Crossed Purposes

Please have a seat and turn to Luke 23.26-43. Let’s pray Father speak to our hearts from your Word and change us by your Spirit for Jesus’ sake Amen.
Easter 1978. Some of you might be thinking to yourself I wasn’t even born then Well it was when I was born again as a Christian. It was when my life changed for good. I hadn’t wanted anything to do with Christianity or churchianity as I called it. I condemned Jesus and the church to the bin. I’d have been one of those shouting Crucify him following the first Palm Sunday. But then I was confronted with Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion and death from Luke 23 and Romans 5 and discovered that he’d suffered and died for me. To pay the price for my rebellion and rejection of him. I knew I just had to accept his free offer of forgiveness and eternal life, to respond to what he’d done for me by simply repenting and trusting in him.
Which brings us to Jesus’ crucifixion – Luke 23 v26, as they led him away, an innocent man, fully man and fully God, to be hung on a cross, so that we the guilty could go free. Which makes you ponder and wonder. While we were still sinners, God’s enemies, Christ died for us. So, there’s no final appeal by Jesus to a higher authority such as Caesar to have the sentence quashed. No. Jesus had already resolved in the garden of tears (22.42), in prayer to his Father, that not my will be done but yours. Surely a prayer for us to echo in today’s culture. Jesus knew he had to suffer and die in our place, to take the punishment we deserved for our sinful rebellion. It’s why he came. He’s already said so three times. And he goes to the Cross willingly out of love for you and me and in obedience to his Father. This was the plan of the very Highest Authority so that you and I could be rescued from sin, death and judgment and have a personal relationship with God. The chief priests meant evil against Jesus but God meant it for good that many may truly live. You’ll examine Jesus’ actual death this Good Friday but here his suffering and crucifixion make a clear impact. Notice first
Simon of Cyrene
It was usual for the condemned criminal to carry his cross to the place of execution. John 19.17 says that Jesus started the journey to Golgotha, carrying his cross. But Jesus was so weakened, after being scourged with metal tipped leather whips, that the soldiers pressed a bystander to carry Jesus’ cross. He was Simon from Cyrene. In Mark 15.21 & Ro 16.13 we learn that he and his family were known in the early church. Perhaps Simon was won to Jesus that very day as he took up Christ’s cross and followed him. Notice next
Jesus’ loving warning
Many people, especially women (v27) felt sympathy for Jesus as he was led away. Maybe we do too. There was much weeping, mourning and lamenting for Jesus as the great crowd followed behind him. But at this moment, as he goes out to his execution, Jesus thinks not of himself but of them. Why? Because Jesus wants their repentance and faith, not their sympathy. He’s thinking with compassion of the doomed city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants. His words direct the women to the importance of looking beyond the present moment to the consequences of the nation’s sins and so their need of a Saviour - him. None of the four Gospels dwell on Jesus’ torment but rather on the significance of his crucifixion and death. So, don’t miss the significance of what’s happening here. Jesus is going to the cross so that they and we can be saved from the consequences of sin and judgment, through repenting and trusting in Jesus, in his death on the cross in our place. Jesus said to the women who followed him as he was being led away, v28-29, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!
He’s saying such trouble will come that it will be regarded as a blessing never to have had children, in contrast to the usual Jewish view that children are God’s good gift. And within 40 years of Jesus’ prediction everything came true. The siege of Jerusalem by the Roman army under Titus brought terrible suffering even for women and children; the famine and plague were too terrible to be described. Jesus, v31, contrasts himself and the Jewish nation. “For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” In other words, if the Romans practice such cruelties on me, who is a green tree and the very source of life, what will they do one day to your nation, which is like a barren, withered trunk, dead in sins? If the innocent Jesus suffered thus, what will be the fate of the guilty? Tens of thousands of Jews heeded Jesus’ warning and put their faith in him and virtually the whole Jerusalem church escaped the city before the Romans razed it to the ground in AD 70. It’s always worth trusting and obeying Christ. And the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 is a scale model of the final judgment of the whole world, which Jesus also predicted and will happen. So be ready, for the same Saviour who now holds out his hand to unbelievers will come one day in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who don’t know God or obey the Gospel (2 Thessalonians 1). Christ is indeed most gracious; but the day of grace must come to an end. An unbelieving world will eventually find, as Jerusalem did, that there’s judgment with God as well as mercy. So, turn to Christ before it’s too late – today is the day of salvation…repent and believe the good news of Jesus – trust in him! Heed his loving warning during the pandemic.
Jesus’ prayer for his executioners
When Jesus was crucified, note what his first words were v34. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” They wouldn’t have been my first words! Again, Jesus’ own agony on the cross didn’t make him forget others. The first of his seven sayings from the cross was a prayer for his murderers. Father, he prayed, forgive them. And as he, the true King of the Jews prayed, those he prayed for cast lots to divide his garments, the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers mocked him, offering him sour wine 37 saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
But prayer changes people. Now the fruits of Jesus’ wonderful prayer won’t be fully seen until the last day when the books are opened and the secrets of all hearts are revealed. We’ve probably no idea how many conversions took place as a result of Jesus’ prayer. Perhaps this prayer was the first step towards the thief’s repentance. Perhaps it was one means of moving and changing the centurion, who declared Jesus ‘a righteous man’ (v47), and of moving the hearts of all the others who witnessed the crucifixion and who beat their breasts and went away (v48). Perhaps the 3000 converted on the Day of Pentecost, some of whom may have been among Christ’s executioners, owed their conversion to this prayer. What is certain is that Jesus’ prayer was heard.
Jesus’ prayer is a striking example of the spirit which should reign in our hearts. Like him, let’s return good for evil and blessing for cursing. Like him, let’s pray for those who persecute us and wish evil on us that they may turn to Christ and be forgiven and saved. Our pride may often rebel against the idea, but we should never be ashamed to imitate Christ. Next
The Repentant Thief v39-43
Let me say that these 5 verses should be printed in bold gold. They’ve probably been the salvation of countless thousands. Many will thank God for all eternity that the Bible contains this account. We see here
a) God’s Sovereignty in saving sinners
Two criminals were crucified either side of Jesus. Both were equally near Christ.
Both saw and heard all that happened during the 6 hours that Jesus hung on the cross.
Both were dying men and suffering terrible pain.
Both were equally sinners in need of forgiveness.
Yet one died in his sins, as he had lived, hardened, unrepentant and unbelieving.
But the other repented, cried to Jesus for mercy, and was saved.
This should teach us humility before God. We can’t account for it. How is it that under precisely the same circumstances one man is converted and another remains dead in his sins? Why is it that the same sermon which is heard by one person with complete indifference sends another person home to pray and seek Christ? Why is the Gospel hidden from one person and revealed to another? We have no real answer. Someone has suggested that ‘One thief was saved that no sinner might despair; but only one, that no sinner might presume’. Well, the Bible says we’re still to proclaim the good news of Easter to all. But the rest is up to God. John 3.16: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
b) Responding in Repentance and Faith
The first step in the thief’s turning to Christ was his concern about the unrepentant attitude of the other thief railing at Christ: Don’t you fear God, he said, since you’re under the same sentence, v40?
The second step was a full acknowledgement of his own sin: We are punished justly. For we are getting what our deeds deserve (v41).
The third step was his confession of Christ’s innocence: But this man has done nothing wrong (v41).
The fourth step was faith in Christ’s power and will to save him. He turned to an innocent crucified sufferer and declared his belief that Jesus had a kingdom and therefore is the King (v42).
The fifth step was prayer (v42). He cried to Jesus while Jesus was hanging on the cross and asked him for mercy. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
The sixth and last step was humility. He begged to be remembered by Jesus. Remember me for good, for ever. It’s enough for him if he’s remembered by Christ. If he’s forgiven and with Jesus. When you come into your kingdom shows that he realized at least that death would not be the end of everything for him and that beyond death was the kingdom. Jesus’ words of reassurance v43 gave him more than he’d asked for. Not only would he have a place in the kingdom, but that very day he would enter Paradise. Truly today. Jesus assures this man of bliss in the immediate future, because the former thief will be with Christ. Lindor Chocolates promise us bliss – you choose the moment, we’ll provide the bliss is their strapline – but nothing like the bliss Jesus provides to those, even thieves on their death bed, who repent and trust in him. No-one is too bad to be saved, any more than anyone is too good to need a Saviour. There won’t be any good people making it to heaven, only forgiven people, through faith in Christ. Are you responding in repentance and faith?
c) Christ’s power and willingness to save
What a striking example of Christ’s power and mercy this is. This thief was saved at the hour of Jesus’s greatest weakness. Jesus was hanging in agony on the cross. Yet even then he heard and granted this thief’s simple prayer and opened the life gate to him. Surely this was power!
Get this. Jesus saves a thief at the point of death, with nothing in his past life to recommend him and nothing notable in his present position but a humble prayer. Yet even he was plucked from hell. Surely this was mercy!
Do some of us still think salvation, that acceptance by God is earned, is because of what we do and not by grace, not by what Christ has done? How can we? The dying thief was nailed hand and foot to the cross. He could do literally nothing for his own salvation. Yet even he, through Christ’s infinite grace, was saved through faith. No-one ever received such a strong assurance of his own forgiveness as this man (v43).
The dying thief was never baptised, never went to church and never received Holy Communion. But he repented and trusted in Christ and therefore he was saved.
And Christ never changes. The way of salvation is always one and the same. He lives, the one who saved the repentant thief. There is hope for the vilest sinner, if he or she will only repent and believe the good news of Jesus Christ.
d) The closeness of glory
Finally, we see here how close a dying believer is to rest and glory. Jesus replied to the criminal’s prayer “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Note that word today. It tells us that the very moment a believer dies, they’re safe with Jesus. Yes, they’re still to receive their new resurrection bodies when Jesus returns. But there’s no mysterious delay, no season of suspense, no purgatory in between. In the day that they breathe their last they go to Paradise. In the hour they depart, they’re with Christ, which is better by far. Yes, the moment believers die they’ll be with Christ in Paradise.
We’re to remember this when our believing relatives and friends fall asleep in Christ. Yes, it’s important to grieve. Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died. But we’re not to grieve for them as those who have no hope. While we’re weeping, they’re rejoicing. While we’re missing them, they’re safe and happy with Jesus. To die is a solemn thing. That has been very evident this past year. But if we die trusting in Christ, we needn’t doubt that our death will be gain (Phil 1.21).

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