R.C. Sproul said “The most obscene symbol in human history is the Cross, yet in it’s ugliness, it remains the most eloquent testimony of human dignity.” This week, we are starting a two week series leading up to Easter called At The Cross, where we will look at the death and resurrection of Jesus, and what it means for us today. This week, we are looking at Jesus’ death. My favorite account of the crucifixion comes out of Luke 23:26-49 (ESV). We will look at some other scriptures as well, but this will be our main focus for the week.
As I began studying and preparing to write this week’s message, two things came to mind. One thing was that I had never really thought much about what kind of love God has for us that He would sacrifice the life of His own Son to pay for our sins, and it broke my heart to think that I helped to make that sacrifice a necessity. The second thing was story of the thief. You know, the one who asked Jesus to remember him in paradise. How brave was that request, and how much do we take for granted the fact that we can receive that same grace?
We start in Luke 23:32 (ESV), where it says “Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying “He saved others, let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” This brings me to my first point.
1. At The Cross, We Find Forgiveness
Even when the soldiers were beating and mocking Jesus, and throwing dice to see who would get his clothes, he asks God to forgive them, saying “They know not what they do.” How many of us would be willing to do that? How often do we hold grudges against people who have hurt us in ways that pale in comparison? Jesus is about to be crucified, and instead of bitterness, resentment, or anger, He offers forgiveness for His enemies. Whoever has hurt you, no matter the offense, we are called to do the same. Matthew 19:21-22 (NLT) says “Then Peter came to him and asked, ‘Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?’ ‘No, not seven times,’ Jesus replied, ‘but seventy times seven!” Can you imagine offering forgiveness to the people putting you to death? For most of us, that would be almost impossible. We have a hard time forgiving the person who cut us off on the highway, but Jesus forgave even the most unimaginable of offenses. What would it take for us to get to that point?
Luke 23:39-43 (ESV) continues “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘ Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’
2. At The Cross, We Find Repentance
If you’re my age or older, you may remember the song “Thief” by Third Day. It was a very powerful song told from the perspective of the man being crucified alongside Christ, and it follows the events leading right up to his decision to repent and follow Christ, even though he knows he is about to die. I always loved that song, and the story that it tells, and I’ve always been fascinated by that story. The bible doesn’t really give us a lot of detail about what crimes the man committed, but some translations call him a thief or a robber, while others just say criminal. All we know for sure is that he recognized Jesus as the Messiah and repented of his sin before he died, and Jesus says to him “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” No matter what you’ve done, what your past looks like, there is always paradise waiting for those who are willing to repent. Repentance is not an easy thing to get to. It requires humility, and admitting that you have done something wrong. It often includes consequences. It may not be pretty in the here and now, but it leads to paradise in the end.
Luke 23:44-45 (ESV)It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
3. At The Cross, We Find Reconciliation
In Jesus’ day, only the high priest was allowed to go into the innermost chamber. The chamber contained the two tables of the law, and the mercy-seat above it. He could only go into this chamber one time a year, on the Day of Atonement. This meant that the people did not have a direct line to God. As Jesus is being crucified, the veil is torn, making it possible for us to have a direct line of communication with God. We no longer have to meet certain standards to come to God. In fact, He wants to meet us right where we are. This doesn’t mean that He doesn’t want to change us, but it does mean that, no matter where you are in life, He will meet you right there. That is a genuinely beautiful thing.
Luke 23:46-49 says
“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last. Now, when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, ‘Certainly, this man was innocent!’ And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.”John’s account (19:30 NIV) says “When he had received the drink, Jesus said ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” The phrase “It is finished” is a very important details in this story, and it brings me to my last point.
4. At The Cross, We Find Our Debt Canceled
Have you ever owed someone something? I’m going to guess that most of us have. Whether it’s a car payment, a phone bill, a mortgage, or even just a small loan, we all owe something. Have you ever had that debt canceled? When Jesus died, He paid the debt for our sins. He came, lived a perfect life, and voluntarily died a horrible death to pay for our sins. John Piper said “Life is wasted if we do not grasp the glory of the cross, cherish it for the treasure that it is, and cleave to it as the highest pleasure and the deepest comfort in every pain. What was once foolish to us – a crucified God – must become our wisdom and our power and our only boast in this world.” The Cross is the symbol of the final payment for our sin, and we should always look to it with gratitude. John 15:13 (NASB) says “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” When Christ died, it canceled that debt forever. There was nothing we could do to earn it. Even now, we do not deserve the sacrifice of the Cross, but aren’t you thankful for it? Romans 8:34 (NLT) says “Who then will condemn us? No one – for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.” It is a pretty amazing thing to know that our sins are paid for. Let’s thank Him for that.
Father, we thank You for the Cross. We thank You that Your Son laid down His life to pay a debt that we could never pay. Father, we are so grateful that You created a direct line for us to come to You, to be in fellowship with You, and to pray directly to You. Father, we lift up the people of Austin right now. We are thankful that a scary situation has come to an end. We lift up the people of Maryland, and are thankful for the officer who stood up to evil, and saved countless lives. We pray for all those who are hurting, lost, sick, or lonely. May they find their comfort in You. Lord, we ask that You help us to keep our eyes fixed on you. Help us to be bold in our faith, and to be shining examples of Your grace in a fallen world that needs so badly to be shown Your light. It’s in Your Holy Name we pray.
Next week, we will close out this series by looking at Christ’s victory over death in His resurrection. I am really excited about this, and I hope you all share in that excitement. Isn’t it wonderful knowing that death was not the end, that Jesus conquered the grave, and we have victory over death through Him? As always, feel free to reach out if you need prayer, are interested in learning more about Jesus, or want to know what the next step is. Have a blessed week!!!!!