Good Friday

Preached: April 3, 2015

Two Criminals Saw Jesus
Luke 23:32, 33

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus is Luke 23.

Two other men, both criminals were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. (Luke 23:32, 33 NIV84)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow pilgrims to the cross:

Two criminals were crucified with Jesus. Two criminals, one on his left and one on his right. Two criminals witnessed the soldiers pounding the nails into his hands. Two criminals heard the words that came from his mouth, not words of cursing or complaint, but rather, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NIV84). Two criminals, but one saw just a man crucified next to him, the other saw his Savior. How do you see Jesus?

We call him Savior. We know the words to say. But do our lives proclaim him as our Savior? To save means to rescue someone from danger. When a fire fighter or police officer risks their life to rescue someone, as a community we honor and thank them. But then we get back to our normal life. We may still call them a hero, but it doesn’t change the way we live. We weren’t the ones rescued.

Is that how we look at Jesus? We gather to honor and thank him as a hero who saves people, but then get back to our normal lives? But he’s not just a savior. He is your Savior, dear sinner. He is my Savior. You are the one he rescues and so am I. When we see him as our own Savior, how that changes the way we live! For you see, he didn’t rescue us simply for us to live a few more years on this earth; rather, he came to save us for all eternity.

How do you see Jesus? Remember that there were two criminals next to him. Only one saw him as his own dear Savior, his only Savior who could rescue him for eternity. The other was lost to hell forever. How do you see Jesus?

Jesus is the Savior from sin. When someone is rescued from drowning, you don’t expect them to jump back into the deep end and start drowning again. When we see Jesus as our Savior from sin, we have a whole new attitude toward sin. What a change!Yes, our old self still craves sins. But our new self delights to say, “No!” to sin and to follow the will of our Savior, to serve him by serving his people, to shine out with his love as we love one another, to forgive even as in Christ God has forgiven us. When we see him as our Savior from sin, we change the way we live.

There were two criminals crucified next to Jesus. One continued his sinful ways, following the crowd by hurling insults at Jesus. The other saw his Savior, and so confessed his sin as he rebuked the other criminal. “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve” (Luke 23:41 NIV84).

Then in faith he calls out to Jesus. Yes, even that name Jesus means “The Lord saves.” He calls out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42 NIV84). His eyes saw a bloodied body, a dying man. His faith saw his triumphant King, his Savior who would conquer sin and death for him. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” How do you see Jesus?

And finally, what words of promise Jesus speaks, words for your faith, dear friends, to hold on to! “I tell you the truth,” he says. “I tell you the truth” (Luke 23:43 NIV84). For you see, faith cannot depend on our senses, reason, observations, feelings, sentiments, or opinions. All those can fail. They can all deceive us. Faith needs the truth, the unchanging truth. Anything less allows doubts to lurk, and doubt is the opposite of faith. Jesus speaks the unchanging truth. Cling to his words with the certainty and sureness of faith.

“Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 NIV84). When we see Jesus as our own dear Savior from sin, what greater blessing can there be than to be with him in paradise? “You will be with me,” he promises. That’s what makes it paradise, being with Jesus, our own dear Savior from sin. He wipes every tear from your eyes. On the day of your death, that’s what awaits you, dear brother and sister in Christ. No purgatory, no wandering the earth as a ghost, but on that very day you will be with Jesus in paradise. Keep on looking to him in faith. Keep on seeing him as your own dear Savior from sin.

How do you see Jesus? Remember there were two criminals crucified with him. Don’t grow complacent in your faith. Don’t become lukewarm in your love for him. Only one of the criminals entered paradise. The other suffers hell forever. See Jesus carry your sins to that cross in your place. See Jesus suffer the depths of God-forsakenness and hell that you rightly deserve. See Jesus pour out his holy, precious blood, the blood of God shed for you. See Jesus secure forgiveness for you, full and free forgiveness.. See Jesus opening paradise for you to be with him forever. See your Savior. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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