Summary: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” The story of the thief receiving salvation is the most amazing example of saving faith in the entire Bible. It’s never too late to turn to Christ and even the worst of sinners can be saved at
Last Sunday I mentioned that it’s much easier to preach about forgiveness than it is to practice it. This was made very clear to me right after the second service when I was talking to a 9-year-old boy. He had a scratch on his forehead and I asked him if he had gotten into a fight. He just smiled at me. I then asked him what the other guy looked like. He continued to smile. Finally, I said, “Did you smack him? Did you let him have it? What’d you do to him?” He looked right at me and said, “I forgave him.” Ouch. Not five minutes after preaching on forgiveness I’m trying to incite a boy to take revenge! What’s up with that?
As we prepare for the exclamation of Easter, we’re focusing on the seven shouts from the Savior as He hung on the cross. Last week we listened to these penetrating words of grace, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” These seven cries of Christ speak of:
· Forgiveness (Luke 23:32-34)
· Salvation (Luke 23:39-43)
· Family (John 19:25-27)
· Loneliness (Matthew 27:45-46)
· Suffering (John 19:28-29)
· Triumph (John 19:30)
· Reunion (Luke 23:44-46)
Last week we pointed out that this first shout is a precise prophetic fulfillment of Isaiah 53:12: “…For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” The second cry is from Luke 23:43: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” When Jesus reaches out to a sinner in his last minutes on the cross, He fulfills another prophesy from Isaiah 53:12: “…Because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors…”
Erwin Lutzer writes, “The Roman soldier probably had no idea why he arranged the crosses like he did that day…But God had decreed that He who was most holy should die with those who were most unholy…He wanted to demonstrate the depths of shame to which His Son was willing to descend. At His birth He was surrounded by beasts, and now, in His death, with criminals” (“Cries From the Cross,” Page 54).
A Terrorist Finds Peace
John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban,” was indicted last week for conspiring to kill Americans, aiding two terrorist groups, and for supplying services to the Taliban. His father, Frank Walker has been very supportive, and is standing by his son.
This got me thinking about the father of one of the criminals who was executed just feet away from Jesus on that first Good Friday. Like John Walker Lindh, his son was accused of being a traitor. Let’s look at this second shout from the Savior from the perspective of this faltering father. Imagine with me what it might have been like.
My son was not only indicted for treason, he was convicted and crucified for his crimes. His claim to fame was that he was one of the thieves executed next to Jesus on the Cross. That description is actually quite generous because my son was a cold-blooded terrorist who had murdered many people. He was impossible to control and his pores poured profanity even as a young boy. That’s why I started calling him ‘Mara,’ which means bitterness. He brought nothing but disgrace to my family and me.
Mara had thick skin and was numb to life. He had learned how to take care of himself and take advantage of others. I’m not sure why I showed up to watch the crucifixion parade early that Friday morning. Maybe I wanted him to get what he deserved because bitterness had infected my heart as well. Or, maybe I showed up because I wanted him to know I loved him. Why did his life have to end this way? What did I do wrong?
I knew all about crucifixions. I had watched the procedure many times before…but this was my son. The soldiers seemed in a hurry that day. The guards grabbed my boy and threw a 100-pound beam across his shoulders and shouted, “Carry it.” Mara staggered under the weight. His buddy was given a piece of timber as well. Together they stumbled for two blocks, with virtually no one around. I looked into my son’s eyes but didn’t know what to say. He was taking his last steps down the spiral staircase of failure.
When we turned the corner we came upon a chanting crowd filled with wailing women and shouting soldiers. Everyone seemed to be fixated on the one bearing the cross at the front of the procession. Mara shouted out, “Who’s that?” A spear was pushed against his bruised back and a soldier gruffly replied, “They say He’s the king of the Jews. His name is Jesus.” Mara picked up his step until they become participants in the parade themselves. But no one noticed the two criminals.