Message: Face to Face, The Thief and Jesus
Scriptures: Luke 23:32-43
This message was offered Sunday, 3/18/18 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida. It was inspired by the book Moments with the Savior by Ken Gire. No recording is available due to a technical error.
The opening illustration is sourced and adapted from an interview in The Guardian by Saeed Kamali Dehghan on Friday, April 25, 2014, entitled Iranian mother who spared her son’s killer: ‘Vengeance has left my heart’
In Iran, it is standard practice for families of murder victims to oversee the execution of the murderer. In May 2014, Samereh Alinejad watched as a noose was slipped around the neck of Balal Gheisari, her son Abdollah’s killer. This was her chance to have the vengeance she’d wanted for seven long years.
Iran’s Islamic penal code allows the victim’s heir – in this case, his parents – to personally execute the condemned man as retribution. By pushing away the chair Balal was standing on, Samereh would hang and kill him.
Seconds away from what could have been his final breath, Balal pleaded for his life and called out for mercy. “Please forgive,” he shouted, “if only for my mum and dad,” Samereh recalled. “I was angry, I shouted back how can I forgive, did you show mercy to my son’s mum and dad?”
Samereh clambered up on a stool and slapped Balal across the face.
“After that, I felt as if rage vanished within my heart. I felt as if the blood in my veins began to flow again,” she said. “I burst into tears and I called my husband and asked him to come up and remove the noose.” Balal now finishes serving his prison sentence.
Balal’s mother Kobra, sobbing, reached across the fence separating the crowd from the execution site. She embraced Samereh before reaching to kiss her feet – a gesture of respect and gratitude. “I didn’t allow her to do that, I took her arm and made her stand up … she was just a mother like me, after all.” The two later went to visit Abdollah’s grave.
One week after pardoning Balal, Samereh found a peace lost since her son’s death. “Losing a child is like losing a part of your body. All these years, I felt like a moving dead body,” she said. “But now, I feel very calm, I feel I’m at peace. I feel that vengeance has left my heart.”
Samereh remembers “We couldn’t sleep the night before the execution, we were all awake until morning. Until the last minute, I didn’t want to forgive. I had told my husband just two days before that I can’t forgive this man, but maybe there would be a possibility, but I couldn’t persuade myself to forgive… My husband said, look to God and let’s see what happens.”
Look to God and let’s see what happens
32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Jesus. 33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
Jesus is crucified between two criminals. The KJV calls them thieves. The word used in Matthew’s gospel refers to violent armed robbers. The word used in Luke’s gospel refers to one who does evil.
In Matthew’s account, both criminals mock Jesus. Luke’s account provides more detail. The leaders scoff, the soldiers mock, one of the criminals derides Jesus.
- The leaders in verse 35- He saved others let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one
- The soldiers in verse 37 – if you are the King of the Jews, save yourself
- The criminal in verse 39- Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!
All three parties question Jesus’ identity. (If he is the Messiah, if you are the King of the Jews, are you not the Messiah?) Prove yourself Jesus with a display of great power. Jesus’ been hearing this demand from the beginning, starting with the devil in the wilderness. Jesus refuses the temptation yet again.
All three parties call for Jesus to save. (He saved others let him save himself, save yourself, save yourself and us) It’s an echo of the Palm Sunday “Hosannas”, which literally mean “Save Now!” Yes, Jesus will save. It is his mission. He has come to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10) He will do this not by saving himself, but by freely offering himself.
40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
What if Matthew and Luke are both giving us needed details. What if both criminals were mocking and deriding Jesus and then one changed. Why the change? Why the change from mocking Jesus to the heroism of defending him? Why the change from deriding Jesus to the self-aware humility of confession and asking for salvation?
Look to God and let’s see what happens. What did the second criminal see? In the midst of the pain, the brutality, the shouts, the death the criminal saw:
1. Jesus didn’t return hate for hate.
Jesus didn’t threaten. Jesus didn’t retaliate even though he had the right and power to do so.
2. Jesus forgiving
Verse 34 reports Jesus saying, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus was consistent in his life, in his message, in his mission. The Pharisees never accused Jesus of not practicing what he preached.
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven
Jesus said, “I desire mercy not sacrifice for I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
3. Jesus unjustly crucified
Could seeing the injustice open the criminal to seeing a greater spiritual truth- God in Jesus freely laying down his life to take upon himself the poison of the world’s sin? Could the criminal see the depth of God’s love and grace and determination to save the world?
What do you see? Look to God and let’s see what happens!
The criminal is rethinking his life in response to seeing the truth of who God is in Jesus’ words and actions. The same can be true for you.
You too can speak the words of the criminal, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” It is available for you. Jesus help me, deliver me from death, save me.
God remembering is God helping, delivering, and saving.
- In Genesis 8, God remembers Noah and saves him from the flood
- Genesis 19, God remembers Abraham and saves him and his nephew Lot
- Exodus 2, God remembers the Hebrews and saves them from slavery in Egypt
Jesus remembers the criminal and Jesus will remember you. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Today you can be fully present to Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Today, every day, and on into eternity.
Look to God and let’s see what happens
- Look to Jesus on the cross for you, for your loved ones, for your enemies, for the world
- Look to Jesus on the cross. Look at the compassion in his eyes. Hear his voice of forgiveness.
- Look to Jesus on the cross. Cry out, “Remember me, help me, deliver me, save me” and it will be heard and it will be so.
From Paradise Now by Steve Garnaas Holmes, adapted
Jesus, remember me.
Make me again a member of your realm.
Make me part of your healing of the world.
I surrender to your absolute love.
In your hope for the world, remember me.
Even in your suffering, remember me.
In your entering the pain of the world, remember me.
In your love, remember me.
Jesus, I bow in wonder at the expanse of your embrace
the breadth of your inclusion
the surprise of your grace
You seek and seek and seek
Including those I write off as beyond hope
the public sinners
those who collaborate with evil and oppression…
Why am I surprised?
You desire mercy not sacrifice
You are the Great Physician coming to those most in need of healing
Forgive me for forgetting who you are
Forgive me for forgetting my own sin
Forgive me for judging
Forgive my self-righteousness
Forgive me for limiting you
when I am so desperately in need of you
I am one of “those most in need” as well
Create in me a clean heart and renew your Holy Spirit within me
Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy on us all
I’m excited to now offer mp3’s of my Sunday messages. A huge thank you to Sean and my brothers and sisters at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota for all their help in making this possible. If you’re ever in Sarasota, please drop by for worship Sundays at 9am or 10:30am, or join us live on our Facebook page at 9am Sundays, or drop by during the week for a chat or small group. You and those you love are always welcome.
sermon © 2018 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Contact Lisa for posting and publication considerations.