Summary: This sermon begins a series on the "7 Last Sayings of Christ on the Cross" and focuses on Jesus forgiving His murderers and His welcome to paradise of one of the criminals hanging beside Him.
Sermon for CATM – February 8, 2009 – The 7 Last Sayings of Christ on the Cross – Father, Forgive Them/This Day in Paradise
Today we begin, at Church at the Mission, a journey to the cross. Now, later this month with Ash Wednesday we merge our journey with the annual trek to Good Friday that the church universal has marked for millennia.
And for those of you who want to enter in perhaps in a more focused way to this time of preparation, this upcoming season of Lent, I do encourage you to take the course that we’re offering, starting today, on the “7 Last Sayings of Christ on the Cross”. Those who do will receive regular feedback from Ronda and me.
This course, and the sermons and services surrounding it, are designed to help us grasp in a fresh way, in a current way and in a profound way just what it is that God has done for us in Christ Jesus, and how this impacts and forms our very own lives and futures.
And so we begin. In the next weeks we’ll be looking at the specific events that lead Jesus to the cross in some detail. We’ll be reliving his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his arrest and trial before Pilate and his personal journey to the cross.
Right now though, we begin with Jesus already at the cross, already arrested and tried and convicted. Already having carried his cross to Golgotha, His place of execution. We join Jesus and the few disciples who did not abandon Him, we join Mary.
Most importantly we join Jesus as He enters His darkest hour. We join Jesus to listen to the first two of the last 7 sayings of Christ.
Here’s the first:
33 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. 34 Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 35 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." 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself." 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
What’s going on here, really? Let’s for a moment try to break this down to its simplest elements. Let’s for a moment cut past all that good theology and the liturgy that we hear about every time we celebrate the Eucharist.
All those neatly constructed prayers, those time-tested ways of explaining the crucifixion.
Friends, this is Jesus being murdered. As we read these passages and as we enter in to the story of Jesus, we are in sense witnessing His murder. This is Jesus who is the quintessential perfect human, without flaw, without sin, without ever having done anything, actually… ANYTHING…wrong.
And He is here dangling from a cross, having been beaten and mocked and humiliated and scorned. Having been made fun of, ridiculed, after having His acts of healing judged as the work of Satan. After being accused of breaking the laws He made in the first place.
This is Jesus, dangling from a cross. This is the Son of God being murdered. A very simple but very good question is this: Why?
Why does Jesus choose to endure this suffering? Why must an innocent be murdered? What reason? Why in this way?
And what does Jesus in this state do? How does He relate to his captors? How does He interact with those who with malice and hate and evil intent have nailed Him to the cross?
Those with the malice (priests), with indifference (soldiers who did this daily), those involved in the conspiracy with Judas, those who nailed his hands to the cross, his feet to the cross.
What words might you have in a similar situation? What words does Jesus have for His murderers?
What words does Jesus have?!
[PPT] “Father, forgive them”. WHAT!?! Hunh?!? For…give….them? He prays for forgiveness for them. He asks the Father to not hold them accountable for their sin. What could be more undeserved? What could be a more generous act?
And why does Jesus say they “don’t know what at they’re doing”?”
Did they not know what they were doing? Did they not, with malice aforethought, falsely accuse and try Jesus, have Him beaten and flogged.
Did they not watch Him carry his cross while being scorned and ridiculed, and the way to the place of the skull? Is that not the definition of complicity? Is that not what the word ‘guilty’ means?