February 9, 2020

Sermon for Septuagesima Sunday, February 9, 2020

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Passage: Luke 23:32-39
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Sermon for Septuagesima – Sunday February 9, 2020
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria

Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

Luke 23:32-39 (NKJV)
32 There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. 33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

And they divided His garments and cast lots. 35 And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”

36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”

38 And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS

39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” *

In the Name of Jesus,
Dear Fellow Redeemed –

There are times when we so focus on one thing that we fail to notice the things around it. Maybe you stop frequently at a local coffee shop or some other business; you go there once a week…but you never really notice the other business right across the street. Many people drop their kids off at Sandy Knoll every morning and pick them up in the afternoon, but in their rush to move on to the next item of business, they never notice that there is a church across the street – this one.

Do we do the same thing on Mount Calvary? What I mean is, do we so focus on Jesus’ Cross that we forget that there were two other men nailed to crosses? There were three men who died on Good Friday…not just one.

This Sunday is called Septuagesima Sunday. Septuagesima means ‘seventieth’ and is the first of the three Sundays before the season of Lent.
It isn’t really 70 days before Easter, but beginning this Sunday we begin looking forward to the Lenten Season and its culmination, the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection.

For the next three weeks we will prepare for the season of Lent by thinking about each of the men who died on Calvary. One of the men died in sin, another died to sin, the one on the middle cross died for sin.

Let us begin with prayer:
Lord God, Heavenly Father, I have sinned against you. I try to hide my sin, yet You see. I try to minimize my guilt, but my conscience tells me that it is serious. My sin stokes Your righteous anger. My rebellion causes you pain. Help me to see my sin and to sorrow over it. Lift up my heart to come to you seeking the forgiveness and peace that I so desperately need. Lord, you came to save sinners. I am a sinner. Lord, save me. Amen.

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32 There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. 33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.

We don’t know if it was customary to execute more than one criminal at a time. On Good Friday, however, two men were led with Jesus to be ‘done away with.’ They are simply referred to as ‘criminals’ – literally, ‘evil-doers.’ The King James calls them ‘malefactors’ using an old English word that means ‘evil-doers.’

We aren’t told a thing about their crimes or their trials. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark call them ‘robbers’ but the word really doesn’t indicate their specific crime. We may want to know their crimes, but God has not seen fit to satisfy our natural curiosity. Let us suffice it to say that theirs were crimes worthy of death…and only the worst of criminals were selected for Crucifixion. In fact, one of them admitted that they were getting that they deserved (Luke 23:40-41).

When they had come to the place literally called ‘Cranium’ – Calvary in Latin, Golgotha in Hebrew, the detachment of Roman Soldiers set about carrying out the death sentence. The Holy Spirit doesn’t give us the gory details. We are simply told that these two ‘evil-doers’ were crucified one on the right hand and the other on the left of Jesus.

We don’t know much of anything about these two ‘evil-doers’. We don’t know their backgrounds. We may assume they were Jews, but we don’t know that for sure either. We don’t know their names – though traditions offer different names.

We focus on the things that Jesus said from His Cross, but we only know a handful of words spoken by the ‘evil-doers.’ On Calvary, it seems clear that the first words spoken by the condemned were spoken by Jesus.

34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

Jesus’ first words were a prayer, a prayer offered up on behalf of ‘them.’ Just whom was Jesus praying for? He prayed for people who didn’t know what they were doing.

 We probably first think of the Roman Soldiers. They were simply carrying out orders. They knew that they were putting three men to death, but they didn’t really know who the man in the middle was.

 What about the Religious Leaders? They knew what they were doing. They were getting rid of Jesus of Nazareth, a thorn in their side. Still, despite all the miracles that Jesus had done, they still didn’t know who He was or what they were doing.

 What about the Crowd? They joined in crying ‘crucify him’, and they got what they wanted…but they didn’t really know what it would all mean. They all saw Jesus as a man and only a man.

The Soldiers did what they typically did on an execution detail.

And they divided His garments and cast lots.

There were typically 4 soldiers assigned to each candidate for execution. The men who drew the assignment divided up the effects of the condemned among themselves. We aren’t told what personal affects Jesus had, but it’s assumed he wore sandals, an outer cloak, a belt and a head cloth. The Gospel of John reveals that He wore an inner tunic that was woven in one piece. Rather than tear this final garment, the soldiers cast lots to determine its new owner.

This wasn’t just happenstance, but something foretold in the 22nd Psalm (cf. Psalm 22:18, Matthew 27:35). The Gospel writers point to each of these prophecies as if to say to us, “Your faith in Jesus is not misguided or misplaced. He is the Promised One.”

35 And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”

People did then what people do now – they people watch. Each man had been nailed to his cross. They waited and watched to see what would happen.

While it seems inhuman to us, it wasn’t uncommon for people to insult those being executed. There would possibly be those who had been robbed or hurt present. This type of capital punishment was reserved for the worst kind of ‘evil-doers’, for murderers, runaway slaves, rebels, traitors and thieves.

On Good Friday, the insults first came from the most unlikely of places. The Gospel of Matthew reveals the most highly respected of the religious leaders began to mock and insult. All of the classes of the Jewish Supreme Court – the chief priests, the scribes, pharisees and the elders -- joined to ‘lift their noses’ and insult the dying.

But all their insults were aimed at Jesus. There is no record that anyone insulted the two criminals, the two men who were getting the just reward of their deeds. No, they directed their venom at the one man who never mocked anyone, who never insulted anyone. No one came to Jesus’ defense.

Since we human beings have a ‘flock mentality’ like to be part of the group, the wickedness of the Jewish Leaders spawned still other insults.

36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.” 38 And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS

The Soldiers keeping watch over the condemned began to come forward to offer their own insults. They played the role of cup bearer, and invited the King of the Jews to come down from his Cross and join them in a drink of cheap wine (here called sour wine). They said, “If YOU, you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.”
They took the lead from Pontius Pilate, who had commanded that a title be nailed above Jesus’ head that read: “This is the King of the Jews.”

It wasn’t only a mockery of Jesus, but a final passing barb at the Jewish Leaders who forced his hand. This title was usually carried by the lead soldier – or the condemned himself – to the place of execution. This accusation was usually nailed to the cross to serve as a deterrent against any others who might commit the same crime. It was also meant as an insult directed at the Jews who were under roman rule.

It was then, as if to add insult to injury…one of the ‘evil-doers’ hanging on an adjacent cross joined the insult parade.

39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” *

 We don’t know whether he hung on the left or the right. It is sometimes assumed the left as if to agree with Jesus’ parable about dividing the sheep from the goats.

 We don’t know what his name was…though many names have been suggested. We don’t know his background, but we assume that He was a Jew, because it was illegal to crucify a Roman Citizen.

 We don’t know his crime. We do know that He used some of his remaining strength to mock Jesus’ claim to be the Promised Savior. We do know that He mocked Jesus’ power to save.

He did the same thing that the religious leaders and soldiers had done. He did the same thing that people still do today. He suggested that Jesus was a fraud unless He save himself – even though to do so was to sign the eternal death sentence of every human being…but He didn’t know. He suggested that Jesus save him – not for any grand reason than that he go on with his life…the life of a criminal.

He died that day on Calvary. We can only conclude – based on these words – that having rejected Jesus as His Savior, as the Son of God and the Christ, He died in his sins.

He will be raised from death on the Last Day to stand before the Judge. When He lifts his head on that day, He will again look upon the man that He insulted. He will shuffle forward with head bowed and will have to account for all of his sins…. not least of which was blaspheming the Son of God.
The really sad thing is that even blasphemy against the Son of God…can be forgiven. The Savior Jesus Himself said (Matthew 12:32):

32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

He won’t be condemned because He mocked Jesus, but because in denying Him he forsook the only one who could give him forgiveness. He will be cast into outer darkness, to eternal death, to hell the abode of Satan and his fallen angels. There is one sin that condemns – it isn’t suicide – it’s unbelief the sin against the Holy Ghost.

There is one thing still more heartbreaking…He won’t’ be alone. There are other people carried away by the lies of the enemy that will join him. They look upon the Cross as a symbol of scorn.

YOU…can do something about that…but it won’t be easy. The man who died on the center cross has enlisted you to do that very thing, to speak to coworkers, friends and acquaintances. If you are to do that you need to know the Scriptures yourselves. Then you need to share with others that Christ’s life can be credited to their accounts by faith and their sins transferred to Him. Speak the Word and then let the Holy Spirit do the work; but see to it that your own example does not undermine the message of the Cross.

There are three wooden crosses in the front of our church…it’s distinctive…a good choice for a congregation of Christians who have chosen the name Calvary. We all know the Cross of Jesus is in the middle, gold. The cross to the right, furthest from the organ, is black, and stands to remind us of the man who died in sin, who will have to stand before the Judge and be condemned.

God help us that we never join him to mock Jesus or die having rejected him.

Jesus, Refuge of the weary, Blest Redeemer, whom we love, Fountain in life’s desert dreary, Savior from the world above,
Oh, how oft Thine eyes, offended, Gaze upon the sinner’s fall! Yet, upon the cross extended, Thou didst bear the pain of all (TLH 145:1). Amen!