Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

[I recently read a sermon by Owen Bourgaize entitled:  Three Crosses At Calvary.  It was contributed to Sermon Central by Rev. Bourgaize on October 18, 2000.  His sermon blessed me so much and inspired many of the points made in this message.  Thank you, Owen.[1]]

Fox Nation did a documentary called, The Passion of the Christ – The Controversy.  The film, The Passion of the Christ, debuted in 2004, and it is still making waves … and history.

“Mel Gibson’s epic movie, The Passion of the Christ, is considered one of the most controversial films of all time.  It takes viewers through pivotal events of Christianity:  the trial, condemnation, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

“The movie faced harsh criticism for scenes of brutal violence, and many accused it of perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes.  Many people remember seeing the film as too violent.  One person said, “I don’t know anyone who could sit through that and not feel some emotion.”

“Many people that watched the film said they cried or screamed, and sometimes they had to turn away because it was very graphic.  One person testified, “When you’re watching it, it’s sickening.  It’s very emotionally difficult.  This has to be the bloodiest movie that I’ve ever seen.”

“Actor Jim Caviezel (Jesus in the film), who suffered sickness, a dislocated shoulder, and a lightning strike during the grueling filming said, “The film is an artistic work that will affect everyone who sees it, regardless of their faith.  I believe this film can be great for all Jews, or Muslims, or anyone in America … in the world!  It is not just a religious film.”  Caviezel said the uproar “…comes as no surprise.  If we did the story right, then we should have controversy.  Not much has changed in 2000 years.”

The CENTRAL COMPONENT of the Passion of the Christ is The Cross.

The Cross of Jesus has been an offence from the day He was crucified.  Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 22-23 – For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel — not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles …

In 1 Corinthians 2:2, Paul continued, For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

On the day that Jesus was crucified He put on display the AGAPĀ … the love of God.

Last week (SEE THE BLOG – MARCH 12) I wrote about the four Greek words for love, and how AGAPĀ is set apart as unique to Christianity. I said, there are four words for love in the ancient common Greek language.  They are agapā, storgā, philā, and erōs.

Agapā is what has come to be known as a Greco-Christian word because when the First Century Bible was written, agapā was the word of choice for the highest form of love – that love that God has for human beings, and that human beings have for God.  Agapā, in a Christian context, means “unconditional, self-sacrificing love … the kind of love that will endure, no matter what the circumstances may be.”

Apapā is the word used in John 3:16, “For God so loved (agapāsen) the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”

Agapā not only brought Jesus to and into our world, but Agapā is the LOVE that took Jesus to the Cross …

To help us see how great the love of God is I would like to focus your attention on The Cross. While He was being executed … nailed to The Cross … the Lord made SEVEN (7) statements. Each one is significant; each one is amazing; each one is packed with meaning. Starting with the THIRD STATEMENT of the seven:

3.  “Jesus said to His mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your Son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’” (John 19:26,27).

4.  “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me” (Matthew 27:46).

5.  “I thirst” (John 19:28).

6.  “It is finished” (John 19:30).

7.  “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46).

In Luke’s gospel, chapter 23, LUKE records the FIRST TWO statements, and they are the ones I believe we should concentrate on today.

1.  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

2.  “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

The FIRST STATEMENT, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” embraced all mankind. Think about that for a moment and then read on.

The people surrounding the Cross that day served as a microcosm of humanity … a cross section of humanity … a sampling of humanity.

  • There were the Roman soldiers, following orders, doing their job.  They added cruelty and indifference to the mix, and that brutality, that meanness and coldness was of their own making – coming from their jaded hearts.
  • There were the religious people.  They were the ones who gleefully judged Jesus to be a heretic and triumphantly expressed their disdain.  They mocked Christ and dared Him to come down from the Cross if He was the Son of God. Religion can kill you!
  • There were the curious.  They were inquisitive to a point.  Maybe they had heard something of the miracle worker from Nazareth, but they had other fish to fry, other places to be, and were in no mood for inconvenient thought.
  • There were family members.  Some were believers, but others were not until after Jesus was raised from the dead.  Until then, they were skeptical … even dishonoring. Family can be cruel sometimes.
  • And there were, at the foot of the Cross, people who hated death and capital punishment, especially at the hands of the Romans.  They were political, probably zealous. Government had solutions as long as they were the ones calling the shots. Power hungry maybe.  But there was no spiritual concern for their own souls.  Jesus was just a hook to hang a cause for change on.
  • And finally, there were the disciples turned deniers and deserters.  Fearful, disillusioned, confused and let down.  They stood furthest from the Cross, in the shadows.  They didn’t want to be so close they could look into His eyes.  Filled with shame, they wept in the background of the horrible scene.

All of these people were within earshot of the Lord Jesus Christ as He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” 

Christ’s blanket statement of unconditional forgiveness was a harbinger of what He would be offering the whole world after His loving, sacrificial death … that is, for all who would believe.

The SECOND STATEMENT gets really personal.

2.  “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Christ’s second statement narrows its focus to one single needy sinner.   God not only sees the whole world, but He sees it made up of individuals.  He’s got your number. He knows how many hairs are on my head. He saw you and me in our mothers’ wombs. He’s got your picture taped to His refrigerator door. Ha!

Two thieves were crucified next to Jesus.  Isaiah declared that the Messiah … the One who would give His life as an atonement for sin, “… poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.  For He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.” (53:12).

700 years before the crucifixion of Jesus Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would be executed along with “transgressors…”  Two thieves, obviously known to each other. Maybe partners in crime – we don’t know. But they were career criminals and the Romans had a way to dealing with that sort. Death! No mercy.

Luke 23:32-34, 39 NLT

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. (And now, skip down a few verses…)

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!”

I totally get that guy.  He’s being put to death … hanging naked before gawking onlookers and his terrible executioners.  He’s lashing out.

He had lived a vile life up until the moment he was nailed to his cross.  All the resident bitterness and anger and frustration came bubbling up from his sinful heart.  He began to scoff.  His target was the GOOD GUY.  He didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  To that dying thief, Jesus was just another in a long line of false messiahs, charlatans, and pretenders who had deceived the stupid masses.  He wasn’t going to fall for whatever Jesus was selling.

But … The other thief saw Jesus in another light.  He watched as …

  • The Roman soldiers had nonchalantly dropped His stipes … the vertical, upright beam … into its hole.  
  • The patibulum … the horizontal beam that He had carried from Pilate’s judgment hall … had been dropped on the ground.  The soldiers had stretched out His arms and dislocated Christ’s shoulders. Then they hammered spikes through His wrists and into the wood.  
  • These expert killers had next lifted and then dropped the patibulum onto the stipes.  
  • They had nailed Christ’s ankles to the suppedanneum, a small piece of wood that would help Jesus try to raise His body up long enough to catch a breath.

Now crucified, “standing” upright, with the weight of His body literally hanging from the nails, Jesus offered up His prayer of forgiveness. 

The second thief may have known something of the life and ministry of Jesus because when the other thief was scoffing, his partner in crime tried to restrain him.  

Luke 23:32-34, 39 NLT

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.”

No man is beyond hope,

  • as long as there is breath in his body, 
  • the fear of God in his soul, 
  • and the faith to call on the name of Jesus!

Romans 10:13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

1 Corinthians 6:11: “Some of you were once like that (thieves, drunks, male and female prostitutes, homosexuals, greedy, abusive, cheats, idolaters, etc.).  But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

When Jesus heard this man cry for salvation, He replied: “I assure you, today you will be with Me in paradise.”

This SECOND STATEMENT that Jesus made from the Cross teaches some wonderful and solemn truths.  

  • First, it illustrates that the way of salvation is wondrously simple. The devil has blinded the eyes of men and women to thinking that it is hard to become a Christian.  But this clearly isn’t true.  The man was saved simply by asking the Lord to save him. He felt his need and confessed his need of salvation; he believed the Lord could and would save him and he committed himself to the Lord and trusted him to save him.
  • This SECOND STATEMENT Jesus made from the Cross reminds us that the worst sinner may be saved. There can be no doubt that the man was a criminal, but the measure of his sin didn’t alter his chance of being saved one little bit.
  • Another important lesson to learn from the personal encounter of the dying thief with Jesus is that salvation doesn’t depend on knowing the Lord’s prayer, reciting the Creeds, having a history of good deeds, water baptism, or receiving Communion.  There was no time for any of these things to take place that day on Calvary.
  • There is one further point to mention before we leave this text, and it is the solemn one.   There were two thieves crucified with Jesus – one repented but the other didn’t.  A time of decision came for both.  Rebellion or repentance.  It was a “now-or-never moment.”  There will always be a dual tug – the pull of evil, and the pull of God’s Spirit. 

Thank God for conscience – that voice within that tells us that we have done wrong, and nags us to a point of hurting for the mistakes that we’ve made.  

When we’ve missed the mark and fallen short of God’s best for our lives it’s then that we too can look up to God and say, “Lord, remember me”.  

There’s salvation at the Cross and in the Cross.

THERE WAS AGAPĀ AT AN EXECUTION!

Do you need that kind of love today?

Ask for it.


[1] https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/three-crosses-at-calvary-owen-bourgaize-sermon-on-paradise-6844?page=1&wc=800

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