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LUKE 23:33-43

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
April 12, 2009

Please turn with me to Luke 23 - starting at verse 33. 

How many of you remember this?  The National Geographic documentary on The Gospel of Judas.  Have any of you seen it?  There’s this codex papyrus book they’ve dated from the 4th century - called The Gospel of Judas - that says its - quote: 
“The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before He celebrated Passover.”

National Geographic when they presented the documentary - National Geo said that this “Fifth Gospel” - quote:
 “gives new insights into the relationship of Jesus and the disciple who betrayed Him.”

Bottom line:  Jesus and Judas were Gnostics - Gnosticism being a heresy that even the Apostle Paul condemned - Jesus and Judas were heretics and this whole betrayal thing was a plan Jesus cooked up with Judas - Judas who really is the hero - the only disciple who really understands Jesus.

Then there was this book and movie.  Remember this?  The Da Vinci Code.  Bottom line plot of this was what?  Jesus faked His death and ran off with Mary Magdalene to the south of France where they founded a dynasty of Frankish kings.  We’ve all been kept the dark about this through some massive cover-up by the Roman Catholic Church.  Best description of the Da Vinci Code I’ve heard is this - the Da Vinci Code is
“a masterwork of paranoid pseudohistory.”  There’s no basis of reality in any of this.

Every year - about this time - the media shoves a bunch of non-credible theories at us - about the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection - theories that sell ad-time - but have no basis in fact.

The Lost Tomb of Jesus - produced by the same guy who made a fortune with Titanic.  Jesus, His mother Mary, and Mary Magdalene are suppose to be buried in a tomb near Jerusalem
.  “Has the 2,000 year old mystery been solved?”

Jesus really didn’t die.   He just passed out.  The soldier who ran a spear into Jesus to see if He was dead was mistaken.  The Jews - following burial procedures that would have detected a pulse - missed it.

Someone stole Jesus body - probably the fearful timid disciples who had gone into hiding decided to attack and overpower the well-armed highly disciplined Roman soldiers stationed around Jesus’ tomb - soldiers who would be executed for letting anyone steal Jesus’ body.

Or, the wrong grave theory - despite the fact that the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea was a private burial vault of a well known wealthy and influential man - not some unmarked grave in a public cemetery - the women - the disciples - and even the angels - got mixed up and all went to the wrong tomb.

Then there’s the theory taught by Islam.  Someone else was crucified.  Someone else took Jesus’ place.  Jesus - one of the best known - most visible public figures of the day - someone is made up to look like Jesus.  This person fools Pilate - Herod - the entire Jewish religious and political leadership of the day - fools all of Jesus’ followers who weren’t in on the hoax - fools the representatives of the Roman Government who would have had to be duped or paid off in order to crucify the wrong guy.

This guy - taking Jesus’ place - whoever he is goes the whole nine-yards - the beatings - the scourging - the ridicule - being spat at - everything that was done to Jesus - including - and not least - the whole crucifixion thing with the nails through the hands and feet - and even death - for something he knows is a lie.

Can you see this?  Asking for volunteers? 
“Who wants to play Jesus for the crucifixion?”

And the disciples - knowing this was all a sham - all but John - died - horrible deaths - tortured.  Not one disciple recanted.  Why would they do that if the crucifixion was a lie?

A few years back Time ran this article:  “Why Did Jesus Have To Die?” - “The reasons behind His sacrifice are debated anew.”  Why debate what is an incontrovertible fact of history?

If we can cast doubt on the crucifixion - on the resurrection - the basis of our Christian faith - that what happened on that hill of Golgotha - and in that tomb - if it really didn’t happen the way the Bible says it happened - then we can go on living our lives any way we choose to live them - without any accountability to God.  Man really is a combination of matter and electricity accountable only to Himself.

If Jesus didn’t rise from death then what we’re doing here today is really just a bunch of religious happy thoughts with no meaning beyond some false hopes that weak minded people need to cling to in order to cope with the emptiness of life.  Should have skipped the church thing and gone straight to the food.  Grab as much of life as you can because this is all there is.

Coming to Luke 23 - the scene of the crucifixion - as we look through these verses keep in mind this thought - what was true then is true now.  Say that with me,
“What was true then is true now.”

Look with me at verse 33: 
“When they came to the place called The Skull - in Aramaic - Golgotha - or from the Latin - Calvary - there they crucified Him and the criminals, on the right and other on the left.”

In Matthew’s record of the crucifixion we’re told that the criminals were robbers.  Jesus is being crucified between two professional thieves.  700 years earlier the prophet Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would be thought of as common criminal. (Isaiah 53:12).

Verse 34: 
“But Jesus was saying, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’  And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.  And the people stood by, looking on.  And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.’  The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, ‘If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!’  Now there was an inscription above Him, ‘This is the king of the Jews.’”

Let’s pause there and think about these
three groups of people.

Group one are the soldiers
.  They’ve probably crucified dozens of people.  They’re professional crucifiers.  John’s Gospel tells us that there were four of them.  Which is how the Romans did things - assigning four soldiers per prisoner.

These four soldiers took Jesus’ clothes and divided them into four parts.  What was left over was a one piece tunic - Jesus’ underwear - a shirt that went from His neck to His knees.  Because tearing it into four pieces would have made it worthless for wearing they gambled for it.

Can you imagine how much the underwear of Jesus would be worth if it was auctioned on eBay?  But to them - these professional crucifiers - it was just a piece of common clothing - a bonus for a job well done. 

Later - when the crowd mocks Jesus - the soldiers join in the fun.  Why not.  They’ve seen this before. 
“If you really are the King of the Jews, save yourself!   You’re just another idiot hanging on a cross.”

Point being - the soldiers really didn’t care who Jesus was
.  They’re indifferent.  Here they are at the foot of the cross - witnessing one of one of the two greatest moments in human history  - the whole of human history - the universe - is changing before their eyes - and for them its just another day at the office.  Jesus is just another face in the parade of history.

The second group is the crowd
- the onlookers - the bystanders.  These were the people who had - either in person or by word of mouth - they’d heard of Jesus’ claims of Messiahship - heard His teaching about the Kingdom of God - heard about or seen His miracles of healing - the exorcisms.

Mark 15:29 says,
“Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, ‘Ha!  You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!’”

That’s a harsh thing to say to anyone getting crucified. 
“Na! Na!  In times like these You went way too far.  All those ridiculous claims.  You got what’s been coming to You.”

Point being - to the crowd Jesus is just another rabbi
- another prophet maybe - someone who said some things worth thinking about - but definitely over the top with all this Son of God stuff.  If He really was all those things He wouldn’t be hanging on that cross.  “Look at what following Him will get you.  We ain’t going where He’s going.  What a jerk.”

The third group are the rulers
- the chief priests - the scribes - the elders - the religious hierarchy and the political heads of the Jewish nation.  These are the people who felt so threatened by Jesus - how He led the crowds - healed the sick - cast out demons - even claimed to forgive sins.  How He spoke against them - threatened their carefully constructed self-focused world.

When Pilate had the sign made “Jesus The Nazarene, The King Of The Jews” - they’d objected. (John 19:19-22).  These were the leaders of God’s people who’d cried out,
“We have no king but Caesar.”  Leaders who’ll do whatever is expedient to maintain their position of power.

Their moment has come.  Sneering - mocking - gloating. 
“He saved others.  If He really is the Messiah He should be able to save Himself.  Come down and we’ll believe You.”

Point being
- here’s a group who should have believed Jesus - recognized Him for who He is - gotten on board with Him - pointed others towards Him - yet they rejected Him.   Jesus was competition.  He didn’t fit into their religious box.  He wouldn’t recognize their authority - the truths they clung to.

What was that thought? 
“What was true then is true now.”

If Jesus had been crucified in Merced last Friday those same three groups of people would have been there.  The indifferent.  The relativists.  The religious.  All with one thing in common.  We don’t believe that He really is God crucified for us.

But the cross - God crucified for us - the cross is at the heart of the Gospel. 
There is no gospel without the crucifixion - no hope without the resurrection.

If one would take the time to actually read the Bible - which is the most highly scrutinized - attested to - ancient historical document - antedating the pseudo historical Book of Judas.  If one would take the time to examine the ancient historical record - even from the ancient historians writing outside of Scripture - rather than listening to those today who are trying to rewrite the past for their own personal gain.  If one does honest research there is only one inescapable conclusion:  It really was God - Jesus - who died on that cross for the sins of all of us.   And He - Jesus - really did leave that tomb on the first resurrection Sunday - physically alive.

Paul writes to the Corinthian Church - read it with me -
“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20)  Amen!

That reality demands response. 

Which bring us to verse 39 - the two thieves - those who are about to die at the hands of the Roman government.  Verse 39: 
“One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, ‘Are You not the Christ?  Save Yourself and us!’  But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

Matthew and Mark tell us that both thieves mocked Jesus.  Said the same things the crowd had said.  The thieves are guilty.  They’re paying their debt to society.  They probably figured that Jesus was the same as them - corrupt - sinful - worthy of condemnation and death.  Why else would Jesus be hanging there?  And what a nut to claim to be God - the Messiah.  Why not mock Him?

But thief two repents.  We don’t know what happened to thief one.  But thief two - as he’s watching the groups of people pass by.  Hearing their mocking and ridicule.  As He’s watching Jesus’ response - Jesus’ attitude to all that’s going on around Him and to Him - these groups of people.  As he hears Jesus’ response,
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they’re doing.”  Something changes within thief two.

He comes to the realization,
“We deserve to be here.  But not this man.  He’s innocent.  The crowd is wrong.  They’ve got it backwards.”  Suddenly in a moment of understanding - he sees that everything the crowd is mocking Jesus for is really the truth.  He is the Son of God - the Messiah - the King entering His kingdom.  He’s not only able to save Himself, but everyone else there as well.

Verse 42: 
“And he - the thief - was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’  And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’”

Thief two throws himself on the mercy of Jesus with words that are echoed by every person recognizing Jesus as the Savior. 
“Remember me.  Have mercy on me.  Save me.  Be gracious to me.  I’m trusting You with my life.”  “Jesus, I deserve this cross.  But You are the Messiah.  I believe You are who You say You are.  Save me.”

Jesus’ answer is the ultimate statement of God’s grace. 
“Today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

There are no rituals or formal rites required - no taking communion or being baptized.  There’s no church membership involved.  No expected religious or moral conduct to be lived out.  No correct doctrinal statement or theological framework to adhere to.  The thief doesn’t have to clean up his act and be good enough before Jesus will save him.  There’s no formula “sinners” prayer.

Salvation doesn’t depend on any great wonderful good thing that we do.  Grace is getting what we do not - what?  Deserve.  Salvation - forgiveness - life with God - eternity in His kingdom.  Salvation is by grace received through - what?  faith.  Jesus - God dies - for those who deserve to die - to offer us life with God.  
As those who are about to die we’re asked only to trust our lives to Him.  “Jesus, remember me.”

The reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection leaves each of us with a choice of how our lives will be lived.  We cannot honestly be indifferent - or make Jesus’s claims less than they are - or practice a religion that focuses on us - devoid of the power of the Living God.  God loves each of us so much that He died - is resurrected - to offer us new life in Him.  That leaves us with a choice.

Do you know who this man was?  Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran Pastor when the Nazi’s came to power in Germany.  Bonhoeffer watched the Church being persecuted.  Saw that the Church was in serious trouble.  So, Bonhoeffer joined the underground and began working for Hitler’s defeat.  As he spoke out against the Nazi regime - eventually his words caught up with him.  On April 5, 1943, he was arrested and imprisoned for his political activities.

Two years later  Bonhoeffer found himself facing the death sentence.  On the Sunday before he was executed he led a service of worship for his fellow prisoners.  One prisoner - an English army officer who was later set free - wrote these words describing the last day of Bonhoeffer’s life:

“Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident, and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive…  He was one of the very few persons I have ever met for whom God was real and always near…  On Sunday, April 8, 1945, Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a little service of worship and spoke to us in a way that went to the heart of all of us.  He found just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment, and the thoughts and resolutions it had brought us.  He had hardly ended his last prayer when the door opened and two civilians entered.  They said, “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us.”  That had only one meaning for all prisoners - the gallows.  We said good-bye to him.  He took me aside:  “This is the end; but for me it is the beginning of life.”  The next day he was hanged in Flossenburg.”

“This is the end.  But for me it is the beginning of life.”  
What allows a man on the verge of death - facing the worst that this life has to offer - what allows a man to have such hope?  Physically for thief two - condemned - facing the very near end of life - what gives him hope - that in God’s kingdom he has only begun to live.  There must be more to life than death and taxes.

The Apostle Peter writes,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  (1 Peter 1:3) 

When we trust God with our lives, the Living God of all creation - rather than condemning us - by His mercy sets us free - gives us new life - a new beginning - not because we deserve it - but because He chooses to give it - chooses to forgive - chooses to restore - chooses to heal - to give us a living hope - a hope that cannot fail - that isn’t a collection of some religious happy thoughts - but hope grounded in the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection - salvation - security in Jesus - the certain realization that one day we will join our Lord and Savior forever and ever - and that even now we live with the certain reality of His presence in our lives.

What was that thought? 
“What was true then is true - now.”  Which is true for you today?   Each of us is like one of those thieves.  We are those who are about to die.   But the man in the middle offers us something completely different - a choice.

Remember Brave Heart?  What was it William Wallace said?
“All men die.  Few men actually live.”

Choose life.


1. Ron Ritchie - from the sermon:  “How Can We Maintain A Living Hope In The Midst Of Suffering.”  1 Peter 1:3-5

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.