Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise

November 21, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Luke 23:35-43

God's Grace Comes To Their Door

1. Today I read to you from verse thirty-five, and a little before that, this is what is written, "Besides that, two criminals were led out in order to be executed with Jesus. When they came to the place called, 'The Skull,' the people crucified Jesus there. Both of the criminals were put on crosses, one on his right, the other on his left," (verses thirty-two and thirty-three). And after that come Jesus' words: "At that time, Jesus said. 'O father, please forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.'," (verse thirty-four). These statements [made by Jesus] are clearly heard by the two criminals because they are within speaking distance, just as they do speak various things to Jesus afterwards. That's right, they are that close to Jesus. Indeed, it would be correct to say they "were forced to" because they were not hanging on crosses on their own free will.

2. Naturally as you'd expect, it was because they had been arrested [for something] that they were being hung on crosses. And they had been put on trial. I think they were hoping to escape just the death penalty, but the outcome [of the trial] was a sentence for execution. We don't know what they did. In The Gospel According To Mark it is written that they were "both robbers." Or else some would argue that they were members of "the Zealot party," which was a party of extremists who were seeking liberation from Rome. Whatever the case may be, we could say their being arrested was ill-fated for them. Whatever they might have done, the decision of the death penalty was handed down, which was undoubtedly a most sorrowful thing. Furthermore, there was nothing more horrible than their being condemned to the penalty of the cross, which was considered the most cruel form of execution at that time.

3. However, the gospel account is telling us [something]; that in those moments they were right at the savior's side. They were right where they could hear his voice. And it says, they were right there where they could have him hear their voices. Even though it looked like they had the worst of luck, even though their end looked like it was a disaster, be that as it may, at that moment they were with the messiah. They finally got to be with the savior after a long struggle. Therefore, God's grace was certainly there in that place. We can surely say such a thing. God's grace has come to the door of these two criminals.

4. The grace of God - being revealed in this way. In a sense we have a memory of that. It is probably not because when we struggled to get to be with Christ we had journeyed a long way seeking the Christ as we were led by the star, like the scholars of astrology, [the magi], did when they had come from the east. No, it was more like in a way that we never wanted, the only way to put it is, [we] "were forced to" be at the messiah's side. Wouldn't you say so? Some were led to Christ through sickness, some through problems at home or through one kind of suffering or another. There may be some who say it is because my parents are Christians [that I became a Christian]. I think the people who from the beginning accept [their Christian parents] as "[God's] grace" are truly blessed, but it doesn't always turn out that way. I was born into a Christian home; however, in childhood, I used to whine a lot about how "I had been born under such an unlucky star!" However, regardless of the route, when you are led to Christ's side, that is grace, it is nothing except grace.

Don't You Fear God?

5. But, grace is not necessarily always accepted as grace. Grace comes to one's door. A person can take hold of that grace, or on the other hand, it is also possible that a person wastes the grace given to him or her. Therefore, Paul spoke in the epistle addressed to the church at Corinth as follows. "You must not waste the grace that you have received from God," (Second Corinthians 6:1). That is also clearly being demonstrated in the figures of these two criminals who are depicted in this text.

6. One of the criminals said, "Aren't you the messiah? Try saving yourself and us!," (verse thirty-nine). "Try saving yourself and us" means, to be specific, to take [us] down from the cross, to set [us] free from execution by crucifixion. By that definition [it means] to set [us] free from [our] suffering. If [somebody] has pain, he or she seeks for deliverance to be set free from the pain. We [can] easily understand that; because we usually do the same thing.

7. If [we] have a problem, we seek for deliverance to get it solved. Whenever [we're] sick, we seek for deliverance to be healed. When [we've] come face to face with death, we seek for deliverance to be allowed to live a little longer and not die. It's not just in personal matters. If you were a member of the Zealot party back then, all of Jewish society would have been seeking for deliverance to be set free from Rome. They felt the savior, the messiah, was the very one who would set them free from pain. They didn't need a messiah who could not live up to their expectations. "One of the criminals who was hanging on the cross cursed at Jesus," says the scripture. In his saying, "Aren't you the messiah?," it was words of insult and cursing. Why was he insulting him? It was because he was a messiah who did not answer the demands of the people. It was because he was a messiah who did not live up to their expectations. It was because he was a powerless messiah. It was because he was a messiah who was being hung on a cross. They did not need some powerless messiah. Therefore, he used the strength he had left to curse Jesus.

8. But at the same time the other man said, "Even though you are receiving the same punishment, don't you fear God even?," (verse forty). Do you truly need to have him take [us] down from the cross? No, there is something more important. The other man had realized this. The two were just about at the end of their lives. It was not merely a time of suffering. Nor was it [merely] a time of [personal] disaster. It was the time for them to be asked certain questions in regard to their own lives. How have you been living up to now? How have you been living the life given to you? This is what they are being asked in the presence of God, [and] that there is no more grave a moment than this, the other man had realized. They were certainly being crucified right now because of the condemnation upon them by human beings. But, human judgment is not the final judgment. The truth is that it is in the presence of God where one will be asked certain questions regarding one's life. He had realized this and so he shouted out, "Don't you fear God even?"

9. It's not wrong to seek to be set free from suffering. I think we should seek the Lord [for that]. If [you] have a problem, [you] should seek [the Lord] for it to get resolved. I think if [you] get sick, [you] should seek [the Lord] for healing. All year round, I'm living too by making petition [to God] about every single thing possible, saying, "Please help me! Please do this for me one way or the other!" I don't think that is a sin to do. However, when we are right in the midst of suffering, when we are in pain, it just may be the moment when we are being asked the decisively important [questions] for us: How have you been living the life given to you? How have you been living in the presence of God? How is your relationship between you and God going?

10. And at such a time we will not be able to avoid admitting that we cannot say, "I have lived righteously towards others and towards God." When it comes to others, we may be able to make the claim of our righteousness. Shouldn't I feel this way when I'm not guilty of anything towards anyone? We might be able to make such a case. Even if we don't say it we think it. But we can't say [anything like that] when we are asked by God. When we are held accountable for our lives, in the presence of God we cannot help but stand as sinners. We must fear God.

Please Remember Me!

11. However, today good news (the gospel) has come to us in this condition of ours. It is the words from the gospel account that was read for today. These men - crucified sinners. These men - right when they are about to finish their lives, at the decisive moment when they are being questioned about their very own lives, they cannot do a thing further. These men - they cannot help but finish their lives as sinners. [But yet] is there -- someone -- who is with them in this state of theirs? -- There is the crucified Jesus in the exact same place. They were arrested as criminals, they were handed down death sentences, and through this whole series of actions leading to their executions, they were led right to Jesus' side. They "were forced to" be at a certain place within voice range. As a gracious blessing from God. Like I said at the start, what we see here in this text is actually none other than our own figures.

12. The savior was within voice range. Therefore, as if wringing out his remaining strength, the other criminal said to Jesus, "O Jesus, when you come to your country, please remember me!," (verse forty-two).

13. We must carefully think through what these words mean. This is not merely saying, "When I die, please don't forget me!" [In Japanese] the text says, "your country," however, the words are actually "your kingdom." Because it says, "your kingdom," that means that somebody is king of that kingdom, and that [somebody] is Jesus. In addition, the one called king is also the judge. The one who holds the authority to judge is the king. As seen from a human perspective, Jesus looked like only a criminal dying on the cross. But that is false. He does die but he is in control reigning as the true king. And ultimately the one who has the authority to judge is neither the Judean high priest nor the Roman emperor, but rather Him. That's what the other criminal was saying.

14. So, the statement, "Please remember me!," doesn't seem like it should come next but it does. Think about it if it were you. Would you say, "Please remember me!," to the one who is able to judge you at the very end for how you have lived? Isn't it true that you would, instead, want to say, "Please forget me!"? Please forget how I have lived! Please forget what I have done! Isn't it true that you would have wanted to say that?

15. Yet, this man said, "Please remember me! Please keep me in your mind!" Why [did he say that]? Probably because he thought that "This man, this king named Jesus, will most definitely show me mercy." Put another way, [he thought,] "The king named Jesus will most definitely declare forgiveness upon me because he has the authority to execute that verdict. He is definitely somebody who [could] grant forgiveness upon my life." -- Because [this man] surely believed [Jesus could]. In other words, he was asking for forgiveness of sin with the words, "O Jesus, when you come into your kingdom, please remember me!" The truly important thing to this man was not to have [Jesus] let him down from the cross, but rather to have [Jesus] forgive him of his sin.

16. So, immediately Jesus answered him as follows. "I clearly say [to you], today you will be with me in paradise." It was not after Jesus had sat on [his] throne in [his] [kingdom], it was not after the criminal had died, but while he was still alive, at that moment, he heard the answer from the mouth of Jesus. "Today you will be with me in paradise." This was nothing other than a declaration of complete forgiveness of sin. He would no longer need to die as a sinner because while on this earth, while still suffering on the cross, he was able to hear ahead of time the words of forgiveness of sin. [His] being "forced to" be at the side of Jesus was certainly [a gift of] grace. God's grace had come to [his door]. And that grace was not wasted. He certainly took hold of God's grace.

17. Let's give thanks that this same grace has certainly come to our [door]! He was "forced to" be at the side of Jesus on the very last day of his life. Not at the very last day of our lives, we are already at Jesus' side before that. [He] has taken us here. Let's remember and give thanks to God that [his taking us here] is grace and it is nothing but grace! We must never waste that grace.