“I tell you the truth. Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Words uttered by a dying Jesus to a man who is actually guilty of his crime.
Who does he think he is? This man; the recipient of Jesus’ promise of joining him in His Kingdom. He is , after all, a self professed criminal. A thief; indicating a desperate desire to seek security in things of this earth. This man is one of two criminals who hung alongside Jesus. All three facing the same sentence. We know nothing else of this man’s life except this glimpse into his last moments.
The attitudes, behavior, and goods upon which these men built their lives may have given them security in life but are unable to save them in death. Both men are left to endure their own slow torturous deaths while observing the display of horror aimed at the man, who hung between them. A drama that they not only observed but one in which they actively participated. According to Matthew and Mark’s accounts, both joined the crowd in hurling insults at Jesus. For these men, there would seem to be no peace on earth and no peace in death.
An outburst comes from one of the criminals; a challenge rooted in curiosity and desperation. He wants off the cross; “If you are the Christ…”. It’s an attitude of what’s in this for me? His plea is for Jesus to do whatever it takes to end his earthly suffering. A vision focused on this world and this moment.
Instead of receiving his request, he is rebuked. But not by Jesus. By the other criminal. “Don’t you fear God? We all are receiving the same sentence. “ This man; who had previously participated in the mockery of Jesus now seems to have a change in heart. A profession that Jesus did nothing to deserve his death sentence. …In these last hours of unimaginable pain, of emotional intensity, of deafening noise, he has noticed a presence in Jesus that is not of anything he witnessed on this earth. A presence of hope in something bigger than this moment. A presence of divinity to forgive those orchestrating this earthly horror against him. Who on Earth could do that?
No one. Except the One who originates outside of this world. The Son of God.
This man waited until the last minute to cry out his trust in Jesus. Why should Jesus welcome him into paradise? Why should he get to follow Jesus to an eternal home of delight when he lived an earthly life following sin? He believed that Jesus was where security is found. His vision was beyond this world and this moment. In his simple understanding, he claimed it . “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answers, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The original text tells us that his cry to Jesus was not a one time plea but one that had been repeated. The same for the other criminal. He witnessed the same events and yet out of his lips poured repeated expressions of unbelief . Both at an hour of desperation; both at an hour of realization that nothing of this earth will bring hope or peace.
He who dies with the most toys, still dies. Whodoes he think heis?
Who do you think you are?
The answer to both is this: We are all sinful beings in need of a Savior.
I see myself in the face of this man. How about you?
At whatever place in life we receive that grace extended to us through Christ, whether it be years shortly after birth or minutes before death, Jesus’ promise stands: life eternal in His Kingdom.
In the words of an old spiritual, “You may have the world, give me Jesus.”
(This piece was originally presented as a spoken meditation on one of the Seven Last Words of Christ )
What does the Church look like?
I’m not talking about architecture. What does it look like? In my last blog I pondered what it takes for people who don’t follow Christ to begin to take notice of the Church. I believe that the Old Testament gives us a “pre-christian” understanding of community. There is a realization that one’s actions benefit or hurt another.
Everyone’s intention is to live in a way that the whole community is built up.
The New Testament paints a broader picture because not only do we see ourselves as part of a community but it’s one that is made up of imperfect/diverse people with the common goal of following Christ and living in the constant grace that is woven through the fabric of their life together. Acts 2:42: All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper, and to prayer. In 2016, communities of Christians living together do exist. I know first hand of one and, just like any group of believers, they have their places of strength and areas of struggle. The book of Acts is not requiring that all Christians must live together everyday. The point is that they share life together: a life guided by Jesus who infuses us with a desire to live in a way that may run counter cultural. Verse 47 adds, ” 47all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. More and more people were added. hmmm. Was it due to a high end audio system? A hip pastoral staff? Good coffee? Perhaps, it was watching a group of very different people(different ages, varied abilities, clashing personalities) come together to intentionally become Jesus’ Body on Earth. Not an easy task at all. Even the disciples had arguments. Not easy, but possible. Not easy, but transformational. In fact, despite the early persecutions and deaths, Christianity spread rapidly in the early years. Here are just three contemporary examples of what happens when the Church IS the Church. Ravenswood Covenant Church on Chicago’s northside began a ministry to High school mothers. They began a partnership with a local high school where the church provides resources (daycare to their children, education on various topics and mentoring) to support them. At a vulnerable time in their lives, these young women receive the help of Jesus’ hands and feet without judgement or condition. I’m sure setting this program up involved many logistics, some concerns (“what about insurance liabilities?” “we’re helping a teen who got pregnant?” ),…..But they did it because Jesus is living in them. Christ the Servant Church in Olathe, Kansas partnered with a local prison ministry. The congregation desires to offer “unsuspecting acceptance.” to criminal offenders and their families. Each month, the Sunday worship service is led by a group of former prisoners who travel to different churches to use share their gifts with the greater church community. Afterwards, the congregation and worship team share in a meal together. A man who attends the church originally came because he supervised some of the offenders. Following his visit he told the pastor he would be “willing to attend a church that would welcome ‘men like this'” .(www.covchurch.org/news/2013/6/03). He later became a follower of Christ as did his family. The Bridge Teen Center in Orland Park (http://thebridgeteencenter.org), Illinois offers a safe space for teens to explore their identity as well as build relationships with others. My kids love it! Programs are divided into different “buckets” which expand both heart and mind: Community Connections, Mind/Body, Expressive arts, Educational Support. Best of all: the programs are all FREE! And if that wasn’t enough, bus transportation is provided to pick students up at their school and bring them to the Bridge. Walking into this place, you feel validated in every sense: the decorations and furniture themselves shout “You are worth it!” No 70’s couch and mismatched rugs here. Chic, comforting, functional for the teens who find refuge here. Want to know what it’s like to be a teacher? meet one and ask questions. Interested in honing culinary skills? cook with a local chef in the commercial grade kitchen. Need to chill after a bad day? Nap in the padded quiet zone nooks Having problems with family? vent to a trained adult leader. Although it is not promoted as a Christian venue, the center was founded by a former youth pastor-Priscilla Steinmetz. Biblical principles form the foundation and drive its mission. She and 200 volunteers work to engage the community in every possible angle to ensure that lives can be transformed here. Change lives, impact an entire community. Acts 2:47: 47all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. So…..what would happen if these examples were commonplace in the Church? What are the implications for our nation; in particular? What kind of transformation would take place? How would that impact the debates about government based programs to the vulnerable? How would the Church be redefined?
When have you witnessed “The Church Being the Church?”