Summary: Part VI in the series - 24. This is a first person narrative account from the perspective of the penitent thief on the cross. The preaching idea: Only by the innocence of Christ are the guilty set free.
My prayer is that over the past six weeks that those of you who have been present for this series of sermons have been moved by the stories that we have experienced.
One of the great things about preaching – is that before the message ever gets to you I’ve spent hours and hours in the text – and while you have 20-25 minutes to hear a story I’ve dug into the details of that text and been challenged and overwhelmed by it all week long.
This series in particular has spoken to me. I’ve never experienced the last 24 hours of Christ the way I have during this series. And to be honest with you I’m really looking forward to this coming week – because the stories of the betrayal, the agony, the persecution, and the crucifixion of Christ have weighed heavily upon me. The graphic details you heard last week were toned down considerably from the research which I conducted. The last two weeks especially have been very depressing as I’ve dug into these accounts of the pain that was suffered by the Christ.
This morning’s message is at the very heart of our faith. Without the event that will be recounted today you and I wouldn’t be hear. It is the watershed event of history.
Would you pray with me…
I am one of the few people in the Bible who has been remembered for the one thing I did right, not everything I did wrong. In fact while my life was filled with not only mistakes but with outright crime the Bible remembers only my best moment.
My moment, while a part of the darkest day in history, serves as a beacon of light and hope for all who are haunted by what they’ve done wrong. The very brief glimpse of my existence that the Holy Spirit has chosen to preserve speaks to millions who like me have wasted their years away and are hanging on to the very edge of life just waiting to die.
That’s what I was doing the day my destiny was changed – waiting to die.
I had been sentenced to die by quite possibly the most painful death ever invented by humankind. The Persians had invented crucifixion around 300-400 years before my lifetime and the Romans had adopted it as a means of punishing dangerous criminals, slaves, and the populace of foreign provinces. It was a public affair.
Affixed to a stake or tree naked the prisoner was subject to ridicule and all those who observed were reminded of the fate of those who asserted themselves against the authority of the state.
Crucifixion was a slow means of death. Sometimes it would drag on for days before the victim would die. It damaged no vital organs and there was no excessive bleeding that resulted from it. The complication that eventually led to death had to do with the difficulty in breathing that led to the collapsing of lungs, dehydration, and the inability to get sufficient oxygen which damaged the heart and lead to heart failure.
Ultimately, it was my heart that needed to die. While I had been terrified of what I was about to face, in some strange way I was looking forward to the end, when my heart would finally cease to beat within me – because then and only then would I be free from the guilt that haunted me every moment of my life.
There was no hiding from my guilt. I remembered all the crimes I had committed. I remembered the people I had wronged. I remembered those I had robbed and those I had beaten. And try as I had, I simply couldn’t escape the life I had made for myself. While I had many times considered running and leaving my lifestyle behind I just couldn’t escape. I couldn’t save myself. And every day the guilt and the shame that I had been feeling increasingly weighed down upon me. It had gotten to the point that it was more than I could take.
I had to die. I deserved it. There was no other option – no other means of escape.
Have you ever felt the kind of guilt I’m talking about? I mean the kind of guilt for decisions you’ve made and actions you’ve committed that digs its tentacles so deeply into your heart and mind that you can’t get loose? Have you ever tried to forget those things you’ve done and yet the pictures of you in that situation just keep returning to haunt you day after day? Have you ever felt so guilty about something you’ve done that you don’t think there’s anyway that you’ll ever be able to escape?
The only reason I am here with you today, the only reason that the Holy Spirit saw fit to remember me in the pages of Scripture is because my guilt was removed by a man who died not because he had to, but because he wanted to; not because of his guilt, but precisely because of his innocence. Let me tell you about my encounter with him.