Luke 23:39-43 by Pastor Chris Cordes, St. John’s Sleepy Eye
Midweek Lent 2, 2020
April 4, 2020
Luke 23:39-43, 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
No Time Like the Present
This whole Lenten season on Wednesday evenings we’ve been focusing on the Passion Positives, the good things that happened in and around Jesus' suffering and death. This evening we, perhaps, have the highlight of all of them. For what better thing could happen than a soul saved from the fires of hell?
The ridicule of Jesus was nearly universal. Matthew tell us, “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads. In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” It went even as far as the men who were crucified there with him. It’s hard to blame them on some level, though. Here was a man who had claimed to be God. Here was a man who had done so many miracles—even raised the dead!—and now he was suffering just like a common criminal, powerless, helpless.
You almost get the impression that they were having a grand old time mocking this man who claimed to be the King of the Jews. And yet, at the moment when the one criminal asked him about being the Christ, the other criminal had a pang of conscience. He realized how crazy it was to be mocking this man, a man he had evidently heard something about in from his preaching, teaching, and miracles, a man he knew was innocent. When he rebuked his fellow he said, “This man has done nothing wrong.” Literally he said, “he has done nothing out of place.” The man’s claim wasn’t just that Jesus had done anything severe enough to warrant this punishment that they were now facing. It wasn’t just that he was a pretty good person. His claim was that Jesus hadn’t even done the most minor of things wrong, not an action was out of place. This man, this Jesus, was perfect.
He couldn’t escape the enormity of his sin now, as he was suffering excruciating pains for what he had done. At this moment, it’s as if all the pieces fell into place in his mind. He suddenly realized who Jesus was. I have to wonder if he didn’t think of Isaiah 53, as he himself had nails piercing his flesh, did he look at Jesus and suddenly think, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities”? Regardless of what was going through his mind, what comes out of his mouth is very clear. He scared to die and is confident that Jesus can help him.
He is the only person in this scene to use Jesus’ actual name, the name given to Mary before the birth of her son. “You will call his name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” This thief knew that he needed someone who could save him. “Jesus,” he says, beginning his request, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He’s not simply asking Jesus to recall this man whom he shared Golgotha with. He’s asking for mercy; he’s asking for forgiveness. Remember what God did after the flood waters covered the earth? “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded” (Genesis 8:1). It’s not that God forgot about Noah, but he began to act in accord with his promise. He began the process of drying out the earth so that every creature in the ark could return to land. This is the remembering that the thief is requesting. “Jesus, save me. Bring me to your kingdom.” He had little time left. There was no time like the present.
Jesus looks at the man speaking to him, begging him for mercy and forgiveness. And he says the most amazing thing ever, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” There would be no long stint in the grave, no time in hell or purgatory to pay off a debt, no waiting in limbo for Judgment Day to arrive. No, today, this very day, he would be with Jesus in heaven. No if’s, and’s, or but’s. No fine-print. Just grace, pure and simple.
Every now and then you hear about a notorious criminal who comes to believe in Jesus in prison. The gut reaction for something like that might be for you and I know has been for me, “What? Him? He doesn’t deserve that good news!” Our sinful nature is able to work even right alongside our faith to feel a gross injustice has been committed when someone like that comes to faith.
And yet how quickly we find ourselves being that other thief on the cross, hurling insults. We forget that being punished for sin is not only what that criminal in prison deserves, but hell is what our deeds deserve as well. It’s just as much of an injustice for us to know Jesus and free salvation through him as it is for the worst murderers or sex offenders to find forgiveness in their Savior’s blood.
Brothers and sisters, there’s no time like the present. Now is the time to throw off anything that hinders us, and the sin that so easily entangles. Nursing sin destroys faith, and we have no idea if any of us will have a death-bed that might allow us to find forgiveness like this thief. Our lives may be ripped from us when we least expect them. And that’s why we always need to be ready.
We go to Jesus with the same humility that the thief did. We fall before him in repentance begging him not for blessings, but for mercy. That is why each morning when we get up and each evening when we go to bed our baptisms ought to be on our minds. Our baptisms are where God washed away our sins. Our baptisms are where we became God’s child.
So that means while we’re on this earth, while we live the lives that we’ve been given, Satan has no dominion over us. If Satan tempts us to sin and therefore mock and ridicule God, we have the power to say no. We take our sinful natures day after day and drown them in the waters of baptism. You go ahead and tell Satan that he’s got no dominion over you, that you are God’s child, that Jesus died for you.
As we stand before our Savior, we see him smile. “My child,” he says to us, “Do not be afraid. Your sins are gone. Your debt has been paid. Whatever day I decide to take you from that world of sin, on that day, you will be with me in paradise.” Thank you, Lord Jesus. Amen.