10/14/2013 12:05:00 PM
When I was in my 20s, the world of contemporary Christian music was both smaller and more genre-inclusive
than it is today. One of the more popular Christian artists at that time was Don Francisco, who brought
a folk-music sensibility to Gospel narratives. He’s probably best known for “He’s Alive,” the story of
the first Easter morning written in the voice of the apostle Peter.
Another essential Don Francisco song, “Too Small a Price,” has come to mind frequently since I began writing
my new book, “The Cross: One Man…One Tree…One Friday.”
The epic song
(there’s a version here
) is an account of the crucifixion told in the voice of one of the thieves who was
executed at the same time as Jesus. Specifically, he was the one to whom Jesus said (in Francisco’s lyric),
“Before the sun has set today, you'll be with Me in Paradise.”
Last words are important, aren’t they?
As I note in the book, the seven sayings or “seven last words” Jesus spoke on the cross are of monumental
importance in part because they were the last words anyone heard Him speak before the resurrection:
When someone is loved greatly, that person’s final words become something to be treasured. So what of our beloved
Lord Jesus’ final words? Of course, every recorded word Jesus spoke in his brief life on earth is of great value
to us. We rightly study them. We parse and mine them for meaning. In them we seek direction for our lives and
comfort for our souls—and never fail to find both.
Oh, but those lovely words gasped from that angry cross . . . those seven brief statements—one of them comprised
only of two single-syllable words . . . those words uniquely distinguished by the unusual context—in which
they were uttered, so cherished beyond measure. They are rendered incalculably precious by the price He paid
to utter them. We caught a fleeting glimpse of that price in the previous chapter. There we discovered that
for a crucified man to speak anything at all from his torturous cross required almost unthinkable effort as
a consequence of the compounding of pain upon pain. Surely, these are words that merit our closest attention.
The first utterance, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” was as much an expression of
who He is as what He prayed to the Father. What an example He set for the rest of us! How can we withhold
forgiveness from those who have wronged us, knowing that Jesus proactively forgave His executioners?
I believe forgiveness is both one of the most important signs of spiritual maturity of the Christian and the
most difficult to master. Often we let offenses linger out of a sense of righteous indignation, and because
it can be a built-in excuse for our failures.
I know a man who worked alongside our Center for Moral Clarity several years ago. He endured an
extraordinarily difficult relationship with his father as a child, and also lived as a homosexual for roughly
20 years. Some persistent saints at my friend Darlene Bishop’s Solid Rock Church in Ohio discipled the man,
and ultimately led him to Jesus Christ. Though he made, and kept, a commitment made shortly after his conversion
to forsake homosexual behavior, he found himself still attracted to men. About this time, his father’s health
began to deteriorate.
His friends at Solid Rock, as part of the process of discipling him, also visited the father in hospice care.
Ultimately the father was also saved shortly before his death, and he and his son were able to profess love
for each other as well. Then, after giving the son a period of time to grieve, those discipling him lovingly
but persistently convinced him to he forgive his father for every offense the father had committed against the son.
Our friend, the grieving son, started the process by making a list – a long list – of offenses, and he began
working through them. As he forgave his father for an offense, he scratched it off the list. Weeks later, he
came to the end of the list – and his same-sex attraction was gone.
The thing we often forget about forgiveness is that it’s something we do for ourselves. As a practical matter,
when we fail to forgive we let the offense rule our thought life. Who needs that? Forgiveness is freeing.
Its benefit in that regard is worthwhile even before you consider the impact our forgiveness has on our witness
to others, including the forgiven. I will always be thankful that Jesus modeled forgiveness at the cross!
The seven sayings comprise, perhaps not be a complete essential Christian theology, but a great beginning
toward compiling one. His last words, preserved decades later by the Gospel writers under the direction of
the Holy Spirit, have been preserved for all time. They represent some of the most compelling reflections in
all of human history. It’s one of my favorite sections of “The Cross: One Man…One Tree…One Friday,” and I look
forward to hearing your feedback about it.