Wednesday, October 3, 2012

John 19 - a side trip to Luke 23:35-43

This morning we are turning back to Luke’s account of the crucifixion, because he adds another viewpoint of the crowd and gives the most detail about the thieves who were on either side of Jesus:

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.” (Luke 23:35-43)

I think this account really displays the level of disdain that the crowd felt toward Jesus. Those around Him were sneering, mocking, and hurling insults. “He saved others; let him save himself.” And, of course we know that had He saved Himself, which He could easily have done, He could not have saved anyone!

Only the one thief on the cross seemed to recognize what was happening. He recognized his own guilt and the innocence of Jesus. He demonstrated repentance when he accepted responsibility for his sins. He humbly asked Jesus to remember him. And Jesus, even in His agony, offered mercy!

The thief had no opportunity to be baptized or to take communion, to get involved in a Bible study, or to join a church. He merely repented and acknowledged the lordship of Jesus at the very hour of his own death. And Jesus promised him he would, indeed be remembered. In fact, that very day, the thief would join his Savior in paradise!

Jon Courson points out that Jesus was born in a stable among animals, and he died between criminals. Both thieves were dying the same death, and they were equally close to the Lord. But one remained lost and the other was saved! One chose to reject Christ, the other chose to believe. It really is that simple!

We’ve been looking at those who were part of this scene. Where do you think you would be standing? Would you be callously ignoring the truth like the soldiers who cast lots for His clothing? Would you be trying to play both sides and absolve yourself of guilt like Pilate? Would you be among the crowd sneering at the “ridiculous” idea that this simple man could possibly be a king? Would you be with the religious leaders who refused His authority over them and demanded He be crucified? Would you be with the women and John at the cross, confused, hurt, and distraught because of the circumstances, wondering why God would allow such a terrible thing? Or would you be with the thief who humbly acknowledged his guilt and called out for mercy?

I think there are times in our lives when we have actually been at each of these places. Sometimes we ignore Him as we go about our own business, callously ignoring those in need around us. When was the last time we paid attention to the woman holding a sign in front of Costco asking for money? Jesus was so clear that we needed to take care of the “least of these.” Can’t we give to them out of our own abundance then leave to Jesus what they do with the money? How often do we deny Jesus by our actions, like Pilate, in order to preserve the good opinion of men?

At some point in our lives, many of us stubbornly refused to acknowledge His authority over us, because we didn’t want ANYONE telling us what to do - not even Jesus! And even those of us who are believers have moments of doubt and confusion, like the women and John, because we find ourselves in circumstances that seem hopeless. We wonder what has happened. We begin to doubt.

We need to return to that simple plea of the dying thief, “Jesus, remember me!”

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