The Cries of the Christ From the Cross
Robert L. Moyer, D.D.,
Author of “Christ in Isaiah Fifty-Three” Dean of the Northwestern Bible School and Northwestern Evangelical Seminary
“Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul.” Heb. 6:19a
I. FIRST CRY 4
II. SECOND CRY 16
III. THIRD CRY 28
IV. FOURTH CRY 41
V. FIFTH CRY 56
VI. SIXTH CRY 66
VII. SEVENTH CRY 79
In days of stereotyped thinking, when almost every utterance is a repetition of something that has oft been said before, it is refreshing to meet a stream of originality. Those of us who know and love Robert Moyer, however, could expect nothing less than brilliant originality when he puts his thoughts in the concrete form of a printed page. The student of the Word of God will find food for meditation in these paragraphs from his gifted pen. There is no man in America whose works and words should count more for the spread of God’s kingdom in the hearts of men, than the man whose writing you now hold in your hand. It is our hope and confident trust that this volume is but the first of many that shall come from this source. If this hope is fulfilled, the religious thinking of America is about to be enriched with the infusions of a choice soul expressing itself through the medium of print. May the blessing of God rest upon the heart and life of every reader of these pages.
“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
– Luke 23:34
Calvary! Golgotha! The agony of the Garden is past; the cruel scourging is past; the wearying cross-bearing is past; our Lord has been led to the place called Calvary – to Golgotha – to the place where was enacted the most momentous and tragic event in the history of the universe – led there like a lamb to the slaughter. Four barbarous executioners laid rude hands upon the Holy One of Israel. They stripped His clothes from His body and left Him clothed alone in thorns and blood; they roughly laid Him on His cross of wood and forced His arms upon the beam; they nailed Him there with hammer and spike, the swinging hammers sending the piercing spikes through the quivering flesh of the Son of God; they made fast both hands and feet; they placed the foot of the cross into the hole dug for it and lifted up the accursed tree on which hung the crucified Lord of Glory. Then it was that our Saviour spoke: “Father. forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is the first of the seven savings of our suffering Saviour, spoken from the place of sacrifice – His cross.
The very first word that came out of Christ’s torture and agony was “Father.” Historians tell us that the frenzied victim, in the moment of crucifixion, would shriek and curse and spit at his executioners. Not so here! Instead of cursing, Christ’s first utterance was a prayer; His first word, “Father.”
That first word was a word of relationship. The word “father” is not always used in Scripture as we use it today. That it does not always mean origination, or mere descent, is indicated in “sons of consolation: sons of disobedience,” etc. It is a word that suggests relationship. Many times in Scripture Jesus Christ is called the “Son of God.” in the sense that implies sameness of nature with the Father. That something unique lay ln the title “Son of God” seems evident from the following: “The Jews sought the more to kill Him… because He said … also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18). “God sent forth his Son.” These and many other passages clearly imply a sonship prior to the Incarnation. We cannot limit that sonship to the Incarnation. In one sense Christ has no brethren; He stands alone, unique, solitary. There was never a time when the Father was not Father, when the Son was not Son. John 1:12 and 18 distinguish between the only begotten Son of God and the many children of God. become sons in time.
That first word was a word of trust. Out of the tumult around the cross came the cry of raillery, “He trusted in God!” and the very first word He spoke declared the taunt to be the truth. No matter what the experience into which Christ came, this was always in His heart: “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” Jehovah made Him to be a curse for us, but that act did not impair His confidence in His Father. He did not question the Father’s will, nor challenge His righteousness. There was no faltering in the spirit of sonship. His faith was unshaken.
That first ward was, a word of communion. The word “Father” which sprang from His lips indicated a communion with the Father which was close and habitual. “Evidently it was because prayer was the natural language of Jesus that at this moment it leaped to His lips,” says Stalker. He walked in an unbroken fellowship with the Father. How wonderful to walk in such constant fellowship that the first thought is always of Him!
That first ward was, a word of service. It speaks of loving obedience to the Father. It gives the true ideal of work. Sons are better servants than slaves. The keynote of our Lord’s life was that of service to be rendered unto the Father. As a lad of twelve He asked the question: “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” No utterance could more completely or beautifully sum up His whole mission, which had centuries before been written “in the volume of the book” concerning Him: ‘‘Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God” (Ps 40:7; Heb. 10:7). During the agony and sweat of Gethsemane He had said, “Father… not My will, but Thine be done,” and now as He endured the agony and the shame of the cross to do that will, He said again, “Father.”
The petition was “Forgive them. It is striking that this Man, either in life or death, never said, “Father, forgive me.” Forgiveness is the great need of man. Not only sinful men, but holy men also from the beginning of time of man, have so prayed. The greatest Christian who ever lived! near the end of his life said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” But Jesus Christ had no such need, since He was without sin. He was the sinless Man. The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all, because there was in Him no iniquity at all. No sinner could ever be the sin-bearer.
The petition was one of love. He could have let loose the thunderbolts of wrath to smite by the word of His mouth, just as easily then as in the later time of which we read: “Out of His mouth goeth sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations” (Rev. 19:15). He might have pronounced anathemas upon them, with a prayer that the wicked be rewarded according to their wicked deeds, but instead of that He opened lips of pain to utter words of redeeming love. He exemplified His own teaching: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.” He practiced what He taught. Revenge is natural to the human heart, but love is the hear of God. Such love as is revealed in the words of Christ is not a natural love, but a love which is of God alone, a supernatural, a divine love. Krummacher has written that “even hell risen must have justified Him in forever renouncing the redemption of such a race as the descendants of Adam,” but instead “He takes these miscreants in the arms of His compassion, and bears them up the steps of His Father’s throne, in order to commend them to His mercy.” Jerdan says: “No sooner is the Just One nailed to the accursed tree than His heart overflows with pity for His murderers; and, oblivious for the moment of His own anguish, He endeavors to fling Himself between these men and their guilty doom.” This is “love divine, all love excelling.” Is not this love a convincing evidence of the deity of Jesus, our Lord?
The petition was one of purpose. That purpose was expressed in the words: “Forgive them,” for only through the cross could God forgive sin. Before the cross forgiveness of sin was granted only because God’s eye was always upon that cross. Sin is rebellion against God’s will and disobedience to His law. Sin is universal, except in the case of the virgin’s Son Who, though in all points tempted like as we are, was without sin. Sin involves condemnation; it deserves the wrath of God. Our God is holy and just, and can have no part with sin, and no place for sin. If God could compromise “with sin and fellowship with the sinner, He would be no more God. In such a case His righteousness would be a joke, nothing more. “There is forgiveness with God,” but only because God provided a “substitute to bear the sinner’s condemnation. Forgiveness in the Bible, in both Testaments, is always on the ground of the blood, which fully meets every claim of God’s justice and holiness. God remits the penalty of sins to the sinner because that penalty was borne by the Saviour. It is impossible to be true to the Word of God and to separate forgiveness from the sacrifice of the cross. Forgiveness is offered through His blood; that is, His Sacrifice. Our Lord taught this truth as He prepared to go to the cross: “This is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission” – forgiveness – “of sins” (Matt. 26:28). George F. Pentecost sets forth the relation of forgiveness to the sacrifice of Christ in an allegory, in which he pictures the great love of the heart of God seeking to bestow upon sinners His gracious forgiveness: “In order to make this grace known to us, God sent His only, begotten Son with the message and the proclamation. On His way from the bosom of the Father, He was met by Justice, who protested against His mission to sinful men on the ground that they were transgressors of the eternal law of righteousness, the penalty for which is death. This penalty is in the nature of things and cannot be revoked. God Himself cannot annul it, and therefore His forgiveness, however it may burn in His heart, cannot go forth to the guilty sinner, who is doomed to death and must die. In vain did Mercy plead for the sinner: Justice was inexorable, not out of mere hardness, but because of eternal righteousness. If sin should go unpunished, the very foundation of the moral universe would be weakened, and the character of God compromised. ‘Human sin, so far as it extends, aims to defy established authority,’ and, unchecked in its effect, would reduce the moral universe to chaos. Sin would in the end dethrone God Himself, unless it were restrained and dealt with by the righteous condemnation of the law. To this plea Mercy could make no answer, and would of necessity have given up the controversy, had not the Wisdom of God brought a solution to the apparently hopeless antagonism between Mercy and Justice. Wisdom, at once sympathizing with Mercy, and approving the inexorable protest of Justice, proposed this as a reconciliation: That the eternal Son of God (assuming by Incarnation the nature of man, and consenting that the sins and iniquities of the race should be laid upon Him) should become ‘sin for us,’ and as our substitute, ‘bear our sins in His own body on the tree’; that the voluntary sacrifice and offering of Himself under the law to God should be full and satisfactory settlement of the law’s demands against the guilty sinner; and that on the ground of this sacrifice every sinner accepting it should receive the free forgiveness of God. This counsel of Wisdom being tried in the balance of Justice (in which there is no vindictiveness), and subjected to every test of the divine holiness, was gladly acceded to by Justice as well as Mercy. Hence the Son of God continued on His course to this world, bearing God’s forgiveness, and put away man’s sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Thus did Mercy and Truth meet together, and Righteousness and Peace kiss each other, over this scheme of redemption.” Major Whittle quoted this: “In Aberdeen a young man eighteen years old said: ‘I am saved by the justice of God. By the justice of God I was condemned; by the justice of God, Jesus Christ becoming my substitute, I died upon the cross and I am saved by the justice of God’.” This is the amazing truth. We have a just God and a Saviour. It is true, too, that “the Lord Jesus did not die to make God willing to forgive, but to make possible in righteousness that forgiveness.”
“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.”
“Forgive them” was the petition of One who heretofore had Himself said, “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” He does not exercise that divine prerogative now, for He is on the cross in the sinner’s stead. He had “power on earth to forgive sins,” but now He is “lifted up from the earth,” no longer in the place of authority, but in the place of the condemned.
This petition was all-inclusive. We need to remember that forgiveness through the sacrifice of the cross embraces the whole register of sins. Christ’s work on the cross was not only in behalf of those who committed the murderous crime of nailing Him to the cross, for He is the “propitiation…. for the sins of the whole world.” It was “the world” that God loved when He sent His Son. It was the iniquity of the “world” that was laid upon Him, from the first sin to the last. Christ bore all sins, past, present and future, so that forgiveness covers them all. Christians are sometimes very thoughtless or ignorant about this. Too many times we seem to have the idea that Christ died for all of the sins which we have committed up to this present moment, but we are hazy about the sins we may commit in the future. The fact is, all of our sins were future when Christ died. We had, not committed a single one of them. Our faith in Christ brought forgiveness for all of our sins – not a single one excepted. A Christian is a forgiven person. That is why it is written, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” “No condemnation” because all transgressions are forgiven. Tins fact ought to stir our hearts, and inspire us to live wholly for Him
The plea appended to the petition was: “For they know not what they do.” The soldiers, the people, the rulers, the Sanhedrin – all were included in this plea. It is literally true that in acting as they did, in rejecting and crucifying the Messiah, they knew not what they were doing. They knew, of course, that they were crucifying a man, but they had no conception of the divine origin and dignity of their victim. They believed Him to be an imposter. That is what Peter meant when he said, “Brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers” (Acts 3:17). Later, Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, spoke of the ignorance of the “princes of this world” in the same connection, saying, “Had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (I Cor.2:8)
Bishop Ryle’s words on this phrase are worthy of note: “We must beware of supposing that ignorance is not blame-worthy, and that ignorant persons deserve to be forgiven their sins. At this rate ignorance would be a desirable thing. All spiritual ignorance is more or less culpable. It is part of man’s sin, that he does not know better than he does. His not knowing God is only part of his guilt. On the other hand, we cannot fail to observe in Scripture that sins of ignorance are less sinful before God than sins of knowledge, and that no case is apparently so hopeless as that of the man who sins wilfully against light.”
Sin is always sin before God, whether committed ignorantly or wilfully. “Sins of ignorance need atonement just as truly as do conscious sins. God is holy, and He will not lower His standard of righteousness to the level of our ignorance. Ignorance is not innocence,” says Pink. In the Mosiac ritual God made provision for atonement for sins of ignorance. They were neither ignored nor unatoned.
Is it not true that all of our sins have in them the element of ignorance? In the Church, Saul of Tarsus, like his predecessors, persecuted Christ, who said, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” After his conversion Paul wrote: “I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (I Tim. 1:13). Unbelief is the result of ignorance. Gill says, “Our Lord does not mention the ignorance of those He prays for as a plea for pardon, but as a description of their state.” This was the past state of all of us; it is the present state of all who are unbelievers. Ignorance never gave us a claim on God, but it did put us within the range of His mercy.
To the one who might say, “It is not fair for God to condemn us for what we have ignorantly done,” we reply that we have knowingly committed enough sins against God, against light, to condemn us a thousand times over.
“They know not what they do,” also indicates their ignorance of the fact that they were fulfilling the Levitical economy in the offering of their sacrifice. The sinful Israelite not only brought his offering to the door of the tabernacle; he also (not the priest) killed it (Lev. 1:7). So these who put Christ to death were unconsciously providing their sacrifice, thereby rendering it possible for God to have mercy upon them without detracting from His justice.
With this prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what, they do.” Christ. began the saving work of two thousand years. As soon as the blood of the sacrifice began to flow, the saving work began. The Father’s reply to the prayer was salvation to thousands of Christ’s enemies within a few days, and forty years’ respite before Jerusalem was destroyed. The saving work, however, has gone on down through generation after generation until here in the twentieth century it has included me. Has it included you?
“Thy grace alone, O God,
To me forgiveness speaks;
Thy power alone, O Son of God,
Can this sore bondage break.”