Text: Luke 23:27-43
32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.
Martin Luther once gave a brief, simple, but expressive eulogy upon a pastor at Zwickau in 1522 named Nicholas Haussmann.
He said, "What we preach, he lived," - Martin Luther.
It is also fitting with end of the church year upon us, that the end of sin and death also be proclaimed and heard in Christ’s cross of triumph.
For what we preach, Christ lived and died for!
The story of the cross is one of pain and suffering but also hope. As Jesus was led away following His trial towards his impending death,
32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. (Luke 23:32-33)
The cross of Christ is either death or life depending upon your perspective. Take the two criminals for instance:
One rebukes Jesus saying:
“Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
The perspective of the first sees not the wages of sin and the death that sin brings. His call to Jesus is to save, not from the once and for all death that we all must endure, but his call is to save me from this temporal death now, that will at some point in the near future, for him, need to be paid again and in full.
No one will escape death in this life because sin has made sure of that. So, for thief number one, the cross of Jesus is a failure and of no great value for him because it leads only to death for Christ and Him.
Thief number two sees the cross of Christ through eyes of hope when he says:
“Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And recognizes that the condemnation is right and just when he says: 41 for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
The mirror of the Law, written on his heart, has shown him that his deeds are indeed the result of sin and that he is being rightly condemned but in Christ he finds hope when he repents saying:
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Today too, the cross reflects either death or hope for you and for all broken by sin in this corrupted world as well. The perspective of the cross from our sinful nature can only see the death that sin brings and a hopeless future bound to death like the bonds and ropes that bind all flesh to the wood of their own cross … void of hope.
Timothy George writes in “Giving Thanks in Hitler’s Reich” of the life and death of German pastor, Paul Schneider, who preached the Sunday before Thanksgiving 1937 a sermon on Psalm 145:15-21, which says:
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.
18 The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.
20 The LORD preserves all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD,
and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.
He began by acknowledging how (inconsistent or incompatible) it might seem to be giving thanks “in this year of our church’s hardship.” Yet this is precisely what the psalmist calls us to do—to give thanks for the material blessings of harvest and home and also for the generous gifts of God in Word, sacrament, and worship. Yet God’s Word does not come cheap, Schneider said. “Confessing Jesus will carry a price. For his sake we will come into much distress and danger, much shame and persecution; Happy the man who does not turn aside from these consequences.”
He was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp and on July 18, 1939 put to death for his proclamation of the word of the gospel. But while there, this Preacher of Buchenwald as he was known, “Wholly and without fear … bore witness of his Christian faith. He called the devil by his name: murderer, adulterer, unrighteous, monster and throughout this witness … he presented the grace of Christ together with a call to repentance.”
And just like thief number two who cried:
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
True thanksgiving is only found in Christ’s forgiveness!
43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Paradise is not found in worldly wealth or in a pristine uninhabited Island. But it is found in the bloody cross of the God/ man Jesus Christ who willingly bore the sins of thief one and thief two on His cross placed between them.
And though one thief judged Jesus and his death as a failure and proof that the filthy rags of his own righteousness were the same rags and covering that Jesus wore, the second thief saw through repentant eyes the one true hope and victory over sin, death and the power of the devil.
Dear friends, hope in Christ is not only a thing of the past. It is not only a hope for those who witnessed the death and resurrection of Jesus but it is the true and certain hope for you and for me too.
39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:39)
We live in the hope of the cross but also in the hope of the resurrection and of Christ’s future return in glory. As our epistle for today comforts us:
17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
As you gather together to celebrate the Lord’s blessing of family and friends this Thanksgiving, joy in the eternal thanksgiving of Christ redeeming grace!
He will gather his church on the day of His return, raising the dead in Christ first and joining the physical body of his saints, incorruptible, forever, and forgiven in the blessed name of Jesus.
A truly happy and Blessed Thanksgiving indeed!
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.