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Summary: #5 and last in series, about changes that Jesus makes in people.

Luke 23:32-49 – Were You There? #5 – Choosing Change (The Criminal and the Centurion)

Today we are wrapping up our series on Were You There? I hope that we have been able to see ourselves, good or bad, in the lives of those who witnessed the cross of Christ. Maybe we saw ourselves as religious church-goers who love rules more than people. Maybe we saw ourselves as people needing to break free from tradition and find Jesus. Perhaps we saw ourselves as needing to take up our cross, to carry the burden that God has called us to. Maybe we saw ourselves as followers who need to come back to Jesus, to find grace and mercy and love at the cross. Today I hope that we see ourselves as people who, once they find Jesus, see their need to choose to change. Let’s read Luke 23:32-49.

In this section of scripture, we see several people whose lives were different afterwards. You can see the change that came over one of the criminals on the cross next to Jesus. He began the day as a scoffer but ended up as a believer. You can see what the criminals said in Matthew 26: “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”

But as the day continued, one of the criminals came to see Jesus in a different way. There was something in the way that Jesus spoke, or didn’t, that was different. The attitude that carried Jesus through the suffering was different from what the criminal had seen before. There was something special about this man. And the criminal changed his tune.

And then you can see the centurion. This man, this paid soldier, this fellow who had seen hundreds, perhaps, of executions on these bars of wood, on this barren hilltop… this one was different. He endured the suffering as if there was a reward waiting for Him at the end. He didn’t curse those who cursed Him. He cared for His mother. He forgave those around Him. And when He finally died, there was an earthquake that shook the land. This man’s death was different, so maybe His life was as well. All these things led to some kind of faith in the soldier, to the point where he thought Jesus was a righteous messenger from God.

Jesus’ life caused changes in people, and so did His death. Really, it’s what His whole purpose on earth was: to change people. It wasn’t about more rules. We know that rules and laws and traditions are all flawed. It wasn’t enough to give people rules – otherwise, God could have stopped at the OT. People need a change in their hearts. That’s what Jesus came to do.

Jesus still changes lives. Jesus still has the power to get rid of habits that have plagued you for years. Jesus still has the power to calm your fears, even when you are in the middle of a scary time. Jesus still has the power to fix relationships, no matter what has happened in the past. Jesus still has the power to help you love that person, no matter how much you want to hate them. Jesus can still change you and make you a better person.

After all, that’s God’s plan: for you to become more like Jesus. Romans 8:9 says, “For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son”. If you ever ask, “What is God’s will for my life?”, I know one thing: His plan is for you to become more like Jesus.

Ah, but change is hard. They say that the only person on earth who likes change is a baby in a wet diaper. We all want other people to change, but we’re a little less inclined to want change for ourselves. Well, I have some good news for you. The 1st bit of good news is this: God wants to change you for the better. Whatever He wants to do, it’s for your good. Author Max Lucado says, “God loves you just the way you are, but He loves you too much to let you stay that way.”

So the things that He wants to deal with… they’ll help you get along with others better. He wants to make you more patient and more kind. He wants to take care of things like pride and ego, things that get in the way of relationships with other people. He wants to make you more able to tolerate loneliness and sadness. He wants you to build up courage to do things that will add meaning to your life, even if they are a little scary to think of. These changes that God wants to make in your heart will help you in everything else in life. Your marriage, your family, your workplace, your church. You’ll be easier to get along with, even if sometimes people resent you for it!

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