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Summary: A sermon in a series on "Words from the Cross."

"Words from the Cross: 'Today You will be with Me in Paradise'"

Luke 23:32-33, 39-43

I would imagine that most all, if not all of us here today are very aware of our own moral failings.

And these moral failings or difficulties are often referred to by some as "our cross to bear."

And sure, we can be good at covering up the pain of our mistakes.

We can mask many things behind a smile, a laugh or even a gruff and tough personality.

We can be so good at covering up our guilt that we might even believe our own denials, or we might think that everyone else is as unencumbered, as unburdened as they look or seem.

Some of us are so aware of our short-comings and our sins that we wonder: "Is forgiveness really available for someone like me?"

(pause)

Some people might wonder why the Gospels seem to spare us many of the "gory details" of Jesus' crucifixion.

I believe the answer lies in the fact that the first readers would have been all too familiar with all the gory details that go along with crucifixion.

They saw it daily.

It was a fact of life.

The first readers of the Gospels would have had no trouble imagining the nails being driven into the hands and then the feet of Jesus.

They would have been very familiar with the hours of bleeding, the flies buzzing around the condemned person's head, the sweat and blood pouring off the person's body, the slow asphyxiation as the person's lungs began to close, and the hungry animals waiting at the bottom of the cross...waiting for a meal.

In Jesus' day as in our day now--with the newest terrorists--crucifixion was more than a way to kill someone.

It was a weapon of terror.

Those who didn't "walk the line" were nailed to a cross...

...the criminals, murderers, those who challenged the system...

...they were put there for everyone to see and internalize: "This is what will happen to me if I don't follow the rules."

Luke spares us many of the gory details, but we are told that Jesus was crucified, "along with the criminals."

And the word for criminals here literally means "evildoers."

And as we are all too aware, that is a word that could very easily describe any one of us.

It's been said that a person is known by the company he or she keeps.

And in life as well as in death Jesus hung out with sinners--people like me and you.

In Luke Chapter 15 we are told that the religious rulers grumbled saying: "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

Jesus allowed a prostitute to wash His feet with her tears.

He called tax collectors and ordinary sinful folks to be His disciples.

He touched lepers and ate with people who were considered to be "unclean" by proper society.

And eating with someone in the Middle East in biblical times meant you were willing to call that person your friend.

And Jesus ate with thieves, tax collectors, prostitutes--anyone who would have Him.

And as Jesus lived, so He died.

His companions at Calvary were two criminals.

This is one of the most powerful scenes in the entire Bible.

If Jesus wasn't afraid to befriend criminals, prostitutes, and people who were outcastes...

...how does that apply to you and me?

If Jesus considered "evildoers" His friends...

...are you or I too sinful to be Jesus' friends as well?

We are told that "They also led two other criminals to be executed with Jesus.

When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left."

But before either of the criminals says a word...

...in the verses that follow verse 33 we are told that there are a number of other "characters" at the cross.

The soldiers were there.

"They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing."

"The people," meaning a crowd, "were standing around watching..."

"...the religious leaders sneered..."

"...the soldiers mocked him..."

Is it not made clear that every person on the scene was a person in need of forgiveness?

And then to add insult to injury, even one of the criminals who had no status or authority...

...one of the lowest of the low...

...one of the most marginalized, outcaste, left out, cast-offs...

...one of the other guys hanging bloody and desperate from a cross joined in and "insulted him."

And Jesus "put up" with all of it.

Jesus Christ not only entered our world, He enters into the pain and hurt and horror that we see and experience all around us: a world where the good die young and the old grow lonely...

...a world of wars and cancer...

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