The whole story of Jesus has been about the coming of the perfect son who would bring forgiveness to his new human race, but how can he bring forgiveness to people who are deserving of death? Here at last as we see Luke’s account of the cross we’ll find our answers.
WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?
Jesus’ death is the focus of all four gospel accounts. Jesus has been walking towards his death since Luke 9 when he set his face to Jerusalem. And the Old Testament has spoken that this must happen. Luke tells the account of the cross broadly in the same way as the other two Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Mark do. But there are differences which highlight particularly what he wants to emphasise about Jesus. These three gospels are called The Synoptics and have strong similarities – whereas John’s account is substantially different. All the events recorded at the cross happened, but each writer selects their material to show us a particular aspects of what the cross means.
"Why did Jesus die?" is one of the most important questions to be able to answer. Mark, Paul, Matthew, John, Peter, Moses, Isaiah would all give us different (though complementary) answers... how would Luke particularly answer? Much common ground but what would he specifically draw our attention to?
Comparing what's common to Mark, Luke and Matthew, what's distinctive to Mark and Matthew, and what's unique to Luke reveals he reports:
The Weeping Women (27-31)
The Two Criminals (32-33, 39-43)
Reference to His Father (34, 46) (contrast Jesus’ prayers in Mk & Mt)
We see of the response of the weeping women. Jesus has time for outsiders like this but his focus is to warn them. He warns them because if such things as his death can happen in days of green trees they should weep for what’ll happen in the days of dry trees. This might be reference to final judgement or to the destruction of Jerusalem, or the persecutions of the church. Jesus is warning that people are walking in the shadow of death and only the rising sun of Jesus’ gospel can bring any hope. Jesus is warning - look at what happens to the innocent son of God... how much worse for the rest of us when judgement comes. Hide in the son!
Luke uniquely includes the story of the two criminals crucified with Jesus. Here are two men dying who deserve to – unlike Jesus the Son. One of them sees that unlike Jesus he deserves to die and so asks for mercy. Jesus promises him, “Today you will be with me.” Jesus’ mission has always been about bringing those who will receive mercy to be with him. The story highlights that Jesus the innocent dies in the place of the guilty, and this is what secures our forgiveness. Come be with Jesus, the crucified one invites us.
Mark and Matthew tell us of Jesus’ cry of dereliction, citing Psalm 22, that he is forsaken by his God. Luke instead tells us that he twice prayed to his Father. Where Mark tells us of a loud final cry, and Matthew of a loud final voice... Luke says Jesus prayed Father. The accounts agree, it's just that Luke reports the words not just the sound. The emphases here are on Jesus asking his Father to forgive and Jesus’ willingness to die, as he entrusts his spirit to his Father.
Father prayers are typically Lukan...Luke is all about the Father and his Son. Jesus the son in his Father's house. Jesus the son who reveals his Father, and delights to speak with him, who loves to introduce his friends to his Father and their Father... who cried out to his Father in pain in Gethsemane, now prays to his Father for our forgiveness, always entrusting himself to his Father.
The cross in Luke is about innocent Jesus receiving the death we deserve, a warning of worse days to come, and shows us that this is the united purpose of the Father and the Son, to forgive us and bring us to know them.
In 23v45, Luke tells us not just that things go dark but that "the sun stopped shining". In 1v77-78 the Spirit speaks through Zechariah (and Luke's reporting) to tell that the coming of Jesus is like the sun rising bringing forgiveness. Now the sun stops shining. But when it rises on Sunday morning it'll be to spread its warming beams of mercy across the earth, as the good news of forgiveness is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit to all peoples. Feel the sunshine of the gospel...