“That Day, and Today” (Luke 23:26-43)

Midweek Lenten Service
Wednesday, April 6, 2022

“That Day, and Today” (Luke 23:26-43)

Our theme for this Lenten series has been, “You Meant It for Evil, But God Meant It for Good.” And evil is often louder than good. In news reporting, for instance, it’s the horrific story that catches people’s attention. Or another example: Criticism, negative comments, tend to be more powerful, “louder” to us than compliments or positive comments. The complaint or criticism or insult sticks with us longer. We keep hearing it long after the kindness or the affirmation has faded. Evil is often louder than good.

Well, that’s true in the reading for this evening from Luke 23. It starts with the rulers, the members of the Sanhedrin. “They scoffed,” it says, or it could be translated, “They kept on scoffing.” When evil speaks, it’s loud and long. Without realizing it, the scoffers do say some true things about Jesus, as he’s hanging there on the cross. Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, God’s chosen one. But he’s not there to save himself. He’s there to save others, by dying for all sinners. The rulers don’t see this. All they can do is scoff and ridicule. Evil is louder than good.

Then there are the soldiers, the troops under Roman control. They are the executioners; they actually kill Jesus and the two criminals. And they know the charge that Pilate has settled on, the charge against this innocent man–the only perfectly innocent man ever. The charge? “The King of the Jews.” It’s written on a piece of wood and posted over Jesus’ head. But in their blindness, the soldiers mock Jesus: “Don’t kings look out for themselves? If you’re the king of the Jews–look, you even have the sign above you!–if you’re the king, save yourself.” Laughter, mockery, insults. Loud, evil words.

And there’s more. One of the dying criminals finds it within himself to rail at Jesus, to blaspheme him. And once he starts, he keeps on going: “Aren’t you the Christ? Well, aren’t you? Then do something!” I wonder how the rulers and the soldiers reacted when even one of the men dying alongside Jesus joined in the noise and the mockery. The Lord Jesus has no dignity left at all. And this criminal’s voice adds to the din. It’s loud, it’s long, and it’s evil.

But then, there is one voice. He speaks to his fellow criminal, and then he speaks to Jesus. This solitary voice speaks not out of blindness or ignorance or mockery. This believing voice speaks honesty and truth and hope. Honesty, truth, and hope. We’re going to listen carefully to this voice, the voice of the believing criminal. We need to understand that what he said, he said in faith, even with all the noise around him. And then, Jesus answers him! Jesus hasn’t replied to any of the noise around him. But he does speak to this man. We’ll listen carefully to Jesus’ voice, too, as he promises a gift.

This believer–for that’s what he is–first speaks to his fellow criminal. We don’t know what these two have done, whether they committed a crime together, or if they were just lined up to die at the same time. But his voice is astonishingly honest, about himself and the other fellow. “Don’t you fear God?” he says. “Look, you and I are dying here because we deserve what we’re getting. But this man has done nothing wrong!”

This criminal on the cross may seem like an unlikely believer. But his next words show the depth of his faith. He speaks the truth, and he speaks in hope. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” We have to be clear about what this man is saying. He knows the truth. He knows that Jesus is the king, yet this king is surrounded by evil, with evil destroying him. But this man knows the truth, and this gives him hope. You see, if Jesus is that king, this will not be the end of him! If he is God’s true king, no evil can stop God’s plan from coming to pass. If Jesus is the king, then the day will come when evil is undone, when injustice is overthrown and the world is put right. The day will come when Jesus comes in all the glory of his kingdom. While he himself is dying, the believing criminal looks forward to that day: “Remember me, Jesus, on that day. I deserve everything I’m getting, but you can save me.” That’s the truth. “Remember me, Jesus, when you come into your kingdom.” And that’s the hope.

Friends, Jesus himself has nailed down the meaning of these words. Just hours before, in the upper room, Jesus made a promise to the disciples, who were about to deny him and run away. He promised to restore them after he was raised from the dead. He promised that he would remember them. He said that they would eat and drink at his table in his kingdom. And, after sin and evil have done their worst, Jesus’ promise will come true. Jesus will rise in victory on Easter Day. And his promise to the apostles will come true on the day of his final victory, when even death itself is destroyed.

Somehow, the believing criminal has come to know this. God has revealed it to him, there at the end of his life. He knows the truth about Jesus, and he has his hope set on the day of King Jesus’ final victory. “Jesus, remember me on that day. I don’t know when that will be. But remember me on that day.” And Jesus will. This man will have a place at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This criminal has spoken honesty: He knew what he deserved, death. He speaks truth: He believes who Jesus is. And he speaks hope: He looks forward to the day when Jesus comes into his kingdom.

But there’s more, because Jesus answers him. Jesus has a gift for this dying believer. It is the gift of “today”: today, before anyone would expect it. For this criminal who trusted that the true king would remember him on that great day, King Jesus has a gift for him already: today. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Paradise is the place of rest and safety in the presence of the living God. When death comes to that believing criminal, his body and soul will be torn apart for a time. That’s what death does to us. But Paradise–rest and safety and peace–will be the portion for this believer today, even as he waits for that day. Death will bring a time of resting and waiting in Paradise. And then Jesus will remember him when he comes into his kingdom. But already now, Jesus has a gift for him: “Today you will be with me in the presence of my Father, in Paradise.”

Friends, listen to the voice of faith, when evil is all around you. There are many mockers and scoffers in our day, and their voices can seem so loud. There is plenty of evil in our world, and it can feel like the noise will crush us. But we have seen the strange and unexpected salvation of our God. Evil came against Jesus, and it killed him. But victory came when death was undone. Victory came when the king rose from the dead. You and I are still waiting for Jesus to come into his kingdom with all of his glory. We are waiting with the church on earth and the church at rest. But we know that the final victory is assured. And we have our Lord’s own promise that we will be with him in Paradise as we wait for that day. So, let the voice of faith shape and guide how you think and speak–with honesty and truth and hope.

Let your voice speak honesty. “We are getting what we deserve,” the believing criminal said. And so, we say as well that we would deserve nothing but wrath and death if we were left to our own goodness, our own strength. If God left us alone with ourselves, we would deserve the same.

Let your voice speak truth. The truth about Jesus, the true king. On that day long ago, he was the king when he gave up all his royal privilege and power. He emptied himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross, for this was God’s plan to save the world. But he was still the king, and that’s why the dark day did not last. That’s why our Lord rested in the tomb only for a time. That’s why there was a “today” that no one expected–the today of Christ’s Easter resurrection!

Let your voice speak honesty and truth. And let it speak hope. Unshakeable hope, built on and based on King Jesus. This king has a great memory, and he will remember you. No one who calls on him will be put to shame. But for now, it’s still Lent. The final Easter has not yet dawned. There is evil around us and within us. But hope that is built on the king does not listen to the clamor of evil. We hear that voice of faith from long ago, and we speak as that believer did: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And your king will come, and your king will remember you on that day.

And if you die before Jesus comes again in his kingdom–and we don’t know when that will be–but if you die before that day, then Jesus’ words long ago become words for you: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” On the “today” of your death, you will be with Jesus in Paradise, resting in peace and joy, as with the whole church we wait for “that day” when Christ returns.

Published in: on April 6, 2022 at 12:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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