Saturday, March 26, 2005

A (Late) Good Friday Thought

My pastor asked a handful of us to comment on the seven last phrases of
Christ before his death. I picked out Luke 23:43, Jesus' words to one of
the robbers on the cross. Despite the robber's grisly outcome, I'd always
wished I was him -- the only person on record who received a personal
guarantee from the Christ.

--

You have been tried, found guilty of robbery, and handed a sentence of
death. Along with two others you are led outside the gates of the city to
have your punishment handed out - death by crucifixion.

As you are raised on the cross, your ears are filled with the heckling of
the man on the cross next to you. The crowds, the soldiers, and even some
religious looking men are mocking him - if you are the King of the Jews,
well, just come down off that cross then. Come now, come down and save
yourself.

You look across and the other man who is being executed is also joining in
on the act. Full of bitterness and the realization of your fate, you can't
help yourself and you join in. You throw your scorn onto the man on the
cross next to you.

Something isn't sitting right with you, though. The man next to you isn't
returning the mocking in kind. He's talking to God, asking God to forgive
the people mocking him. He's actually asking God to forgive you? In a
moment your eyes are opened to the shocking revelation that this, indeed,
is the Christ that you've heard about. This is Jesus.

The other man next to Jesus jabs again. "Aren't you the Christ? Save
yourself and us!" Your conviction burns in you now as you rebuke the man.
Jesus has done nothing wrong! We're getting what we deserve! A last glimmer
of hope is in you as you turn to the man next to you. "Jesus, remember me
when you come into your kingdom." The man turns towards you, looks you in
the eye, and says "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in
paradise." In one moment you have been given a personal guarantee from the
Christ.

Are we really any different than this robber? Perhaps we've lied to
somebody close. Maybe we've stolen something from work. Maybe we've clung
on to our possessions a little too tightly, or jealously eyed the
possessions of our neighbor. Maybe we've even cursed God himself. Our sin
nature guarantees that we've committed sin against God, and God's holiness
demands that we pay the penalty for those sins. We are all found guilty,
and our sentence is death. Not just death of this body, but a spiritual
death - separation forever from God and the influence of his mercy and
love. Like that robber we hang on to life by a thread, waiting for our
sentence to be carried out.

But a miraculous thing happened at that place of execution two thousand
years ago. Jesus, the man crucified between two robbers, paid the price of
our sin, a price that is forever out of our own grasp. He answered the
mockery of those telling him to save himself by saving us. Christ died for
our sins and offers us forgiveness today.

Our story began in tragedy. Living in a paradise, we scorned God and broke
his law. In judgment God told us that we will surely die, and we were
removed from that paradise. But our story does not have to end in tragedy.
God showed his mercy to us and sent his son, Jesus, to pay the price of our
sin. Through his work on the cross, Jesus offers us forgiveness today and
salvation from our terrible death sentence. We have a guarantee that,
today, if we believe in Jesus, we will join him in paradise.

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