Online Midweek Lenten Worship, March 17, 2021
Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service – March 17, 2021
Prayers of the Passion #5 ● Calvary/Marquette and St. Peter’s/Stambaugh
Soli Deo Gloria
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
Luke 23:42–43 (NKJV)
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 both urges sinners to pray,
And also answers their prayers,
Dear Fellow Redeemed in His Blood –
The Prayers of the Passion that we have meditated upon thus far have all come to us from the mouth of the Lord Jesus Himself:
On Ash Wednesday we heard Jesus speak of the prayer that He uttered on behalf of Peter and His disciples, that their faith should not fail.
We have heard Jesus pray on his own behalf, asking that if it were possible the cup of suffering pass from him.
We have heard Jesus urge all of His Disciples to watch and pray, to prepare lest we be caught unaware by temptation.
We have heard Jesus pray on behalf of His Enemies that the Father should forgive them.
However, this evening, the prayer upon which we meditate does not come to us from the holy lips of Jesus (but its answer does). The man who spoke this prayer is described as (Luke 23:32) an ‘evildoer’ or ‘criminal.’ While the specific evil that He perpetrated to obtain this title is not expressed, it seems clear that violence was a part of his crime. He is called a (Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27) ‘robber’ using a word implying to take by force.
We would not expect this prayer to come from this man’s mouth. After all, it’s possible that after being nailed to his own cross, he first joined the crowd, the religious leaders and the soldiers in using his mouth to mock Jesus (Matthew 27:44, Mark 15:32).
But then, as he hung dying on his own cross, something changed. It may be that the Spirit of God brought again to his remembrance what he had been taught as a child, rekindling a smoldering faith. It’s possible, after all, for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Moreover, He heard the things that Jesus said from His Cross (and what He didn’t say). He saw what Jesus did for his mother.
Thus, it happened by the grace of God, that a man who formerly mocked Jesus of Nazareth…was moved to rebuke his fellow criminal for mocking Jesus; to confess his own guilt and admit that he was getting what he deserved. He also declared that Jesus had done nothing wrong.
It was then that He turned to the man dying beside him and prayed to Him. May the Spirit of God so bless us that his prayer also become our prayer – not only on the day that we must depart this life – but every day. Amen.
We’ve all heard it said that ‘seeing is believing.’ In a few cases the expression is true. In other words, seeing something with one’s own eyes can confirm that it is true. There are also times when seeing something truly amazing doesn’t confirm anything, it actually makes us wonder if we can believe our eyes. “Did I really see what I think I just saw?”
If the criminal who offered up this prayer to Jesus did so because of what he saw…we might ask…what did He see? When he looked from his own cross to the cross next to him…he probably saw a man who was in worse shape than he was…and closer to death. After all, Jesus had been up through most of the night. He had been beaten and spit upon. He had been scourged and crowned with thorns.
The Prophet Isaiah said of the Savior, the Suffering Servant that (Isaiah 52:14, NIV84): j
“…his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
and his form marred beyond human likeness.”
The Prophet David described Him as (Psalm 22:6):
“.. a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people.”
Jesus of Nazareth…was dying and still He was mocked by nearly everyone. We are told that those who passed by – perhaps complete strangers - mocked the man on the center cross.
The respected religious leaders insulted Him. The soldiers who stood beneath Him offered ‘Christ the King’ their ‘finest vintage of sour wine vinegar.’ Pontius Pilate put up a sign, a joke really, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Then, even his fellow criminal made fun of Jesus, suggesting he come down from the cross – not to prove himself really – but to save him.
So…knowing human nature…if everyone was making fun of one person…would we risk being mocked ourselves and fly to his aid? If everyone in the arena was booing the referee…would you stand up and say, “He’s right. He’s my friend!”
So…what did this man see that would move him to believe that this man was a King? It wasn’t something he saw with his eyes…it was a miracle worked by God the Holy Spirit…in the nick of time.
What would move a man to turn to a man in worse shape…and ask for help? There is only one thing…a living faith.
So, we come to the prayer itself:
42 Then he said to Jesus,
“Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
There is reason to believe that the man actually addressed Jesus by name. It may be that He said: “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.”
Now quite often when we use the word ‘Remember’ we mean simply, ‘Don’t forget.’ When my wife says, ‘Remember to pick up the milk at the grocery store’ she’s really saying ‘Don’t forget the milk.’ She says ‘remember’ because she’s being nice to me and because it’s quite likely that I will forget.
When the criminal prayed to Jesus, asking him, “Remember Me” he wasn’t being emotional. He wasn’t asking merely that people not forget about him. He wasn’t just asking Jesus to think about him when he came to rule as King.
He was asking for mercy, that Jesus would not forget him or leave him in his sin when He came to rule as king. He was asking that his sins not be counted against him; he was asking forgiveness.
This was a real prayer too – a request – not a demand. He didn’t tell Jesus what to do. He didn’t say, “Get me down from this Cross Jesus.”
He didn’t offer a timetable. He didn’t say, “Jesus, remember what a good man I’ve been!” For to say such a thing would have been foolish. For just a breath earlier he had confessed himself a guilty sinner, an evil doer getting what he deserved.
We are no different and this truth ought to color our every prayer. The fact of who we are and what we have done should daily bring us to our knees…and from that position we ought humbly to bow our heads and ask for mercy. We know what we have deserved. We don’t even presume to lift our eyes heavenward, but like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable pray (Luke 18:13),
“God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
For this man, unlike so many in our ‘woke’ and ‘enlightened age’, knew that death would not mark the end of his existence. There was, there is more to come, no matter what foolish men say.
For as it is written (Hebrews 9:27):
“…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”
In the face of death, he turned to Jesus in faith. He didn’t know when it would be, but he believed that the man who died next to him would one day come into His Kingdom, would come to rule as King.
He was probably thinking of the Great Day of the LORD when all time comes to a sudden halt. It was then that He wanted the Lord of Glory to remember him, to forgive him and thus to include him as a loyal subject for eternity.
In many ways his request is reminiscent of the words written by Martin Luther in his explanation to the 5th Petition:
“We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look on our sins or deny our prayer because of them. We are not worthy of the things for which we are asking, neither have we deserved them. However, we ask that our Father would by His grace give us what we ask; even though we sin often every day and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.”
Did anyone else hear his prayer? Did his fellow criminal fall silent or did he laugh?
Did the evil doer expect a reply? Did he expect an answer? He received an answer…for the Lord hears and answers the prayers of those who come to Him in faith, trusting in Him.
43 And Jesus said to him,
“Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
The Penitent Criminal longed for help and hope, asking it of Jesus of Nazareth. They were both dying in excruciating fashion and hope was in short demand from a human point of view. But Jesus of Nazareth was more than a man, He was and is the Son of the Living God, who had promised (John 6:37b):
“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”
So, he turned to the man on the cross next to Him, and he began with the word with which we usually conclude our prayers. It is a word of certainty, of assurance – even if it seems merely the caboose to our prayers. Jesus said, “Amen…a word of certainty. Our translators try to express it in our language different ways: “Verily, truly, certainly, I promise you, assuredly.”
Promises, promises…the skeptic says. We make promises all the time and we fail. Our promises are often empty words. “I won’t forget the milk, I promise.” But we are often unreliable. We don’t keep our promises. We promise but don’t deliver.
This promise is different. It comes from the mouth of the one who is faithful and true; the one who always keeps His promises. He has a perfect track record. He always does what He says. Moreover, His isn’t a general promise, but a beautifully specific one.
Today… while the man who prayed spoke with uncertainty, not knowing when Jesus would come as king to rule…Jesus spoke with pinpoint accuracy, with complete certainty, with authority. The man dying on the cross next to Him would not have to ‘wait’ for the Great Day of the Lord to be remembered with God’s mercy and to obtain forgiveness and entrance into the presence and peace of God.
Today…In fact, before that day drew to a close…He would be a forgiven sinner in Paradise. Jesus said: Today. He didn’t say tomorrow…or after an eon in the grave. He didn’t say after a time in purgatory.
He said Today…and Jesus promised that the man wouldn’t be alone…no not ever again.
Today…with me you shall be…where he was going Jesus would be his companion. This wasn’t a fatalistic, mournful, cry: “Soon it will be all over for us, we will be together in the grave, in death.”
Today…with me you will be in paradise. Paradise…in the presence of God…in peace and at peace with God. There is a future life for those who trust in Christ. It is Paradise – and it is there that the People of God depart to at death.
Now let this prayer be your prayer each and every day: “Jesus, Remember Me when you come as King to reign.” God help us to see and to remember that we are by nature and action guilty, worthy of nothing but punishment. We are beggars for whom death is a certainty. We place all our hopes on Him who died on the center cross.
Then remember what happened on the third day. The Jesus who died also rose again from death, and his resurrection is the receipt of your redemption, proof that God accepted His payment for all your sins and the sins of the world.
We aren’t alone in this life. Jesus who died for us is with us always. When our Today comes, He will receive us to Himself, and we will be where He is. Our ticket is punched, our room reserved.
May we in our guilt and shame
Still Thy love and mercy claim,
Calling humbly on Thy name;
Hear us, holy Jesus.