Wednesday, March 8, 2017

First Lenten Midweek Sermon: "Jesus' Second Word on the Cross"

+ Lenten Midweek 1: Jesus’ Second Word on the Cross +
March 8th, 2017
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Text: Luke 23:35-43

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We don’t know the whole story of the thief on the cross. what he stole; how he ended up on the wrong side of Roman law – after all, the Romans didn’t mess around with larceny; theft was a one-strike crime and a one-way trip to the cross; we don’t know what his life was like before he spoke those famous words of repentance and faith: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

We may not be able to write an entire episode of CSI: Jerusalem starring the thief on the cross, but we do know the most important part of his story.

We meet this thief on the cross near the end of his life, or so he thought. In reality, it was the beginning of an unexpected story, with an unexpected ending. The thief dies, yet lives. The criminal is guilty, yet declared innocent. The man is on the cross dying next to Jesus and yet with Jesus in paradise.  

The thief made no excuses, no equivocations, no attempt to explain his situation. He simply confessed. “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’

The other thief, the one who mocked Jesus, was right about one thing at least. Jesus could’ve saved himself horrific pain and a world of agony and bitter death by coming down from the cross. But he could not have saved that thief or you or me if he had. So, Jesus stayed on the cross for you and the thief.

And the penitent thief saw in this naked, bleeding, dying man his King and ours.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

We’re not so different from that thief on the cross. Today, each of us comes with different circumstances. Some content and filled to the brim with life, happiness, and countless blessings. Some empty, hurting, bearing scars from the battlefields of life, empty souls, struggling faith, and wounded hearts. Others ache with the loss of someone we love, or for love that we desire but never quite seem to find. And still others wonder whether anyone thinks they’re valued and loved. Whatever kind of day today is for you, whether you’re hurting or happy, empty or full, content or anxious, we all need that prayer of the thief on the cross.

It’s a prayer of deliverance, from sin to grace, from a fallen world to a new creation, from death to life.

Today, that prayer is ours as well. We too need deliverance. Do we not fear God, since we are under the same sentence of condemnation? For the wages of sin is death.
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Jesus, who spoke pardon for his murderers, now speaks his pardon and promise to this thief:

Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.

But these words are not only for the ears of the thief on the cross. Jesus speaks these words to you today.

The kingdom, paradise, and forgiveness that Jesus promises is found in Jesus crucified for you.

The ancient church said it this way: The cross of Christ is the key to paradise.

In Advent, we sang these words:
O Come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

Now in Lent, we see the fulfillment of these words in Jesus crucified for us. As Adam was overcome by the serpent and the tree of the garden, Jesus, the second Adam overcomes Satan by the tree of the cross. And as Adam and Eve were barred from returning into paradise by the Cherubim’s flaming sword, Christ opens the way to paradise by his death on the cross.

The cross of Christ is the key to paradise.

This was true for the thief on the cross. And it is true for you as well.

Jesus, the innocent one, takes on all our guilt, shame, sin, and death in our place, and in exchange gives us his righteousness, holiness, life, and salvation. Like the thief, we deserve death, yet live. We are guilty, yet declared innocent. We were exiled, fallen, broken sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, but through the cross, Jesus has brought us back into paradise.  
Jesus’ second word on the cross is a reminder that wherever Jesus’ Word is heard, Jesus is there for you. And wherever Jesus is, there is his Kingdom, Paradise, and all his promises to you. Where water is poured out in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is there for you. Where Jesus’ Word joins heaven and earth in the bread and the wine, Jesus is there in his body and blood for you.

As he spoke to Zacchaeus, Jesus says to you: Today salvation has come to this house…for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

As St. Paul proclaims: behold, now is the favorable time; now is the day of salvation.

As Jesus declared to the thief on the cross, so he says to you: Today, you will be with me in Paradise.

Today is your day. Today is the day of God’s favor and salvation for you, whoever you are, and whatever your story is, today Jesus writes a new ending for each of us, penned with his blood shed on the cross for you. No matter what your sin, no matter how anxious your mind or how heavy your heart, no matter how deep your wounds, you are not alone. Jesus’ promise is for you. Today and always. Today you will be with me.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

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