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Sep 3 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 31, 2014 – Luke 23:26-47

Wandering Into Paradise

When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus. And following Him was a large crowd of people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Two others also, who were criminals, were being led away to be put to death with Him. 
Luke 23:26-32

Intro: Today we meet Jesus through eyes of a thief

At first this may sound dubious – after all, what can we learn from a crook?
– but an experienced thief develops a special kind of skill; namely, street-smarts
• a combination of survival skills and the ability to make quick psychological assessments
– they are frequently the first to spot a phony (they may have played that con themselves)

What did the thief first see at a glance?

He saw two other presumed criminals who were also being led to their execution
– one beaten so badly that a bystander had to be conscripted to carry his cross
• a large crowd was following the battered man
• and in the crowd, women were grieving over him
○ to see the women there was unusual, but not especially strange
○ some bandits and outlaws were popular heroes
– the beaten criminal spoke to women as he stumbled forward
• he told them not to weep for him, but for themselves
• this made no sense, so the thief turned and looked ahead to the hill where he would die

Vv. 33-38, “Skull”–death hovers over the place, even its name

“there they crucified Him” – Luke doesn’t drag this out in gruesome detail
– nevertheless, it wasn’t a storybook ending to Jesus’ life — he felt everything
• the sharp burning pain, the dull throbbing ache, the cramping of muscles in spasm
• at some point during this ordeal, Jesus prayed for those who crucified him

A few years ago I was reflecting on this story
– it occurred to me that we know who died, but have we grasped what died?
• that is, what actually existed in the bones & tissue of Jesus’ body?

When asked what sign Jesus would show the religious leaders in the temple to demonstrate his authority to enter it and drive out the merchandisers, he answered, “Destroy this temple. and in three days I will raise it up.” They assumed he was talking about the building, but John explains that he was talking about “the temple of His body.” (Jn. 2:19)

– what died, was the temple in human flesh, the incarnation of God
• the incarnation did not die as a doctrine nor did it die in all of its forms
• but the ultimate instance of the Word become flesh and making his home among us
– our most direct connection with God died
• of course, the thief did not know all of this at the time

Now comes the noise and succession of faces around the cross
– soldiers gambling for his clothes in shadow of the cross
– the people – a mixed crowd of gawkers and believers
– the rulers who finally had him where wanted him
• and to make his degradation and shame complete, they ridiculed him
– then the soldiers appeared again and joined in the fun

The thief observes all of this and perhaps wondered, “Why do they hate him this much? What did he do to deserve this contempt? For what reason?”
– when he looked over at Jesus, he could not see it

V. 39, Jesus’ ministry has come full circle

In preparation for his work, Jesus went through an ordeal in the wilderness
– Satan came with three temptations and he began the first with and “if,” “If you are the Son of God . . .”
• “Prove it! Do something spectacular and godlike!”
• now at the end it seems that Satan has returned and the temptation recurs with greater force than before
○ the rulers were saying, “If this is the Messiah of God . . .” and the soldiers, “If You are the King of the Jews . . .”
– as followers of Jesus, we almost wish he would have descended from the cross
• then with a blinding flash of power, given them evidence asked for
• I also imagine him saying, “I’ve proven I am the Messiah, now for my first order of business, I’m going to destroy all my enemies”

Phil Yancey expresses the feelings many of us have when he says, “At times I want God to overwhelm me, to overcome my doubts with certainty, to give final proofs of his existence and his concern. . . .
I want God to take a more active role in human affairs as well.”

– I have sometimes wanted Jesus to bowl me over with supernatural splendor
• I am less interested in his slow process of transforming me from the inside out
• gradually winning my heart and building my faith
– “Come on, Lord, just work a huge miracle, show me how real You are, and let’s get on with it!”

Helmut Thielicke explores yearning for miracles that satisfy this need and observes that “To seek after signs is to want to see instead of believing. It is to want certainty instead of assurance.”
He provides several reasons why Jesus refused to work miracles for those who asked (I’ve added a little to his list)

  1. Objective certainty is not the goal God is pursuing with us
    – we want something on order of scientific proof
    • like presenting DNA evidence in a courtroom
    – God wants our love and trust
  2. Miracles are “ambiguous” and not definitive
    – miracles are subject to alternative interpretation
    • “He casts out demons by Beelzebul” (Lk. 11:15)
    – miracles do not speak for themselves
    • their meaning is tied up in the word of Jesus
    Thielicke, “When isolated from the word, the mighty act is silent.”
  3. Miracles produce spectators, not disciples
    – Jesus is more than his miracles
    – his goal is not to convince us, but to win us
    • that includes winning our trust and love
  4. The impression a miracle leaves eventually wears off — its memory fades
    – in time, I can even begin to doubt or deny it

What would have happened if Jesus took the bait?
– our faith and free will would be thrown out the window
• the statement, “Jesus is the Son of God” would be reduced to the same status as:
“For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction”
– the point is not that God must give us reasons to believe in and to love Jesus
• but that we are willing to love and trust him for himself
• intellectual certainty is not on God’s list of virtues

Vv. 40-43, Eventually the insanity got to be too much and he had to speak

His first speech was to the other thief and it was was a rebuke
– visualizing this, I picture him yelling across Jesus who is between him and the other thief
• this is the first time since his arrest that someone spoke up for Jesus — and it wasn’t a disciple
– the thief knew criminals–everyone was innocent or else could justify his actions
• but not Jesus – he accepted his sentence
○ yet he knows Jesus is innocent
• I suspect it was Jesus’ prayer that clinched it
○ the fact that when he prayed to God, he called him “Father”
○ and his prayer that his executioners would be forgiven because they acted in ignorance
– the thief had never seen anyone like Jesus — had never even imagined anyone like him

The thief’s second speech was to Jesus–and it was a prayer
– speaking to the other thief he referred to Jesus as “this Man,” but speaking to Jesus, he addressed him by name
– all he knew of Jesus was what he saw that day and what he heard others say
• yet it was enough to throw himself all in
• and that was enough for Jesus
○ only the Lord rephrased the thief’s request
○ whereas the thief asked Jesus to remember him, Jesus promised he would be with him
○ and instead of “kingdom,” Jesus said “paradise”

Conc: On the cross, Jesus ceased to be the Messiah and king

For the priests, his followers, the soldiers and even his own disciples (Lk. 24:21, notice past tense)
– this is the reason the Jews came to reject him
• what kind of a Messiah would die on a Roman cross?
– Jesus ceased to be Messiah for everyone–except two people
• a thief and a Roman centurion (Lk. 23:47)
• for them, it was exactly Jesus’ death that convinced them he was a king and a righteous man

The other day, Barbara and I were talking with a friend who will be going to Israel with us
– she mentioned that photos of Israel don’t do anything for her
• she said, “I don’t know what I’m looking at,” so it all looks like ruins or unfamiliar landscapes
• but if you have been there and stood in those places, the photos are warm reminders
○  in a way, they allow you to relive the experience
– the same is true to a certain extent regarding the stories of Jesus in the gospels
• it makes all the difference if you know him
• then in every story you see his familiar face, recognize his voice, and your love for him is renewed

Do you need a miracle?
– then let your miracle be the one God works within you while sitting in prayerful silence
• let it be the miracle of coming to know Jesus as you contemplate him
• and in this instance, as you contemplate him through the eyes of a thief
The one person in the gospels who literally went with Jesus to the cross
– who went from death into life and from the place called The Skull to paradise

One Comment

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  1. JoAnna Tupman / Sep 6 2014

    Our trip to Israel (1992ish) remains my all time favorite trip! Many thanks!

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