February 16, 2020

Sermon for Sexagesima, Sunday February 16, 2020

Preacher:
Passage: Luke 23:40-43

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Sermon for Sexagesima Sunday – February 16, 2020
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

Luke 23:40-43
40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” 43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

In the Name of Jesus, the Christ,
Who promises those who trust in Him,
“Today, you will be with me in paradise”,
Dear Fellow Redeemed Sinners awaiting Heaven,

There were three men who died on Calvary on Good Friday, but very often we focus only upon the man who died on the Cross in the middle…and for good reason.

Last Sunday we began preparing for the season of lent by taking a look at one of the other men who died on Good Friday. He did not die well. He used some of his remaining strength to mock Jesus of Nazareth, as had the Religious Leaders, the Soldiers and Pontius Pilate. He, with them, mocked the idea that Jesus was a ‘King’ at all. He suggested, with the others, that He should come down from the cross to prove His Kingship. He did not offer to use his ‘saved’ life to work goodness and light, but presumably would return to his former ‘evil-doer lifestyle.’

We don’t know his name, but based upon his rejection of Jesus we conclude that He died IN His Sins. This same man will be raised from death to stand before the Judge, the very man that he mocked. He will be condemned, for without faith in Christ, there is no forgiveness of sins; and without forgiveness there is no life eternal.

There was another man who died on Calvary that day, who hung on the other side of Jesus’ Cross. He, according to Matthew and Mark, also began the day by making light of Jesus…but it seems that at some point he stopped and started watching and listening to Jesus. In time, He became the only man to speak up in defense of Jesus.
He became the first of many who – trusting in Christ – die TO sin, and will awaken to eternal life.

Let us pray:
Lord God, Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, God’s Son; Holy Spirit, fountain of God’s grace, I am eternally grateful for the gift of faith in Christ, the amazing miracle that you have worked in my heart through the Gospel of Christ. Forgive me for the times that I’ve taken this gift for granted or have treated it as a small thing. By the ongoing comfort of pardon from all sin through the perfect life of Jesus – now credited to my account – I ask that you continue to strengthen my faith until faith becomes sight in heaven. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

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Unbelief is simply blindness, a stubborn unwillingness to accept what is plain and evident. There are those who find in these words a contradiction that they suppose proves that God’s Word is unreliable.

Each of the Gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John describe Jesus’ death on calvary in detail. They, like four different artists, paint the picture of the sacrifice for sins from a different vantagepoint and for a different reason. The Apostle Matthew and the Evangelist John Mark report that both of the ‘evil-doers’ crucified with Jesus also made fun of Him (Matthew 27:44, Mark 15:32). In an apparent contradiction, the Gospel of Luke reports that one of the two opened his mouth in defense of Jesus.

This is no contradiction. Evidently both men began by mocking Jesus, but in time the one fell silent and then in time opened his mouth to rebuke the other.

Now for a moment, put yourself on this man’s cross. The well-dressed and respected religious leaders began the mock parade by ridiculing Jesus. The Roman Soldiers joined them in time by coming forward and offering Jesus the King a sip of their cheap wine – if He would come down from the Cross. The accusation written by the Governor Pontius Pilate was nailed to the cross above Jesus’ head.

No one spoke in defense of Jesus. We can say one thing…it took courage to speak up on Calvary, to be the only dissenting voice.

40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?

He didn’t address the religious leaders who stood looking on. He didn’t raise his voice to correct the soldiers standing guard beneath Jesus’ Cross. He spoke to his fellow ‘evil-doer.’ It was one thing to feign no fear of the soldiers and the governor. It was one thing to pretend to spit in the eye of death…but his life was drawing to a close. He would soon be dead and would have to stand before God the Judge. If we had been speaking from his cross, we might have said:

Shouldn’t you be ‘getting your house in order’? You have been sentenced to death…just like Jesus. Shouldn’t you cast yourself on God’s mercy instead of casting stones?

41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”

It has become popular in recent years to attempt to ‘get inside’ the head of infamous criminals and serial killers. It isn’t enough anymore to just interview serial killers. Now we have feature length movies and television programs about their ‘reign of terror’ that either promote their deeds or minimize the things done by them! In typical humanist fashion, many suggest that these men are not ‘inhuman predators’ but ‘victims’ of a heartless society.

The ‘evil-doer’ who hung on the other cross opposite Jesus did not make excuses for his action. He didn’t re-write the history of his actions because he had not been sentenced to death for ‘jay-walking.’ He didn’t blame his parent’s punishment. He didn’t blame his growing up in a bad neighborhood. He didn’t blame his actions on bad company.

This ‘evil-doer’ confessed that he and his fellow criminal were getting what they had earned. They had done something worthy of death and so they were reaping the consequences of their actions. They were being punished justly, lawfully, for being lawless.

Would we do the same if we were hanging on a cross next to Jesus? Would we profess our ‘innocence’ and ‘bemoan an unjust legal system’ to our dying breath…or would we confess our sins? It’s rather artificial to answer from our padded pews, isn’t it?

This man was about to face his maker. These were not empty words. He was in great pain and anguish. He was dying.

God grant that we are deathly sober when we lift our voices and say,

“O Almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Thee and justly deserved Thy temporal and eternal punishment.”

Let us, like this criminal, admit that we too are guilty criminals in God’s tribunal, worthy of death eternal. There is no time to trifle with the grace of God. Instead, may God so move us to openly confess our sins and never minimize them or try to hide what we have done. For truly, nothing is hidden from His sight.

Now notice that this man didn’t only make confession of his own guilt and urge his compatriot to do the same. He didn’t only confess that they were getting what they deserved.

He also confessed Jesus’ innocence. This man – the man on the middle cross – has done nothing wrong. He said, literally, ‘This man has done nothing out of place.’ Jesus was human, but Jesus was in an entirely different category when it came to sin. He had none. He had lived in perfect love to God and to man. While our ledgers are full of black marks, there is nothing on his ledger out of place. Every ‘t’ of God’s Law perfectly crossed; and every ‘I’ dotted. The Father was well pleased with Him…in every way.

My Christian Friends, let us never forget that eternal life does not depend upon our goodness, upon our deeds, upon our best intentions. What we have done, our sins, ought to rightfully bar us from heaven. We don’t even deserve to stand at the gate and gaze upon the Father’s House! Jesus, on the other hand, belongs in the Father’s House, and not on a rough Roman Cross.

If the words of this criminal have been surprising thus far, then prepare to have your mind blown.

42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

There is some slight variety among the Greek manuscripts in this verse. I bring it up because there is good reason to believe that the criminal didn’t merely speak these words to Jesus, but actually called him by name.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

What is more striking…is what the man was saying. He was expressing his confidence that Jesus was really the Messiah King of the Jews. He was claiming for himself the very thing that everyone else was mocking. He wasn’t just expressing the idea that Jesus might be an earthly king to help to free the Jews from Roman rule.

This man was expressing the confidence that the man dying next to him…would return…would come to reign as the King promised by God. He, unlike his compatriot, didn’t ask that Jesus extend his earthly life. He humbly asked that when Jesus returned as King, that He not pass him by, but that He remember him. This wasn’t an attempt to cash in his confession for a spot in the kingdom.

He asked the King’s forgiveness. He didn’t claim that he was worthy. He asked for mercy, that when the day came that Jesus returned as King to reign, that He remember him.

We can’t help but wonder, “What was it that changed this man’s view of Jesus from his cross? It wasn’t what he saw, but what he heard, for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Jesus did not curse those who hung him on the Cross, but prayed for their forgiveness. He provided for the needs of his mother, Mary. The words of Jesus changed this man, made him the first of a long line of sinners who, looking upon His Cross, pray: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Everyone on Calvary that day saw the same things and heard the same words. Yet, not all came to believe. By the grace of God, grace come in his final hours, this guilty criminal came to be covered in the perfect righteousness of Christ; and his sins came to be covered, paid in full by the blood of Christ.

There are many who regard the two criminals as representative of the human race. We are all ‘evil-doers.’ We have all earned death eternal. Both men heard and saw the same things, one mocked, the other believed. The penitent thief is not an example of one with nobility, but one who experienced the amazing grace of God.

The King heard his prayer for mercy and granted it.

43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

It’s translated, ‘Truly’, ‘Verily’, ‘Assuredly.’ It’s actually the word we know as ‘amen.’ When we hear it we may think of it like an oath, the Son of God saying, “I Promise You.”

Today…not at some future time…but before that sun set on that very same day.

You will be with me in Paradise…not in the grave, not in hades, not in a made-up place called purgatory…but in paradise, a place apart from sin and sorrow, death and crying.

There are some who find fault with this ‘death-bed conversion.’ There are those who question the motives of other men who have followed the path of sin their whole life and suddenly at the last call for the pastor and profess their faith in Jesus. There are those who wish to impugn the confession of these men. They are not deserving of heaven.

No…they aren’t and neither are those who make such distinction. Heaven is not granted to those who have built up the greatest pile of ‘brownie points’ in the eyes of other men; but to those by God’s grace come to believe in Christ. Christ came to save sinners, not those who think themselves saints.

We know whose is the Golden Cross. We now also know to whom the black cross belongs – it belongs to the impenitent, to those who die in their sins and will face the judge and be condemned.

Whose is the Red Cross? It is your cross. It is the cross of the men and the women who come to death trusting in Christ and whose sins are covered in the Blood of the Lamb. These are the ones who have died to sin, it no longer has dominion over them.

They are the ones described by the Apostle Paul and the Psalmist David (4:5-8):

“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.”

May we in our guilt and shame Still Thy love and mercy claim,
Calling humbly on Thy name: Hear us, holy Jesus.
Amen.