Midweek 6 LSB #’s 436, 348
Text – Luke 23:43
And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
THAT DAY & TODAY
“You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” It’s our Lenten theme. With the war in Ukraine we’re seeing this truth: evil is often louder than good. In news reporting, people say, “If it bleeds, it leads.” That is, you take a story that is sensational, even bloody, & you make that the main story. It catches people’s attention. It leads. Evil often is louder than good.
Another example. Criticism & negative comments tend to be more powerful, “louder” than positive comments. What sticks with us longer is the complaint or the criticism or the insult – we keep hearing those long after the kindness or the affirmation has faded.
This is why so many people carry around in their head & heart a truckload of negative commentary. We play those sound bites in our heads even when we are not consciously aware of it. Evil is often louder than good.
It’s true in the reading for this evening from Luke 23. It starts with “the rulers,” members of the Sanhedrin: “they scoffed,” our translation says. It might be better to say, “They kept on continually scoffing” – because when evil speaks, it is loud & long in its sin.
Without realizing it, they say true things about Jesus, hanging there on the cross. Jesus is God’s Messiah, His Christ, His chosen one. But He’s not there to save Himself. He’s there to die for all people. The rulers don’t see this, they can’t see it. All they can do is scoff & ridicule. How loud was it? Pretty loud.
Then, there are soldiers, the troops directly under Roman control; the executioners who actually kill Jesus & the two criminals. They know the charge that Pilate has settled on, the charge against this perfectly innocent man – the only perfectly innocent man ever. The charge? “King of the Jews.” It’s written on a piece of wood & posted over Jesus’ head. But that’s not enough. In their blindness, the soldiers mocked Jesus: “Don’t kings look out for themselves? If you are the king of the Jews – you even have a sign above you! – if you are the king, save yourself.” Laughter, mockery, insults – loud, evil words.
And there’s more. One of the dying criminals actually finds it within himself to rail at Jesus, to blaspheme Him, & once he starts, he keeps on doing it: “Aren’t you the Christ? Well, aren’t you? Do something!” I wonder how the rulers & the soldiers reacted when one of the men who was dying beside Jesus joined in the noise, the mockery.
They’d already taken His clothing. The Lord has no dignity left at all. And now this criminal’s voice adds to the din. It’s loud, & it’s long, & it’s evil – the way that evil often is. But then – there is one voice. He speaks to his fellow criminal, & then speaks to Jesus.
This solitary voice speaks not out of blindness, or ignorance, or hatred, or mockery. This believing voice speaks honesty & truth & hope. Honesty, truth & hope. We’re going to listen carefully to this voice, to the believing criminal. We need to understand what he said in faith, even with all the noise around him. And then, Jesus answers him!
Jesus hasn’t replied to any of the noise around Him, but He speaks to this man. We’ll listen carefully to Jesus’ voice, too, as He promises a gift. This believer – for that is what we have to call him – this believer 1st speaks to his fellow criminal.
We don’t know what these two have done, whether they committed a crime together, or if it was just their turn to die. But his voice of faith is, in the 1st place, astonishingly honest, about himself & his “fellow.” “Don’t you fear God?”
The unbelief all around him is ignorant, they don’t even know that something more is going on here. Something mysterious ... God’s justice is at work ... & something more. The criminal goes on. “Look – you & I are dying here because we deserve what we are getting. But this man has done nothing wrong!” In a way, these words don’t quite prove that this man is a believer – but how does he know this about Jesus? He’s right, of course. He’s very right & he has been hearing the evil voices around him, saying things that are actually true:
“If you are the Christ, if you are the king” & Jesus is the Christ, the king of the Jews. He is king over everyone. Jesus has done nothing wrong, yet He is dying on a cross. Can He really be the king? The believing criminal’s next words show the depth of his faith, & remember, this isn’t the 1st time that God works powerful faith in what seems to us to be an “unlikely believer.”
There was a centurion in chapter 7, whose beloved servant was sick unto death. The synagogue elders in Capernaum pleaded with Jesus to help the man: “He is worthy for you to help. He is worthy – help him.” But before Jesus gets to the man’s house, the soldier sent word & his faith shines:
“No, I am not worthy, not worthy for you to enter my home. But I know who you are, & I know what sort of authority you have & how it works. Don’t come to my house; I’m not worthy for you to enter it. Just stop where you are & speak. I know my servant will be healed.”
Jesus marveled; the Son of God was amazed. He’d never seen faith like this in any of the sons of Abraham; only from this Gentile.
Luke tells us about other believers like this: a sinful woman who knows Jesus & His mercy. She loves Him & anoints His feet & wipes them with her hair. There was a bleeding woman who believes that all she has to do is touch Jesus’ clothing.
There’s a short, rich tax collector whom everyone hates for one reason or another, but when Jesus comes to his house – transformation! And Jesus says, “Today is an unexpected day. None of you saw it coming. But today, salvation came to the home of this unlikely believer, Zacchaeus. Today.” So, does this criminal really know who Jesus is? Does he believe that Jesus, dying on the cross next to him, can still be the king? Yes, he does. Let’s carefully consider his words to Jesus. He speaks the truth, & he speaks in hope. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42 ESV)
We have to be clear about what this man is saying. He knows the truth. He knows that Jesus is the king, the King, surrounded by evil, as evil destroys Him. He also knows the truth that gives him hope. You see, if Jesus is that King, this will not be the end of Jesus! If He is God’s true King, no evil can stop God’s plan through His Chosen One.
If Jesus is the King, then the day will come, the day must come when evil is undone, & injustice overthrown, & the world put right. The day must come when Jesus enters into all the glory of His kingdom.
While he himself is dying, the believing criminal looks for that day. Remember me, Jesus, on that day. I deserve everything I am getting, but You can save me. That is the truth & the hope, so, remember me, Jesus, when you come into Your kingdom.
Friends, you & I have the privilege of being able to read Luke’s Gospel, & we know that Jesus Himself nails down the meaning of these words. Just hours before, in the upper room, Jesus made a promise to the apostles who were about to betray Him or run away. He promised to restore them after He was raised from the dead.
You could say “He promised that He would remember them.” Here’s the promise He gave them: “that you may eat & drink at my table in my kingdom & judge the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:30 ESV) Jesus’s promise will come true because after sin & evil have done their worst to Jesus, He will rise in victory.
And Jesus’ promise to the apostles just hours before will come true on that day, the day
of final victory, over every enemy, even over death itself. Somehow, the believing criminal has come to know this; God has revealed it there at the end of his life. The believing criminal knows the truth about Jesus, & has his hope set on the day of King Jesus’ final victory, & all he says is this:
“Jesus, remember me on that day. I don’t know when, I don’t know how. But remember me on that day.” And Jesus will. And that believer will have a place at the table with Abraham, Isaac & Jacob, & with the apostles themselves.
Honesty – he knew what he deserved. Truth – he believed who Jesus is. Hope – he looks forward to that day. But there is more, because Jesus answers him.
With Zacchaeus, Jesus had a gift for that dying believer before anyone expected it: “Today salvation has come to this house!” With Christmas, in Bethlehem, before the shepherds expected it: “Today there has been born for you in the city of David a Savior.”
Likewise, for the criminal who trusted that the true king would remember him on the great day, King Jesus has a gift already now, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Paradise is the place of rest & safety, in the presence of the living God.
When death comes to that believing criminal, his body & soul are torn apart for a time; that’s what death does to us. This will happen to Jesus, too, in the great mystery of the death of God. But paradise, rest, safety & peace, will be the portion of that believer, even as he continues to wait for that day. Death will bring a time of waiting, a time of resting, in paradise.
Jesus will remember him when He comes into His kingdom, but Jesus gives a gift, already now: “Today you will be with me in the presence of my Father, in paradise.” Friends, listen to the voice of faith, not unbelief, when evil is around you – even when your own evil wants to rise up & deafen you with its noise. There are lots of mockers & scoffers today. Their voices seem so loud. There’s plenty of evil in our world right now, & it can feel like the noise will crush us. But we have seen the strange & unexpected salvation of God. The evil came against Jesus & crushed Him, yet, when that Sabbath began long ago, no one living was able to hold on to the promise.
Nevertheless, victory came & death was undone, when the King rose from the dead. We are still waiting – with the church on earth & the church at rest – still waiting for Jesus to come into His kingdom with all His glory. Let that quiet voice of faith long ago shape & guide how you think & speak with honesty, truth & hope.
Let your voice speak honesty. “We are getting what we deserve,” the believing criminal said. And we say as well, that we deserve nothing but wrath & death if left to our own goodness, our own strength. If God left us alone with ourselves, we deserve the same.
Let your voice speak truth – the truth about Jesus, the true King. On that afternoon long ago, He was King when He gave up all His royal privilege & power. He emptied Himself, as Paul says, & became obedient to God’s plan to save the world. But He was still the King. That’s why the dark day did not last. That’s why our Lord rested in the tomb only for a time.
That’s why there was a “today” that no one expected – the today of Easter! Let your voice speak honesty & truth. Let there be hope, unshakeable hope built on & based on the King. This king has a great memory so no one who calls upon Him will be put to shame.
It’s Lent again, & that means that the final Easter has not dawned, not yet. There is evil around us & within us, but hope that is built on the King does not listen to the clamor of evil. We hear that voice of faith from long ago, & we speak as that believer spike: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” (Luke 22:30 ESV)
Your King will come, & He has a great memory. That’s why we’ll sing an Advent hymn
this evening: “The king shall come when morning dawns, & light triumphant breaks, when beauty gilds the eastern hills, & life to joy awakes.” He has claimed you, & He will remember you on that day.
And if you die before Jesus comes again in His kingdom – because we don’t know when that will be, it’s possible that you might not! – but if you die before that day, then Jesus’ words long ago become words for you, too. Today, you will be with me in paradise, resting in peace & joy with Jesus, as with the whole church we wait for the day.
These two hymn stanzas may be familiar to you; they are a perfect way to end our meditation this evening. Stanzas 6 & 7 of “For All the Saints” – with a slight paraphrase inserted:
“The golden evening brightens in the west; soon, soon to faithful warriors ... & believing criminals ... cometh rest; sweet is the calm of paradise the blest. Alleluia. But lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day! The saints – you, me, & a believing criminal – the saints triumphant rise in bright array. The King of Glory passes on His way. Alleluia.” LSB 677:6-7.
In the name of the Father & of the Son, & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet