Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

April 3, 2010 at 8:22 pm 1 comment

NET  Luke 23:32-43

            Two other criminals were also led away to be executed with him. 33 So when they came to the place that is called “The Skull,” they crucified him there, along with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 But Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Then they threw dice to divide his clothes. 35 The people also stood there watching, but the rulers ridiculed him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the king of the Jews.” 39                    

            One of the criminals who were hanging there railed at him, saying, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we rightly so, for we are getting what we deserve for what we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.” 43 And Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”   

NET  Luke 23:32-43

            Two other criminals were also led away to be executed with him. 33 So when they came to the place that is called “The Skull,” they crucified him there, along with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 But Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Then they threw dice to divide his clothes. 35 The people also stood there watching, but the rulers ridiculed him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the king of the Jews.”

39  One of the criminals who were hanging there railed at him, saying, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we rightly so, for we are getting what we deserve for what we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.” 43 And Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”  

           What do you think of when you think of paradise?  For many people, the word paradise brings about visions of days like today, 75 degrees, light breeze, sun shining, with maybe the addition of palm trees, crystal blue water and white sand.       

          For me, the word paradise evokes visions of majestic mountains and tall pine trees under a thick blanket of pure white snow. When I’m having a bad day or I just need a moment to escape, I close my eyes and go to my winter paradise.  Sometimes it’s Alpine Meadows or Whistler, perhaps it’s Steamboat Springs or Jackson Hole.  But where ever my paradise is, there’s always snow and I’m always wearing skis. 

          One of my favorite things in paradise is riding the chair lift, gliding up through the silent snow-laden trees; the only sound is the gentle whisper of snowflakes as they kiss my jacket and the squeak, squeak of the lift cables. I close my eyes and listen.  I can feel the Holy Spirit all around me and I pray, God, who am I to enjoy such beauty and peace? Who am I to exist in your paradise? 

          I never go there alone. My husband is always there with me; for what’s paradise without someone you love to share it with?

          I find it interesting that the Bible begins and ends with detailed descriptions of paradise.  In Genesis we have the Garden of Eden, resplendent in all forms of fruit and flower; the original paradise on earth.  Then at the end of the Bible in Revelations we have a detailed description of the kingdom of God complete with pearly gates and streets of gold.  But today, on Good Friday,  we hear about paradise in the middle of the bible, in a conversation between three men. 

          All three of these men were accused of crimes punishable by crucifixion.   They were all three, no doubt, in extreme pain; especially the man in the middle; Jesus the Christ, who had the added pain of being beaten, nailed through his hands and wearing a crown of thorns.

          Crucifixion, by nature, is a slow and painful death; the weight of your body pulls on your arms and shoulders preventing your ribcage from properly expanding.  In order to inhale you must pull yourself up with your arms.  As exhaustion sets in each breath becomes more and more difficult until finally you cannot pull yourself up to inhale and you suffocate.  Needless to say, having a conversation while hanging on a cross is no easy task. 

          The crucified bodies were often left up on the crosses long after death creating a gruesome sight along the road.  Placards hung above them to identify their crimes.  It stood as a warning for all who gazed upon their dangling corpses “Don’t Do This.”   We are all familiar with the sign hung above Jesus, “This is the king of the Jews.”  After all, that is what the people had called him.  And when the Roman official, Pontius Pilate asked him about this title, he replied “Yes, it is as you say.” 

          But we tend to think of “King of the Jews” as an honorable title, don’t we? For Jesus was the King of the Jews.  But this sign did not proclaim his true kingship, but was instead meant to mock him.  He was accused of being a “king poser,” a royal imposter.  This was a serious crime; a crime punishable by crucifixion.  Herod was the king of Judea, so the imposter had to be removed.  

         

          The crowd stood by and watched as the rulers mocked him. “Save yourself if you are the Christ!”  After the soldiers nailed him to the cross they offered him sour wine as a joke.  And then they threw dice to divide up his clothing.  Could this be a fulfillment of prophecy?  Let me read to you from Psalm 22, a lament of  King David written some 1000 years before Jesus was even born….

“The roof of my mouth is as dry as a piece of pottery; my tongue sticks to my gums. You set me in the dust of death.  16 A gang of evil men crowd around me; they pin my hands and feet.  17 My enemies are gloating over me in triumph.   18 They are dividing up my clothes among themselves; they are rolling dice for my garments.   (Psalm 22:14-18 NET).

        

         It amazes me that a prophecy, written 1000 years earlier, could be so accurate to even the tiniest detail!  “They are rolling dice for my garments.”  But Jesus knew that many more prophecies must be fulfilled.  He knew the pain that he must endure.  He knew that before he could see the resurrection dawn he must first suffer the sins of all humanity.  Jesus knew that today was the day that he must die on the cross.

          Scripture tells us that the people stood there watching.   Who was there and what did they see?  Did they look on in horror from a distance or join in the ridicule.  And, what about his followers?  His beloved disciples?  His mother?  Were they there? Watching, mourning, praying for a miracle?  Did they run and hide or simply avert their eyes, unwilling to look at the face of their teacher, their Lord, streaked with tears and blood and filled with agony. 

          What would you have done if you were there?  Remember the old spiritual: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?” 

          The soldiers and the leaders had made a spectacle of him.  They humiliated him and hurled insults at him.  Can you imagine?  Our beloved savior betrayed, whipped, beaten, broken, crowned with thorns, nailed to a cross, arms outstretched, suffering and dying; all by their hands; all by their ignorance. And yet, in his compassion, he forgave them.

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

          Such love, such grace, such compassion, is beyond our comprehension.  Such love can only be divine love.  For what human being, besides the Son of Man, could forgive his accusers, forgive his tormentors, forgive his executioners.  Only Christ the Redeemer could forgive them for their ignorance. 

          Three times in this passage we hear the command “Save yourself”.  It gnaws at us because we know that Jesus could have saved himself.  He had the power! How many miracles had he performed?   How many afflictions had he cured?  How many dead had he raised?     He was innocent of this crime, so surely he was justified in saving himself!  Why did he have to suffer and die like a criminal on a cross?

          As Christ hung there between the two thieves, a brief conversation emerged.  Despite their agony, one of them hurled insults at the man in the middle. He challenged him “Are you not the Messiah?* Save yourself and us!” Jesus was certainly the Christ, and yes, he had the power to save all three of them.  But what would that have accomplished? 

           It was his final trial, his final temptation.  He had a choice; to save himself or to die on the cross.  But Jesus knew that to step down from that cross would gain nothing for the kingdom of God.  Jesus knew that his work was not yet complete.  Jesus knew that only through his death and his resurrection could humanity be saved.  

          Then the other thief asked him ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? We indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’  What a contrast!  This thief was a God-fearing man who without hesitation confessed his quilt, accepted his sentence and proclaimed Christ’s innocence. Then he turned his attention to the man in the middle and made a very humble and sincere request.  He said;

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

          With this simple request he proclaims Jesus as King, the one who would reign in the kingdom of heaven forever.  And all he asked was for Jesus to remember him.  He didn’t ask for forgiveness or everlasting life.  He didn’t ask to be saved or even freed of his pain. All he asked was for Jesus to remember him.

          How many times have we asked God to save us?  How many times have we prayed for Jesus to bail us out?  To make our problems go away, to make our pain go away, to give us just one more chance? And what gives us the right to even ask?  We are no more worthy than criminals — sinners, all of us, unworthy of God’s attention, let alone forgiveness!  If only we could be humble.  If only we could be satisfied if Jesus would just remember us!

          Jesus had no obligation to this man but he responded to his request anyway.  In his pain, it would have been easier to just say “okay”.  But Jesus did more than offer comforting words to the man. Jesus made the most outrageous, the most unbelievable, the most gracious promise to this man.  He promised him more than remembrance, he promised him salvation.         

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

          In agonizing pain and on the brink of death, Jesus found the strength to offer this man, to offer us, a place in paradise.   Not tomorrow, not in three days, but TODAY!  How ironic; that in his pain, in his present Hell, Jesus would speak of paradise!   But Christ knew that his ministry on earth was for only a short while and that his suffering would be brief.  Christ knew that his heavenly Father awaited his return in paradise. 

          But the amazing part is this; even though we are unworthy, he has invited us too!  And guess what?  We will not be there alone, but we will be in paradise with Jesus the Christ, our own personal redeemer!  Can we imagine anything so wonderful?  To spend eternity in paradise with someone who loves us that much? With someone who would voluntarily suffer at the hand of man and die for our sins!

          Brothers and sisters, we must NEVER FORGET  that Jesus could have saved himself! He could have come down from that cross and walked away.  But he chose to see his mission through.  He chose to redeem mankind. He chose death on a cross so that we may live in paradise!

         Imagine our Lord and savior, nailed to the cross, with his arms outstretched, in a posture of acceptance; accepting the sins of the world, accepting and forgiving his tormentors,   accepting and forgiving us! 

 

          Imagine, his outstretched arms beaconing us to come into his loving embrace!  

          Imagine, a God so full of compassion and love for us that he would WANT to spend eternity with us!   Imagine that! After all we’ve done…. He Want Us!   Listen brothers and sisters, to his incredible promise…

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Amen.

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Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Okay…I’m still here.

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Camille  |  May 20, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    The bit about going back to the OT and prophesy on the dice and dividing of the clothes blew me away. If the OT truly was written before Jesus’ time on earth, could it be more than a coincidence?

    BTW — you need to update the blog now that you are finished for the term! It would be interesting to see where you are now compared to where you began in this adventure. Have you had any epiphanies or has anything just kind of twisted inside out? Be the Monday morning quarterback looking in the rearview mirror!

    Reply

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