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Archive for November 18th, 2016

Text:   St. Luke 23: 27-43

Christmas in July is a fond hope…but looking at the Gospel and Epistle readings, it seems today is Good Friday in November. President Lincoln wrote in his Thanksgiving Day proclamation, “in spite of our  national perverseness the Lord nevertheless has remembered mercy”. True enough but even more true and rock like: “because of our perverseness, the Lord showed mercy”: after all He said from the Cross:  

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

Now the thief who repented knew what he had done.  Jesus prays for His crucifers, that is, the hangman. Sin can overtake one like a thief on the street and one falls, not knowing what happened, what I did, but I fell.  Father, forgive them for they know what they do, even doing their job. 

Then there is sin persistently pursued like the evildoers on either side of Jesus.  The word translated as criminal is literally evildoers.  When the thief overtakes us, when satan attacks, then to comply and say let’s do it, it’s fun or I have no choice or I deserve better in life, or Oh, what the hell, indeed what the hell…then as the repentant thief said, we are under the sentence of condemnation.  For all types of sinfulness, there is only one Cross, one Altar, Jesus’ life into death was given, sinners forgiven.  Jesus came to justify the ungodly, but He does not justify ungodliness. The evildoer, who railed against Jesus, did not want forgiveness, he wanted to be excused, and he probably had all the excuses in the world.  There is no excuse for sin, there is only and joyfully, Jesus’ forgiveness.  

Three men on three crosses and the One Who is mocked, reviled, crowned with thorns, spat upon, is the innocent one, not the evil doers.  The man in the middle did not rain down upon his mockers eternal damnation, instead, He interceded for their forgiveness.  We would want the man in the middle to wrench His hands mightily from the wood of that cross and pick up the soldiers’ hammer and like some 1st century Thor start whacking those who mocked and reviled Him beating them into a bloody pulp.  Instead, He is the bloodied One.  In Christ, there is no condemnation.  In the Law of God, there is condemnation.  The repentant thief got it, as no man did in the Gospels until right then along side the Man in the middle. 

We call that evil doer, the penitent thief, or repentant thief.  What is repentance?   The repentant evil doer tells us when he said to the other criminal, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds…Repentance is knowing God judges us rightly. I can not justify myself, make myself right.  The repentant evildoer repented as did King David, no less!  David knew his dire deeds after adultery with Bathsheba, and having her husband Uriah, killed in battle, the full weight of God’s just judgment became clear in the preaching of the Word:

Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.

We are to fear and love God so that…as Luther begins each explanation of the commandments.  The other criminal was trying to weasel his way out, get a get off the cross card:  there is none. A thought experiment:   imagine that everyone could read your mind at anytime.  At work, at play, at school, on the street, behind the wheel, right now?  “If people would know what I was thinking, I would just die!” That saying, “I would just die” is actually closer to the mark than the criminal who wanted to get off the hook. The wages of sin is death… Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  Wretched man that I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ!  As it is written in Romans 7.  The free gift is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. The man in the middle bore our wrong in His sinless Body unto death was given that we might win heaven.  The repentant thief went on…”…. for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds  but this man has done nothing wrong.”  The last phrase from the Greek can be rendered, this man has done nothing out of place but for your place, the sinless One in the sinners’ stead has taken our place, the lowest place, even death on a cross.  Repentance is then turning toward the Lord.

Jesus first came preaching repentance and then the Kingdom of God.  When the risen Lord sent out His disciples that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  The criminal and us have only one Altar, His cross. He had no good works, no spirituality, but he did have a prayer: 

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 

The evildoer’s prayer came from the depths of the innocent One in the middle of the guilt of the world. This is the only time in the Gospels that a man or woman when talking to the Lord call upon Him, using His first Name alone: Jesus.  Other times, it was Lord, Master, Sir, Teacher…on the Cross it’s Jesus.  As Advent begins next week, we will hear again of the Word of God given by Gabriel to Mary in Nazareth, Luke 1:

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

The Name, “Jesus” literally means God saves.  He saved others, let Him save Himself.  He did not need to save Himself for He is the Savior.  There on the Cross He saved the repentant evildoer.  The repentant thief’s prayer was answered:  And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Paradise refers to the Garden of Eden and there were two trees, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of Life. The dry wood of the Cross is the green tree of  Life, eternal life in the paradise of the Lord’s saints.  The Lord prevented Adam and Eve from going to the tree of life, lest they eat and live forever:  living forever in sin.  Faith, the fruit of the Cross is ever with us, unto eternal life.  Today is the day of salvation, as the Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians because of yesterday, Good Friday, Good Friday is today and also Easter Sunday:  He is risen. 

Good Friday in November…Of preaching, it is written, We preach Christ and Him crucified.  Of Baptism, it is written, As many as have been baptized into Christ, were baptized into His death, so that as Christ as risen from the dead we too walk in the newness of life, considering sin dead and it is.  Of the Holy Communion, it is written, As often as we eat this Bread and drink this Cup we proclaim Christ’s death until He comes again.  Our spirituality is the Cross, make the sign of the cross over these bodies claimed by the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the Christ, baptism into Him, fed His Body and Blood. Our spirituality is not ourselves, it is the spirituality of the Cross. Jesus is our great High Priest who still intercedes for His saints, sinners redeemed by His Blood

His overwhelming  Sacrifice which alone, ALONE transfers us  in His rule and reign, saints by His grace, not our works, so that by His grace we will produce fruit pleasing in His sight.

By grace! None dare lay claim to merit;
Our works and conduct have no worth.
God in His love sent our Redeemer,
Christ Jesus, to this sinful earth;
His death did for our sins atone,
And we are saved by grace alone.

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