Luke 23:39-43 (Last Sunday in the Church Year—Series C)
“What Do You Have Going for You?”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
November 20, 2022
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The text is from the Gospel Reading recorded in Luke 23:
39And one of the criminals who was hanged railed against Him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other answered and rebuked him saying, “Do you not fear God, for we are under the same judgment? 41And we justly, for we are receiving what our deeds deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your reign and rule.” 43And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
As the very intelligent daughter of rich parents, she has a lot going for her. But he has no job, no qualifications, and no place to live. He doesn’t have much going for him, does he? Sharralanda gained a lot of experience in her last IT job, so at least she’s got that going for her in the new company. Dennis knows that the market is pretty treacherous right now, but he’s got a few things going for him that will help him in his career. What do you have going for you?
What if we were to ask the criminal on the cross what he had going for him? That’s a sobering thought. He really had nothing going for him. He, along with Jesus and the other criminal, were all under the sentence of judgment and condemnation. None of them received the governor’s pardon. That had gone to Barabbas. No, these three men were led to The Skull to be crucified.
We know Jesus’ “crime” because the charge of which He was guilty was posted in an inscription placed above His head on the cross, “This is the King of the Jews.” What about the two others? Luke refers to them as “criminals” or “evil-doers.” That’s not much help in discovering their crimes for which they were executed. Matthew and Mark call them “robbers” or “insurrectionists.” Perhaps these two were involved in the same insurrection in the city in which Barabbas had participated. That is certainly a possibility. Nevertheless, these criminals were getting what they deserved for their crime, contrary to Jesus of whom the one criminal confesses, “This man has done nothing wrong.”
And it is on this criminal in particular that we focus for a moment. All this criminal had going for him was the awareness of his own sins. He knew that he was justly condemned. And he also knew that Jesus was innocent and condemned to death unjustly. Both he and Jesus were hanged on a cross. Both would suffer unbelievable agony and death. Yet, this criminal who had nothing going for him, put his faith and trust in a man under the same sentence of judgment!
Doesn’t that simply defy reason? Had this man lost so much blood already that he wasn’t thinking clearly? This man and Jesus, under the same death sentence, nailed to crosses, bleeding, and ultimately suffocating together, and the justly condemned places his trust and care into the hands of the unjustly condemned: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your reign and rule.” This unnamed insurrectionist and criminal confesses that Jesus is indeed the King of the Jews. One does not have a kingdom, a reign and rule, unless He is truly a King. And Jesus truly is! While on trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor said to Jesus, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37 ESV). The rulers and soldiers and the other criminal didn’t listen to His voice. They mocked Him, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself! Certainly the great King and Messiah can do that little thing. He saved others, let him save himself!”
But this is a King who rules as the Suffering Servant. His reign and rule is not of this world. Jesus the Christ would not lead a revolt against the Roman occupiers. No, this is the King who comes riding on a donkey’s colt. This is the King whose throne is a cross of wood. This is the promised Suffering Servant who came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for the many. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:5 ESV).
With HIS wounds, we are healed. The criminal who placed his trust in Jesus saw his own wounds on Christ’s body. 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24 ESV). Such a miracle of God’s grace to this criminal. The wounds of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, wins this criminal’s forgiveness. He is cleansed from whatever sins he had committed including the ones for which he was condemned. Jesus’ sacrificial death was for him and the results of that death and coming resurrection were made known by the Lord to this dying man: “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” It is the promise of life after death, immediate for him, “today”! It is the promise of unimaginable happiness, “paradise.” It is the promise not merely of continued existence but of life with God, “with Me,” Jesus said. And it is the promise to all of us, “You shall be with me in paradise.”
By HIS wounds you have been healed. That’s what you have going for you! You and I were once under God’s sentence of judgment and condemnation. We were under the sentence of eternal death. That’s what we deserved because of our sins and our sinfulness, which we inherited from Adam and Eve through our parents. Death is the wages, the price, the punishment of sin (Rom. 6:23). But God’s Son, Jesus Christ, became flesh and dwelt among us as true man so that He might take your sentence of condemnation as His own. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5, “For our sake [God the Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21 ESV).
On the cross, Jesus received the punishment that He did not deserve. He had done nothing wrong. There is no sin in Jesus. He is the Holy One, the Righteous One (Mk. 1:24; Jn. 6:69; Lk. 1:35). But on the cross, Jesus became the sin-bearer, the unrighteous one covered with the sins of all humanity, suffering in His own body the wrath and condemnation of God unto death itself, for you. Jesus took your sins from you and paid their price in full with His own sacrificial death. Jesus won your complete forgiveness for all your sins, and He gives to you His own holiness and righteousness by grace through faith by Means of the Gospel Word and Sacraments.
In this Gospel that grants you forgiveness and everlasting life, you have the promise of life after death with Christ, in heaven when you die and in eternity in your resurrected and glorified bodies. You have the promise of unimaginable happiness in the paradise of God which will culminate in the new heavens and the new earth, the very home of righteousness. You have the promise of life with God forever in that new creation. Take a listen to the promises again. This is what you have going for you because of Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection. From Revelation 21: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. . . . And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ . . . And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son’” (Rev. 21:1–7 ESV).
Through the power of the Gospel, by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has granted to you these very great and precious promises (1 Pet. 1:3). They are gifts freely given, even as the criminal on the cross received them freely from the Suffering Servant, the Savior Jesus Christ. Through God’s gift of saving faith, this criminal who had nothing going for him, suddenly had everything going for him because of Jesus. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Through God’s gift of saving faith, you have everything going for you because of Jesus. His death and resurrection have won your forgiveness. And where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is truly eternal life and salvation. The gifts are yours in Christ. The promise is solid and sure. Jesus says to you, “You will be with Me in paradise.” Amen.