Saturday, March 31, 2018

Good Friday & Holy Saturday - Between Two Theives

Everybody Has Trash
            I had the privileged of visiting many unique places--Guatemala, El Salvador, and even Israel. When you travel, you usually want to visit the most interesting, notable places in a region--the Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower, etc. Nobody I know makes a point to visit the cities landfill. And yet, every place in the world--and this is true for people from all places and times--have a place where people take their trash. Even archaeologists studying pre-historic people often find the villages trash pile (which can be quite a find, with significant historic value). It doesn't matter who you are or where you live, we all have trash we just want to get rid of.
            And it is in just such a place that the religious leaders of Jesus' day, with the help of the Romans, took Jesus, the Son of God, the savior of the world, the Lord of lords and king of kings, to be crucified--discarded as unwanted, useless junk. They just wanted to get rid of him. And this was the ultimate insult. It was as if they said, you are no more to us than useless waste, trash to be thrown away on the garbage heap. And he was crucified between 2 criminals.

Luke 23:32-43
32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. 33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.
34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.

35 The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. 37 They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 A sign was fastened above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”


Joseph, the Old Testament Connection
            There is another story from way back in Genesis that has some striking parallels to the crucifixion of Christ. The whole story is in Genesis 40.  Let me summarize it.  There was a Hebrew man named Jacob who had twelve sons.  His favorite was named Joseph and his favoritism made all his other sons extremely jealous.  When he gave his son a very nice, multi-colored coat, it was the last straw for Joseph's brothers.  When they got the chance, they beat him up, stole his coat, and sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt.  Joseph became a slave in a man named Potiphar's house.  And since Joseph was a bright young man and had the favor of God, Joseph did well in Potiphar's house and soon earned his trust and a high position in the household.  But Potiphar's wife was very attracted to Joseph.  She kept hitting on him, even though Joseph--because of his integrity--never gave into her advances.  One day, frustrated yet again by Joseph's refusing to sleep with her, Potiphar's wife accused Joseph of trying to rape her.  Potiphar was livid and had Joseph thrown in the dungeon.
            In prison, Joseph lived with two criminals.  One was Pharaoh's former cupbearer.  The other was Pharaoh's former chief baker.  The baker and the cupbearer was very disturbed one morning because they'd both had weird dreams.  Since Joseph had the gift of God to interpret dreams he listened and then explained what they meant.  To the cupbearer he said, "In three days, you will be brought before Pharaoh and he will forgive you and restore you to your former position."  To the baker he said, "You will also be brought before Pharaoh on the third day, but he will condemn and execute you."  And it happened just as Joseph predicted.
            Is there some connection here between the bread and the wine of holy communion (Jesus body and blood) and these two figures from the Joseph story in Genesis chapter 40?  A cup bearer carries a cup of wine and the chief Baker makes bread?
            There are many similarities between these two stories.  Joseph lived in prison with these two criminals. Jesus hung on a cross between two criminals.  Joseph was to become the savior of Egypt saving them from a devastating famine.  Jesus was the Savior of the world. saving us from sin and death for eternal life.  Joseph is famous for his fabulous coat of many colors.  Jesus also had a famous robe that had no seams, but was one continues piece of fabric.  It was so precious, the soldiers didn't want to cut it in pieces, so they gambled to see who would win the whole thing in one piece.  Perhaps most striking:  both the cup bearer and the chief baker found out their fates on the third day.  Jesus also rose from the grave on the third day.            One of the criminals on the cross beside Jesus mocks him.  We never sense any remorse for his crimes.  On the contrary, he wants to make a bargain to manipulate the Son of God (if that is indeed what Jesus is) to get him out of facing the consequences of his sins.  Presumably, this unrepentant criminal reaped the eternal punishment he deserved--similar to the fate of the chief baker in Joseph's story.  The other criminal on a cross beside Jesus was remorseful.  He didn't try to get out of his fate--as terrible and painful as it was.  Instead, he simply said to Jesus in verse 42, “...remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  And Jesus replied (in verse 43), “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

Will Jesus Really Remember?
            It is this last exchange that really caught my attention the most.  “Jesus, remember me…”  That’s exactly what Joseph said to the cup bearer when he was released from prison:  “Please remember me and mention me to Pharaoh…”  You will remember that the cupbearer in Joseph's story forgot all about Joseph.  For two years, he forgot about Joseph until Pharaoh had a strange dream and needed someone to interpret it.            Well, these are all fascinating connections, but I'm a pastor and I love studying God's Word. You can call me a Bible nerd or a church nerd.  Of course I love these neat little tidbits.  But do they make any difference at all to you, to your life? Is there any significance for practical life? Yes! I think there's quite a bit of significance.  You see, we are very much like the criminals on the cross!
            Some among us want to make a bargain with Jesus.   If he is who he really says he is, why doesn’t he do something? I mean there are things in this life that just plain suck. Please forgive my language.  There is suffering and death.  People get depressed and kill themselves (or they go crazy and shoot up some school full of kids).
            A good friend of mine, only 56, a United Methodist pastor, Gene Sheffield, got cancer four years ago.  He died last Sunday.  He leaves behind a wife, a daughter, a son, a mother, and many friends and people like me who loved him.  What's worse, I can't be at his funeral because it's at the exact same time as my church's Easter Egg hunt (of which I'm in charge).  And it's not that I don't want to be at the Easter Egg hunt; I do.  I love seeing all the kids have fun and learn about Jesus.  And I love that it's one of the big outreach events we do for our community.  But I'd also like to be at Gene's memorial service--to remember and honor him and be there for his family and my other friends who knew and loved Gene.  But I can't be in two places at once.  So I had to choose.  And I chose the Easter Egg hunt.  And I wish I didn't have to choose.  Really, I wish friends and fathers and husbands didn't have to die too early because of cancer.  But that's the messed up world we live in.
            In a figurative way, we're all hanging on a cross suffering.  And sometimes I want to look over at Jesus cry out, "So you're the Son of God right? You have the power to save us and yourself. Why don't you do something?"             Or maybe, with God's help, we realize it's not his fault.  All this mess is our fault.   Jesus is innocent.  It's not God's fault this mess we're in.  God created the world perfect and us in it.  And in the Garden of Eden, Genesis tells us we walked and talked with God in perfect harmony.  And God gave us only one rule to prove our love was true--don't eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  And Adam and Eve ate it.  And we are all guilty.  For if we're honest, we've all done things we should not do or we have not done things we should.  That is sin.  And that is what makes our world broken.  We’re the ones who sinned and Jesus is innocent.  And maybe, with God's help, were able to say, “Your innocent and we're guilty and just getting what we deserve…”  And maybe, with God's help, we fall on her knees before God and say, “Lord forgive me! Jesus please remember me when you come into your Kingdom!”            This is what the remorseful criminal did as he cried out to Jesus from his cross. “Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  It wasn't long after that that Jesus died.   It doesn't tell us how much longer the thieves lived, but we know they lived on after Jesus died because the story says the soldiers cam to break the condemned legs so they would die faster.  They found Jesus was already dead.  They drove a spear in his side to make sure.  They found he was dead and they didn't need to break his legs.  But then they broke the other criminal's legs because they were still alive.  Breaking their legs prevented them from being able to push up on their nail pierced feet so as to pull more air into their lungs.  And so they would suffocate from the weight of their bodies hanging on the cross faster.  Death (mercifully, I suppose) would come faster.
            This is the situation we find ourselves in, most of us, if we believe in Jesus Christ. He promised he would remember us before his father, but we're still here hanging on a cross waiting… (OK, maybe that's a little dramatic, but do you see the figurative connection?)
            And we sometimes wonder, is Jesus like the cupbearer from Joseph's story?  Will he forget us when he comes into his Kingdom
 
There is Hope on Good Friday

            When you feel like you're in prison, alone and forgotten, remember:  Jesus hasn't forgotten!  When your sin makes you feel like you’re hanging on a cross and everyone’s mocking you, remember:  Jesus hasn't forgotten!  He is before the throne of God, pleading your case!  When you feel like all that’s left for you is a grave, remember: Jesus hasen't forgotten you.  Jesus rose on the Third Day, the first fruit of the resurrection.  He's the first fruit.  That means there's a second and a third and a fourth...  And we are the fruits yet to spring forth!
            Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Son of God, and he died on the cross for youHe’s not like the cup bearer who forgot Joseph in the Old Testament.  Jesus would never forget you.  He’s in his Kingdom right now, thinking of you, telling His father how much He loves you and forgives you.  

            Good Friday is for all of us who are still hanging on the cross dying and wondering if Jesus will indeed remember us. It's a test of our faith as we wait for Easter Sunday.  What situation, what problem, what agony are you suffering right now?  You've begged Jesus to remember you and you're trusting that he will, but in the meantime you still have to hang out here and wait. Will Easter Sunday indeed come? Will the tomb really open? Will you come up out of it into glory as Christ promised?
What do you think?

Yes. You. Will!
Yes!  It’s dark right now.  Yes! The light is fading.Yes!  We blow out the Christ candle at the end of our Good Friday service.
But that’s where faith kicks in! 
That’s where we begin to walk by faith and not by sight!
That’s where we find God’s strength is sufficient in our weakness!
That’s why we call this Friday “Good”!  Because Death cannot conquer our Savior!
“Where, O Death, is your victory?  Where, O Death, is your sting?”
Jesus is going into the grave this Friday, but He’s coming out on Sunday.

 
You’ll go into “graves” in this life too,
      you might hang on some crosses,
             you might even get locked in some prisons                    BUT LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING:
                        This very day, Jesus remembers you in His Kingdom!

And when the Day of the Lord comes,
        Just like Jesus,
                Your’re gonna get up out of that grave!
                       You’re gonna come down off of your cross!
                               You’re gonna walk right out of that prison!
                                        And you’re gonna be with the Lord in Paradise!
 
Amen?  Amen!