament of the Lord
The Seven Sayings upon the Cross
The last Will and Testament of our Lord! May we thus speak of the words of Jesus, uttered amid the woes of His cross of sacrifice, and recorded for us by the infallible pen of the Holy Ghost? We certainly believe that we may so speak of them. The first three of these seven sayings declare His will as to mankind; and the second three, bringing out as they do with absolute clearness what God is, and what man is, and what the Lord Himself is, could not have been omitted, while the last saying, giving completion to the whole, demonstrates the absolute confidence that the holy Sufferer reposed in His Father to the end. But we do not speak of these sayings as His last Will and Testament, as though they annulled anything He had said before, but as gathering up in the intensity of these solemn hours all His desires into sentences which we cannot forget, either now or in eternity.
All His words abide, for He spoke no useless words, and nothing that needed to be withdrawn, modified or qualified. His words were as gold purified seven times; no dross of human failure ever entered into them, for His manhood was as perfect as His Godhead, and the words that He spoke in the language of a man were the words of God—words of light and life and salvation, imperishable and eternal words, and consequently words that we must treasure as we treasure Him who spoke them, for they are the unfolding of the Father’s heart, and His own. Yet none can more profoundly affect us, if we love Him, than these we are now to consider. The circumstances in which they were spoken, and the fullness of their meaning claims for them an unique place in our thoughts.
1. “FATHER, FORGIVE THEM FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO” (Luke 23:34)
It was not at the beginning of His work amongst men that the Lord prayed this prayer but at the end of it; not when they wondered at His gracious words in the synagogue of Nazareth, and proceeded to cast Him over the precipice upon which that favoured city was built, but when, after having fully seen all His works and heard all His words, they mocked His unspeakable agonies on Calvary.
From the first they intended to murder Him, but they proceeded to their end with a malignant hatred into which no benign influence entered. There was no ingredient of shame and suffering that they could add to the bitter cup that He had to drink that they did not pour into it. He was blindfolded and beaten, stripped and scourged, mocked and spit upon, crowned with thorns and crucified. Uplifted upon the cross He saw them, after they had done their worst, gather round to further gratify their insatiable hatred in watching Him there, and He opened His suffering lips to give His heart’s answer to that hatred in this never-to-be-forgotten prayer.
But He saw more than that excited crowd led by Priests and Pharisees. He saw the whole world of men that hated both Him and His Father represented there. He looked outward and onward even to this day, and embraced in His prayer sinful mankind. Had He not prayed this prayer to His Father no message of mercy could ever have reached a rebellious world from a Saviour God. In it He declared His will for men; He did not desire that the judgment that this crowning act of the world’s sin against God called for, should fall upon it. He was “not willing that any should perish”, but would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth and this is the will of God.
If infinite love and pity had not filled the Saviour’s heart, He might have prayed a different prayer, for did He not tell His disciples, reduced to less than twelve weak men by the defection of the traitor when they attempted to rescue Him from His foes, that He could then and there have prayed to His Father and He would give Him “more than twelve legions of angels”, but that would have been a prayer for judgment and not mercy, destruction and not salvation. He might thus have prayed and done so justly, “but how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be”?
And the purposes and promises of God made known in the Scriptures must be fulfilled, hence the prayer for mercy. The love of God rose up triumphantly above all men’s hatred, and expressed itself in Him who came to make God known. Hatred and sin had done their worst, and now God’s love must do its best, and this it did when the voice of Jesus cried, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. These were His last words about the world of sinful men, and they declared His will in regard to them, and they secured the long-suffering of God which is salvation even to this day.
That prayer committed Him irrevocably to all the suffering that followed, for how could it be answered if He did not give His life a ransom for all? They began to say to Him, “save Thyself”, and “come down from the cross, if Thou be Christ”. But their taunts were too late. He had spoken His last words as to sinners, and these were not different to His first words; HIS WILL REGARDING MEN HAD BEEN DECLARED, it had been registered in heaven, it could neither be withdrawn nor changed; He could not come down from that cross in answer to their challenge. He must suffer all that was to follow “THAT REPENTANCE AND REMISSION OF SINS MIGHT BE BE PREACHED, IN HIS NAME, AMONG ALL NATIONS BEGINNING AT JERUSALEM”.
2. “VERILY, I SAY UNTO THEE, TODAY SHALT THOU BE WITH ME IN PARADISE” (Luke 23:43)
Having declared His Will in regard to the wide circle of the world, He now turns to the individual sinner and declares His will in regard to every one that flies to Him for succour. The dying malefactor saw in Him what the whole multitude of Jews failed to see. He saw not only the glory of His person, and acknowledged Him as the Lord who must sway a universal kingdom, but he realized that His heart was as tender as His Name would be glorious; and grasping these two facts with a blessed faith, he cried, “Lord, remember me”. What a ‘me’ it was that he set before the Lord! His was a disgraceful past, and a hopeless future; he was a dying wretch, brought to the very brink of hell by his crimes; but he places himself just as he is before the Lord who knows him through and through, and says, “Lord, remember ME”. Will the Lord take notice of such as he was? Yes, He takes him as he is, answering his faith by a grace that must have made the dying man gasp with surprise. For His words simply meant, “I want your company, for you are Mine”.
We know not which to admire most, the grace that could embrace a world of enemies in one great desire, or the grace that could concentrate itself upon one poor sinner to lift him from the dunghill and make him His happy companion for ever! But the way He treated the thief, is the way He treats all who cry to Him. His dealings are individual, personal. The sinner in his misery can say, “He thinketh on me”. It was so with us all. He gave attention to the particular case of each of us, and it seemed to us as we found our refuge and rest upon His breast that we had Him entirely to ourselves. He calls His own sheep by name, it is a way He has always taken, His own blessed way in which is revealed His tenderness and love. BUT IN THESE WORDS TO THE DYING THIEF HE DECLARED HIS WILL FOR ALL WHO SEEK HIM: THEY MUST BE HIS COMPANIONS FOR EVER.
3. “WHEN JESUS SAW HIS MOTHER, AND THE DISCIPLE STANDING BY, WHOM HE LOVED, HE SAITH UNTO HIS MOTHER, WOMAN, BEHOLD THY SON! THEN SAITH HE TO THE DISCIPLE, BEHOLD THY MOTHER! AND FROM THAT HOUR THAT DISCIPLE TOOK HER UNTO HIS OWN HOME” (John 19:26-27)
No more needed to be said in regard to the destiny of those who put their trust in Him, in one sentence He declared His will for them, and that one sentence was enough for the thief; it is enough for us.
Now He turns to another circle. Not to the world that hated Him, nor to the sinner whose desperate need cried for His attention, but to a little group that loved Him. Who can tell with what tenderness He looked upon them? Who can tell what their answering looks of love meant to Him? Singling out His mother and the disciple whom He loved, He declares His will as to them. “Woman, behold thy son.” “Behold thy mother.” And the two dwelt together in one home henceforward. We have no doubt that there is a dispensational aspect to the Lord’s will thus expressed. Mary represented the saints of the dispensation that was fading away, who had looked for their Messiah to bring redemption to Israel. John, who first learned Him to be the Lamb of God, represented the saints of the new and heavenly order whose hopes and joys were to be outside the world in the knowledge of the Father and the Son. Would the Lord abandon those saints who had looked with eager eyes for His coming to hopeless despair, now that their faith was being so terribly tried by a turn of events that they never expected? No, they were to find their refuge and compensation in the new company with its brighter and better hopes, their home henceforward was to be the assembly of God. Hence, though we read of Mary in the first chapter of Acts, before the coming of the Holy Ghost, it is the last time we read of her, for the godly remnant of Israel that she represented becomes merged in the assembly in the second chapter, henceforth to abide in this new and blessed relationship according to the will of the Lord. This, we believe is, undoubtedly, set forth in the fact that John took Mary to his own home.
But there is more in this touching incident than that. No two persons loved the Lord more than Mary and John. Note how they are here described, “His mother” and “the disciple whom He loved.” None would miss Him more than these, no two hearts would be more sorely bereaved; and they were to be bereaved, even though they were to see Him in resurrection, it was only to be for a few days, for He was going out of the world to the Father, and these were to be left behind in it. They would miss Him, and in that they represented all who love Him throughout the period of His absence. One of the great features of this present period is that He is not here, for while “we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord” (2 Cor. 5). Has He thought of this? Yes. He thought of it as He hung upon the cross of Calvary, and there and then He declared His will in regard to it, and indicated what He desired all whom He loved to do during His absence. They were to cleave to one another. He indicated in these words to those two whom He loved so well a new relationship, a bond of love into which all His loved ones were to stand; they were to dwell together, and love one another as those who belonged to one family. THIS WAS THE LAST DECLARATION OF HIS WILL CONCERNING THOSE WHOM HE CALLS HIS OWN.
We do not ask how far we have been subject to His Will in this respect in these days; much has been written and could still be written as to the small place that the Lord’s will for us has had in our hearts and lives, and how little of this oneness and union in love has been seen. We do not dwell upon this here, but desire to be affected both deeply and effectually towards Himself and one another, as we consider this saying in His last will and testament.
Three circles, then, He had thus far thought of.
The world of ungodly men.
Each individual sinner who out of it should call upon Him.
The circle of those whom He loves, who were first in the world, and then were drawn out of it to Himself to find their needs all met in Him, and were finally brought into relationship to each other, because loved by Him.
There was no other circle of men to think of, and having declared His will as to these He turns now from them to seal this testament by His blood.
4. “NOW FROM THE SIXTH HOUR THERE WAS DARKNESS OVER ALL THE LAND UNTO THE NINTH HOUR, AND ABOUT THE NINTH HOUR JESUS CRIED WITH A LOUD VOICE, SAYING, ‘ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?’ THAT IS TO SAY, MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?”
What tongue of men or angels, or pen of ready writer can truly tell the deep mystery that here confronts us. God only fully understands it. The thick darkness that covered the land veiled that centre cross from the eyes of the curious and irreverent, and there the lowly Sufferer was alone, alone with our sins, as the sinner’s Substitute, and the judgment they justly called for. But while no creature in heaven or earth can fathom what this meant to the Lord, yet His cry from out of the darkness is recorded for us, and every word He spoke is necessary for the full revelation of God to us. So we consider these words. My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? Who can answer that question? The Lord Himself; and this He does in Psalm 22 where He says, “But Thou art holy”. The holiness of God demanded that Jesus should be forsaken in those solemn hours. But was not Jesus holy? Yes, He was. To Mary, His mother, Gabriel announced, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also THAT HOLY THING which shall be born of thee shall be called THE SON OF GOD” (Luke 1:35) The very devils confessed His holiness, saying, “I know Thee who Thou art, THE HOLY ONE OF GOD” (Mark 1:24). And as He hung upon the cross He was as holy personally as when He came forth from the Father. “HOLY, HARMLESS, AND UNDEFILED,” He had lived His life amongst men; in Him was no sin, He knew no sin, He did no sin. Then, if God is holy, and Jesus is holy, even as God is, why did God forsake Him when men and devils were all against Him? “He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). This is the answer.
God is revealed in this cry of the Lord, first in His great LOVE, “for God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son”; then His HOLINESS that must put far from Him even His Beloved in that solemn hour when He was made to be sin for us; then in His eternal justice that meted out in full measure the judgment of our sins, so that they might be righteously removed for ever. Every attribute of God was harmonized in that solemn hour, and His nature was fully revealed. And this was necessary, not only for His glory, but also that His will might be carried out in blessing to men. A testament has no force until after the death of the testator, and Jesus must die if His last Will and testament was to be effective, and this was the death that He died. It is because He gave His life a ransom for all, that none can challenge His right to carry out His holy will; upon the righteous basis of His sufferings for sin is every word of it established.
5. “AFTER THIS JESUS, KNOWING THAT ALL THINGS WERE NOW ACCOMPLISHED, THAT THE SCRIPTURE MIGHT BE FULFILLED SAITH, I THIRST” (John 19:28)
For the first time the Lord speaks of His physical sufferings, and His words, ‘I thirst’, seem like a challenge to those who stood around. Had the sight of His sorrow melted their hearts? Had the tears that flowed down the cheeks of the daughters of Zion begun to flow down other cheeks? Was there any relenting on the part of His murderers? Listen to the Lord’s own answer to these questions. “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness; and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. They gave me also gall for my meat; and IN MY THIRST THEY GAVE ME VINEGAR TO DRINK” (Ps. 69:20-21). Here was brought to light what men are; utterly, altogether sinful. No sentiment of pity moved their evil hearts when they stood in the presence of absolute goodness in the extremity of suffering. It was as they would have it, goodness transfixed to a cross, and evil enthroned. Jesus execrated, and Barabbas acclaimed.
“And ’twas for such as these
That Jesus died.”
6. WHEN JESUS THEREFORE HAD RECEIVED THE VINEGAR HE SAID, IT IS FINISHED; AND BOWED HIS HEAD, AND GAVE UP THE GHOST” (John 19:30)
The end had come. He could speak of all accomplished, completed. “Lo, I come!” He had said “(in the volume of the Book it is written of Me) to do thy will, O God”. That will of God was done. He had not drawn back from one step that in God’s counsels it was decreed to be necessary for God’s glory in man’s blessing; and not one word of Holy Scripture as to His sufferings remained unfulfilled. He had revealed the thoughts of all hearts. God was made known in His holiness and love; man was revealed in his hardness of heart and sin, Christ Himself came into full manifestation as the One wholly devoted to the will of God, the absolutely perfect One. Then from lips triumphant He declares His work completed, a work that shall stretch forth unto all generations of the age of the ages, and shall affect every sphere in the wide creation, and every creature in every sphere, from that that abides nearest to the throne of God to the uttermost depths of outer darkness. And when He had so cried, “Behold the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake and the rocks rent.”
7. “AND WHEN JESUS HAD CRIED WITH A LOUD VOICE, HE SAID, FATHER, INTO THY HANDS I COMMEND MY SPIRIT; AND HAVING THUS SAID HE GAVE UP THE GHOST” (Luke 23:46)
This alone remained, that He should declare His unbroken confidence in His Father. He leaves all in His hands. It is in Luke’s Gospel only that this last word is recorded for us, the same Gospel that records the first words of His that are recorded. “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business”. The Father had committed all His work into the holy, dependent, obedient hands of the Man, Christ Jesus, for so Luke’s Gospel presents Him to us. And now when all is done He commits His spirit into His Father’s hands, commits to Him the work He has done and all the results of it, and so He gave up the Ghost.
“Then one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bore record, and his record is true, and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe” (John 19:34-35).
The death of the Testator had taken place, and the testament had been committed into the Father’s hands, and He has answered the perfect trust of His beloved Son by raising Him from the dead and making Him to be the Trustee and Administrator of the Will of God. A most blessed and marvellous thing is this to contemplate, for it means that the Will will be carried out not merely according to the latter of it, but according to the spirit of it also, and that not one jot or tittle of it shall fall.
“TO HIM BE GLORY AND DOMINION FOR EVER AND EVER. AMEN.”