Jesus’ prayers from the Cross

Sermon Date: 
22 Apr 2011
Bible Base: 

David Jeans

Last night and tonight we are focussing on Jesus’ prayers; last night his prayers on the night before he died; tonight his prayers on the cross. On Sunday we will be celebrating God’s answer of ‘yes’ to those prayers through the resurrection – but that is Sunday, and it is still Friday – but Sunday’s coming!
As we saw last night, in the extreme stress of the hours of his death, Jesus’ prayers reflect the solid ground upon which he stood himself. His life was built around three foundations:
his love and obedience to his Father;
his love for his disciples;
and his love for a sinful world
We see those same foundations tonight as we saw last night.
The last prayer Jesus prayed on the night before he died was a prayer of healing for an enemy – the servant whose ear had been cut off by one of the disciples. The first prayer from the cross is also for enemies – Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. It’s a remarkable prayer. It embodies all that Jesus taught about loving your enemies.  He doesn’t pray it because these soldiers took any particular notice of him, or were in any way kind to him – just another execution to them, just another act of casual unthinking cruelty in the service of the state. He doesn’t pray it because they deserve it – he just prays it. And maybe that prayer includes us in our casual, unthinking sinful acts too. He prays Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing for us also.
Then there is the cry of anguish from the cross – my God, my God, why have you forsaken me. “The Father turns his face away”. This prayer encourages us to be honest with God in our prayers. But it also is the most mysterious prayer in the Bible. Something goes on between Father and Son in which Jesus becomes the ‘godforsaken’ God. Bearing the sin of the world causes a profound rupture in the relationship between Father and Son; in Jurgen Moltmann’s striking phrase it sets God against God. God becomes godforsaken so that we do not have to. The foundation of Jesus’ life was his relationship with his Father –on the cross that relationship is shattered. In a sense when love for a sinful world is in competition for love of Father for Son and love of Son for Father it is love for a sinful world which wins.
Then there are kind words for a fellow victim which are I think words of prayer. ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’. The godforsaken God remains true to his character of loving a sinful world. At either end of his suffering on the cross Jesus’ prayers embrace both the fellow-victim and the executioners – those done wrong to and those who are wrong-doers. Moltmann – who was a German who fought in World War 2 and became a Christian in a British POW camp – writes astonishingly about the way the cross is for both the wronged and the wrong-doers. He says that the cross and resurrection say
that the executioners will not triumph over their victims. It also says that the victims will not triumph over their executioners. The one will triumph who first died for the victims and then also for the executioners, and in so doing revealed a new righteousness which breaks through the vicious circles of hate and vengeance and which from the lost victims and executioners creates a new mankind and a new humanity.[1]
In the despair of feeling godforsaken or of being in godforsaken places or situations we can know that God himself has been there and has overcome. In the guilt of being a wrong-doer we can know that Jesus on the cross prays for our forgiveness and brings our forgiveness; in the face of being wronged and in the face of death we can know that Jesus on the cross prays for our release and brings us to eternal life. When we stand on either side of a conflict we can know that Jesus on the cross prays for both sides and can bring us together in him.
The final prayers on the cross are a prayer of accomplishment in John – it is finished – and a prayer of profound trust in Luke – Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. The godforsaken-ness may continue into death, but Jesus no longer cries against it; rather he commits himself to the love of his Father even in the absence of any conscious sense of that love. It is a prayer of pure trust, prayed out of love in the face of circumstances which question the very existence of that love.
The prayers on the cross reflect the dark reality of what was happening – but they embrace us when wronged and when doing wrong; and they encourage us to trust God even in times of feeling godforsaken.
And we look forward to Sunday when by the resurrection God the Father says ‘yes’ and ‘amen’ to all the prayers of Jesus – and not just his prayers for those actually at the cross on that first Good Friday but also his prayers for us two thousand years later.

[1] Jurgen Moltmann The Crucified God