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Reading 1: Luke 23:32-
Reading 2: Luke 24:1-
God’s Plan of Salvation
Easter Sunday is arguably the most important day in the entire Christian calendar. For on that day Jesus Christ rose from the dead. His resurrection was the divine seal on all that he had come to do and the mark of God the Father’s acceptance and approval of all that his Son had achieved.
But what was it that the Son had come to accomplish? Unless and until we have at least some understanding of those events which led up to Easter Sunday we will never begin to properly appreciate what it is all about.
So we need to back up.
A case could be made that we should back up to the moment that Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden because it was at that time that God promised to send a deliverer who would crush the serpent’s head and in the process experience the bruising of his own heel. We could then trace the development and the elaboration of this promise through the centuries until it was finally accomplished by Jesus of whom it is said that he came into the world "to destroy the works of the devil" (1Jn.3:8) .
Were we to attempt that we would be here for a very long time!
We will not go back that far this morning but instead we will just go back to the first Good Friday – the day when Jesus took on Satan and won by means of his death on the cross. Victory was actually won on that day though it was not until Easter Day that the victory was clearly revealed with Jesus’ triumphant resurrection from the dead.
A Look at Good Friday
At around 9am three men were led out to a site just outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem. The three were condemned men. They were being taken to a place called Golgotha, Calvary. And there all three of them were going to experience the excruciatingly painful and cruel death that is crucifixion.
The one on the right was a criminal who had been found guilty of robbery.
The one on the left was in exactly the same position, he too was a robber.
The man in the middle however was very different indeed. This man had not been found guilty of any crime such as robbery and indeed the Roman governor considered him to be innocent of any crime that warranted the death penalty. Pilate had tried to secure the release of the man in the centre but had failed. The matter was more politics and religion than it was about justice. And Pilate had been manipulated by the Jewish leaders to pronounce the death sentence on a innocent man.
The man on the central cross was Jesus.
Pilate, to annoy the Jewish authorities who had successfully played him, had insisted that an inscription be placed over him on the cross. The inscription bore the charge for which Jesus had been condemned – it read:
"This is the King of the Jews." Lk.23:38
Executions still draw crowds where the death penalty is enforced. There were crowds present that day too. Of course you needed some soldiers to ensure that nothing got out of hand. Some of the crowd were probably just morbidly or sadistically curious while others were there out of compassion and sorrow. Still others were there to enjoy the spectacle and to mock the sufferers.
The man in the middle was the main target of the mockery and the insults that day.
As the Jewish authorities watched on mocking Jesus and encouraging others to do the same the two criminals sharing the same fate joined in the fun. If he was the King why didn’t he do something to save himself and them too?
One of the two criminals persisted in this too. He was being executed for crimes he had committed but he continued stubbornly on.
The second criminal had begun the same way. He too was guilty and knew it but after a while the mockery jarred and he stopped. The man in the centre was different from him and his fellow criminal – somehow he recognised that this man was innocent of any charge brought against him. He realised that this man did not deserve to die as he did. Was it because of Jesus’ composure under such extremities? Did the words that Jesus uttered have some effect upon him? How could he pray for the forgiveness of those who were responsible for putting him through such sufferings?
So when the first criminal went on and on speaking against Jesus the second issued him a rebuke and expressed his new found belief that Jesus had done nothing wrong!
Having spoken in that way this man then addressed himself to Jesus and came out with an extraordinary plea:
"Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
You may know well what he said but just think about it for a moment. To a man who, to all intents and purposes, was a dying failure he pleaded to be remembered when Jesus, who remember was being crucified as King of the Jews, came into his kingdom. I wonder did it ever look less likely that a man was about to come into his kingdom than Jesus did at that moment in time, hanging, bleeding, upon a Roman gibbet?
But this thief had it exactly right and this is why.
He and the other criminal were guilty and they were being executed accordingly but Jesus was innocent! He was being executed not because he was a criminal but because he was a Saviour! He was dying but not for anything he had done wrong himself – he was dying in order to settle the debts that others had incurred as rebels against God himself.
So here is a fuller description of the three men:
Criminal N°1 – a stubborn, unrepentant sinner
Criminal N°2 – a repentant sinner
The man in the middle – the Saviour of the World
How this fits with the prophecy Isaiah had made some 700 years previously. God speaking through the prophet declared:
Isa 53:12 "Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors."
The destinies of the first two men were utterly dependent upon their relationship to this third man, Jesus. One failed to realise his opportunity and lost out forever. The other exercised faith and pleaded for grace. He was to be rewarded with a most wonderful promise of salvation:
Lk.23:43 "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
That is why Jesus came! That is what Jesus is all about. He is at the very heart and centre of God’s plan of salvation. He came to save his people from their sins and he did so by laying down his life for us.
What is your relationship with Jesus? Has he become your Saviour? Or are you still mocking him just as the first criminal did as he persisted in his own unrepentant state? What stops you from calling out to him like the second thief? It’s not too late for you to repent of your sin and to call out to Jesus that he might save you as well!
But perhaps you are hesitant. Maybe you’re wondering whether you can really pin all your hopes on a man who allowed himself to be hounded to such a cruel death. After all it happened such a long time ago and what use is a dead Saviour to anyone? And who knows whether he is able or not to keep his promises?
Well that is precisely where Easter adds the crowning finishing touch to the work of salvation that Jesus began and accomplished upon the cross of Calvary!
The Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death and Jesus died as the sin-
But how can we be sure?
The resurrection of Jesus is the key to the entire matter. Jesus died as the sin-
But still how can we be sure?
God raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead as a sign of his full approval of all that the Son had done, said and taught. You can place your confidence fully in Jesus because the Father approves of his Son 100%.
At the end of Good Friday a battered, bloodied and massacred corpse was taken down from the cross and laid in a stone cold tomb. He was laid in a borrowed tomb belonging to a wealthy inhabitant of the city – again fulfilling a prophecy made back in Isaiah’s day.
Saturday was a calm day. Some guards yawned as they kept watch over a sealed tomb – they didn’t expect much to happen there! The followers of that man Jesus all seemed to have gone to ground – they certainly hadn’t seemed in good spirits as the body had been taken down from the cross.
Then Sunday morning and how things changed!
The tomb was empty and now there were angels about the place. The guards legged it – nothing like this had ever happened before.
Some women arrived wondering how they were going to shift the stone away from the doorway of the tomb. They needn’t have worried themselves about that – it had already been moved and the corpse? What corpse? There’s no dead body here! Jesus was alive and well again.
Which of those two executed criminals had got it right do you think? Was it the one who went on mocking or the one who placed his faith in Jesus? The Jesus that was now alive! He didn’t need to drag himself about as one half-
Was it real? Was it true?
The disciples were transformed. Depressed an uncertain one moment but it all changed when they realised that what Jesus had been trying to teach them all along was really true – he did have to be rejected, he did have to die and wonder of wonders he did have to rise from the dead. It wasn’t long before the news was spreading around the then known world and the glorious good news of sins forgiven, peace with God and a sure hope of heaven has been spreading ever since.
And now you’ve heard it and it is up to you to respond.
Will you do so and will you do so today by telling God of the mess you’ve made of the life he gave you and asking him to forgive you for Jesus sake?
May he give you grace to do so and may God bless you all.