Next February it will be 50 years since Ronald Ryan was executed and it will be 66 years since Jean Lee was executed.
The last man and woman executed in Australia, in fact there have been 1,480 legal executions since colonisation in Australia and seven before Captain Cook by the Dutch. Other than those last few, there would not have been much fuss. They were ordinary executions — that’s what you did with serious criminals.
And at one level that’s the execution of Jesus, at one level it was just an ordinary legal execution. But on another level it was extra-ordinary, absolutely extraordinary because of what happened and who was executed.
For a start, the sun went dark. I mean, three hours of darkness in the middle of the day — that doesn’t usually happen? You might say it was a solar eclipse but no, not during a full moon. Jewish passover — same as our Easter — always at full moon.
Last week, and I’m fortunate to be at St Mark’s two weeks in a row, we looked at the impending judgement and remember how Jesus spoke to us? A word of warning and of caution.
Well now I’d like to talk about four words from Jesus on his way to and on the cross.
As the soldiers led him [Jesus] away, … women… mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’”
Jesus is saying to these women, that we’re reaching one of those key moments of judgement. “Don’t weep for me, weep for yourselves and for your children.”
Now I know that you know that having children is a blessing of God and we rejoice rightly of news of a pregnancy and we rejoice rightly at the news of a safe birth!
But Jesus says “blessed is the barren woman, blessed is the breasts that never nursed.” He’s warning them of a terrible time coming. He’s saying don’t weep for me but weep for yourselves because such a terrible time is coming.
At one level, Jesus is speaking of the imminent judgement on Jerusalem and the Jewish people that will happen in 70 AD. The Roman army will invade, they’ll destroy the temple (remember last week, not one stone left on another) and massacre and scatter the Jewish nation.
But Jesus is also speaking of the final judgment on all who reject him. He knows he’s going to his death, but even then, he’s thinking of those that reject him and that’s a word for us today. We need to think about the terrible judgment of God on those who reject Jesus. It’s not an unfair judgment. It’s a right judgment. But it’s a bring you to tears judgment. It’s a judgement where you will say blessed be the barren women and those who have never nursed.
You know, it’s going to be awful for families when the judgment of God comes, the pain of seeing a child — warning four letter word coming up — go to hell. The pain of seeing a parent under judgment, or the pain of seeing a sibling under the judgment of God, the pain of seeing a neighbour under the judgment of God, the pain of seeing a lover under the judgment of God, the pain of seeing a friend under the judgment of God.
The Jewish nation, and it has to be said, Australia has systematically rejected God and the judgment of God that is coming on those that reject God is awful. You know it and I know it and we mustn’t soften it. We’re in the wrong before God and the first step is to stop and weep for ourselves.
And in that context, Jesus’s next word is absolutely breathtaking:
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed… they crucified him there, along with the criminals — Listen to Jesus’s next words — “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”
“Weep for yourselves, the judgement of God is going to be awful” and then “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”
At one level he’s praying for the Roman soldiers. But I think Jesus is also praying for all involved. I think Jesus is praying for all those involved in killing him, he’s praying for the Jewish nation, the leadership, the world and he’s praying for us!
And when Jesus says “they know not what they’re doing”, he’s not talking about a lack of information, but a lack of right judgment and Jesus is praying for those who make a bad judgement.
In the sermon on the mount Jesus said
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? … But love your enemies, do good to them…
And as they are belting the nails into the cross through his flesh and he says “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” — Jesus is loving his enemies here.
And you know, we’re a part of the group that rejected Jesus, we’ve all made bad judgments. And, on the cross, Jesus is crying out for those who stand under the judgment of God, who’ve made bad decisions. At the moment of his death Jesus is praying for them, he’s praying for you and he’s praying for me.
So what should I do? Well, I can follow his example and pray for those who are making bad decisions. I can pray for myself about my bad decisions and what else can I do? I can turn.
First word from Jesus “weep for yourselves”, second word “Father forgive them”, third word, in the context of those men on either side. One says, “save yourself, you’re the messiah”, it’s sarcastic disrespect — the Jewish leaders mock Jesus, Roman soldiers mock Jesus, the crowds mock Jesus and now the criminal dying next to Jesus mocks him as well.
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
This man has done nothing wrong!
Six times, so far, in this chapter Jesus is declared innocent:
- Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” Luke 23:4
- I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Luke 23:14
- Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; 23:15a
- as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 23:15b
- I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” 23:22
- We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 23:41
And so the second criminal turns to Jesus and says to innocent Jesus dying on the cross: “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom”
And the reply from Jesus (the third word from Jesus) — actually just before we get to the reply. The criminal:
- recognises that it’s right to fear God,
- recognises that he is under a right punishment.
- that we are punished justly
- recognises that the guilty should be punished
- recognises that innocent should be freed
- recognises that Jesus is innocent
- recognises that Jesus has a kingdom that he will soon enter
- recognises that beyond this moment of humiliation that Jesus is going through right now there’s victory.
- recognises that there’s deliverance.
And so he asks “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom”
And then Jesus turns with this extraordinary reply and says today. v43. “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Jesus speaks in the immediate, he speaks in the now — this is not a distant airy fairy pie in the sky, maybe. This man is going to paradise with Jesus today.
This is the third word on the cross from Jesus, he has prayed for forgiveness for all and he holds out to the criminal — and we’re all criminals — this offer of forgiveness. Throw yourself on my mercy and my compassion.
Application — you have a friend who is scoffing at Jesus, a fellow criminal scoffing at Jesus, rebuke them (just as this criminal rebuked the mocking one), urge them to throw themselves on the mercy and compassion of Jesus.
If you, yourself have been scoffing at Jesus, be rebuked, throw yourself on the mercy and compassion of Jesus.
And that’s what we’re about as a church. That’s what we’re here, to call on each other to throw ourselves on the mercy and compassion of Jesus and to call on the world to throw itself on the mercy and compassion of Jesus.
And every week, every single week in church, we will hold out the promise of life, the promise of Paradise, the promise that is offered by Jesus to criminals.
Can you hear Jesus? Weep for yourself,
Can you hear Jesus? Father forgive them they know not what they do,
Can you hear Jesus? Today you will be with me in paradise.
Is he speaking to you? Is it time to turn?
Last word from Jesus on the cross v45,
…the sun stopped shining, and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
The last words of Jesus — a cry of faith in his heavenly father. Expressing his submission to God’s will. Expressing his faith that God will deliver him. Giving over his spirit to the care of God. Jesus is the model of the dying righteous, the model of how to die. The model of someone entrusting their spirit to God.
Who would you be prepared to commit your spirit to? Who would you give your spirit to?
I mean there are things that I have that I would be prepared to trust people with; my iPhone, my car keys. But there are some things I’m not going to trust you with, I’m not going to tell you the password to my bank account, unless you’re Sally.
Who would you give your spirit to? For all eternity, I’m not going to give it to ???
Four words from Jesus on the cross:
- Daughters of Jerusalem, daughters of Geelong, weep for yourselves.
- I pray for your forgiveness, you don’t know what you are doing
- Today you’ll be with me in paradise
- Father into your hands, I commit your spirit.
Where are you?
Are you like the centurion — 7th declaration — surely this was a righteous man?
Are you one of those who will mourn?
Are you one of the scoffers?
The criminal who asks forgiveness?