Love and Injustice – Luke 23:39-42

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise”.

You don’t have to look very hard to see the world we live in is one lacking justice. Pick up a paper and read about the royal commission, asylum seekers, political corruption, civil war, religious persecution … the list goes on and on. As we read the paper and watch the news, the natural and right response from us, the public and from the media is to demand justice. When we look at the evil acts perpetrated by those unknown to us, it’s easy to cry out for justice.

But what happens when that cry for justice turns on us? When we face the consequences of our actions would we still demand that justice be done?

This is a question faced by two men who hung on crosses beside Jesus. Both convicted criminals. Both being punished for their own actions. Both seemingly without hope. Yet they have two very different responses to their situation.

The first criminal doesn’t ask for justice. He does just the opposite. He joins in with the rulers and soldiers who have been mocking Jesus. He too hurls sarcasm at him – ‘if you’re really some kind of king, prove it. Save yourself!’ But he goes one step further. “Aren’t you God’s chosen king? Save yourself and us.” His cry isn’t for justice. His cry is for Jesus to save him from justice. He demands injustice.

The second criminal is different. He knows his crime and he knows he is getting exactly what he deserved. And he recognises Jesus’ innocence. He knows that on the cross next to him is no ordinary man. He is a man to be feared, because he is also God, and he is suffering innocently.

But then, he too cried for injustice. He turns to Jesus and says ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom’.

This request is outrageous. This man is a criminal. He’s been judged by human authorities and they’ve hung him on a cross to die. This man knows that he’ll be judged by God and that he doesn’t deserve any mercy. Yet he dares to ask Jesus to remember him.

When you stop and think about what he’s asking for it’s quite amazing. A criminal is talking to the king of God’s people, and asking him to keep a place for him in God’s kingdom.

Jesus’ response is even more amazing. “Today you will be with me in paradise”. Yes, I will remember you. Yes, you will have a place in my kingdom. How is it possible that in this 11th hour confession this criminal has found some kind of favour with Jesus?

The answer is found in the biggest injustice of all – the death of an innocent man. Jesus’ death was a huge injustice, but not an accidental one. It was intentional. It was willing. And it was motivated by love. God’s love for his people, his desire for them to be reconciled to him and his knowledge that reconciliation would be impossible without him stepping in to act. So he stepped into the world in the person of Jesus, and dies a death that he didn’t deserve, so that when someone cries out ‘Jesus, remember me’, he can answer ‘yes, you will be with me in paradise’.

This is a tremendous promise to the criminal on the cross. But it’s not just for him. All of us are in the same position as the criminal. We may not be judged by our peers, or be hung on a cross, but we will all stand before God and will all be found wanting. We will face the same choice the two criminals faced. Join in the mocking and demand temporary salvation, or recognise Jesus as the king who is able to provide eternal salvation.

The criminal’s words from the cross are more than a confession of his crimes. He has come to believe and declare that Jesus really is the King of the Jews. He confessed his need for forgiveness and turned to the only one who is able to meet that need.

Will you do the same?

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Reflections on Mark 15:33 – 41

The Death of Jesus

33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.39And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

There’s been a few moments in my life when this passage has had a strong impact on me. The most recent was last year during a class at college. We had spent the term looking at Colossians 1:15 – 20 which talks about Christ, the one by whom ‘all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible … all things were created by him and for him’.

After a few weeks of considering Christ as the creator of all things, we watched the scene of his death in ‘The Passion of the Christ’. I’ve seen the movie a few times and I’ve always found it a little unsettling, but this day was very different. I came to the conclusion that its inadequate to say that Jesus died for me. Because he didn’t JUST die. He was tortured, and humiliated. He was everyone’s enemy. And during this, while his was nailed to a cross, he calls to his father and he is mocked some more. He didn’t just die for me.

He also didn’t just die FOR me, he died because of me. Isaiah 53 says ‘We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’.

Watching the portrayal of this scene from Marks gospel I felt the full weight of that, probably for the first time. I don’t think I had ever really considered before what my part was in Jesus’ death. It’s easy to remove myself from it or to think that if I were there I would have been one of the good, faithful women who had followed him and cared for him. But I realized that it’s much more likely that I would have joined those mocking Jesus that day. In fact I did join them, because his death was a culmination of everyone’s sin, including mine. My sin isn’t just something that happens in my life, years after Jesus’ death – I was right there in the midst of it all, because he was wearing MY sin on the cross. Jesus, the one who created all things, who gave all people breath, breathed his last because of my sin.

So that was quite an overwhelming and emotion hour not just for me, but my whole class. After class I sat with some friends just trying to work out what it was that we were feeling and how to pick up and get on with our day. I see the answer in this passage. While it reminds me of the magnitude of my sin and the part my sin played in Jesus’ death, it also shows me the power of his death and why I don’t have to worry about those things too much.

At first it may not seem that impressive that when he died the curtain in the temple was torn in two, but it’s a beautiful sign of what happened in that moment. When I become a Christian one of the first things that really amazed me was the size and the power of Jesus’ ability to forgive us. I had being struggling with the thought that my sin was too big for Jesus to forgive.

But here we see not just any curtain, but a massive 3-inch think curtain that separated sinful man from a Holy God, spontaneously tear in two. And we see a centurion, a Roman soldier who was there to take part in the crucifixion, confess ‘surely this man is the son of God’. Jesus’ death is powerful enough to abolish the divide between us and God, and powerful enough to make the most unlikely people confess that he is Lord, and powerful enough to forgive even my sin.

I was to reflect on what this passage means to me for our Good Friday service. To me it means that Christ was tortured, humiliated and died not just for me, but because of me and that this it’s powerful enough to bring me forgiveness. Surely that means I owe him my life. Because surely this man IS the Son of God.