Suffering Love

Report of Words spoken in Edinburgh.

I invite you to a meditation upon the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ and the grace that was in Him as expressed in the words that He uttered when upon the Cross. An address might appeal to your minds and exercise them, and that would be perfectly right if they were exercised in the truth, but a meditation will appeal to the heart, for when we meditate it is the heart that is engaged.

"Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."

The first word I will read is in 23rd Luke, verse 34. This prayer did not break from the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ when He began His ministry amongst men and when they first of all wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth and then, moved with anger when He applied the truth, led Him to the brow of the hill upon which the city was built to cast Him down headlong. It was not then that He prayed this prayer, but after He had ministered among them for three and a half years; after He had told out His most wonderful love to them in unsurpassable words; when He had blessed their children and fed them when they were hungry, and healed the sick and cleansed the leper, opened the eyes of the blind and raised the dead. When He had gone about amongst them doing good "for God was with Him"; and when, in answer to all that heavenly grace that had been poured out without reserve amongst them, they cried, "Away with Him! Crucify Him!" When they had spat on His scarred face and seamed His back with the scourge and crowned His head with thorns and nailed Him to a gibbet and, not satisfied with that, had sat down to watch His sufferings, to gloat over His anguish and to mock Him, it was then, when the tide of man's hatred rolled upon Him, wave upon wave, that His voice was heard above the storm praying, "Father forgive them, they know not what they do." He might have prayed another prayer. When one of His disciples drew a sword in the Garden of Gethsemane to protect his Master, as he thought, the Lord said, "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?" He did not pray that prayer, if He had it would have meant damnation, it would have meant the blackness of darkness for ever for them and for us. He did not pray that prayer, He waited until they had done their worst and then He prayed, "Father forgive them; for they know not what they do." It was the answer of invincible love to implacable hate, it was the answer of absolute goodness to incorrigible badness, and it was a prayer that was not only made but heard and answered, and the gospel as it goes forth in this world today is the answer to that prayer. In this He expressed His will. I would speak of some of these words at least as the last will and testament of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in this prayer He expresses His will to God — His will for mankind at large. For not only was the Jew there at that Cross, but the Gentile was there as well. Mankind was represented there. The thoughts of many hearts were revealed there and the heart of man in its enmity, against God, in its determination to be rid of God was fully declared, and when it had declared itself so absolutely, so conclusively the voice of Jesus answered in divine, heart moving love, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." When the Lord prayed that prayer He not only looked upon that seething mass of godless men that surged about Him, He looked down through the ages upon mankind to the very uttermost bounds of the earth and He prayed for mercy, for the salvation of men, and the gospel is going forth today as the result of that prayer. And if we have believed it and if we know God as our Father and Jesus as our Saviour and the Spirit of God as our abiding Comforter we owe it to that prayer that Jesus prayed when men had done their worst to Him.

"Verily I say to thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise."

The next saying is in the same chapter, verse 43. You will notice that His first prayer had men in general as its burden but the second saying had one particular individual sinner as its object. From the multitude surging there the Lord turned to this poor wretch, agonising and dying at His side. The heart of the man had been awakened, his soul had been enlightened and he had turned his dying eyes upon this One Who hung by his side and he saw in Him not only glory but grace. He saw glory, for he spoke of His coming kingdom and owned Him as Lord. This Person who hung by his side, put to shame, execrated, mocked and crucified was the Lord, and the dying malefactor recognised that, and he looked beyond the clouds that had gathered so darkly upon Calvary's hill, beyond it all to the Sun-rising, to the time of His Kingdom. But if he had only seen the glory how hopeless he would have been. He not only saw the glory, he saw the grace and so he was emboldened to say, "Remember me." What a "me" he was! Poor drudge of the devil, hanging over hell fire, saturated from top to toe with sin, with nothing to commend him but his need. Yet he presented himself in all his foulness and his guilt and his need to the Lord. Presumption, was it? Nay, it was faith, and it honoured the Lord. Listen to the answer, "Verily I say to thee, this day shalt thou be with Me in paradise." What an answer! An answer of grace to that cry of faith.

I don't know which to marvel at the most, the prayer that was uttered for the multitude or the concentration of grace upon this one poor wretch. What grace! And this is the grace with which the Lord meets every individual who cries to Him.

This world is but a speck in the midst of the mighty universe and there are two thousand millions of people upon it, yet if one sinner cries in faith to Jesus this is the sort of answer He will give. It seems to me that that poor sinner must have felt that he had the Saviour all to himself, and that is what the Saviour means every sinner to feel. But, such a man, so foul, so guilty, having served the devil so long, having to be cast out of the world for his crimes, that man in Paradise! Paradise is a spotless place, holy, stainless! That man in Paradise! Well, of course, if the Lord said, "Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise," if He pledged His word to put that sinner there He would see to making him fit. That goes without saying. Yes, a sinner may feel deeply his guilt, he may be conscious of the foulness of his soul, but if Jesus offers him salvation that sinner may rest with absolute assurance that the Saviour who offers salvation will deal with his sins. So that when Jesus passed into Paradise with this trophy of His grace in His arms, so spotless was he, so fit for that place that not an angel in heaven could challenge his presence there. "The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses from all sin."

"Woman behold thy son." "Behold thy mother."

The third saying is in 19th John, verses 25-27. It is not now the multitudes of godless men, nor the poor sinner needing grace, but here we have the two people who above all people on earth loved the Saviour, His mother and the disciple whom Jesus loved. And as the Lord had expressed His will in regard to men and had expressed His will in regard to one sinner who believed on Him, now He expresses His will in regard to those that love Him. I have no doubt if we look at the passage dispensationally we can see in Mary, the mother of Jesus, the representative of the old dispensation, of that remnant that had looked for the glorious Messiah; and in John we may see the representative of the new dispensation, the Church. That remnant of the old dispensation that had looked earnestly for a glorious Messiah, were they to lose by His death on the Cross? No, they were to be merged into a better dispensation, they were to have their place in the Church, and so John took Mary, the mother of Jesus, to his own home and there she rested and there she dwelt. The chosen remnant of Israel that had faith passed into the Church to share her great and glorious destiny.

But there is something more than that in it and something that should appeal to every one of our hearts. It is as though Jesus said, almost with His last words to those two that loved Him so well, "You love Me, love one another. My will for you is that ye shall love one another. Your love to Me has brought you into relationship with one another." "Woman, behold thy son … Son, behold thy mother." And responsive to that last will and desire John took her to his own home and there she dwelt. They dwelt together in love. Oh, my beloved Christian friends, my own heart is sad as I think of the feeble response those who profess to love the Saviour have made to this declaration of His will.

He has said to you and to me "If ye love Me, love one another. If ye are the disciples whom I love, don't forget to care for one another." John received Mary to his heart and to his home. He cared for her. Are we caring for one another with a love begotten in our hearts by the Lord's own love to us? Are we, as those who profess to know Him, caring for one another? Let us stand by the Cross and consider this. We will not stand with the mocking multitude, we will stand with Mary and John, the beloved disciple, and we will look into the face of our Saviour and hear Him speaking words like these and we will remember that it was prophesied of Him that He should die to gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad. Oh, consider those sufferings! Consider that Cross! Ask yourself the meaning of that Cross and hear its answer. "To gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad." Alas, alas! how lightly we think of division amongst the saints of God! We need the Cross in its appealing power in regard to this question that we may be found more in the spirit of John, who took Mary to his own home. But whatever we think or feel about it we have the Lord's last will and testament here, His expressed desire in regard to those that love Him.

"My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me."

Now, let us turn to 27th Matthew, verses 45-46. This is the central saying of the seven and we can understand why it should be so. Every circle of mankind has been considered, the multitude of men, the individual sinner, those who are saved by the grace of God. Now we have the Lord in the midst of that darkness. He was forsaken. Forsaken by His disciples He had been, and poor, frail, fickle men that they were we cannot wonder; but now we learn He was abandoned by God. "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Can we give an answer to that cry? The Lord Himself gives it in Psalm 22 "But Thou art holy." But, was not Jesus holy? Yes. When announcing His birth the angel had said to Mary, "That holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." And even the devils confessed Him in the synagogue saying, "We know Thee who Thou art, the Holy One of God: " He was holy, harmless, undefiled; this was the testimony of the Holy Ghost to Him.

As He hung upon that Cross He was just as holy as He was when He sat on the Throne and created angels. Just as holy in His perfect manhood as He was in His Godhead glory. Then if Jesus is holy, and if God is holy, what is the meaning of this cry? Oh, my friends, we owe our salvation to it. It is because we were unholy, because we were sinful, because we were far from God and unfit for His presence. It was because of this that Jesus was forsaken for there in that darkness He was made sin for us. He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him and with His stripes we are healed. He was taking up questions that had to be taken up if we were to be blest. If we were to be received into everlasting favour He must suffer in the darkness. Only by His stripes, by His bruising could we be healed — and when we read in the Scriptures of His bruising, don't connect that with the blows that He received from the fists of men or of the nails that pierced His hands and feet. He was bruised physically, but His soul was bruised also. His soul was made an offering for sin. He was there beneath the stroke of Divine justice that God's throne might stand in everlasting rectitude and that His grace might pour out in salvation to you and me. And no tongue of mortal can tell what those sufferings meant to Him, no heart can conceive them. But He suffered there under the weight of God's judgment. God hid His face from Him, He sank beneath those waves of judgment, down, down into depths beneath which there is nothing; down into the ocean of divine wrath against sin that we might be saved, that we might be "brought to God" that we might be made fit for the Father's presence. Thus He suffered! Oh, yes, our Christianity will have no foundation if we pass over this. Any change brought about in our lives that leaves this out will be but a temporary, a superficial change. But if we understand this it will go right down into the very roots of our being and change us there. Oh, my beloved friends, what a consideration, almost too sacred for human comment is that cry that broke from the soul of the suffering Jesus amid the darkness of the Cross. Throughout all Eternity we are going to bless Him for it. He is to be the theme of the ransomed saints throughout those countless ages. We shall never exhaust the theme, we shall never be able to tell out the greatness of it, but blessed be God for the grace that has anointed our eyes and given us to see in that Sufferer upon the Cross the very salvation of God. At that price He has won us; that was the cost. He gave all for us. Oh let us bow this night at the feet of this great Saviour saying, "Lord, I am Thine, I am Thine."

"I thirst."

The next cry is in 19th John, verses 28-29. I think sometimes we forget that the Lord suffered physically, probably as no other could suffer. I remember speaking to a suffering Christian and I referred to the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ and how patient, how submissive He was in the suffering, and the answer I got was this, "Oh, yes, but He was God." But there is one thing absolutely certain, He never used His Godhead power to alleviate His human suffering, and when He cried, "I thirst," we see the suffering Man. The suffering Man in His perfection expressing the fact that He suffered. Was there any relenting in His foes who heard that cry? That cry of distress. Did they relent? Was there any pity, any mercy in any of them? He tells us in the 69th Psalm, that they gave Him gall for His meat and in His thirst they gave Him vinegar to drink; and that that Scripture might be fulfilled, though they did not know they were fulfilling Scripture, with mockery, the sponge was pressed to His mouth. No pity, no mercy for a suffering Saviour. But, may we not see something else in that cry? For what did the Saviour thirst? He thirsted for the love of our hearts — for your love and mine. May we refresh Him this day. May we give an answer to that cry. has He been thirsty for our love? Are there rivals to Him in our affections — the world — self? Oh, let this cry from the Cross search our hearts. He died because He thirsted — because He wanted us. He died because nothing would satisfy His love but having us for Himself for ever. What shall the answer to this cry be?

"It is finished."

The next cry is in the 19th chapter also, verse 30. Now we enter into the triumph. Now, we reach the upward way, the shining way. Every word that had spoken of His sufferings finished, and, though He still had to bow His head and the blood had to flow from His spear-ripped side, as Lord He could speak of it all as done. So we have His triumphant cry, "It is finished." We bow at His feet, who left nothing for us to do who could do nothing. He undertook Himself to accomplish the mighty work and has done it in absolute perfection so that Almighty God can find no flaw in it.

It is finished! Yes, indeed.
Finished every jot.
Sinner, this is all you need
Tell me, is it not?

"It is finished." Triumphant cry! Glorious Saviour! Oh, wonderful Jesus! It is finished! The power of hell vanquished, the work of redemption accomplished, God glorified, salvation open for sinners, blessing for you and for me. It is finished!

"Father into Thy hands I commend My spirit."

The last cry is in Luke 23, verse 46. It is very beautiful that that final cry should be recorded in Luke's Gospel. It is only there, and it is only in Luke's Gospel that we have those first words recorded as having come from the Lord's lips. In Luke's Gospel as a boy of twelve we read He said, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" And that Father's business is unfolded for us in Luke's Gospel. It was a business of grace, pardoning sinners and giving peace and rest to the weary and heavy laden. A wonderful Gospel unfolding the Father's business. And now the Father's business is finished and the One who had accomplished it so blessedly could say, "Father into Thy hands I commend My Spirit." Oh, what must have been the feelings of the Father then? What must have been the joy of heaven then! The suffering over now, the work accomplished and the blessed Workman passing into absolute rest and peace, into the Father's presence. We can rejoice that Calvary closed as far as His words are concerned like that. It is true the soldier had to pierce His side and the blood flow forth from that pierced side, but oh what joy! doesn't it move our souls, to consider Him with His last words commending Himself to the Father? Thank God, we know that He is raised from the dead. We know that the Father Who was so glorified by His suffering on the Cross, raised Him and has seated Him on His right hand in heaven and this we can realise and exult in now, that if He died that His last will and testament might come into effect, He has been raised up from the dead to administer it. His will would have been of no effect if He had not died. It is necessary that the testator should die. But He has been raised up again from the dead that it might be administered, not only in the letter of it but according to its spirit, and that is what He is doing now in the glory and that is what He is going to do when that day of glory dawns for this world and He is owned as universal King, and that is what He will do for ever and for ever. He is the blessed Administrator of the will of God.

The Lord grant that we may linger more often by the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and learn more of the depths of that love which was made manifest there.