SENSE-ING THE CROSS – JESUS HEARS!
March 4, 2018 …. 3rd Sunday in Lent
My brother-in-law Ed is a master at selective hearing. A very introverted fellow, he has the ability to tune my magpie-ish sister-in-law Vanessa out…which is no easy task, since she never shuts up. He’s able to smile and nod while his mind is a million miles away focused on a football game or a NASCAR race. And Vanessa never knows the difference!
And yet, the truly amazing thing about Ed’s hearing is how keen it becomes in the outdoors. We will be hiking or fishing, and he can pinpoint the distant cry of an eagle, the snort of a buck, the rattle of a snake, the chirp of a cardinal…sounds that I could never begin to identify.
He truly missed his calling – he could have been made a great living as a nature guide.
Over these Sundays of Lent, we are seeking to grasp a deeper, transformative understanding of what the passion of Jesus is all about – what Jesus in his humanity senses on his journey to and on the Cross – what he feels, what he smells, what he sees, what he tastes and, yes, today, what he hears.
A cacophony of chaos and noise surrounds Jesus as he hangs in execution on a cross at Golgotha. He drifts in and out of excruciating consciousness, almost oblivious to the grousing of the Roman soldiers complaining about their pay, the growling of dogs as they fight over scraps of garbage, the peculiar high-pitched ululating of grief emanating from tearful women standing at a distance.
Jesus does pick up on the ragged threads of conversation being uttered by the two convicted thieves hanging on crosses on either side of him. In the midst of their heaving and struggling for breath….
JESUS HEARS DEFIANCE AND REJECTION
Yes, the prisoner on the first cross glances with seething scorn toward Jesus.
He’s heard Jesus mutter something of a prayer as onlookers curse him and religious folk mock him and soldiers gamble for his clothing—what was it? “Father, forgiven them for they do not know what they are doing?”
Someone had nailed a taunting sign over this Jesus’ head. It reads “King of the Jews.” Some king!
And so the one hanging on this first cross joins in the mocking chorus. “Some Messiah you are! Let’s see you save yourself and us along with you!” And he loathes Jesus with a barrage of contemptuous curses.
The prisoner dying on the cross on the other side of Jesus has had enough, “Don’t you have any respect for God?! We’re getting what we deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong!”
But the first prisoner shows no sign of remorse. His is the cross bearing the one who is dying IN sin. He chooses to die screaming epithets of defiance and rejection. He chooses to die in a posture of bitter estrangement from God.
He sees no wrong in himself, only in those around him. And yes, he will wallow on that cross in a state of wretched, self-supremacy.
Does Criminal # 1 have anything in common with anyone here this morning? Is there anyone here so convinced of your own self-supremacy and so convinced of Jesus’ seeming weakness that you would just as soon live your life apart from him and depart this world without him?
God gives us that choice. Sadly, I have met many persons who, when it comes to Jesus, scream defiance and rejection in his ears. They want no part of him and the sacrificial love he represents. They would rather die in sin.
And yet, on that hill far away on that Friday that was anything but good…
JESUS HEARS REPENTANCE AND REFLECTION
Criminal #2, the one hanging on a cross next to Jesus, the one who comes to Jesus’ defense, has evidently done much soul-searching. He’s taken a hard, honest look in the mirror. He sees himself for whom he truly is. And through eyes of faith he has come to see Jesus for whom he truly is—the Messiah, the Son of God and Savior of all humankind. He perceives something greatly divine in this man hanging on the center cross. He cries out, “Jesus, please remember me when you come into your kingdom!”
His is the cross bearing the one dying TO sin. At this 11th hour, he’s come to realize and lament his wasted life, but perhaps there is still a glimmer of hope for eternity.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” Yes, for this Penitent Thief, the journey from self-seeking to God-turning has begun.
And through the torture and pain he is able to find peace that passes understanding as he hears the comforting, assuring words of Jesus in reply, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Does Criminal #2 resonate with anyone here this morning? Are any of us convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, and that he is has the power to lead us on a truly fulfilling journey from self-seeking to God-turning, finding our ultimate destination with him? Are we ready to lay aside the restlessness and blaming and inner turmoil and lay hold of his assuring promise of life that is abundant and eternal?
On that hill far away on that Friday that was anything but good, we see a man determined to die IN sin and a man struggling to die TO sin. Jesus hears defiance and rejection, but he also hears repentance and reflection… and in response…
JESUS OFFERS ASSURANCE AND CONNECTION
After five years of intense post-graduate theological study and 38 years of learning and serving as a pastor, I still can’t explain to you what takes place on that central cross hammered into the heart of Golgotha, aka, Skull Hill.
All I can say is that in those hours of interminable suffering Jesus somehow takes upon himself all that could and would and should separate us from God and he destroys its potential to condemn us. And we, like the second prisoner on the cross, have a second chance to embrace that mended relationship with God that comes through Jesus’ suffering and death.
This is the cross holding, but not hindering, the one who is dying FOR sin.
With a broken and contrite and faith-filled spirit, the penitent thief implores, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!”
And Jesus replies to words of repentance and reflection with words of assurance and connection, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise!
Yes, at the precise moment Jesus is saving the whole world, he takes time to also save the one. “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise!”
My dear friends, hear the Good News to a dying thief and to you and me: Even the most wasted of lives in this world remains precious to Christ for eternity! There is no one outside of Jesus’ rainbow of redemption. No matter what we have done, no matter how deeply we have failed, no matter how hard we have sinned; our Lord does not give up on us.
He patiently waits to hear those penitent words from our lips and our hearts, “Jesus, remember me!” And we who have been outlaws from grace will find ourselves welcomed home to eternal life. Right here! Right now! We can be forgiven, we can be changed, we can make a new beginning!
Yes, there are many things in life we grow too old for. But it is never too late to turn to Christ. As long as our hearts are beating, the invitation of Christ still stands. Are there any among us this day who have not yet asked, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom?”
You still have time. There is still time.
Jesus says, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise!”
“With me,” Jesus says. This is more than a statement of forgiveness—it is the offer of friendship. Jesus becomes our companion throughout our life’s journey. Even if our closest friends and family members should forsake us, Jesus remains firmly and forever at our side.
And even when death shall cast its shadow upon us, his light will cast out the darkness and lead us to our eternal home, to paradise, where we shall know utter wholeness and bliss.
We shall never, ever walk alone! We shall never, ever be forgotten! We shall truly live, now and for eternity!
Heading down I-81 Thursdsay night from dropping my daughter off at Dulles Airport, there was a heartwarming sight to greet me thru the rain and fog at milepost 296. There, straight ahead, glowing in the distance, illuminated by bright floodlights, were those three giant crosses. Their brilliance immediately awakened me, and their presence reminded me I was not very far from home.
Three crosses on a hill…on that hill far away on that Friday that was anything but good…
- A cross bearing one dying IN sin…shouting words of defiance and rejection.
- A cross bearing one dying TO sin…pleading words of repentance and reflection.
- A cross bearing One dying FOR sin….offering words of assurance and connection.
It is this latter cross, the cross of Jesus, that is paramount—for it is the enduring reminder of a God whose love for us can never be dimmed, defeated or destroyed.
When we draw near to that cross, we are never very far from home, for now…and for eternity.
May our Lord hear these words from our lips: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!