Dying to Speak

The Bible is full of speech. We hear a host of human voices as the Bible records the words of kings and queens, fishermen and shepherds, patriarchs and priests, prophets and prophetesses. We can even read the words of demons and Satan himself!

Yet, when Jesus speaks in the Bible, something is different. He speaks as “one with authority” (Matt. 7:29), one for whom large crowds gathered, one whose every word was scrutinized by the religious authorities of his time. Everyone who heard him speak seemed convinced that his words were significant, whether they were receptive or hostile to his words. He is even called the Word of God (John 1:1), and Peter declares that he has “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Something truly unique in history happens when Jesus speaks. No one spoke like Jesus.

What is it that makes Jesus’ words different and how should we respond when we hear them?

Jesus spoke with piercing purpose.

Every moment in the incarnated life of Jesus was filled with purpose. There wasn’t a circumstance or a scenario over which he didn’t have complete control. There were no chance encounters, no errant words. There were no wild cards or unforeseen circumstances. There was no surprise ending. No words slipped out of his mouth.

With every healing and every sign, every road he walked, and every conversation he had, Jesus was disclosing who he was. The text of John’s Gospel follows this pattern by interweaving the signs that Jesus performed with the “I am” statements that he spoke. Jesus feeds the 5000 (John 6) and reveals he’s the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14) who’s also the Bread of Life (John 6:35). Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11) and reveals he’s the “resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Jesus performing those acts and speaking those words took no less care than the Holy Spirit who directed the writing of John’s Gospel. John writes, the Holy Spirit inspires, and Jesus speaks on purpose.

The words he spoke on the cross are no different. They’re not the words of a madman or the delusional babble of a failed revolutionary. They’re words delivered with a purpose. All of Jesus’ ministry pointed to the cross, to his betrayal, his crucifixion, his death. It’s here, at this climax, this crescendo of events, that Jesus’ words stand in such stark relief. Who is this man? What is he all about? What did the Sermon on the Mount and the Olivet Discourse mean? What were his disciples talking about? What did all the healings and the sermons and the controversies mean?

It’s here, as Jesus speaks from the cross, that we find out. Will you listen?

Jesus spoke with provocation.

God speaking is no small thing. In the opening chapters of the Bible, we encounter a speaking God. These words do something. This something is no less than the creation of the universe. God says, “Let there be…” and immediately there is whatever God said there should be: light, expanses, waters, plants yielding seed, lights in the expanses, sea creatures, winged birds, men and women.

In contrast, the idols of the nations around Israel were ineffective because they could not speak: “If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble” (Isa. 46:7b).

God speaks and God saves: “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish my purpose…I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isa. 46:11b).

When God speaks to save his people, his voice doesn’t whisper, whimper, or plead. God’s voice gets loud. When our salvation is at stake, God “roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake” (Joel 3:16).  

Jesus, who is the very Word of God in the flesh sent to save his people, speaks with the same authority and impact. As he approaches death on the cross, his confidence doesn’t fade. He doesn’t shrink into a dejected silence. His words don’t tumble out in confusion, impotent and disordered.

The volume increases. Jesus’ words change things.

There are seven statements recorded from Jesus on the cross. They’re not recorded as mere historical details among others. These words are not meant just to fill our brains; they’re meant to change our hearts and direct our actions.

When you hear them, what will you do? What change will it make?

When Jesus says “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” will you be forgiven?
When Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise,” will you be saved?
When Jesus says, “Woman, here is your son,” will you be loved?
When Jesus says, “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?” will you be reconciled?
When Jesus says, “I thirst,” will you be refreshed?
When Jesus says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” will you be satisfied?

Photo of Lee Fowler

Lee Fowler

Lee Fowler is an elder and Sunday School teacher at East Point Church in East Point, Georgia, where he lives with his wife, Ruth, and their son, Getch. He has co-authored Dying to Speak with Anthony Carter, available now with P&R Books.

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