Recognising the Truth

Chatswood Baptist Church

Luke 23:26-56

On April 15th Notre-Dame Cathedral was engulfed in flames and significantly damaged. If you had ever been to Paris and seen the cathedral it is an amazing sight. It was more than 800 years old and built in a medieval gothic style. There were beautiful stained-glass windows and Christian relics that were many hundreds of years old. I knew in part that Notre-Dame was important to Parisians and indeed France, because my family and I have been there and visited and waited in the long queues to gain access to the inner space of the cathedral. Yet as the pictures and stories have been beamed around the world over the last few days, I have come to a much better knowledge of what this means for Paris, for the church and for the people.

My point of view had been that it was a lovely old cathedral that had been burnt pretty much to the ground. And of course, it was sad for Paris to lose such a pretty old building. Yet for a Paris resident, indeed a European resident, it is so much bigger than that. You see, Notre-Dame is in a very real way the epi-centre of Paris. It is the most visited monument in France with over 12 million people annually. The Eiffel tower by contrast has 7 million visitors per year. Notre-Dame means “Our Lady”, so for Parisians it obviously holds a very special place. Victor Hugo’s novel the hunchback of Notre-Dame was an ode to the cathedral and French professor Marie-Claire Morellec calls it the “heart and soul of Paris.” It is an important building.

Two French billionaires have both pledged 100 million Euro’s to the rebuilding work of Notre-Dame. In fact, in the first 24 hours after the fire there was 700 million euros pledged towards rebuilding the cathedral. In light of all of this information It is hard not to see how important this building is to Paris and France. It is indeed much more than just a building to the people of Paris, of France and indeed Europe.

Doesn’t a true and proper understanding change the way that we think and feel about this. With a full understanding I can mourn with the people of France over this tragedy in a way in which I couldn’t before. I could now see that it wasn’t just a nice old building, but that it was in a real way a symbolic heart of Paris. However, without that understanding, without the entire picture, it is just a building burning like any other.

As we look today at Jesus Crucifixion, Death and burial, we see in Luke’s Gospel two distinct views or understandings of what is going on. One view is that a trouble maker and nuisance has been put to death and will no longer pose a problem. While the other understanding see’s God’s own Son, righteous and innocent willingly laying down his life for the sins of the world. The righteous taking the penalty for the unrighteous.

Over the last six weeks we have been looking at Luke’s Gospel, and today we come to the Good Friday message, where Jesus dies for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). We have been looking at Jesus in Jerusalem. For Jesus enters Jerusalem just one week before he is crucified. The mood then changes quickly, it was only a few days ago that the people were laying palm branches and shouting ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” as Jesus came riding on a colt into Jerusalem (Lk 19:38). But now under very different circumstances, the crowd followed him, and the women wailed loudly. Jesus was being led along with two criminals to be crucified and we see that in the verses 26-32.

  1. The Crucifixion

Then in verse 33 we read the following words. “When they came to the place called the skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left.”

As we read Luke’s account of the crucifixion, it seems so matter of fact, so devoid of description. If we weren’t paying attention we could easily miss this most important piece of information. It is not just Luke’s account that doesn’t unpack what the crucifixion entails. The other Gospels are pretty brief on the description as well. The soldiers crucified Jesus. This meant that he was nailed to a wooden cross. Large nails were driven through his feet and hands and you would then hang on the cross until you eventually died from asphyxiation, from not being able to breath. The most horrendous, unimaginable, painful, slow death is summed up in four words. “They crucified him there…”.

As Jesus was being crucified we read in v34 that he prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” What is Jesus’s response to be nailed to the cross? He prays for his executioners, but I think that this prayer is bigger than that. This prayer is for all who have rejected Jesus. We read the words of the Prophet Isaiah in 53:12 “for he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.” Jesus is on the cross, he has been beaten, mocked, spat on, and nailed to a cross, it is hard to breath. And yet, his love shines through. In his most agonizing moment, he prays for those soldiers who have just nailed him to the cross and for us. For all of us, as we have rejected him. He prays that we would turn to him, that we would be forgiven. Why does Jesus pray this prayer? Why wouldn’t he pray for himself? He prays this prayer because this is what he has come to do. The whole story of the Bible has been leading to this moment. Romans 5:8 says “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

  • The first response

So, there is the scene. Jesus is nailed to a cross. He is been crucified. What we then see are two very different reactions to this in the following verses. Read with me verses 35-39:

“The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others: let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The Soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above him, which read” THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”.

They all mocked Jesus, they sneered, and they hurled insults at him. And in doing this they all showed that they didn’t have any understanding of who Jesus was or what he had come to do. They didn’t recognise Jesus as God’s Son, as God’s Messiah. In fact, they didn’t even think that they themselves needed saving or forgiveness. This is seen clearly in the words that they spoke to Jesus. Let’s look at the three responses.

Firstly, the rulers thought that if this was indeed the Messiah then he should save himself. After all they had seen that he had healed others. If then he really was the Chosen One, surely he would save himself. Jesus had performed many miracles in his ministry. He had healed the lame, made the blind to see, he exorcised Demons, and he had even raised Lazarus from the dead. Everything that Jesus had claimed had happened. And even after all of this, the people and the leaders didn’t understand. So, in one sense because they hadn’t listened, because they saw Jesus as a trouble maker, someone who was way too popular for their liking, they just wanted him dead and out of the way.  They had invented false charges to get rid of this man who was causing them problems. Their power was being threatened by this Jesus who taught as one who had authority, one whom the people, the crowds loved. We read in Luke 19:48b “for all the people were hanging on his words.” The religious leaders couldn’t have this. Jesus was teaching daily in the temple and the chief priests; the scribes and the leaders of the people were looking for a way to destroy him. But they couldn’t find one. Several times they tried to trick Jesus, for they wanted to kill him. To get him out of the way. And here they are mocking him. They think that they have won.

Then the soldiers had a turn at insulting Jesus, by saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” Now the soldiers had just crucified Jesus, and before that, they had beaten him badly. They had no thought that Jesus was anything other than a man who they were ordered to crucify. They were in a sense just doing their duty. They had been told to beat and crucify Jesus and so they did. Hey, if they can join in the mocking as well, why not. They surely had no idea who Jesus was.

Lastly in this section the criminal being crucified next to Jesus also joins in mocking Jesus, and sarcastically says “save yourself, and us”. This thief was in a different place to the soldiers, the leaders and the crowd. He was surely going to die, yet he used his breath to insult Jesus, just like the others.

None of them understood. They wanted Jesus to prove to them that he was the Messiah by saving himself. Yet they hadn’t heard, they hadn’t listened. Jesus had made it clear throughout his life what he had come to do. In Luke 11:29 Jesus says “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.” Jesus was predicting his death and resurrection. Just as Jonah had spent three days in the belly of a large fish, Jesus would be dead for three days before being resurrected in power!

You see just like some would see Notre-Dame as just a building. The crowd, the leaders the Soldiers and indeed the thief saw Jesus as just a man. And a man about to die. So they mocked him.

  • The right response

Yet one person saw the truth. The most unlikely person understood and voiced his understanding. Read with me v40-43.

“But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The aha moment. The other criminal recognizes Jesus for who he is. He recognizes Jesus as King, for he knows that Jesus has a kingdom. (v42). He also understands the Gospel, the good news. This criminal understands that we all deserve punishment. He is being punished most probably for insurrection and murder. Some commentators say that these men being crucified with Jesus were terrorists. He recognises his own sin and equally important he sees that Jesus has done nothing wrong. That He is innocent. Yet, he dies and the punishment we deserve he takes. The people, the rulers, the soldiers and the other criminal didn’t understand this. He saves us, by dying for us. This was what God’s Messiah came to do. The Son of God laid down his life for the thief on the Cross, for you and for me.

Jesus prayer of v 34 has been answered immediately, as we see in this criminals confession. His heart has been opened and he is able to see Jesus for who he truly is, the Christ. The one sent to save us. He recognised Jesus as Lord and Saviour and was able to then say to Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom. He has already pointed out the fact that he is a sinner and Jesus is perfect. That he is a sinner and Jesus is innocent. Now acknowledging Jesus as Lord, the thief asks for mercy. He asks to be with Jesus.

Jesus answer is incredible, it is immediate, and it fills us with hope. Yes, Jesus said yes, today you will be with me in paradise. The thief on the cross shows that it is in Jesus’s death we find life. There was nothing else the thief could do, but put his hope in Jesus. This convicted criminal was hours away from death, yet in God’s mercy, through God’s grace. The man confessed faith in Jesus Christ as his King, as his Lord and as his saviour. With his heart and his head. And Jesus forgave him and promised him immediate salvation – eternity with him in Paradise.

Jesus then died on that Cross. Jesus had total trust in his Father. He knew that God would raise him from the dead three days later. So, Jesus was able to say, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” The sun stopped shining. The curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus death was God’s plan for the whole world. 1 Peter 3:18 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.”

This is it. This is Good Friday. God’s love demonstrated on the cross for you and me. Jesus is the servant king. He came to earth to live, to die, and to be raised for us. In this passage there are two reactions. Yep, only two reactions. Just as we have seen in today’s passage, we either like the criminal on the cross recognise Jesus as God’s Son sent to die for the sins of the whole world, and ask for forgiveness and make Jesus Lord of our life. Or like the rulers and soldiers who refused to believe that Jesus was God’s son, we too reject him.

So back to Notre-Dame. As I said earlier, there are two responses to the Cathedral burning down. Firstly, that’s a shame, a really nice old building has burnt down. Then there is the second response. The one of real sorrow and tears, because it was more than just a building. It was the heart of Paris. At the end of the day though, whether you are a little upset by the fire that gutted Notre-Dame, or a very upset, let’s be clear, you will get over it. However, the choice you make about Jesus does have eternal consequences. You see Jesus is not just a man on a cross, but God’s own Son who died for you and for me. The decision we make about Jesus changes everything. We will either accept Jesus and spend eternity with him, or reject him and spend eternity without him.

It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you have done. Jesus loves you and is waiting with outstretched arms for you to come to him. The criminal on the cross shows us that we need only confess Jesus as Lord and accept that he died for our sins and we are saved, or as Romans 10:9 states; “If you declare with your mouth “Jesus in Lord”, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” For if you do this, you understand and recognise the truth. Let’s pray.