The Invitation - Day 39

Luke 23:26

As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene,  happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and, put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large crowd trailed behind, including many grief-stricken women. 28 But Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child, and the breasts that have never nursed.’ 30 People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’ 31 For if these things are done when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. 33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.
34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.
35 The crowd watched, and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. 37 They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 A sign was fastened above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 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!”
40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

While this is too much to unpack in one day, we may take an approach that asks you to meditate on these texts today. So much is happening, from Simon of Cyrene to the ominous warning to the Daughters of Jerusalem, to Jesus asking for forgiveness, to the king of the Jews' statement, to the thieves on either side of Jesus. It is a packed pericope to which we cannot do justice in one day.

This is why I want you to read it several times over the day as we come toward this Easter weekend. All this happened on a Friday morning and afternoon. Jesus had a long day before, and he must have been exhausted. He could not carry the cross, and we see the Cyrene, Simon, a black man from Africa, jumping in, albeit under duress, to take the cross beam from Jesus. We could go on and on about simply the Cross and its use in the punishment of slaves and murderers. We could talk long and hard about the way Jesus took this tool of destruction and made it into a symbol of hope for us.

Then, on the Cross, we see Jesus still being mocked and misunderstood. We hear Jesus asking for forgiveness for those who are doing this. Jesus maintains his gracious nature amid significant adversity. Is that something that we can do? If you are like me, the fight instinct emerges before the benevolent instinct emerges. This is why I love being surrounded by people with different gifts than me; we help each other.

Above all, we see a God so invested in his love for his people that he is willing to die for us. I know that sounds weird, that I was ready to become death, but that is how we say it. It is like cross multiplication. We deserve death, but we acquired life through his sacrifice. He earned life but took on our death. What an amazing God.

Now, I know some don’t like the idea that we deserve death for our sins. I get that; it makes me uncomfortable as well. I also don’t think God needed a blood sacrifice to save us. But I think this is an incredible moment to understand God has love for us. When we realize what Jesus was willing to suffer for us, how can we do anything but love and trust Him?

One last thing, the previous phrase Jesus says in this text: “I assure you today that you will be with me in paradise. . .” This phrase has made a great many people think that Jesus was talking about an immortal soul that is transferred to heaven when this person dies or anyone dies. Is that what this text was saying?

Our tradition doesn’t think so. We believe that death is like sleep, and scripture speaks to that 42 different times. So, was Jesus not telling the truth? To be clear, this is a much deeper conversation, but we can assume this: the next thing we see when we die is Jesus. So, regardless of the timeline(we believe it is at the second coming), we see Jesus next!

Take time to reread this text, and let these interactions sink in!

By Pastor Timothy Gillespie

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