Wednesday of Holy Week - Luke 23:42-43 - April 1, 2015

Isaiah 62:11-63:7
St. Luke 22:1-23:43

Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds are continually afflicted, may mercifully be relieved by the Passion of Thine Only-Begotten Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.

1)         Two criminals are crucified with Jesus. One is belligerent. The other is penitent. One is convinced of his innocence. He will die with self-righteousness on his lips. The other is contrite for his sins. He will die with a prayer on his lips. One would rather enter Hell headlong, holding on to his own righteousness to gain entry. The other seeks, at the eleventh hour of his life, to enter the kingdom of Jesus solely by the grace and mercy of Jesus, holding onto nothing of his own. The first criminal has it all wrong so he blasphemes Jesus while hanging next to Him, suffering the same fate as Him. This criminal looks at Jesus with contempt. “He saved others but He cannot save Himself or us now.” This criminal looks at Jesus with eyes of flesh and saw nothing worthy of his confidence and trust. The other saw Jesus for what He truly was, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. So he rebukes the first criminal. “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Perhaps it’s an insight that only criminals and politicians have, to tell when a man is truly innocent. Pilate declares Jesus innocent three times.

2)         Criminals, politicians, and sinners, that is. You can tell that He’s innocent as well, can’t you? You see the way He dies, that His character is the same in death as it was in life. You see that there is something else there, a purpose and a driving force that keeps Him nailed to the cross. He dies unlike any other man because He is also true God. He dies steady, faithful, ever trusting His Father in heaven, the same Father who is punishing Him in His body for the sins of the world. “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.” Faith in God when God is one doing the smiting. Because the smiting is needed so that atonement can be made. Justice demands punishment of sin. Holiness demands the death of the sinner. But mercy demands that One die for the sake of the many, so that by this death, the many may be made righteous through faith.

3)         The second criminal sees this but he sees it by faith. It isn’t obvious to anyone but him what is truly happening. With no good works to cling to, with no innocence to proclaim, with only penitence and sorrow over his life of sin, he prays to God hanging next to him, “Jesus, remember me in your kingdom.” It is a simple prayer from a dying man who deserves everything he has coming to him. He has broken the law. He is a criminal. He is paying the due penalty for his crimes. But next to him dies Jesus who has not broken the law, who is not a criminal, and who is not paying the due penalty for any of crimes of His own. This criminal prays to Jesus because Jesus is dying for his so that it might be atoned for, that it might be removed from him, that his sin might be blotted out in the heavenly ledger and God the Father can say, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.(Jeremiah 31:34)

4)           This criminal is justified before God because He has nothing to offer Jesus. No good life. No great works. No good intentions. No innocence of his own. If there is any way this man will get into the kingdom it will be by mercy. “Jesus, remember me in your kingdom” because I have no manner of arriving there myself. “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Blessed words. Sheer comfort. Pure Gospel. Your sins, though many are forgiven, my son. Be of good cheer. Today you will be with Me in paradise. And so it is for all who believe in this Christ, true God and true man, that He is your only entry into the kingdom and the paradise long promised by the prophets. Do not hold to your imagined innocence. Do not go to your death clinging to your own works or intentions. Empty your hands from all these things so that you may use them to cling to Jesus’s death that atoned for every single one of your sins, so that you might be forgiven, absolved, and justified by faith in Christ. Amen.

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