Let us pray: Dear Savior, tonight as we ponder Your powerful Word of promise, cause us to take heart in its truth. Cause us to understand that You make that exact same promise to us who embrace You in humble faith. Yes, may we always cling to the comfort of paradise, knowing that it awaits! Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, IN WHOM WE FIND HIDDEN GLORY
TEXT: Luke 23: 32-43
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Golgotha has arrived. Christ is hanging on the tree of the cross. Darkness is starting to come on. And yet, from the cross glory shines brighter than the noon-day sun. It shines through Christ’s words of promise. Yes:
IT IS HIDDEN IN POWERFUL WORDS!
Let’s listen to the text: “Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ There was a written notice above him, which read: This is the King of the Jews. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’”
We have reached our Lenten goal. Golgotha, the place of the Skull is before us. He has called us to follow Him there. But for what purpose? To see His glory, yes, His hidden glory. To see Him paying for the sins of the whole world. To save our souls.
Jesus looks even worse than the criminals crucified with Him. His head is bloody, His body broken, and shame and more shame have been heaped upon Him. Moses got it right when he wrote: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Or, as Isaiah said: “He was despised and rejected and we esteemed Him not.”
Where’s the glory? It’s not visible. But it is hearable. That is, the glory is hidden in Jesus’ powerful words of comfort—even in death—even to a criminal. It is said that misery loves company. We see that played out here. Terrorist # 1 tries to bait Christ. He tries to invoke his own pride and control another even as his own life is spinning out of control. He mocks Christ and tells Him what to do—even though knowing in his heart it’s impossible. “Save yourself and us!” Yes, the mocking takes place even after Christ has uttered those words: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Christ prays for His tormentors’ forgiveness. But, they abuse that love on all levels.
Don’t we do the same thing, at times? We know that God forgives us in Christ. We know that His loving hand is outstretched towards us. And yet, there are times when we also abuse that kind of selfless love. We bend the truth, knowing it is wrong. We practice conditional love towards others, thereby mocking Christ’s unconditional love towards us. We focus on Me and what we think we need to be happy, instead of focusing on Christ and letting Him decide. And then, when things turn out differently, we shake our heads in silent mocking, too.
Terrorist #2 starts out just like terrorist #1. He mocks and taunts Jesus, too. But, over the long minutes which turn to hours, something happens. He listens to Christ. He hears His words of truth. And through the power of God’s Word, the Holy Ghost comes and changes his heart. He believes! He trusts! And only he begins to defend Christ. Finally, he takes on his fellow terrorist and then pleads: “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” And the simple words of that powerful plea bear eternal fruit! For now, out the darkness shines perhaps the most profound promise of God ever recorded in Scripture. “I tell you the truth, today, you will be with me in paradise!” Not hell. Not nothingness. Not the Roman fiction of purgatory. No, when death comes to the believer heaven embraces them. And Jesus makes it so. Faith in Him makes it so.
A lot of words were spoken around the cross the day. The rulers, the crowd, the soldiers, the terrorists all uttered them. And aside from some passing Biblical references, they are all forgotten. But not the words of Christ. And not the faithful confession of this man, this criminal who believed. From all this we learn anew that God’s Word is always powerful. It always makes a difference. It created the world out of nothing. It freed the children of Israel in Egypt. It worked miracles. It raised Lazarus from the dead. And now it changes a sin-sickened heart into a saintly one! All this because it is through the Word that the Holy Ghost acts! It is through the Word that God works. Because the Word is Christ. And as Christ says: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”
Far more than nothing was accomplished that day at Calvary. For through Christ’s death human beings were made right with God. All sins were paid for. Through the Word forgiveness was proclaimed, yes the truth of the cross was proclaimed. And now through that same Word this reformed man is transported into paradise. His pain and suffering are left behind. For when Christ said those glorious words: “Today, you will be with Me in paradise!”—eternal hope was given to him!
Terrorist # 2 died a happy man. Why? Because he believed Christ’s words. Yes, all who trust in Christ will never be put to shame. Listen and learn from that nameless man and then you’ll never taste eternal shame, either. Amen.