The Interceding Lord
1. We are celebrating Passion week. As we think of the Lord's suffering this morning, I would like for us to stop and look at the words [the men exchanged] from the two [other] crosses.
The People Standing In Front Of The Cross
2. What kind of people were they who were standing under the cross? First there were the soldiers who put the Lord on the cross and had a share in his robe. This is the kind of men they were: Just before, they tore off the clothes Jesus was wearing, they made him wear a red cloak (purplish clothing), and crowned his head with a crown woven with thorns, made him hold a reed stick in his right hand, kneeled before his feet, or even saluted him, and said, "Hail, o king of the Jews," and they insulted him, put him to the lowest shame, then after taking the reed stick, they kept striking the Lord in the head so many times and spit on him. Then they turned to the Lord on the cross and mocked him with "If you're the king of the Jews, save yourself," (23:37). [That's how these soldiers were.]
3. Then there were also the priests and the scribes who plotted a trap for the Lord with their schemes and unreasonably pursued the death penalty by crucifixion for him. They were jealous of the Lord, felt at odds with him, plotted to kill him, and at last carried it out. That's how these men were. They were men who took turns mocking the Lord, saying "Though he saved others, he cannot save himself. Messiah, king of Israel, come down off the cross right now. If we see [you do] that, we'll believe [on you]."
4. Then also, there were those passing by. They mocked Jesus with "Mister who will knock down the temple and build it in three days, if you are the son of God, save yourself. Come down from the cross," (Matthew 27:40). That's how these passers-by were.
5. In addition, there were also people just standing by for quite some time and they just stood by watching dumbfoundedly. If a disciple, he would have feared the Jews and so he would have stood there but would have kept it hidden. That's how the disciples were.
Jesus On The Cross
"At that time, Jesus said, 'O father, please forgive them. They do not know what they are doing,'" (23:24).
7. [It said,] "at that time." At that time while he was being crucified, the Lord made an intercessory prayer.
8. He was whipped, he was crowned with a crown of thorns, he had nails pounded into his hands (and most likely his feet as well), he was in anguish and violent pain physically, mentally, and spiritually, but the Lord prayed that prayer. It wasn't for himself that he prayed; he prayed for all the people gathered under the cross.
9. The people gathered there were also the ones who drove him to the cross. That's not all they did, they mocked him, insulted him, and were proud of doing what they did. That's how these assembled people were. [Yet] the Lord truly did pray for these people.
10. Why in the world didn't they feel self conscious of what they were doing? As we've seen earlier, all the people who were there each knew the different things that they had done. They were conscious of their actions.
11. The soldiers took part in a lottery for Jesus' personal effects and they ridiculed, poked fun of, and spit on the Jew Jesus - who was condemned to death by the cross and who had exposed his wretched figure [to public view].
12. The chief priests and the scribes put their trap into full execution, and now they were drunken with victory, and exulting in triumph they scorned the Lord and mocked him.
13. Even the public was the same way, the hopes and the expectations they once had were now dead and gone, they mocked him in their hopelessness or maybe they felt some kind of rage because of it all.
14. The Lord's intercession was made on behalf of these people. Did his prayer reach their hearts? Because of his intercession did they examine themselves inside and repent of their actions? Actually, they did not change one bit. The mockers mocked and the scorners only continued to scorn.
15. Yet, didn't the Lord have the power to come down from [the cross]? Didn't he have the power to save himself? The Lord had experienced temptation before he entered into his public life. "Make this stone into bread, jump from the roof of the temple." - This would not be much of a temptation for us because we could never do it. But it was different for Jesus. It was a temptation for him. How would the powerful One use that power? The temptation was at work in that. The Lord's prayer on The Mount Of Olives (in Gethsemane) was "Father, if your will, please take this cup from me. But, not my wish, do it according to your will," (22:42). It was clear that it was not that the Lord couldn't save himself, it's that he didn't. It's not that he couldn't come down, but that he didn't. In accordance with the will of God the Father, he accepted the cross as the atonement for sin.
16. That's the way he interceded and prayed. They were aware of what they were doing. But, that's how they really were, these people who kept mocking the Lord not knowing, not understanding one bit of the will of the Father [in heaven] or the meaning of the cross, or even the meaning of the Lord's intercession. The Lord's intercession and his compassion was for these people, none of whom seemed worthy of it in the least bit. The Lord interceded on behalf of all the people gathered there. Whether the people realized the meaning of it or not the Lord prayed because they needed it. The Lord's prayer and his concern was poured out for all the people. But even still, the Lord's thoughts for them were ignored. And perhaps out of his extreme pain the words of his prayer for those scorning him, for those who put him on the cross and wanted to kill him went unheard [except as] the drivel of a loser, the howling of a failure. Didn't it?
The Criminals On The Right And The Left
"One of the criminals crucified on the cross insulted Jesus, 'You're the messiah,are you? Save yourself and us.' Then, the other one rebuked him, 'Even though you have received the same punishment, don't you even fear God? Since we have received a punishment for what we've done, it is fair enough; but this man has not done anything wrong,'" (23:39-41).
18. The Bible tells us that besides the Lord two thieves, one on his right and the other on his left, were punished with death by crucifixion. It has a conversation between the two of them. It seems somehow these criminals knew quite a bit about the Lord. Maybe they were seeing and listening to the Lord's work [though no one else was]. No body likes dying. We cling to life. Even if it's a death by crucifixion nobody wants to die. I think we can understand the words that that criminal gave. The person now right by him was rumored to be the messiah, a great prophet, and was said to have been a worker of numerous miracles and a powerful person. It was natural for him to want [Jesus] to help him at such a time somehow or other.
19. He shouted out to him something like this, "Rather than some intercessory prayer that nobody would care to listen to, like the folks are saying right now below our feet, save yourself and save us from this predicament."
20. If it were us, wouldn't we have shouted something contrary like that to the Lord? Even in our time now we cry out to the Lord with "Just make it like it never happened. Save us from this thing, now, from this predicament. Heal me from this sickness. Save me out of poverty. Save me from this inane situation, this unfair treatment. Please do this for me. And do that and that." Don't we cry like that? "If you're really God, please answer my request. If you fulfill my wish, I'll believe in you." Isn't that the kind of attitude we have within us? We don't realize our real need, but we just want to see the sour situation before us take a turn for the better and we only seek for the crisis to be circumvented. That's how we really are.
21. But now there is a character that has been set aside here. It is the other criminal. He barges into what the Lord says and rebukes the other criminal. He too must have wanted some help from the Lord. Likewise, he too was placed into an extreme position. But, even amid such dire straits he still took note of the Lord as the Lord. He listened to what the Lord was saying, and he saw his own sin.
22. There was nothing for them to do [by way of hope] ever. They would only die on the cross. No matter if they resisted or if they repented, their situations would not have changed. The future was totally closed to them. But if they had any kind of future, they would but always remember that they got what they deserved for their deeds. [Trying] to take control of anything now would be pointless. Still and all, his thoughts were on what the Lord had said. It was on his intercessory prayer. It was on what the Lord had said which you might say was not personally directed towards him.
23. Betting his whole being on the life after this one, he made a request of the Lord, "Jesus, when you come into your kingdom, please remember me," (23:42). He didn't say let me be with you. No, he didn't. He just could ask, please remember me. Evidently, he had his eye on the coming hour in the future yet to be and not on a release from the hardship before him now, or of any release from the cross. Said another way, he didn't ask that the cross be taken away but that he be placed under the rule of God, God's kingdom. I might not be forgiven but to be placed [under God's rule], at least I ask you that you would have me remain in the corner of your memory [somewhere].
24. Amazingly here, but we have the two typical kinds of persons here of the one who didn't see it and the one who did realize the meaning of the Lord's intercession, that is, [he saw] what he truly needed before God. Both were in dire straits, both in the same tough spots, but in response to the praying words of the Lord, one turns to the Lord shouting for deliverance from the present crisis before him, but then the other realized his need for intercession for his sins.
The Lord's Reply
"Whereupon Jesus said, 'I truly say to you, you will be with me in paradise today," (23:43).
26. The Lord heard his request and granted it. But more than that he surpassed it. [He surpassed it] with the best words of "You will be with me in paradise today." In an instant the worst situation of the cross was transferred to the best by the Lord's words. The sinners didn't have any more time. They had no time to repent completely and change their lives. But even that situation, all so desperately locked down tight, would be demolished because of the Lord. The word of the Lord shows that even the request of this sinner was certainly heard [by the Lord].
27. However, the situation he was placed into didn't change one single bit. They closed out his life with the death penalty on the cross. Even the intercessory prayer of the Lord and his words of promise seemed to have collapsed in vain in the flow of time. To those who happened to be present at that place and who witnessed their conversation, it probably looked like the whole talk was for nothing, like merely the final afterthoughts of dying men.
28. Whatever they may have conversed about, the real fact for those present thre was that the Lord was dead and the criminals were dying too. The people departed and the Lord was buried in a tomb. With everything hopeless it all seemed like it would be buried in history.
29. But, things took an about-face. It's because of the resurrection of the Lord. His intercessory prayer and words of promise, which looked like they would vanish in vain before the cross, did not at all end up hopelessly buried. The Lord's prayer, his words, his promises, though seemingly the height of folly and without power, did transcend all of the world's phenomena, both time and space, and in transcending all hopelessness there was a bright shining moment. We see with the Lord's resurrection the figure of this sinner in heaven. We see in it every bright hope.
30. Through the death and the resurrection of the Lord, what happened long ago with the Lord on the cross, his prayer, his words, his promise go beyond time and come to us now. As words of the bright shining Living Being, as words of truth they come to us.
31. Therefore, then, we must direct our eyes onto the cross. We must direct our eyes, our ears, and our hearts onto the figure of our interceding Lord and his words for us; for, there is where the figure of the Lord is who risked his life and gave his intercession. And so we live today in His presence. We live in the words and in the promise of our interceding Lord, who prays even now for us.