The Thief Views the Cross 5

Colossians 2:13-15

I am a Methodist pastor, a member of that denomination begun nearly three-hundred years ago by John Wesley. The name “Methodist” was originally intended as a derogatory term, a criticism of the way Wesley and his followers acted. They were methodical in their faith and approach to doing church.

But the term became a name that truly described a way of faith and was quickly embraced by those who followed Wesley. What was intended to bring shame became an emblem of good work.

I think of this when I consider all that was involved in the crucifixion of Jesus. He was draped in a purple robe, handed a scepter and had a crown pressed on his head. He was mocked with the expression “Hail, King of the Jews.” A sign over his head on the cross proclaimed “This is the King of the Jews.”

All of it was meant to humiliate and mock Jesus, but in fact all of it brought glory to him. He is the King, deserving of purple robes and a crown. And so it is with the cross.

Meant to be a device of torture and death, the cross became a symbol of the new life we are given through the sacrifice of Jesus. Meant to put an end to things, the cross is where our faith may begin, with our sins forgiven. The cross does not hold the body of our Lord, but instead holds our sins. They are nailed to that wood and gone from us.

As this passage explains, we were dead in our lives because we had no connection to God. We were dead because we were laden with the sins of disobedience. But the crucifixion put an end to all of that.

Through the crucifixion of Jesus we are brought into a relationship with the Almighty. Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are given new life. The old is gone and canceled out. What was once a burden is left at the cross so that we begin a deeper faith unencumbered by sin and guilt.

Now, it is left to us to accept this salvation and start our lives fresh and new. The powers of earth and of hell have been disarmed. What was intended as a public spectacle of shame is a public spectacle of triumph.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you accept the new life Christ brings you?

The Thief Views the Cross 4

1 John 1:8-10

As a child my mother often read stories and poems to me out of a collection of children’s books we had. One that I always remembered was the poem called “Mr. Nobody.” The poem was about how things happen in a household – fingerprints on the wall, broken vases, spilled drinks – and the person to blame is Mr. Nobody. “Who did this?” Nobody.

It was a cute and clever little poem that held a very powerful truth. So many of us do wrong, whether intentionally or unintentionally. We make mistakes, we cause hurt, we fail. We sin. But rather than admit to our guilt we blame Mr. Nobody, avoiding the truth.

This passage addresses the same attitude in believers. What’s wrong with claiming to be without sin? What happens when we confess sins? What is the effect of denying sin?

One of the first steps toward salvation is to admit that we are sinful. Paul states in Romans 3:23 – “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Even the thief on the cross was self-aware enough to realize he was being punished justly. He had committed a crime and was condemned for it.

It can be a difficult thing to confess sin. It can be embarrassing to admit your failings and wrong-doings. It certainly can make you feel bad about yourself, admitting you are not perfect. Not only are you not perfect, sometimes you aren’t even “good.”

But when we are honest with ourselves we can receive the forgiveness that comes from Christ. Verse 9 reminds us that Jesus is faithful and just. He will accept our sins and remove them, forgiving us and purifying us. Confessing sin may be painful, but the forgiveness and purification that follows is wonderful.

What is also important to remember is what this all says about the crucifixion. By refusing to admit to our failings we are making Jesus out to be a liar. If we think we are good enough, that we have not sinned, then we are in a sense claiming that the sacrifice of Jesus, the atonement that Christ offers, was not necessary.

As we examine ourselves and our faith, as we look to the cross, we need to be honest with ourselves. We need to be aware that we do indeed need the sacrifice of Jesus for our forgiveness.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Can you confess your sins every day?

The Thief Views the Cross 3

2 Corinthians 5:21

Most movie stars, especially those in action films, have a stand-in. This is another actor, a person who looks like the star, who will “stand in” for the star during risky scenes, times when the star might be injured. The stand-in will take the hits and suffer the cuts and bruises of the action. The stand-in takes the pain while the star gets all the fame.

The crucifixion was the one event in time where someone served as our stand-in. The summation of our faith and our salvation is presented in this single passage from 2 Corinthians. Theologian Karl Barth explained that God chose not to reject humanity, so instead God rejected Himself in the form of Jesus. God allowed Himself to suffer so that we might not.

As the passage points out, God made Jesus – who had no sin – to become sin for us. Jesus suffered instead of us. And because of this we are all forgiven of our sins and all wrongdoing if we will only accept Christ as our Savior.

The second criminal was right in his statement of Luke 23:41 – “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

The same is true of us. We are deserving of punishment and condemnation for our sins and unholy living. Still, Jesus has done nothing wrong. He is pure and holy, and yet he has taken all of our sins upon himself – standing in for us – taking the pain while we get the fame.

And what does that mean to us? We are to be the righteousness of God. We are to accept this incredible gift of absolution, of having our sins taken away, and then we are to live out the goodness that is God. Because we have been forgiven we should live as holy people, obedient to God’s commands, and acting in mercy and compassion.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you be the righteousness of God?

The Thief Views the Cross 2

Luke 23:39-45

Reverend Dermot Thornberry, a big influence on the beginning of my ministry, shared his story of accepting Christ. He was living a very worldly life, a life without God, focusing on his human needs and desires, but also realizing that his life was empty and unfulfilling. Then someone told him to accept Jesus as his Savior, to simply say the words. He did, and then he wondered if it truly was that easy.
But his wife pointed out that from the moment he confessed Christ as Savior his fears and stresses were gone. He was a new man.

Over the years believers have heaped layers of ritual and pomp onto the practice of believing in Jesus Christ. For a recent class I had to read a book about the history of Baptism and was amazed at all the ritual and preparation – sometimes 2 years! – for a person to be baptized into the faith.

Some modern churches require months of classes and study to join the church. Others require close examination of personality and behavior before a person is deemed as worthy to join.

But in Luke’s crucifixion story we have the hope that is offered through one of the criminals (thieves) crucified with Jesus. How did the two criminals act differently toward Jesus? What realization does the second criminal have? What does he ask? How does Jesus respond?

In the two thieves, or “criminals,” we have two possible reactions of people to Jesus. There are those who are bitter and angry and wonder where God is in all the turmoil. Yet they do nothing to be part of God’s kingdom. Instead they muddle along in the torment of their empty lives. They may actively reject God.

Then there are those who realize that they are in a difficult spot and they are themselves to blame. But they turn to God for help and hope.

What is the result? Those who turn to God are saved. And they don’t need to go to classes or be baptized or give money to be saved. The thief was unable to do anything but confess Christ as Savior and that was enough for him to be welcomed into paradise. I believe the same is true for us. Nothing is required of any of us but to confess our need for Jesus.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Have you turned to Jesus for salvation?

The Thief Views the Cross 1

Luke 23:32-35
One of the center pieces of almost every Christian church is the cross. Most churches have one on the altar, behind the altar, or in the decorations of the church. Many Christians, myself included in this, wear a cross around our necks as a reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus. But it seems to me that most have forgotten just how important the symbol of the cross is to each of us, and how important the crucifixion is to our faith.

In Luke’s description of the crucifixion we have details of what went on. Who was crucified with Jesus? What request did Jesus make? What was the taunt from the crowd?

Jesus had been found guilty of blasphemy against the Jewish faith, and he was also accused of stirring up problems for the Roman government. So, he was handed over for crucifixion, and the prevailing scholarly belief is that the two men with him were not simply “thieves” as we would consider them. They were not being executed for taking a loaf of bread or snatching a purse.

In all likelihood these two men were rebels who had tried to lead revolts against Rome and were being executed for causing political unrest and committing treason. Jesus was put with them for a similar crime.

We know that Jesus was innocent of the crimes of which he had been accused. He was without guilt, yet he was under a death sentence. And still, in his mercy, he was able to offer forgiveness for those who were executing him.

But I also believe that this profound comment is for all who sin. It is for us as well. Jesus asks God to forgive “them” because they do not know what they do, and I think the comment applies to us. We are forgiven of our sins. We do not know what we do - we do not always recognize that our actions are sinful.

Jesus, in his comment, was setting the stage and groundwork for the importance of the crucifixion. Through his death – the death of an innocent man who was God in flesh – he would forgive our sins too.

The crowd jeered at him claiming that he had saved others; he should save himself. They also did not realize what they were saying. Jesus had indeed saved others, and he would continue to save through the crucifixion. When we see a cross we should be reminded of all that it means and how important that single act was to all humankind.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do to be reminded daily of the importance of Christ’s sacrifice?