This Is Our Story
Itâ€™s Passover Friday, somewhere in the springtime of AD 30-33. And, Jesus has been crucified. It seems as though everything had been leading up to this. Lately, Jesus had been speaking very openly about the plan. But, the disciples were unable to grasp, to understand all that would take place.
He had willingly entered Jerusalem â€“ the one place from which he should have stayed away. Remember, it was in this city that His enemies were lying in wait, looking for an opportunity to accuse Him. Yet, Jesus willingly goes . . . No one drags Him there in chains. He just goes.
Today is lamb selection day: That day when devout Jewish people would select their lamb to commemorate the Passover. Theyâ€™d remember what God had done by bringing them out of Egypt. And, in that commemoration they would anticipate what God would do in a renewed exodus when Messiah would come. Itâ€™s a powerful image. As the city was buzzing with individuals busy with their religious activity, God was sending His Lamb. This Passover would be different.This Passover, God would confront His people: Will you choose My Lamb? Even the Apostle Paul draws a parallel in 1 Corinthians5:7 when he states, â€œFor Christ, our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.â€ That choice is still present today. Itâ€™s a decision that all will have to make. God was confronting His people. And, He still confronts today.
â€‹Jesus had lived a life of love. In exchange,He was subjected to such hate. He extended acceptance and forgiveness to those He encountered. All he received in return was rejection, and ultimately execution. Even in His intense suffering at Calvary the contrast is extreme. The hatred of the crowd is severe:the sarcasm, the mockery, the joke. Even the sign above His thorn-pierced head seemed to deride Him in that moment.
â€œAnd an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew:
THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWSâ€
Royalty with a thorny crown? Dying on a tree? The notion that Jesus was King was simply laughable!
â€‹Despite such agony, while the hate-filled shouts are going up, words of love are comingdown. Forgiveness is extended from the cross as He speaks:
â€œFather, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.â€
â€‹In the midst of the horror, if we look closely, weâ€™ll begin to see a hardened heart would soften. An enslaved prisoner would be set free. Ultimately, a conversion would take place, and the seemingly unredeemable would be redeemed!
Remembering the Story
â€‹The road that led to this moment waslong. Actually, this is where His path was leading since that night in Bethlehem in the manger. This is why He came. Indeed, every step had brought Him here.
There had been so many great times! Who could ever forget the way He touched the untouchables, loved the un–lovables, and welcomed the outcasts? So many wonderfultimes! However, there were also some that were not so great.
â€‹In fact, the last days, the last hours were truly unbelievable. A betrayal from one of His inner–circle in such an intimate way. The merciless beating of the innocent at His enemyâ€™s hand. The trial â€“ or, at least a mockery called a trial â€“ was the greatest injustice known to man. Imagine: Godâ€™s darling Son standing trial in manâ€™s court â€“ the Creator being judged by His creation.
â€‹Even Pilate recognized His innocence when he was unable to find fault in Jesus. Reread Luke 23:13-25 and hear him as he says there is no cause for His execution. Heâ€™s simply not deserving of death. Yet, itâ€™s what the crowd wants as the mob continues to cry out for His blood.
â€‹Enter Barabbass: A rioter, an insurrectionist, and a murderer. He was truly a criminal deserving a death sentence. Three times Pilate tries to bargain the release of Jesus with this man to the mob. But, all three times, the people cry out for Jesusâ€™ life instead. So, Jesus takes the criminals place,while Barabbass goes free.
Itâ€™s the story of the Gospel.
The Gospel . . .
This is Our Story
Jesus has taken our place. As the scene unfolds, we realize that this is our story. Weâ€™ve all been Barrabbas. Face it: Everyone is guilty of breaking Godâ€™s law. It doesnâ€™t matter who you are or where you come from â€“ weâ€™ve all stood condemned before Him. You could say weâ€™ve all been headed down the wrong road.
â€‹It doesnâ€™t matter our age â€“ young and old alike â€“ weâ€™ve all been guilty of breaking Godâ€™s law. Every one of us have been headed in the wrong direction. But, thank God this is ourstory. And, since Jesus has taken our place, we can turn around and go free!
Now, back to the heartbreaking scene.
Three crosses stand against the horizon. Demons cheer while angels weep at the sight of Jesus suspended between heaven and earth. Insults and hate are hurled up. Words of grace, love, and forgiveness flow down.Hanging on a cross fashioned for Barabbass, Jesus is between two criminals.
Criminals. Thatâ€™s our only point of reference. We donâ€™t know their names. Thereâ€™sno insight to their background. Weâ€™re not even told of their crimes. But, they have a story. And, this is where their story has led; sentenced to die on a cross. What happened that led them to this moment? I canâ€™t help but wonder, if they had it to over, would they do things differently? Would they have made better choices? Could they have seized opportunities that wouldâ€™ve led to a different destination? Maybe. But, now itâ€™s too late. They canâ€™t go back and do it over. Their course has been set. The past is the past.Thereâ€™s no changing it now.
We all have a story. Some stories are filled with beauty, others with pain. Many will boast about their accomplishments, while others only rehearse failures.
â€‹Everybody has a story.
They did, too.
There they were.
â€‹One on the left, one on the right.
â€‹Hanging on a cross.
â€‹It was too late for them to go back and make different choices.
â€‹Their destiny was set.
Everybody has a story. Some are filled with beauty and others are filled with pain. Many have memories to cherish. Others have memories that only bring shame. Too many of us live in yesterday. We have memories that we cannot forget. Regret ties us down and keeps us from seeing the beauty in today.
Can I be honest with you for a moment?
If you are holding on to some regret from your past, let it go. Let me say it again . . . LET. IT. GO.
If Jesus has forgiven you of your past, itâ€™s time to forgive yourself. The enemy remembers â€“ Jesus forgets. Psalm 103:12 reminds us that our sins have been removed â€œas far as the east is from the west.â€ If you go east, youâ€™ll never find yourself going west. Micah 7:19 assures us that He hurls our sins into the depths of the sea. How deep is that sea? It doesnâ€™t matter, thereâ€™s no need to go diving. Itâ€™s time to move on. Plain and simple: None of us can change our past. If God is willing to forgive, who are we to refuse His forgiveness? Accept it and be free.
Leave it there.
The past is the past.
Let it go and live.
Back to the Story
At Calvary that day the hatred is so strong that even the criminals â€“ the ones sharing this execution â€“ are shouting insults in Jesusâ€™ direction. Both Matthew and Mark record that even though they were on crosses, even as they knew the pain and were considered cursed, they both mocked, blasphemed. Even though they face the same penalty and ultimately death, theyâ€™ll use the last bit of energy for this.
Luke brings us to the point where something begins to change. In the middle of all the ugliness, one of these criminals growsilent . . . There is only one voice now hurling insults. He is thinking of his immediate condition, his present circumstance. Something else is happening in the other. A change is taking place. Thereâ€™s a transformation going on. Itâ€™s almost as though he has a 180-degree turnaround in thought. In a moment of clarity amidst all the confusion of this scene, he focuses his words to the other and now begins to rebuke him:
But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, â€œDo you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong. Then he said to Jesus, â€œLord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.â€
Do you see it?
Like Saul on the Damascus road this man has had an encounter. He has been traveling in the wrong direction most of his life. And then, in a moment, it happens. He dramatically realizes that Divinity has invaded that space. In that awareness he displays a fear of God. Yes, heâ€™s been going down the wrong, but now something is different. He understands his guilt, recognizes and affirms who Jesus is, cries out for mercy and, in that moment â€“ God invades his life. And, as a condemned criminal he experiences freedom like heâ€™s never known. When He had reached the end of the road, Jesus was there! He couldnâ€™t do anything about his past, but he could do something about his future! The unredeemable is redeemed.
None of us are able to do anything about our past. So, please hear this: Itâ€™s over. However, all of us can do something about our future. If youâ€™re tired of heading in the wrong direction, let Him redirect your path. Cry out to Him. He will hear you and respond. Just like He did the criminal that day.
â€œAnd Jesus said to him, â€œAssuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.â€
In a moment of anguish, Jesus speaks words of assurance to this man. If itâ€™s possible to be comforted at your execution, Jesus words embraced this one condemned. Think about it: One minute youâ€™re hanging condemned on a tree and the next youâ€™re forgiven and promised Paradise.
Paradise. What comes to your mind when you hear that word? Most would have their own ideas as to what paradise would be. The truth is: Not even biblical scholars can agree as to what this â€˜paradiseâ€™ is to which Jesus promises. It could be Abrahamâ€™s bosom. Maybe, itâ€™s heaven itself. Whatever it may be . . . Itâ€™s certainly better than hanging on a cross!He said to the criminal, â€œYou will be with me.â€ Could it be, that being with Jesus is what makes paradise, paradise?
â€‹Maybe today you find yourself heading down the wrong road. Perhaps, circumstances have caused you to doubt that change is even possible. Please remember this, this is our story. We can be assured that Jesus has taken our place. None of us can change our past, so let it go. We all can determine our future, make a decision today to turn around, to be redirected by Him. Because this is reality: Itâ€™s never too late to turn around. As long as there is breath in your body, you can change with Jesusâ€™ help. He is quick to save, forgive, to redirect anyone who will recognize their need and cry out to Him. You have an invitation to a new life. How will you R.S.V.P.?