Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Love That Transforms
Is .53:7-12 and Luke 23:32-43
Three ministers were having a discussion about prayer and got onto the topic of the most appropriate and effective position for praying. As they were talking, a telephone repairman worked on the phone system in another corner of the room. One minister stated that he felt the key to good prayer was in the hands. He said that he always held his hands together and pointed his fingers upward as a form of symbolic worship. The second minister believed that it was an absolute that you must to be on your knees for real prayer. The third argued that the only position worth its salt was to pray while stretched out flat on one's face. Listening intently to what they were saying, the phone man could no longer stay out of the conversation. He walked over to their table and said: "I found that the most powerful prayer I ever made was while 1 was dangling upside down by my heels from a power pole, suspended 40 feet above the ground." – Parish publishing.
The Gospel of Luke tells about a man who prayed hanging from the cross. One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Jesus was crucified between two criminals: Why? To show that Jesus was the chief of criminals, accused of insulting God and Rome. To humiliate Him and to make an example of him—if you act like Jesus, this is your pay. To fulfill the prophecy spoken about him. “He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Is.53:12)” Jesus was the subject of insults among the crowd. “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God,” “If You are the king of the Jews, save Yourself.” "Aren't You the Christ? Save Yourself and us." Jesus couldn't save Himself. If He did, who could have saved us? Jesus was sent by God to die to save humanity. It was prophesied hundreds of years before Jesus was born in Psalm 22:16 “...a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.” God in His wisdom decided that the death of His Son was the way to deal with sin—my sin. It was predicted that the Messiah was to die as a sacrifice for sin: Isaiah 53:5, “...he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah's prophecy was confirmed by John the Baptist in John 1:29. “...look, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world.” St. Paul confirmed John’s word in 2Corinthians 5:19,21 that God sent Jesus to die in our place. “God was in Christ, making peace between the world and Himself. In Christ, God did not hold the world guilty of its sins. He gave us this message of peace. Christ had no sin, but God made Him become sin so that in Christ we could become right with God.” Jesus tells us that His death is a means of our salvation. “This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26 and Hebrews 9:20). “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.” One day when we meet Jesus all our struggles with evil and suffering will be done away--“I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among His people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’” From this promise and all the scriptures that we looked at, we can see Jesus came to show us the way to our Eternal Home. One of the criminals saw that Jesus was the Way to God’s kingdom, and he asked Jesus to remember him and Jesus granted him his wish.
But there remains a question to be answered here about choices. Why one was transformed by the love of Jesus and the other got stuck and died unchanged? Jesus was equally present to both criminals. He was hanged between them. Refusal to change is closing the door on transformation. Why do you think one remained stuck? He mocked Jesus and issued a challenge, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.” He is bitter, unrepentant, and dies mocking Jesus. He went to eternal darkness because he refused the light of Christ like his friend on the other side of Jesus. “Of all acts of man, repentance is the most divine. “The greatest of all faults is to be conscious of none.” (Thomas Carlyle)
Repentance was the key to determine the destiny of the two men. Opening up to change leads to transformation and reward of eternal life Jesus said in Revelation 3:20, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” The other criminal, when he heard Jesus' loving prayer for his enemies to be forgiven, knew that Jesus was special and someone he was willing to put his trust in. He Changed his mind, softened his heart, and admitted his wrong doing, saying, “We receive the due reward of our deeds" (Luke 23:41). He judged himself as criminal but knew Jesus was innocent. He said “this man has done nothing wrong.”
Asking for help is a sign of change. He said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” This man understood that Jesus was a King. He saw that Jesus had a kingdom, and he saw that the grave was not going to keep Him down. By faith, a criminal was transformed into a saint in moment. Jesus assured him a future when He replied to the thief, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” In the eternal garden of God, a place of peace and joy. With this promise Jesus restored the paradise lost when Adam and Eve were driven out. The man said to Jesus re-member me. He didn’t ask to be saved from the cross or pain nor ask for treasure or a place of honor. He simply said, “Re-member me,” make me a member again. Make me part of Your community, let me be with You. Re-member me, I’m an out cast—I have no one to remember me. I’m alone and lonely—all I want from You is Your companionship. What more do I need? I know Your presence will banish sorrow and loneliness only joy will be allowed.
Observing her husband being wasted away by disease, Christine Cleary,said.”Unable to rescue Ed from cancer, I was determined to save him from the only thing worse than dying; being forgotten.” The most surprising thing to me is that Jesus asked us to re-member Him, individually and collectively. St. Paul writes, “For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then He broke it in pieces and said, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember Me.’ In the same way, He took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and His people—an agreement confirmed with My blood. Do this to remember Me as often as you drink it.” So how do we remember Jesus? By reminding ourselves that His death was for us. Just like one of the criminals we were talking about, when he realized that Jesus was giving His life for the sake of humanity, he cried out to Jesus to include him in His saving grace. He sided with Jesus.
If you were to look at Rembrandt's painting of The Three Crosses, your attention would be drawn first to the center cross on which Jesus died. Then as you would look at the crowd gathered around the foot of that cross, you'd be impressed by the various facial expressions and actions of the people involved in the awful crime of crucifying the Son of God. Finally, your eyes would drift to the edge of the painting and catch sight of another figure, almost hidden in the shadows. Art critics say this is a representation of Rembrandt himself, for he recognized that by his sins he helped nail Jesus to the cross. Until we see that Jesus’ death was caused by our sin, we will not remember Him as we ought. What a wonderful gift that Jesus gave us when He instituted the Holy Communion for us to come together to re-member him. To remember what Jesus did for us on the cross for our salvation and transformation should help us to keep our eyes on our coming King and fix our hope in Him. Jesus is coming for us! Jesus’ promise in John 14:1-3 is, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in Me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” So let’s join the repentant criminal and call on our Lord.“Jesus, remember me." “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus said yes today to the repentant. Salvation opens to God’s abundant life of wholeness and joy.
Shim Habte, Shim53Jesus@gmail.com ( 530-934-3190)
Willows United Methodist Church,
544 N.Shasta St., Willows, CA 95988