“Today You Will Be With Me in Paradise” ~ Lenten Reflection

sevenlastwords-2On Sunday we looked at the fourth word of Jesus found in Luke 23:43. Jesus says this, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

We looked at how Luke introduces us to two thieves who hang next to Jesus. The word “thieves” though probably bring up the wrong connotations for us. We think of common street thugs, when we should be thinking political terrorists. Because that’s what these two thieves were in the eyes of Rome – insurrectionists, revolutionaries, or political terrorists.

They are expecting a Messiah to show up and to overthrow Rome. The Messiah would “save” them from Rome. The Messiah would, through strength, power, and violence if needed, toss out the Romans and inaugurate God’s reign (or Kingdom) in Israel. This is what they were waiting for. This is what they were looking for.

So when these two men look at Jesus, all they see is a failed Messiah. Real Messiahs don’t get nailed to cross. Real Messiahs don’t get crushed by Rome, they overthrow Rome.

So one of the thieves hurls abuse at Jesus. The Greek word is a strong word, and it demonstrates that this thief continues to hurl abuse and blasphemy at Jesus constantly. It’s not once or twice, it’s a constant barrage of abuse.

But we get a completely different reaction from the second thief. He seems to have had a change of heart. He isn’t hurling abuse; Jesus seems to have somehow convinced him that he is who he says he is.

What is interesting is two men experience the same thing, but have different responses. One hurls abuse at Jesus, the other accepts Jesus.

I think it has to do with seeing Jesus offer forgiveness to those who killed him. For the one thief this is a betrayal of his most deeply held beliefs. You do not forgive your oppressors; you kill them and overthrow them. Yet for the other thief, he sees a different thing. He sees not weakness in forgiveness but strength, and it causes him to believe that even as Jesus is dying – he is somehow coming into his kingdom.

So he says essentially two words: Remember me. Remember me. Remember me.

He doesn’t confess his sins, he doesn’t offer a prayer of repentance, he just says “remember me”. And it’s enough. And it’s always been enough. So Jesus says something remarkable – “today you will be with me in paradise.”

And from this we asked a very personal but poignant question: what type of prisoner are you?

  • Are you like the first – hurling insults at Jesus and seeing nothing but weaknesses and irrelevance?
  • Or are you like the second – who sees something more amidst the hell he was going through?

Because it is the second that received a promise, in the midst of his own personal hell, for paradise to enter his life. This is a promise that is worth finding. This is a promise worth hearing  – but it only comes when we choose to trust in Jesus.

So we ended with that question, and invited a response. That if today you want to find paradise and Jesus, to simply say two words: “remember me.” The thief didn’t know how paradise would enter his world, and I don’t know how it might enter yours if you trust in Jesus. What I do know though is that it is always through Jesus, and begins by saying “Remember me”.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: What type of prisoner are you?

Teaching Points:

  • Challenge for Lent: 1) Pray Weekly Prayers of Repentance, 2) Pray Daily Corporate Prayers 2 Chronicles 7:14, 3) Fast Something for Lent
  • Crucifixion was a punishment that the Romans used almost exclusively for the crime of sedition. Reza Aslan
  • Jesus is not dying because of his religious ideas, but because of his political ideas.
  • The people were expecting a messiah who would save them, not die for them.
  • What kind of prisoner are you?

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Have you practiced Lent before? What can you fast or give up this year? Had you thought of Jesus dying before because of politics and power more than religion? What do you think about that? What thief can you relate to more and why? Have you ever been like the first thief hurling abuse? What brought you there? Have you ever been like the second thief trusting? What brought you there? Where are you today – trusting – or distrusting?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Today read the story and talk to your kids about Jesus’ words. Help them to see that if we choose to trust in him, he will promise us paradise in our lives. Ask them if any of them might want to trust in him.

Challenge for the Week: Pray – Remember me

Finding Paradise

screen-shot-2011-04-22-at-9-04-38-amOn Sunday we are looking at the 4th word Jesus says, before he dies, where he says, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise”.  Luke 23:43.

This is truly a beautiful statement and promise Jesus gives to a thief that hangs next to him.

What I find interesting is that both thieves mock Jesus. Both thieves seem to disbelieve in Jesus. Both thieves seem to think Jesus is a joke. But then both thieves have the same experience with Jesus. They both hear his words, they both see how he is nailed to the cross, they both see the look on his face as people mock him. And yet one thief continues to hurl abuse at Jesus, where the other has a change of heart.

And this change of heart prompts him to hear, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. On Sunday I want to look at this phrase, and what led the one thief to the place where he could hear that phrase. Because if there is something I think we all need, it’s to be with Jesus. This is the promise the thief receives, because of how his heart changed. So we will look at how that happens, and how it might happen in us as well.

Father Forgive Them For They Know Not What they Are Doing…

On Sunday we are looking at one of the most well-known of all of Jesus’ sayings. And the saying we are looking at is this:

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:43

And sometimes things that become well-known, also become shallowly known. Since we are familiar with a thought or a saying, we think we deeply understand a thought or a saying. Sometimes the biggest enemy of understanding, is familiarity.

So I want to make this saying a little less – familiar to you. To bring up some questions to intrigue you, and some dissonance to help us to dive deeper.

First question, “who is the “them” in this last request of Jesus? Who is the “them” that should be forgiven?” Because in the Scripture itself the “them” isn’t clear. Is it the Roman guards crucifying him? Is it the rulers and authorities? Or might it even be…us he is forgiving? I think it’s n important question to dive into

Second question, “what does “For they know not what they are doing” mean?” I mean honestly, the Romans knew they were killing someone. They knew they were killing someone probably innocent (look at the interaction with Pilate). It’s not like they didn’t know they were killing someone. They also knew they were killing an emissary of God, or someone who claimed to be the Son of God. That’s the whole reason he is being killed anyway. They knew of the miracles and all that Jesus is stirring up so they kill him. So what does “for they know not what they are doing” actually mean?

Third question, “who is the statement addressed to?” We like to think it’s about us, and how God will forgive us. But that’s just our self-centeredness talking because the prayer is not addressed to us at all. It’s addressed to the Father. So how does that change how we interpret this verse? Well I’ll give you a clue, if it’s not addressed to us, it can’t be primarily about us.

But those are just some of the initial questions I have with this verse I want to pursue on Sunday. Because as familiar as this verse is, I don’t actually think it’s that well understood, and it has a lot to teach us.