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May 09th, 2021
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gary damronMY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron

 

Easter is a holiday that believers can celebrate all year long. The resurrection is considered a sign from God that his Son’s sacrifice at Calvary was accepted, and it provides confidence that all the words Jesus spoke were true. 

In our roles as nurse and pastor, my wife and I have been privileged to be with people at the time of their passing. In our society, though, many are removed from the process of dying. The phrases uttered by Jesus from the cross provide a model for dying well. This second Word from the Cross lends special encouragement for the moment of death. Though none of us knows when we will take our last breath, the dying words of Jesus can be applied to questions even now: have we worked hard enough or been good enough, and where will we spend eternity? 

The crucifixion is recorded in Luke 23, John 19, Mark 15, and Matthew 27. As we continue this study of Words from the Cross, we move to phrases that are recorded only in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus’ mother Mary was present at the crucifixion, and it’s thought that Luke may have spoken with her to gain intimate details of Jesus’ birth as well. Last week’s word was forgiveness; this week it is assurance. 

The setting is three crosses in a public place near Jerusalem, with Jesus hanging between two criminals facing execution for their crimes. Before moving to Jesus’ words, let’s consider those men on either side. Often called thieves, they were likely armed robbers, with the Greek word indicating they were those who did evil works. Their presence fulfilled a prophecy from Isaiah 53:12 that the savior would be “numbered with the transgressors”. 

At first both were hurling abuse – one scholar called it blasphemy – “‘If you are the Messiah, prove it by saving yourself—and us!’” (Luke 23:39). Suddenly, however, one of the criminals became quiet as he seemed to gain insight and chose a new course (repentance). He had just heard Jesus’ first words, and realized this man, blameless and ridden with pain and torment, was asking God to forgive all involved in this injustice. In an instant, it appears he was brought to the realization he was about to face eternity. He rebuked the other man, acknowledging that they were both sinners and deserved the punishment. 

The criminal’s next words were, “‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!’” (Luke 23:40). The phrase, “Remember me!” is the same cried out in desperation by Samson (Judges chapter 16) and others in the Old Testament. Not so much “Don’t forget me” but “Deliver me – save me!” That short sentence of repentance reveals that one person acknowledged Jesus as the ruler and deliverer promised long ago. It also shows a faith in a heavenly kingdom. 

Jesus had already expressed his willingness to forgive. His response to the criminal showed how by simple faith each of us can be saved. We’ve all sinned and fallen short, and when we confess to Jesus, the righteous king, nothing else is needed. The thief on the cross didn’t go through any rituals or steps for his salvation; he simply believed that a righteous man, king of kings, was hanging beside him, and would deliver him. 

Jesus’ reply, as all three were dying in agony, was simple and full of assurance: “‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:43). Truly we can count on what God tells us, and today means deliverance is immediate. The timeline of souls after death isn’t clear-cut, but from the moment of confession, each of us enters the presence of God. Paul wrote, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Words from the cross give assurance that as soon as we make a profession of faith, we are part of the kingdom. 

The final words of Jesus and the repentant thief facing death revealed strong faith in the Father, as well as the plan of redemption. The gates of paradise were opened through Jesus’ sinless death and triumphant resurrection. The bottom line is that saving faith is simple faith. Christ is my king and savior every day, just like the first day I realized he died on the cross for my sins. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). 

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