By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
EDGEWATER, Md.—Seven church leaders in and around Anne Arundel County observed Good Friday through a special “Seven Last Words” worship service at First Church, Edgewater (FBCE) on April 22.
The seven last words of Christ refer, not to the individual words, but to the final seven phrases that Jesus uttered as He hung on the cross. These phrases were not recorded in a single Gospel, but are taken from selected verses in Luke 23, John 19 and Mark 15.
“Most of our people did not know what to expect when we told them that we would be having seven speakers and lots of music over the course of 90 minutes or so, but this was an amazing Spirit-filled evening of worship, praise and celebration,” shared David Hemphill, FBCE’s pastor. “Our hearts were touched, pricked and challenged and when it ended after two hours we were all left wanting more and grateful for a Savior who paid such a great price from such great love.”
Pastor Chuck Brooks at GraceWay Church in Baltimore introduced Hemphill to the Seven Last Words concept. For the past several years, Brooks hosted the observance in his church, where he invited Hemphill to preach.
This year, Hemphill invited the following representatives from the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, the Arundel Association and area churches to speak at his church.
Rolando Castro, BCM/D missionary for Hispanic church planting/evangelism, focused first on Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
“It was about how forgiveness came in the way of the craziness of the cross, and how that phrase was not a desperate cry of a dying man, but the core of the Gospel: God forgiving humankind with an unexpected move like the cross,” shared Castro.
“During his section, Castro spoke of how much in awe we should be of the fact that we were forgiven by the creator of the universe. It certainly made me see things in a different light,” said Leah Sanchez, member of FBC, Edgewater.
Ed Reese, pastor, Hazelwood Church, Baltimore, shared from Luke 23:43, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
“My goal was to show how the two thieves on the cross represent every one of us in: our reality – we’re all going to die, just as they did; and our response – we all either respond to what Christ did on the cross with jeers and indifference, or with humility and sorrow,” Reese said.
Reese shared a true story of a man who kept a tiger for a pet in his New York City apartment. Even though it injured him repeatedly, he swore his tiger was his best friend and he loved him.
“That’s how attached we get to Satan,” Reese illustrated.
Reese closed with quote from Erwin Lutzer, longtime pastor at Moody Church, part of which said, “Both thieves had an equal opportunity… What separated them was not the degree of their sin nor their distance from Christ; they are separated because one called on Christ for help and the other derided him.”
Ben Grigg, choir and praise band director for FBCE, spoke from John 19:26-27, “Woman, behold your son”… “Behold your mother” (NKJV).
“Jesus chose this exact time and place to establish the relationship between His mother and John to demonstrate to us true love,” Grigg noted, explaining that even while Jesus suffered He still was more concerned with others than Himself.
“Yes, Mary had other children, however John 7:5 tells us that they did not believe in Him at that time. Mary needed the love of a believer. Jesus chose John, the youngest and only Apostle to live a long life.”
By caring for His mother, despite his wounds and suffering, Jesus showed us from the cross how to love each other as He loved us, Grigg said, adding a final challenge: “Are we willing to follow Jesus’ commandment and love others as He loved us?”
James Pope, pastor, North Arundel Church, Glen Burnie, Md., focused on Mark 15:34, “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”), which Jesus quotes from Psalm 22.
In his sermon, Pope responded to the question: Can God abandon Himself? Calling it the quintessential issue regarding the doctrine of atonement, Pope pointed out that the Council of Nicea wrestled with this same doctrine in 325 AD, with this question. “What is the nature of Jesus in respect to the nature of God?”
“For us there is no denying that He was God in the flesh of ‘one nature, one essence’ Who died that we might be reconciled to God. At no point can it be said that He was isolated, removed from or ceased to be God in order to become sin for us,” Pope resolved.
Pope also addressed Jesus’ tormentors’ use of Psalm 22:8 in Matthew 27:43, “He trusts in God. Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him.”
“Is it possible that Jesus was doing what we so often do, seize on the famous, the familiar, the highly recognized that speaks to the moment and by so doing turns their own knowledge of Scripture against them?” he asked, noting that Mark 15:34 is a restatement of Psalm 22:1. “Psalm 22 was not a Psalm of defeat, but of victory,” he said.
John Brittain, director of missions, Arundel Association, focused on Jesus’ words in John 19:28, “I am thirsty.”
“In the fifth word from the Cross, His deity is made real to us—somehow, He thirsts (humanness) at the same time as He fulfills His heavenly mission (God-ness),” Brittain explained, calling Jesus Christ on the Cross “the God-Man.”
“As we think of Christ and his deity, let us not forget our obligation as believers to follow Him in His life, in His love and even in His suffering,” he said.
Bill Brazell, pastor of assimilation at Faith Church in Glen Burnie, Md., spoke from John 19:30, “It is finished.”
“It was the cry of victory, in what seemed to be the hour of defeat. How do you turn tragedy into triumph, death into life, and a travesty of justice into a victory of grace?” Brazell asked. “I don’t understand it fully, but Jesus did it and punctuated it with the proclamation, ‘It is finished!’”
In other words, when Jesus said, “It is finished!” He was announcing to the world: “It’s paid in full,” “It’s completed,” and “Mission accomplished. I have set my people free.”
James Dixon, senior pastor of El Bethel Church in Fort Washington, Md., shared from Luke 23:46, “Into Thy hands I commend My Spirit” (KJV).
“When Jesus placed His Spirit into the hands of the Father He showed us that there is power and provisions in the hands of God,” Dixon shared, adding, “When He entrusted His life into the hands of God, He made an eternal security deposit, an eternal surrender, He signed His eternal signature, and it resulted in eternal salvation for all who believed.”
Dixon gave the final charge for the night: “We must stay in the center of the Father’s hands for they are the only hands that are unchanging. To God be the glory for The resurrecting power of His hands.”
“Everyone who got up and spoke moved me with what they had to say. It wasn’t long before I got that emotional feeling. You know that feeling when you feel like you are going to burst out crying and laughing at the same time,” shared Terry Selby, member, FBC Edgewater.
“Without a doubt though my favorite part of the night was when the speakers would go into detail about not only what Jesus said on the cross, but about how hard and painful it would have been just for Him to speak. It put a whole different perspective on what Jesus went through.”
Photographer: Mark Greco