His Last Words For Us

The last seven statements of Christ on the cross express the fullness of both His humanity and His divinity. Commissioner Robert Street leads off this special section of the War Cry this month by pointing out that even as Jesus was enduring an agonizing death, His thoughts were with those He came to save. In the following pages thoughtful writers unpack for us the ramifications of Jesus’ last words as they resonate from that fateful day to include everyone ever born.

By Commissioner Robert Street

By Lt. Colonel William MacLean

By Major Donna Leedom

By Major Barry Corbitt

By Major Kevin Jackson

By Commissioner Robert Thomson

By Captain Scott Strissel

Typhoon Haiyan: Turning Point

It has been just three months since Typhoon Haiyan surged across the Philippines forging a destructive path that destroyed more than a million homes and, according to estimates by the Philippines government, impacted 16 million people, caused more than 6,000 deaths, and left 4 million people displaced.

After Typhoo HaiyanAnd for three months, The Salvation Army has been following in Haiyan’s wake, performing God’s restorative work and comforting His people.In the storm’s immediate aftermath, Salvation Army teams mobilized to provide a wide range of emergency services in the face of overwhelming obstacles. Overcoming damaged transportation routes, the teams delivered food, water and other immediate lifesaving relief supplies to the people of Antique Province and other areas on Panay Island. Packages of rice, noodles and canned goods, and non-food items were distributed to thousands of families on Leyte Island, including the hard-hit city of Tacloban. The Army partnered with the Christian Medical and Dental Associations for the first time. In its first three weeks of operation, the medical team saw 1,495 patients, immunized 942 children and started a dental program. Roofing materials were also given to repair damaged roofs for 3,000 homes that were otherwise structurally sound.

A key turning point for The Salvation Army came during the first week of February, when Colonel Wayne Maxwell, Territorial Commander, Philippines Territory, hosted a pivotal meeting to transition the Army’s immediate relief work to long-term recovery planning. Staff members from International Headquarters’ Emergency Services and Project Development teams facilitated the conference. Territorial officers and lay staff from The Philippines participated, along with representatives from Salvation Army territories and offices involved in relief efforts., These included Lt. Colonel William Mockabee, National Secretary for the Salvation Army World Service Office (SAWSO) and officers from the Australia Eastern, Canada and Bermuda, and Switzerland, Austria and Hungary Territories.

“It is critical for us to bring together key members of The Salvation Army international team to spend time together on the ground here,” said Colonel Maxwell. “This can only help us to understand how we can each best contribute to the larger plan to maximize the impact of resources we have toward this tremendous need.”

As part of the conference, the delegation undertook a field visit to Tacloban to survey the damage and meet with local Salvation Army corps personnel who had been first responders during the crisis. They also had productive discussions with the mayor of the municipality of Dulag and the head of the NGO cluster group in Tacloban that has responsibility for restoring people’s livelihoods.

The team then reconvened to discuss the way ahead, and focused the future of The Salvation Army’s efforts over the next five years into three broad categories – early recovery projects, disaster preparedness, reconstruction and integrated community development. In the first year, priority projects will include providing seeds, tools and fertilizers for coconut farmers and others to rebuild their businesses, replacing boats, motors, nets and other equipment to allow fishermen to return to the searepairing Barangay (village) health stations and promoting health activities through them, establishing livestock lending programs that will increase the number of animals needed for food and farming labor and investing in youth sports ministry programs.

Preparing against future disasters by building a comprehensive disaster management plan and training Salvation Army personnel in its execution is another high priority area. Strengthening response infrastructure will include acquiring new warehouses to store dry goods and purchasing emergency canteen vehicles that can begin immediate service in a crisis.

There is also an emphasis on rebuilding more permanent structures from which to conduct recovery activities now and emergency operations in times of need. Three upgraded community resource centers are planned for Tacloban and Dulag on Leyte Island, and Lemery on Panay Island. The centers, complete with sports facilities and conference rooms, will provide service and education programs.

The integrated community development programs will allow for flexibility and responsiveness as locally formed self-help groups identify emerging needs for comprehensive community rehabilitation in the near future. Rehabilitation activities could include providing roofing, rebuilding livelihoods, disaster risk reduction initiatives, health services, and education programs. The first phase of the program will consist of an assessment for each regional area, starting in Samar and Leyte. A second phase will be conducted in Panay and, if needed, Palawan and Northern Cebu.

Colonel Maxwell has tapped Dr. Miriam Cepe, an experienced community development manager and medical doctor, to oversee the details of all the recovery activities.

“We are committed to providing our best effort—to work hand-in-hand with our Filipino brothers and sisters to restore their lives and livelihoods,” Colonel Maxwell said. “This is the purpose given to us by God that we strive to be worthy of. And it is the promise we offer as an answer to the resiliency demonstrated by the Filipino people.”

By Vince Dickens

Working With Refugees

The woman had fled for her life from Zimbabwe a year ago. She shared her grief for her friends and colleagues. They had been murdered. She was fortunate to have escaped. She shared the sorrow of knowing that her mother is aging and she can’t be there to help and care for her. Will she see her again? The hardship and pain of this young woman’s story was tangible to those of us listening.

We heard Mazvita’s story at the EMBRACE NI Workshops on Refugee Issues at the Salvation Army Family Center in North Belfast, Ireland recently. It was a great opportunity to meet with staff and learn about their work. In recent years the population of Northern Ireland has changed. There are now thousands of people from different countries calling this place home. All have different reasons for migrating here (e.g., to study, to find work or better life). However, a small group of people had to flee their own country because of persecution or a threat to their lives. They came to Northern Ireland to find a safe place; to seek asylum here.

The United Kingdom Border Agency recorded 140 applications in Northern Ireland in 2012, 48 from Somalia, 30 from China, 13 from Sudan. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, worldwide at least 456,000 persons submitted asylum applications in 170 countries or territories in the first half of 2013. Individuals from the Russian Federation lodged one – quarter of all claims.

More than 4,500 Syrians filed asylum claims. The total number of persons seeking protections within or outside the borders of their countries exceeded 5.9 million. Conflicts such as those in Syria, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali forced more than 1.5 million individuals to seek refuge in neighboring countries.

Germany registered 43,000 asylum applications.

The United States was the second most important destination for asylum seekers, with about 37,700 asylum applications in the first half of 2013. Roughly 6,500 of these applications originated from China, 5,700 from Mexico, 2,700 from El Salvador and 2,500 from Guatemala. France received the third most asylum claims, about 29,700, mostly from Serbia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Russian Federation.

Distributing supplies to Syrian Refugees in JordanThe asylum process creates challenges such as coping with trauma, separation from family members, ill health, anxiety about the outcome of the application, limited income, problems with language, bewilderment at trying to understand a different culture, loneliness and isolation and the difficulty of making new friends. Those who find themselves accommodated by The Salvation Army benefit as staff members empathize with the experiences they have had and what it feels like to be a refugee.

During its 150 years of ministry The Salvation Army has served many seeking refuge from manmade or natural crises or disasters. Care and concern for others is the hallmark of its current International Emergency Services program. In December, the Army, in partnership with the Lutheran World Federation, distributed much needed items to Syrian refugees in Jordan and also to Jordanian families who have been adversely affected by the influx of refugees. Under the winterization program families received a gas room heater, gas bottle and coupons for refilling. Hygiene kits containing shampoo, soap, detergent, toothbrushes and paste, as well as hand sanitizer, soap, powder and feminine hygiene items were also distributed. Each family also received a carpet and five blankets and warm clothing for children. The Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization provided safe and secure warehouse space for the products.

By Aneta Dabek


Embracing The Heartbroken

Abandonment is a lonely word… perhaps the loneliest of all. The very thought of the expression points us toward grief. Who among us hasn’t felt its sting at one time or another? Abandonment speaks of sorrow borne of solitude; an aloneness of the forsaken. Its pain is acute and seemingly devoid of healing hope for the deserted. It’s a terrible way to die.

But die He did, this Jesus so familiar to us; this true and proper God–man, the creator and owner of light, in whom existed no trace of darkness. The Scriptures are clear in their description of the end. The words of the divine revelation leave little to the imagination. The picture presented is profane, grotesque in its portrayal of the final moments of His demise, intended for the redemption of humanity.

How many times have we read the account? Not that we would ever, out of religious habit, take for granted the detail recorded in the divine Word, but for a moment, perhaps we could entertain the possibility that the scenario itself is misunderstood. Could it be that our subconscious secretly ponders the scene in terms of a reality from which we are removed by time and distance? The fact that we were not there might soften our perception. The fences that hedge understanding of the deepest things of God are the same barriers that blur our intellectual and emotional vision of a simple and profound possibility…Jesus died of a broken heart.

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Of the few words of record spoken by Jesus on the cross, it is this statement recorded by the gospels that continually perplexes the theologians of history. It is a question wrought with serious implication, our interpretation of which bears the weight of confounding ramifications. I confess that I possess no pretense of proper understanding of things known presently only in the mind of God. To claim relevant knowledge of what Jesus actually experienced in death is an exercise in arrogant speculation. But in our continual, God inspired thirst for insight, the questions must be asked, even if the answers evade us. We need to understand, if for no other reason than to satisfy our hunger to fully know Jesus, even as we are known; to become intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving the wonders of who He is and to share in His sufferings, embracing and taking into our very being the power of His resurrection. Somewhere within the questioning, transformation begins.

Lord, what did You feel on that day? Please help us understand. We only know what we ourselves have felt in times of abandonment. We too have been rejected by those we once thought loyal. We have been betrayed by friends and cast aside on a whim. We have known hopelessness and have called to You in desperation, clinging to shaky faith in hopes that You had not turned Your face away from our pitiless dilemma. In the midst of these valleys, Lord, our lonely path has taken us back to You, always to You, because we believe that You have experienced the grief of eternity’s children. In our faithlessness we long to know our lives are known by You and not forgotten.

We can only imagine the depth of Your sorrow on that day, Lord. Our personal experience speaks to the gulf of sin that separates us from God. And yet, we stumble in our understanding of the possibility that You were separated from the Father as well. It seems illogical to us. We struggle to comprehend the complexity of thought required to imagine that a sinless man could be made sinful in order to atone for our sinfulness, but Your Word (You are the Word) tells us that You took upon Yourself all that pulled us away from the Father. Your death that day was responsible for our reunification, for the restoration of creation’s ideal. It is indeed a mystery that the unifier would suffer rejection at the will of the one who by right calls all of creation back to Himself. Was there another way?

No, there is no other way. The rebellion of mankind is well documented. We have become all that is antithetical of our creator. Our proper fellowship with God was severed in the garden by the simple exercise of disobedient freedom. The broken union needed to be restored. The energy of that restoration could only be provided by One who, before the cross, knew no separation from the Father. In a single act the sin for which we were responsible was placed upon the guiltless One. Our roles were reversed. We were justified, He was convicted. We were reconciled, He was exiled. We were forgiven, He was condemned. He became what we once were and the Father turned away from the hideous sight. When a man becomes all that is opposed to the holy character of God, the only outcome can be agony. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”

The story does not end there. We believe, Lord, it is love that makes these things possible. You love us… He loved us…the triune one loves us! You call us to receive our healing through the One who willingly took our disgrace upon Himself, that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!

By Major Barry Corbitt

A Fate Beyond Suffering

Unlike many other days, this day was oddly different. On our visits to the hospital oncology center, we would usually find it crowded and a bit stressful. This afternoon, only four people sat in the waiting room: my wife, suffering from the effects of cancer and the treatment she was undergoing, me and another woman with her teenage daughter. The girl was clearly in the advanced stages of some form of cancer, bald from multiple chemotherapy treatments and weakened from the effects of this crippling disease, her body requiring the support of a wheelchair.

A nurse came and escorted my wife for her appointment, and soon after another staff member came for the girl. I quickly retreated into the book I was reading, but felt the woman across from me looking around. Exhausted and hoping for some solace and escape in the fiction I held, I continued to feel the eyes of the woman look around the room and finally at me. I glanced up and no sooner did I catch a glimpse of her eyes, she blurted out that her only child was dying from cancer.

I expressed my sorrow over her situation. She continued to speak about the painful journey the two had faced together. I set my book aside and listened. Two people alone in the world—a mother and daughter. A quick, but very late diagnosis of cancer meant certain death for the child. What amazed me about the mother’s story was the suffering she expressed, her words of distress. She stated she was not religious, but someone had given her a Bible application for her smartphone. She fumbled through the buttons on her phone, but either the hospital computer firewalls did not allow a connection to the application, or her distress made it impossible for her fingers to effectively manipulate the correct sequence of steps on her phone. Either way access to this electronic version of the Bible was not available.

Finally she looked at me again and asked if I knew any of the stories in the Bible. I nodded my head. She sat there waiting for me to share with her. I shared a story. Tears were soon streaming down her face. I paused to ask her if she wanted me to continue. She blurted out how she refused to cry in front of her child, she needed to be strong. She said she usually had to cry alone, because she had no one to cry with her. I told her,” I’ll cry with you.” So in that unusually uncrowded waiting room, I joined that distressed mother and cried along with her.

Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ uttered seven last sayings from the cross. “The Word of Distress” was the fifth saying. The story as told in John’s Gospel states that Jesus uttered these words in fulfillment of prophetic passages of Scripture. His words “I am thirsty” in John 19:28 point back thousands of years earlier to Psalm 22:15 and Psalm 69:21. The passages in the Psalms speak of a physical thirst, but Christ’s thirst on the cross moves beyond the physical. Christ’s thirst gives a messianic perspective to His suffering and distress. Christ was dying, and He knew when the moment of death was upon Him, the work God had given Him would be complete.

Jesus’ thirst on the cross brings to mind His arrest when He questioned His disciple Peter, “Am I not to drink the cup my Father has given Me?” Jesus held close the cup of suffering and distress on the cross. His thirst is an acceptance of the suffering, distress and finally death. His thirst was a physical thirst, but more importantly, it was a thirst of obedience to His Father’s will.

John’s account of Jesus’ story is written in an extreme manner. It seeks for us to understand that Jesus was the divine Son of God. The pages of the Gospel of John are rife with theology at every turn. So also is his account of Christ’s death. He provides significant theological and divine importance to even the few words Jesus utters from the cross. When Jesus whispers, “I am thirsty,” we become privy to one of the most intimate situations in the history of humankind: a conversation between God the Father and His dying, divine Son. In some ways we should treat Christ’s time on the cross from a distance, with humility and respect, allowing a Father and Son their final moment.

Yet, our relationship with God doesn’t exclusively work that way. God is not just a transcendent deity, but rather a God who made a choice to become one of us, to dwell and live with us and experience life in its entirety. Inclusive to this life, we experience joy, fulfillment, and happiness. We also experience suffering, distress and thirst. To choose the former, we inevitably gain the latter. Christ’s thirst on the cross was both divine and all too human as well. As much as Christ’s thirst from the cross was about greater things, it challenges us in our humanity to suffering and distress. To reach out in His name to those folks in the margins of our world who are forgotten by most: people who thirst for both physical and spiritual water, water which will give them not only life, but eternal life. It challenges us to reach out to children who need guidance, to the elderly who are alone and yes, to grieving mothers in hospital waiting rooms. We must embrace the cup that the Father has given to each of us and embrace the distress of others as our own, as He did for you and me.

It is no secret that water and thirst are common, both physically and spiritually, throughout the Bible. Possibly no better metaphor exists for us to understand the truths of God’s word. And so it was on Christ’s cross, a distressing cry of thirst, both human and divine.

By Major Kevin E. Jackson

Case Closed

At least six hours had passed on that infamous Black Friday since the cruel spectacle had begun, since the first rusty spike had been hammered through the gentle, tender hands of Jesus of Nazareth.

For six long hours Jesus had hung on the cross, His flesh torn by the weight of His own body, His head aching and bloody, His lungs gasping for air, His lips cracked, His tongue dry. Now He senses that the end is near. He is ready to give His life, which no man could take. The excruciating pain soon will cease. And so He cries “It is finished” and He gives up the ghost.

Blessed relief! The physical pain of six terrible hours, and the mental anguish of a lifetime of misunderstanding and rejection, of opposition and hatred, are over. It is finished!

But is there not something more to His cry than a sense of relief and thanksgiving that His personal torture has ended? Of course there is. While we do not minimize the physical suffering He endured—for He was truly human in every sense— the cessation of pain was not worthy to be compared to the marvelous, matchless provision His death made for you and for me and, indeed, for all mankind.

That cry from the cross undoubtedly has been misunderstood by countless people in all generations. Looking at it from a purely human point of view, it easily could be considered the whimper of One whose plan had failed, whose life was coming to an end of frustration and defeat. Quite the opposite was true. But those whose eyes are blinded can hardly be expected to catch the real significance of the statement.

It is recorded that when Orville and Wilbur Wright finally succeeded in keeping their primitive aircraft in the air for 59 seconds on December 17, 1903, they rushed a telegram to their sister in Dayton, Ohio. The telegram read, “First sustained flight today fifty–nine seconds. Hope to be home by Christmas.” The sister was so excited about the success of her brothers that she rushed to the newspaper office and handed the telegram to the editor. The next morning the headline declared in bold type: “Popular Local Bicycle Merchants To Be Home for Holidays.” The scoop of a century was overlooked because an editor missed the point. And it is tragically true that literally millions have missed the point of the sixth word from the cross.”

“It is finished,” Jesus cried. I believe He intended us to understand that all of the prophecies concerning His life and death had now been fulfilled. Isaiah and Jeremiah, Micah and Zechariah, David and Nathan, Hosea and Malachi, to say nothing of the angel of the Lord and Jehovah Himself, all had foretold many centuries earlier, something about the Messiah.

The Master’s life, and now His death, had proved that God’s Word is true, that the Scriptures are accurate. When Jesus cried, “It is finished,” He also declared that the purposes for which He had come to earth in human form had been completed.

What were those purposes?

Certainly one reason for the Incarnation was to reveal the character of God. “No man hath seen God at any time.” But in Christ, God is made known. Through all the years of His ministry He had displayed the attributes of God. Love, patience, goodness, meekness. Joy, longsuffering, gentleness. Peace, temperance, faith.

Jesus had revealed God as the Father, caring for each of His children, concerned about the needs of every individual, and actively seeking to reconcile those estranged from Him.

Jesus had displayed the omniscience of God, and His omnipotence. He had exhibited the holiness and mercy and love of the Father. He had done it flawlessly. Well could He say of His revelation to mankind of the attributes of God, “It is finished.”

But the supreme meaning of Christ’s declaration from the cross was that the plan and the work of redemption had now been completed. “It is finished,” was not a whine of despair. Rather it was a shout of victory. Both Matthew and Mark record that “Jesus cried with a loud voice.” Here was something for all the world to hear. This was good news that could affect every man and every woman in every generation. Here was something to proclaim from the housetops, to spread quickly around the world.

The sins of the believer—all of them—were transferred to the Savior. Isaiah had declared, prophetically, “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” It is only reasonable that if my sins are on Christ, they are no longer on me.

The glorious truth is that the provision of salvation for mankind was the ultimate purpose of Christ Jesus coming into the world.

“It is finished,” Jesus cried. But there is a sense in which His atoning work is not completed until it is accepted. For me, the life and death of Jesus really are of no effect unless and until I personally accept the provision of salvation He purchased on Calvary.

One of the strangest cases in the history of American criminal justice is that of Martin Dalton of Fall River, Mississippi. His 63–year prison term ended with his death at age 91. The strange thing is that the last 30 years of that term were self–imposed. Repeatedly he had been offered parole, and each time he refused to accept it. The world, he said, had changed too much. The pace of life had increased alarmingly. With no family, no friends, no job, no money, Dalton chose to stay in prison. He was a prisoner by choice.

It is amazing to contemplate that, in a spiritual sense, hundreds of thousands, yea millions of men and women today are prisoners by choice, enslaved to sin and evil. Pardon has been purchased by the death of Christ on the cross. And that pardon is offered to all.

Every provision has been made. There is nothing that need be added or that can be added. No act of heroism, no exercise of self–denial, no offering of sacrifice can be added to the finished work of Jesus. The justice of God is satisfied. The enemy of our souls has been defeated. The atonement has been accomplished.

It is finished.

By Commissioner Robert E. Thomson

Case Open

Jesus was exhausted and near death’s dark door. He had sustained a merciless beating at the hands of the Roman soldiers, the mocking and spitting of the raucous crowd, and now He was nailed to a cross of wood—a criminal’s death sentence. Pain did not adequately describe His torment. He was far beyond the pain threshold and He was fighting for every breath in those final minutes of life.

The scene was not one of beauty, but rather horror. Yet there were onlookers and gawkers alike within the crowd gathered there at Golgotha. Even the name “Golgotha” brought with it a deep foreboding and sense of dread, since it meant “the place of the skull.” Those who were gathered there to watch and participate in the nightmare either laughed wickedly or wept bitterly. “How could God allow this to take place?” some of the disciples who had gathered must have wondered; while others were still hoping for some sort of divine intervention. Yet God seemingly ignored their prayers on this day of death.

Jesus, with blood streaming down His thorn-pierced head and writhing in His torment, attempted to speak one last time.

He had uttered other words through gritted teeth and streaming tears. Words filled with forgiveness and love, of eternal paradise for a thief seeking final relief, yet His final words would break down the doors of sin and death forever. He would cross that thin veil of death and all Hell would quake at His passing. Even nature shook at this declaration as the sun stopped shining and a mile away in the Temple the very veil which separated the Holy of Holies was torn in two. “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”

With these final words of Jesus, complete submission and surrender on behalf of humanity was made plain. He had come because the Father had sent Him. He had healed the sick, brought sight to the blind, and cast out demons. His life and mission was entirely about surrender. Is it any wonder then that Jesus completes His ultimate act of love for the world by declaring His life utterly and completely committed into the hands of His Father? Hours before His death on the cross, He had wept and fought over this decision in the garden, while He vied with His very human flesh to display this complete submission. Yet with finality, Jesus spoke those words, and then He breathed no more, His heart stopped beating, and He died.

What is the measure of our surrender? Can we be bold enough to say as Jesus said, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit”? Not “Father into Your hands I commit some of my spirit” or “A small portion of my spirit” but “I commit all of my spirit!” How committed is our submission to the Father? Jesus’ words to Peter seem haunting in the light of this death scene, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).

Are we willing to completely submit our lives to Him daily and take up our cross? Are we really willing to surrender everything? Jesus’ love for us brought Him face to face with death at the cross and He didn’t back down. As the Apostle Paul states it; “…[Jesus] made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7–8).

Jesus uttered those final words not only as a confirmation of His complete and total submission to His Father, but also that we might understand what holiness and salvation look like. This is our Messiah, Savior of the world laying down His life for us so that we might all experience eternal life with God the Father. May we too be willing to say, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit completely!”

By Captain Scott Strissel

Is That How We’d React?

Forgiveness was at the heart of everything Jesus was, said or did. It still is. He taught it, lived it and died with words of forgiveness on His lips. It defines His ministry. Without His forgiveness there would be no salvation.

Not surprisingly, He expects us to forgive others, too. It is not an “optional extra” or something about which we can be selective. In what has come to be known as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Then He added something else: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (v. 14, 15). Why should we expect to be forgiven by God, if we refuse to forgive others?

If ever we feel like being selective in our forgiving of others, it is worth remembering that immediately after the soldiers had nailed Jesus’ hands to the Cross, His first words were of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). His concern was not about the wrong that had been inflicted upon Him, or even about the pain He was experiencing. It was that those who had done wrong should be forgiven—and know they were forgiven.

Jesus spoke to the Father on behalf of humankind just as He was offering His life on behalf of humankind. While experiencing the worst evil could throw at Him, the people could hear Jesus interceding on behalf of those who not only worked against Him, but who also wanted Him destroyed.

In this prayer, Jesus made it clear that those who had crucified him didn’t actually know the significance of what they were doing—”they do not know what they do.” The chief priests and rulers knew they had planned and manipulated His death, but in their eagerness to be rid of Him they were blindly unaware of the full implications of what was taking place. Would Caiaphas, the high priest, have dared to demand of Jesus, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63), had he realized to whom he was talking?

The soldiers didn’t know they were crucifying the Son of God, though one of them came to that realization later (Matthew 27:54). The disciples, especially Peter, had found it difficult to understand that the Christ would suffer and die. Herod couldn’t see beyond his own importance and amusement. Pilate came closest to seeing something “other” in Jesus, yet gave in to political expediency. The bystanders hurled abuse at Jesus, jeered and mocked Him (Luke 23:35), but had no idea of the significance of what they were saying – “He saved others…”

None of them truly knew what they were doing, and perhaps the same can be said of us with every misplaced sense of our own importance, lack of depth in our understanding of God and inappropriate comments. Yet each of us—if we allow moments of honest reflection—knows enough already to acknowledge that we stand in need of divine forgiveness.

We can be grateful that Jesus made His prayer audible. In one sense, a silent prayer would have been just as effective, but it was important that it was heard. When those involved would later begin to realize the implications of what they had done, they could have been plagued with guilt beyond description—but Jesus had already made provision for them to know they were forgiven. He has done the same for us. The public stating of His prayer was for our benefit – as was everything He said.

Not everyone wants to forgive. Forgiveness is not always readily or willingly given. Sometimes it is not even offered or considered. Vindictiveness takes over and vengeance rears its ugly head—and even those who bear the name of Jesus may find ways of justifying their attitudes and actions. The history of the past 2,000 years provides the evidence. But Jesus demands that we must forgive or forfeit our own forgiveness.

The subject intrigued Jesus’ listeners on more than one occasion. Peter asked how many times he should forgive his brother—seven, perhaps? Jesus’ reply is recorded in Matthew 18:22: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” The actual number is insignificant. The lesson is clear. We are meant always to forgive—and we shouldn’t feel proud when we do it. It is what anyone forgiven by Christ should do naturally, because we are all “unworthy servants” (Luke 17:10).

Jesus’ teaching in Luke 17 emphasizes, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him’” (v. 3, 4). The disciples’ response was simply to say “Increase our faith!” They knew that it is not always easy to forgive, and to keep on doing it demands more than our natural emotional resources, or sense of justice, will allow. They knew they needed additional help—divine grace. It is available to us.

Perhaps some of us find receiving God’s grace equally as difficult. That may be because to receive grace requires humility. It means admitting our inadequacies, our faults, our sins. The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus “humbled Himself” and was “obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). God Almighty knew humility—even humiliation at Calvary—for us. And it was there that He prayed for our forgiveness. Whenever our pride gets in the way of accepting His forgiveness, Jesus’ complete surrender of self reminds us of our place—at His feet.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Thank God.

By Commissioner Robert Street

It Isn’t Over

As Jesus suffered on the cross He wasn’t alone. Many of the disciples were scattered and most of those present at His crucifixion were enemies and strangers. But there among them was some comfort. His mother Mary was the willing servant of the Lord, who accepted the ministry of loving the Babe of Bethlehem into the Man of Galilee. She had a front row seat for all of the action and drama, pondering the events that led up to His arrival in Bethlehem, His teaching and miracles, letting the message of His life touch and transform her own. Though we only get glimpses of their relationship we know that she was there, in the background perhaps, but she was there, at the cross.

It must have been unimaginable, the pain and grief. Not unlike the images we see today of children who suffer at the hands of a sinister illness, their parents standing by grief–stricken as the hopes for their child are altered by cells and systems that fight against them, guilt stricken because it is their own genetic code that has dealt this child a terrible hand. Perhaps Mary struggled in a similar way. Her grief for her Son overwhelming her as the systems of religion and politics worked against Him. I wonder if she also felt the guilt of her “genetic” code in the sins He bore for her and the rest of the human race. God had announced that she would bear a son—and here was Mary, bearing with Him to the end. Loving and serving Him to the end.

But this wasn’t the end. Jesus knew that. It wasn’t the end for Him, and He wanted His mother to know it wasn’t the end for her. It wasn’t the end of her calling to love and serve Him, though the way she would demonstrate that love would certainly change. I like to imagine Jesus’ gaze falling on His mother, and they speak to each other with only a look. Her eyes are full of love and devotion. His are full of hope. With His gaze He leads her on a trail to the disciple He loves. There is the disciple who has stood with the women in fearless love and support of Jesus. There is the disciple who also determined to love and serve Jesus to the end. That is where Jesus leads Mary.

“Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother.”

This wasn’t simply a “take care of each other” deathbed plea. This was Jesus, letting them know that they had loved Him well. This was His love reaching out to them in return. This was a reminder of His words at their last dinner together, “Love each other.” And it was Jesus planting seeds of hope indicating this isn’t the end.

Those of us who have come to what looks like the end of a relationship, whether it be through death, divorce, disease or distance, can certainly identify with those who stand with Jesus at the cross. We have loved and served and now it appears our purpose has ended, faded or diminished. It is over. His words to Mary are also for us. It isn’t over. Look around! Who is it that stands nearby in need of a mother, a son, a daughter or father? In our grief and our loss we are reminded that this isn’t the end. Let Him direct your gaze to those who stand by to be loved by Him through you. Let Him plant the seeds of hope in your heart that they might produce joy in those around you through the love you share in Christ Jesus.

By Major Donna Leedom

He Will Remember You

High against a darkened sky, the instrument of torture is hoisted, bearing its thorn-crowned victim. The ropes are released and, as the timber drops into place, cruel iron spikes tear the flesh of the Son of God. While this tragic event takes place, there is an exchange of words that have a deep meaning for us today.

One of the two criminals hanging alongside curses Him: “Some Messiah You are! Save Yourself! Save us!” But the other quells his ranting: “Have you no fear of God? You’re getting the same as Him. We deserve this, but not Him—He did nothing to deserve this.” Then he says, “Jesus, remember me when YOU enter Your kingdom.” Jesus replies, “Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join Me in paradise” (Luke 39-43, The Message).

The two men who were led out with Him to be executed are described in the Bible as thieves, robbers, transgressors, malefactors. The literal meaning of malefactor is “doer of evil.”

In the face of death the one criminal called out, “Jesus, remember me!” And through His pain Jesus assured him, “You will be with Me.”

Here we have the request of the dying sinner and the response of the divine Savior. To every person who truly repents, who asks forgiveness for past wrongdoing and calls upon Jesus, “Remember me,” He responds, “You will be with Me.”

Jesus is the negotiator between man and God. He is not only God’s means of reaching men; He is man’s way of reaching God! The Son of God came to earth to seek and to save what was lost. Salvation was His mission. God entered our world in human form so that He might reach and teach, serve and save. “He poured out His life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12b).

We don’t know anything about the thief’s background. We know nothing of his past life, his pedigree, his status. Had he been in the crowd when Jesus taught and counseled? Had he repented of his sin while in jail awaiting crucifixion? But of this we are certain: he recognized Jesus the redeeming Son of God and upheld Him when so many others disregarded Him. He realized that he was companioned with the King of Kings, who was returning, to His Kingdom. Raising his voice above the clamor of the spectators he cried out to Jesus, and Jesus received him. He was the last person to be saved by the Savior at the end of His journey as Godman.

That man wasn’t religious. There was not time for him to become religious. He likely had not been baptized or received communion. He probably had not tithed his income. But he entered into a relationship with Jesus, the Son of God. He had not the benefit of traditional religious ritual but he was the beneficiary of sovereign grace. In those dark moments it dawned on him: “I am the sinner; He is the Savior!”

Any fear he had of dying was superseded by an overwhelming desire to acknowledge his sins and connect with Jesus. How many have there been who have been “born again” into the Kingdom as the close of their earthly life drew near. Far better it is to enter into a relationship with Jesus while there are still unspent years for spiritual growth and witness. God will never withhold His unconditional redeeming love at any stage of life. How great is that?

Think of it. He was the lowest of the low. He took from others that which was not His. If “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” this sinner was eons away. But when suspended on a cross he called upon Jesus. The dying Savior closed the gap and welcomed the thief into a relationship with Him. In that moment faith replaced his failure. One of the two most despicable men on the place called the Skull had a massive transformation.

Even as Jesus endured agony on the cross, He heard the sinner’s plea. Even though His bleeding hands were pinned to the cross-bar He reached out with compassion and assurance. “You will be with Me!” One thief rejected; the other received.

The dying thief was representative of us all. The promise of Jesus is representative of His compassion for us all. Billy Graham wrote, “We know that Jesus was the only person in history who was born without sin, who lived without sin and who died without sin.” And yet, He took upon Himself the sin of us all! “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

To any and all who say to Jesus, “Remember me,” God’s Word informs: “You will be with Me in paradise.”

The most convincing proof of God’s love for mankind is that He sent His Son, Jesus the Christ, to show us how to live and to die so that we might have everlasting life. On the cross it was as if Jesus had committed every sin ever committed by every person. Although Jesus was never guilty of any of those sins, God laid our sins on Him. He became the divine scapegoat so that we might be forgiven and redeemed. Jesus bore the punishment we rightfully deserve. There is mercy in God’s love that is greater than our transgressions.

The Savior died for you! He gave His life for the whole world, but if only you could have been saved He would have done it just for you.

Do you see yourself on that sinner’s cross adjoining the Savior’s cross? Do you recognize Him as your only hope of salvation? In your distress and anguish can you call to Him, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And do you hear Him respond, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise.”

Dear reader, you are near to the Kingdom. Seek, find and follow Jesus. He wants to be your Savior and Lord of your life.

The thief was a wicked sinner, but when he called out to Jesus he was assured of forgiveness; he was saved by grace. The thief “saw the light,” acknowledged his sin and his Savior. There is nothing of greater value than our relationship with Jesus. The thief brought nothing to the cross but gained everything. The most awful day of his life became the most excellent day of his life.

By Lt. Colonel William D. MacLean