The Heart of the Cross

March 29th 2024



The Heart of the Cross

Words matter. From vows on a wedding day, to the stinging curses in the heat of an argument, to the final words of a dying loved one, to the precious words between a parent and a child—the words we speak have great significance and impact.

Jesus literally got to the heart of the impact of words when he rebuked the religious leaders of his day in the following way, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:34–34). Did you catch that? Whatever is in one’s heart spills out of his lips to reveal what’s truly on the inside. Your true self is revealed by what you say.

Why is this important? This month, we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—the pinnacle of human history and the white-hot center of our salvation as followers of him. At his death on the cross, Jesus uttered seven sayings. Since the words one speaks reveal the heart, these sayings get to the heart of why Jesus died on the cross. Let’s look at three of the sayings that appear in the Gospel of Luke to better understand the heart of Jesus’ cross.

Jesus Forgives Any Who Would Believe in Him

In Luke 23:34, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus’ first words on the cross were to make intercession on behalf of the sins of those who were responsible for putting him there. The above heading references that Jesus forgives those who would believe in him. Those who hung him on the cross were not believers but perpetrators, scoffers, and mockers (vss. 35–36; cf. Matt 27:39–44). They were not believers but the opposite. Fast forward to Pentecost in Acts, chapter two, just a couple months after that fateful Friday when Jesus died. Peter preaches to a large crowd outside the temple in Jerusalem and called out the sins of the people and especially those responsible for Jesus’ execution. In an answer to Jesus’ prayer, many of these who were actually responsible for Jesus’ death—the very ones he prayed for—became believers by repenting of their sins, receiving forgiveness, and were then subsequently baptized (Acts 2:23, 36–39; cf. 6:7).

Jesus went to the cross to save sinners. He even went for those who put him there. These are arguably the worst of sinners. The fact that they actually did not really know what they were doing in killing Jesus did not excuse them. Paul says of their ignorance, “None of the rulers of the is age understand [the extent of what they were doing in killing Jesus], for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8). Their power-mad, prideful, self-righteousness blinded them to what they should have known—that he was their Messiah.

There are two extremes that would lead to two wrong responses for those today. One person might say, “Well, Ididn’t kill Jesus, I’m not that bad.” A second person might say, “Yes, I know I am a sinner, but my sins are worse!” In either case, they need to know, there are none who are sinless (Rom 3:23), and there are none beyond God’s mercy and grace (Rom 3:24; 1 John 1:9). Jesus’ words on the cross reveal this, especially the forgiveness offered for the worst of sinners.

Do you recognize your need? Do you know that Jesus’ death on the cross was sufficient to forgive the worst of sins, including yours? Listen to these encouraging words from the author of the book of Hebrews: “Consequently, [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (7:25). The right response? Draw near to God today by faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus Assures Salvation for Those Who Believe in Him

In Matthew’s gospel, Matthew revealed that both robbers, who were crucified along with Jesus on his right and left, reviled him at the beginning of the crucifixion (Matt 27:44). As time went by, Luke records only one of the robbers reviling Jesus, with the other one having had a change of heart, even to the point of rebuking the other thief for reviling Jesus (Luke 23:39–41). This thief asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus went into his Kingdom (v. 42).

What happens next is perhaps the most astonishing moment of grace and the most assuring promise given to an individual who encountered Jesus. Jesus said to the thief, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43). This thief, who was dying for his crimes, recognized his sin (v. 40–41), recognized Jesus’ sinlessness (v. 41), and recognized that Jesus was the One who had been promised to save his people. Because of his faith, Jesus assured him that he would be with him that very day in paradise. Jesus gave him the promise of salvation.

This promise from Jesus is so assuring because there is literally nothing that this thief could have done to earn salvation. Salvation is truly by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and this thief’s story stands as a testimony to this reality. What we learn is that Jesus actually saves sinners. Do you recognize your need of salvation? Do you recognize that Jesus alone can save and that there is nothing you can do to earn salvation? Let this thief’s story be an encouragement to you of the assurance you can have by placing your faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus Secures Salvation for Those Who Believe

Jesus’ final words on the cross, before his death, finished as it had begun, with a prayer to the Father. Here’s what Luke says: “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ ” (v. 46). Jesus’ final words give a sense of completion of what he had come to do, especially in dying on the cross.

The Father had sent the Son, and the Son had come to do the Father’s will (John 6:38–40). What was it that he came to do? There is no speculation because the Bible has made it crystal clear. Jesus came:

  • To fulfill the law and the prophets (Matt 5:17; Luke 24:44).
  • “...not to be served but to serve...” (Matt 20:28).
  • “...to give his life as a ransom for many...” (Matt 20:28).
  • “...to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
  • To be the light in a dark world (John 1:4–5, 12:46).
  • To give abundant life to believers (John 10:10).
  • To reveal the glory of God (John 11:14, 40).
  • “...to give eternal life...” (John 17:2).
  • “...to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37).
  • To be born in the likeness of men (Phil 2:7).
  • To make propitiation for the sins of the people (Heb 2:17; 1 John 4:10).
  • “...to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
  • To reveal the Father’s love (1 John 4:9).

So the question is, did Jesus do it? The answer is, “Yes!” Just before he uttered these final words, Jesus declared, “It is finished!” What did he finish? Those words literally mean, “Paid in full.” Jesus had paid the penalty of sin and had paid it in full. Jesus secured all that he came to do in saving those who would believe in him. It is this security which in turn forgives and assures sinners as they place their faith in him.

Conclusion

These three sayings of Jesus from the cross reveal the very heart of Jesus. These words help us understand that Jesus forgives those who place their faith in him, that this salvation is assured, and that Jesus secured all that was necessary to actually save those who would ever believe in him. The question that remains, then, is this: Do you believe in him? If not, why not today? If you already do believe in him, be refreshed in your faith as you are reminded of the wonderful work Jesus completed for you on the cross. Let the heart of Jesus’ beat steadfastly in you as you trust him day to day.

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Author: Todd Burgett

Todd is married to Lisa and they have 3 adult children. He has been pastoring since 1995 and joined the RBC pastoral team in 2022 giving oversight to several ministries including the Redeemer Training Center. Todd went to The Master's Seminary where he graduated in 2021 with an advanced degree in expository preaching.