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As we wrap up the series, “The Outsiders,” David Leventhal walks us through Luke 26:26-43—the thief on the cross—and shows us how the cross exclaims a warning, forgiveness, and grace. The cross is the exclamation point on this sentence, “God loves outsiders!”
God Loves Outsiders
Our True Treasure
Why We're Reluctant to Rescue Outsiders
Warming Cold Hearts
Forgiven Much, Loves Much
Jesus Came to Bring the Outsiders In
Good morning, Watermark. How are we doing? Yeah! Speaking of outsiders, some of you are like, "Who is this guy? Who is this? He is a lot shorter than the other guys who typically teach. Yeah! He has the little kid podium." My name is David Leventhal. I get the joy of getting to serve on the elder team with Dean, Beau, Todd, and Brian. I'm excited to get to be with you this morning to share from God's Word.
By way of introduction, my wife, Missy, and I are coming up on our twentieth anniversary this September. We're excited about that. Yes! Thank you! Yeah, she has certainly gotten the better end of those 20 years. We have seven kids. Yeah! That's right. We have seven kids, ages 2 to 15. God has brought five of them to us biologically and two through adoption.
Just as a side note, if that does anything for you or if you've wondered, "Hey, is adoption or foster care maybe for me?" if you look on the back of your Watermark News, Bruce Kendrick and his team will kick off another round of our Intro to Adoption and Foster Care Class. It's a seven-week class starting in August. If that does anything for you, we would love to have you jump in there.
Getting to be a part of this local body is just a great joy. Getting to be under this teaching has been awesome. I have thoroughly enjoyed the last four weeks as we've worked through this series called The Outsiders in which we're using the gospel of Luke and are looking at the way Jesus interacts with outsiders.
JP and Adam have led us really well these last four weeks as we've looked at the way Jesus interacted with the tax collector, the sinful woman, the Gerasene demoniac, and last week when JP led us through sort of the parable (or the story) Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus. One of the reasons I think this series at least for me has been so encouraging is it has reminded me of the fact that I was once an outsider too. I once had a Titus 3 life. I don't know if you guys are familiar with that passage. Titus 3:3 to 5 says…
"For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit."
See, I was raised in a home where Christ is exalted. My parents love the Lord. They've been walking with Jesus for half a century. They shared the gospel with me and my siblings the way I share the gospel with my kids: That it is a gift of God. It is not by works that no one can boast. But the soil of my heart was just hard, and it never really took root.
By the time I graduated from high school, I was fortunate enough to have a little bit of athletic success. I got the opportunity to go wrestle at a school in Virginia called James Madison University. Are there any JMU Dukes out there? Anybody? No? No? What if I said I went to Texas A&M? Would that do anything? Oh yeah! Okay. All right.
Yeah, so I went to JMU to get to wrestle, which was a lot of fun. When I stepped on campus, I was just an arrogant, prideful, angry young man. I was fully immersing myself in the things I thought were going to bring me life, the things of the flesh. I was pursuing pleasures. I just thought I was crushing life.
In fact, if the mid-40s David could go back to the 18-year-old David and say, "Hey, just so you're aware, big guy, down the road you're going to be working in truck finance and trailer finance, you're going to have seven kids, and you will have spent the better part of the last two decades giving yourself to the local church," I would have been really discouraged.
That would have been fairly underwhelming for me because I thought I was just crushing life, and I had the world in my hand, because I thought the things I was pursuing were giving me life until the goodness and kindness of God our Savior appeared. In my life, he appeared through a couple of guys who saw me.
Through a strange series of God-ordained events, I found myself second semester of my freshman year at college in a church. I couldn't tell you a single thing that pastor taught. I was looking around trying to get my bearings. When the service was over, these two guys came up to me. Now I knew these guys. They went to my high school. They were friends with my older sister. I don't know if I was more surprised to see them in a church or if they were more surprised to see me in a church.
See, these guys had come to know the kindness of their Savior as well. They had gotten saved. They'd come to know Jesus. Because of that, they were looking for outsiders who looked like they may not belong. They came up to me at that church, and they said, "Hey, we are going to be starting a freshman Bible study. Do you want to be a part of it?" I was thinking, "No! I don't want to be a part of your Bible study. I just got here! I'm in the second semester, and I'm doing just fine."
But I didn't want to be rude, so I said, "I'll tell you what. I'll come check out your Bible study." I did. Over the next several weeks as these guys invested in me and as they loved on me, they didn't pistol-whip me with a Bible. They didn't tell me what they could see clearly, which was that the things I was pursuing were not going to satisfy. They just kept loving on me.
One day as I was walking through the campus into the student union, I remember walking up the steps. The steps went up, back, and then in to the union. I remember thinking to myself as I was processing. Just God was working on my heart. I remember thinking, "I think this thing is true!" All of those seeds my parents had been faithfully sowing for so many years began to finally take root. God just flipped the switch. I don't know how else to explain it. The light came on, and I realized I was in a bit of trouble but that Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins.
That's why I've loved this series, because it reminds me I was once an outsider. It's a great reminder. Today we're going to wrap up this series. I think, frankly, (don't tell JP and Adam) I got the best week. When we look at the things we get to talk about in this series, I can't believe I get to teach on this topic. We're going to be in Luke 23, and we're going to look at Jesus as he is on the cross.
We're going to see how Jesus interacts with really three groups of insiders. I want to try and spend most of our time (if we can) on the last interaction he has. This is three paragraphs. Just a little side note, when you read God's Word, the basic unit of thought is not the verse. It's the paragraph. So don't study verses; study paragraphs, because that gives you the immediate context.
We have three paragraphs today, three movements in this passage we're going to try and get through. We're going to see in Luke 23, verses 26 to 31, the cross exclaims a warning. In verses 32 to 38, we're going to see how the cross exclaims forgiveness, and then verses 39 to 43 are how the cross exclaims grace.
Then what I'd like to do is zoom out a little bit. I want to remind you of what the punch line is of this entire series as we wrap it up, which is that God loves outsiders. What I want you to hear from me today, what I want you to walk away with, is this. The cross is the exclamation point on this sentence: "God loves outsiders!" Let me say that to you again. The cross is the exclamation point on the sentence, "God loves outsiders!"
Here's the deal. If you've been in the church for a while, if you've gotten into your routine, if you have your little Christian bubble, you may not be that interested in engaging outsiders, because frankly it can be messy. It can require time, effort, and energy. We got a good thing. We like to keep the carpet clean, books on our bookshelf all squared away. When you get into somebody's life who is racked and ravished by sin, who is a slave to their passions, it can be messy.
When I was a freshman in college when I would stumble over myself and fall back into sin that had owned me for so many years, those guys didn't give up on me. They kept investing in me because that's what God calls us to do once we are moved from an outsider to a child of God. I think a lot of us have just grown comfortable, and we've stopped looking for the outsiders who God in his sovereignty placed in our lives…in our workplaces, our family, our neighborhood, the places you hang out (the golf club, the gym).
We're not looking because we just want to go about our day. I think we are missing a big part of what God calls us to. Have you ever noticed there are certain people who have a higher propensity to have stories of, "Can you believe what God just did?" Like those kind of stories? Those are the folks who are out there engaging the lost. They're trying to figure out, "How can we take this person who doesn't know Jesus and who is pursuing things we know are going to lead to death, and how can we invite them to know the loving-kindness of our Savior?"
I think we've forgotten, we've grown cold, or we've grown comfortable. But if we want to be like Jesus, if we want to be a fully devoted follower of Christ, we have to remember the cross is the exclamation point on the sentence, "God loves outsiders!"
If you have your Bibles, turn with me to Luke 23. What I'd like to do is I want to read you the whole passage at one time. I tell people frequently we don't worship the Bible (the pages, the ink). We don't worship the Bible. We worship the God who has spoken to us and has given us his Word, but you will not get to know the God who has given us his Word if you're not spending time in the Word.
You should be abiding daily, not because you have to but just because that's how we get to know God. That's how we get to know Jesus. Man, as I have run back through Luke a couple of times, I've been so encouraged by what Luke wrote. If you've never read Luke cover-to-cover or haven't been in it a while, I encourage you, take some time and read Luke.
Go carve out three hours. Get you a cup of coffee or a Topo Chico, and just read through it front to back. Just be blessed by what Luke writes. Okay? Now as we jump into verse 26, we are stepping right into the middle of a scene. It's like walking into a movie halfway through. Let me give you a little bit of context of what's going on. I think sometimes our familiarity of this passage does us a disservice. Let me remind you of what's happening.
In Luke 22, the plot to kill Jesus has been put into motion by the religious leaders of the day. One of his 12 disciples (Judas) has decided to betray him. Jesus goes before the Father in Gethsemane, and he prays. He says, "Lord, if you can take this cup, please. But not my will but your will be done." He sweats drops of blood such is his stress.
He is betrayed by that disciple. He is arrested. All of his friends abandon him. He is denied three times by one of the guys in his inner circle. He is mocked, and he is beaten by the religious leadership. Then we get to chapter 23 where he is taken before Pilate who declares him not guilty. Pilate finds out Jesus is from Galilee, and he ships him over to Herod Antipas, who happens to be in Jerusalem at that time.
Herod Antipas finds no guilt in this man, but he mocks him and treats him with contempt. He ships him back over to Pilate, who two more times declares him not guilty. Yet the voices of the people prevailed, and Pilate hands Jesus over to be crucified and releases Barabbas, a known killer. Now we pick up the story in verse 26.
*"And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. *
But turning to them Jesus said, 'Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep 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 wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?'
*Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, 'He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!' *
*The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, 'If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!' There was also an inscription over him, 'This is the King of the Jews.' 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.' And he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' And he said to him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.'"
1._ The cross exclaims a warning._ Jesus is being taken to The Skull, to Golgotha. He is carrying this cross. It is likely the top beam of the cross, not the full cross. Let's not forget that Jesus was a carpenter. This was a strong man. He was used to working with his hands. In the previous 24 hours, he likely has not slept. He has likely not eaten. He has been beaten repeatedly. He has had his back laid open by the Roman guard as they whipped him. He has lost blood.
Isaiah says he would have been unrecognizable he would have been beaten so badly. He needs some help carrying that cross, so the Romans grab Simon of Cyrene. Cyrene is in modern-day Libya (northern Africa). There's a group of women who are following, lamenting, and mourning. Jesus turns to these women, and he says, "Daughters of Jerusalem…"
Let me stop right there. That phrase, "Daughters of Jerusalem…" is stock language from your Old Testament. What's it meant to let us know is Jesus, while he is talking to these women who are immediately with him, that language refers to the nation. He is not just speaking to the women. He is speaking to the nation of Israel when he says, "Daughters of Jerusalem…" He says, "…do not weep for me…"
Now I have to be honest. That phrase caught my attention because I was always told as a husband, "Hey, dude. Don't ever tell your wife she can't cry." Yet here is Jesus telling these women not to cry for him. What's going on? I did some studying, and I discovered that phrase, "…do not weep…" is used three times in your New Testament, all three in the gospel of Luke.
In Luke 7:13, Jesus is going through a village called Nain, and there's a funeral procession. There's a widow, and that widow's only son has died. Jesus stops the procession, and he says, "Do not weep." He raises that boy from the dead.
In Luke 8:52, Jairus has a daughter. He is a ruler in the synagogue. He has a 13-year-old daughter. I have a 13-year-old daughter. That little girl got sick, and she died. When they get to the room where the little girl is dead, Jesus says to the people who are mourning, "Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping." Jesus raises that little girl from the dead.
Now in Luke 23, Jesus is on his way to die, and he says to the women, "…do not weep for me…" What's his point? Well, I think Luke wants us to remember that when Jesus is involved, death is not final. Death is not that big of a deal for the believer. It is the closing of your eyes in this earth and the beginning of eternity. When Christ is involved, death is not that big of a deal, but he does say, "You're right to weep, but not for my death." "…weep for yourselves and for your children."
Why would he say that? Because he understands judgment is coming. The nation of Israel has rejected their king, and whenever we reject God, it always brings death. Jesus says, "Don't weep for me; weep for yourselves." In fact, Jesus himself wept for the city. In Luke 19 as Jesus is approaching the city he loves, Luke tells us…
"And when he drew near and saw the city, [Jesus] wept over it, saying, 'Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.'"
They are mourning. They were right to mourn. They just had it misdirected. They should have been weeping for themselves, because when you reject God, it always brings death. Jesus says, "You have rejected me as your king, and it is not going to go well for you." He says, "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!'"
That's a complete reversal of the biblical narrative that says children are always a blessing. You never tell a woman who is barren, "Blessed are you!" Yet Jesus says a time is coming when that's going to be what you're going to utter. In fact, you're going to wish the mountains would fall on you. You're going to want to be buried alive it's going to be so bad.
"For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?" What does that mean? Well, I'll tell you. Jesus is the green wood. Green wood is living. It's hard to burn. I'm not a camper, but when I've tried to camp, I know you can't burn living wood. Jesus says if they will burn green wood, what will they do to the dry wood? The dry wood is the nation of Israel in judgment. How quickly will that wood go up in flames?
Now there's an interpretive challenge here we have to address. When Jesus says, "For if they do these things when the wood is green…" you should be asking, "Well, who is the they?" Right? In normal conversations if I were to say to you, "I saw Ryan and Kris Howell in the parking lot. They were getting out of their car," you would know the they in the second sentence refers to Ryan and Kris Howell, right?
Well, in this, there's no immediate reference to point to who the they is. Scholars and commentators over the decades, over the centuries, have debated who the they might be. Is it the Romans? Is it the Jews? Here's what I think it is. I think the they is in reference to God. I think Luke is saying, "If the Father will do this to his living and perfect Son, if he will apply judgment to him like this, what will he do when he comes back? How quickly will that wood go up?"
Jesus' words came to fulfillment in AD 70 when Titus surrounded the city of Jerusalem. So AD 70. This passage took… You know, Jesus died (I'll call it) in AD 30. You have 40 years. Jesus says, "…weep for yourselves and for your children." So you have about a generation and a half you're thinking about in terms of a time frame. Sure enough, 40 years later, Titus surrounds the city, puts a siege on it, builds a wall 8 kilometers around the city to hem in the city.
Over the course of many months, there was a brutal and bloody campaign to destroy the city. When the food supplies got low, there are accounts of people eating cow dung, of people eating hay. There are accounts of infanticide cannibalism within the walls of Jerusalem. "Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!"
When the Jews would try to sneak out of the walled city at night to try and find food in the surrounding areas, the Romans would capture them. It is said that Titus crucified up to 500 Jews per day outside the city. Five hundred per day! Some of the Jews as they attempted to escape from the city swallowed some of their coins thinking, "If we can get out of here, we'll at least have some money to get started." When the Romans discovered that was what was happening, they began to disembowel them as they would come out of the city as they caught them.
This was a brutal campaign. Josephus writes that with the exception of a part of the Western Wall (which is still there today) and a couple of towers, the entire city was leveled such that you would not have known a city had been there if you'd come up on it, just like Jesus said was going to happen.
The cross exclaims a warning. God in his sovereignty has placed you, has placed me, in our world, in our circumstances to serve as a warning to others. When we see people who are pursuing the things that lead to death, we're called to raise our hands and say, "That is not going to work out well for you!" It is not loving to be silent in the face of sin. We are there to proclaim a warning.
I've had contact lenses for three decades. Some of you may be thinking, "Well, why are you wearing readers?" Well, getting old is not that fun. For three decades, I've had the same routine. I take my contacts out the last thing at night. I put them in first thing in the morning. Lather, rinse, repeat…every day for three decades.
Not too long ago, I got up one morning, got out of bed, got my contacts, squirted the solution to rinse it off, put the contact in my eye. I promise you it felt like somebody had stabbed me in the eye with an ice pick. I pulled that contact out, and my eye was already bright red. I was like, "What did I do?" I went and got the box. I discovered that no fewer than three warnings were on that box that said, "This is contact soap. Do not put in your eyes."
I looked at the bottle. Two spots on the bottle said, "Do not put directly in your eyes." They even put a red cap on the bottle to let you know, "Don't put this in your eyes!" I don't know how I missed it (those warnings). I'd never done it before. I certainly haven't done it since. There were all these warnings, and I just walked right through it. I ended up burning my eye.
I think what God wants us to remember is there are warnings all around your life. If you do not know Jesus, you're here this morning, and this is a red-cap morning for you. There's a warning, and you need to pay attention. The cross exclaims a warning.
2._ The cross exclaims forgiveness. "Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull…" _Golgotha is the Aramaic term, the Latin is Calvary. "…there they crucified…the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'"
One commentator wrote their ignorance was not from a lack of knowledge. It was an erroneous view of God's activity. Because Jesus loved these people, he prays for them. He asks the Father to forgive them. Who is this man who prays for the people who are killing him? I don't have a category for that, frankly. So deep was his love. There is not a shred of hypocrisy in Jesus. What do I mean by that?
Luke 6. Jesus told his followers, "But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either." What kind of love would compel a man to do that? See, Jesus didn't view the Romans and the Jews as his enemies. He viewed them as lost sheep. Sheep that are lost need to be found. Jesus prays for them.
If you've read your Watermark News this morning, there's a story in there about a friend of ours named Joseph who stole six figures worth of golf clubs from the owner of his company. You read that story, and you get to the punch line. You see this owner forgives Joseph. That's crazy! People in this community would say that owner is an idiot for offering forgiveness to that guy who stole from him, but that's what God's people do. They offer forgiveness.
They mocked him, right? How would you expect people to respond to a God who loves like that, to a Savior who is on the cross praying? How would you respond to that humility? "And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, 'He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!' The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, 'If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!' There was also an inscription over him, 'This is the King of the Jews.'"
There is zero response to that kind of love from the people who were killing him. They call for Jesus three times, "Save yourself!" as if Jesus could not have saved himself. In Matthew's account of this, when Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane and the soldiers come to arrest him, one of Jesus' knucklehead disciples decides to lop off the ear of one of the servants.
Jesus turns to his disciples and says in Matthew 26, "Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" Don't miss this. Jesus wasn't up there because he didn't have the ability. He was up there because he saw the priority, that his death would be the mechanism by which lost men could be saved, including the lost men who were crucifying him.
What's the takeaway? The cross exclaims forgiveness. This is no ordinary love. We want vengeance. We want justice. It's hard for us to even get our arms around that kind of love. If we're honest, we would prefer God smite our enemies. I get cut off in traffic, and I'm ready just to go crazy. Right? How different is Jesus?
I'm a whole lot more like a guy named Gary Plauche. See, in 1984, Gary Plauche had a son named Jody. He was an 11-year-old boy taking karate lessons from a man named Jeff Doucet. Come to find out, Doucet had been abusing this boy for well over a year. In February of 1984, Jeff Doucet kidnapped this boy and took him to California where, over the course of 10 days, he continued to abuse that boy.
For some reason, Doucet allowed Jody (this 11-year-old boy) to call his parents collect. When he did, the police traced the call. They arrested him at a hotel outside of Los Angeles. Jody was reunited with his family. Doucet was arrested. On March 16, he was flown back through LA to Baton Rouge where he was going to face trial for his crimes.
As the police were escorting Doucet through the airport, Gary Plauche was there. He'd been tipped off by a TV reporter that was when and where they were going to be bringing Doucet through. Gary Plauche was wearing a white ball cap and sunglasses. He was talking on a payphone. When they brought Doucet by, Gary Plauche turned around and with a snub-nosed .38-caliber pistol full of hollow-point bullets, he shot that man in the head from three feet away and killed him.
Justice. Vigilante. Quick revenge. I think that's what's in our hearts sometimes. I have an 11-year-old son. I get it. Jesus did the opposite. He prays for his enemies. He prays for their forgiveness. That's what he calls us to do. The cross exclaims a warning. The cross exclaims forgiveness.
3._ The cross exclaims grace_. This is the good part of the message. If you've not been paying attention to this point, that's okay. Pay attention now. This is the highlight of the passage. This is the highlight of the last five weeks. Verse 39: "One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, 'Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!' But the other [criminal] rebuked him, saying, 'Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?'"
"Do you not fear God…?" This is the first rational thing anybody has said in about three chapters, and it comes from the mouth of a criminal. This man has learned something. Proverbs 1 tells us, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." What has this man learned? Well, I'll tell you. He has learned God exists and he is to be feared.
He says, "…you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds." This man declares. There's a confession of his guilt. There's a confession of the appropriateness of their punishment, that the wages of sin leads to death. He gets it. "We're on the cross. We deserve to be here."
"But this man has done nothing wrong." There's a confession of the innocence of Jesus. "And he said, 'Jesus…'" Don't miss that. He calls Jesus by name. That got my attention, and I asked myself, "Self, how often do people call Jesus' name, address him as that?" I looked. In the gospel of Luke, the name Jesus is recorded 106 times. Jesus went here. Jesus did this. Jesus did that.
There are only five instances where somebody addresses Jesus by name. Do you want to know what happens? I'm going to tell you. Two instances are individuals who are demon-possessed. In Luke 4, there's a demon-possessed man in Capernaum. He says, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?" Jesus heals that man.
In Luke 8, there is the Gerasene demoniac, which JP taught on a few weeks back. He runs up to Jesus and says, "…Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" Jesus heals that man. There are two groups of people who need physical healing. In Luke 17, there are 10 lepers. They see Jesus come by, and they cry out, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." Jesus heals all 10 lepers.
There's a blind beggar in Luke 18 who hears that Jesus is coming down the road. He gets to hollering. "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" He won't shut up. They finally bring him to Jesus, and Jesus heals him. Then there's a man whose life has been ruined and racked with sin. He is hanging next to Jesus on a cross. He says, "Jesus, remember me…" Jesus is going to heal that man.
He says, "…remember me when you come into your kingdom." He is acknowledging there is a kingdom. That kingdom belongs to Jesus. He is the king there, and he is not going to be there. Did you catch that? There are three sentences uttered by this criminal on the cross. Impeccable theology. Here's what he says.
In three sentences, this man has acknowledged God exists. He is to be feared. Jesus was innocent. Jesus is a king who is going to have a kingdom, and he is going to reign on that throne. He (this man) is a sinful man. He is unworthy to be there. He has a right understanding of the gospel, and he asks Jesus, "Remember me."
How do you suppose God responds to that kind of confession from that kind of man? Well, you don't have to wonder because Luke already told us in Luke, chapter 15. There are three parables: parable of the lost sheep, parable of the lost coin, parable of the lost son. Actually, it's the parable of two lost boys.
At the end of each parable, all of the parables are all the same. Something of value is lost. There's a search. That thing is found, and there's a celebration. Jesus tells us in Luke 15 after the sheep has been found, "Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."
When that lost coin (one of 10) is found, Jesus says, "Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents." In Luke 15 when that boy comes home, the father in the parable says, "It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found."
We know how God responds to repentant sinners, even criminals. Jesus says to this man, "Truly I say to you…" Truly. Literally, "Amen! Verily, verily! Count it as done." This man has addressed Jesus as King, and now Jesus responds to him as a king. "I tell you." "…I say to you…" Second person singular. Jesus is talking to this individual on this day who has confessed who Jesus is. "…today you will be with me in paradise."
"There will be no delay. I'm not just going to remember you. You're going to be with me. It's not in some future kingdom when I come back, but today you'll be with me in paradise." The Greek word for paradise is a carryover from a Persian word. It's the idea of a walled garden. In your Greek translation of the Old Testament, it's the same word used in Genesis 2 for the garden of Eden.
This man's destination has changed. He will be in the garden of God with the Son of God. The man asks to be remembered, and Jesus gives him so much more, because that's what grace does. Grace always gives more. Grace is always extravagant. Always!
A few weeks ago, I ordered some pizzas for my crew. We eat! You can imagine we go through a lot of pizza. I went to this pizza shop, and I said, "Hey, I'd like a couple more of those little tubs of garlic butter." It's like liquid gold in my house. I heard her go back there, and I heard the woman behind the counter say, "You make sure he pays for those tubs of garlic butter." This gal comes to the cash register. She looks at me. She says, "I'm supposed to make you pay for this garlic butter, but go on. Take it." It's grace! Extravagant! More than you expect!
Jesus is like, "You're getting an eternity of garlic butter with me!" Grace is always extravagant. That's what it does! Now you might be like me. You might look at this story and say, "Now hang on. This guy on this cross has ruined his life. He has done something so heinous that the Roman government decided to crucify him, and you're telling me he gets in by the skin of his teeth on his deathbed? There's no baptism? There's no Communion? There's no giving? There's no helping old ladies cross the street? There's no legacy of good works, and this guy gets in?"
Yeah. That's what I'm telling you, because none of that stuff saves. Spurgeon wrote, "The thief upon the cross was justified the moment that he turned the eye of faith to Jesus; and Paul [the apostle Paul], the aged, after years of service, was not more justified than was the thief with no service at all. We are today accepted in the Beloved, today absolved from sin, today acquitted at the bar of God."
Now I do think when this man got to paradise (and I think this will be the case for us) he could see what his life could have been. I don't think there was guilt or shame over that because there is no guilt or shame when you're in the presence of Jesus and sin has been removed. But I think there was a sense of regret of what he wasted his life and what it could have been.
God, as we say around here, is not trying to rip us off. He is trying to set us free. This man wasted his life. Don't waste your life. Yeah, that's a little offensive if we're honest, but that's the point of the gospel. If we trip over that, if we can't get our arms around the fact that on his deathbed, this man found himself in paradise, then we don't understand the gospel. It's open to all people.
It doesn't matter if your life is racked with pride or people-pleasing, laziness or legalism, gossip or greed, alcohol or anger, envy or enmity, covetousness or callousness, gluttony or gambling, insecurity or impurities, racism or rebellion. It's not focused on what you've done. The gospel is focused on what Jesus has done on your behalf. It doesn't matter! God is not stressed out, overwhelmed, or caught off guard by the garbage you bring to the cross. That's the point!
It doesn't matter if you had an abortion or you paid for the abortion. It doesn't matter if you're disrespectful to your spouse or completely unengaged with your kids, if you cut corners at work last week or you cut lines of cocaine last night.
It doesn't matter if you're materialistic or a murderer, if you're overwhelmed by thoughts of suicide or consumed by thoughts of sex, whether you cut yourself or curse others, whether your lips are full of lies or your heart is full of lust, if you're jealous of others or jaded with God, if you're a thief who steals like Joseph in our Watermark News or a troublemaker who provokes, if you're trapped by pornography or enslaved by your possessions.
No matter what your, "What about…?", the cross is the exclamation point…listen to me…that God loves you so much that he sent his only Son to die on your behalf, on my behalf, so we wouldn't live today as an outsider. We wouldn't spend our eternity as an outsider. That's the point of the gospel, and it's all over your Bible. The whole New Testament screams this message.
Romans 5:8: "…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." John 3:16 and 17: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."
Ephesians 2:4 and 5: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…" First John 4:9 and 10: "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."
That's the point of the gospel. Read your Bibles! It's all over the place! Yeah! We can clap for that. Heck, yeah! So what do we do here? What do we do with this? Well, some of you out there, you've just been walking by warnings your whole life. I'm begging you, today is a red-cap morning. Don't miss the red cap. Rejecting God always leads to death.
Some of us need to begin to take steps to extend some forgiveness, and it's hard. It's hard to extend forgiveness! I've got a scenario right now with two buddies. We're struggling (the three of us) to forgive each other. There's misunderstanding. There's hurt. There's a loss of trust, and it's hard.
Some of us who by God's grace have heeded the warning and received the gift, we need to continue to keep an eye out on the outsiders. One of the greatest joys about getting to be an elder here is the front-row seat I get to sit in every week and watch as you go out into our community and as you bring outsiders in. Every week there are stories of life change as God is using you. Coworkers. Neighbors. Estranged family members. Every week! It's such a joy to get to see it, to get to be a part of it.
Let's go back for a second to that story about Gary Plauche. Let's rework the story a little bit. Let's just pretend for a second he had not gone on his own and executed justice on his own. Let's assume he had allowed Jeff Doucet to come back to Baton Rouge to face trial for his crimes. Let's assume that man would have been found guilty. Let's pretend the jury came back and gave him the death sentence. He was going to die for his crimes.
On the day Doucet was formally scheduled to be sentenced, let's pretend Gary Plauche walks into the courtroom and says, "Judge, I want him to go free. Not just free, but I want his record wiped clean. I don't want there to be any mention of this on his record. I want it to be completely expunged."
The judge would say, "I'm sorry. A crime has been committed. The sentence has been handed down. Justice needs to be served." What if Gary Plauche at that point walked over to his 11-year-old son and said, "Judge, I want to give you my son in place of Doucet. I want to put him on death row. Execute him. Let this man go free"? That's crazy!
That's hard for me to even make that story up, and yet that's what the Father did for us on the cross. We who cursed God, mocked him with our words and with our actions, the Father says, "Take my Son. Let the guilty go free." The broken body, the shed blood of our Savior, justice had to be served. Don't miss this. God loved the world, but he had to deal with sin. He did in the body of Jesus.
There was an eleventh-century rabbi who wrote these words and, boy, are they appropriate. He wrote…
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean cry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
This is the love of God for you, for me, and for the outsiders in our lives.
Heavenly Father, thank you for your faithful servant Luke. Thank you for the way he has recorded this unspeakable act of love on the cross. I pray this morning for my friends in here, folks who have come in who don't know you, who haven't heeded the warning, who are looking at red caps and just walking right by. Would you today quicken the heart of some that they might confess their guilt, their need for you, that they might find themselves trusting in the finished work of your Son on the cross?
Father, for those of us who you have called your own, who you have moved from outsiders to children, would you convict our hearts? Would you help us to see others as lost sheep you want to bring in? Would you use us today? In Jesus' name, amen.
Have you ever felt like an outsider? Like everyone else around you knew someone else and you were all alone? Take heart, Christ came to earth for the outsiders!