The message for Palm Sunday …
- Recognized that King Jesus’ Coronation actually took place on the cross — it’s just that mockers and scoffers didn’t realize it;
- Developed the pattern of the “testing” of Jesus while he was on the cross — “if you’re the Savior, save you first!”
- Reminded people that there is no such thing as “my Jesus.” There’s “Jesus”;
- Landed at this bottom line: Jesus refused to help himself so you’d remember to humble yourself.
We are getting ready to look at a story and to glean some things from it and I can promise you this: the result will either be the most LIBERATING thing you’ve ever heard or the most TERRIFYING. Not much middle ground there, is there? It will either be the ultimate get out of jail free card or it will be the eternal life sentence. One of these things is not like the other, indeed. No pressure there, right?
And the story we’re going to look at is a tale that only Luke of the four biographies of Jesus tells. That means Matthew, Mark, and John either didn’t know it, skipped right over it, or chose not to include it. And maybe more than anything else it is a story that shows the dramatically different effects that the same Jesus can have on different people.
Here’s the situation in Luke 23. It is fait acompli for Jesus. He has been tried, convicted, and sentenced to die and now all that remains is to carry out the inevitability of it all. He’s trudging to Golgotha and look where Luke picks up the scene and gives a level of detail unlike the others:
32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.
Ah, both criminals. As if we NEEDED to be reminded that they put CRIMINALS on crosses rather than Eagle Scouts. Got it. There’s more in 23:33:
33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.
Ah, now you know why, when James & John asked to sit at his right and left hand in his glory Jesus answered them by saying, “you don’t evne know what you’re asking.”
And then the story goes on, but pause just a moment to think of all the amazing details that Luke leaves out. How high was the cross? What was the method of securing Jesus and the others on it? How bloody was it? How many scavengers appeared on the scene? Luke really could have made it an R-rated scene or even NC-17 but instead gives us the PG version. And that’s not just to make more sanitary; it’s to make us zero in on what he has decided – under the inspiration of the HS! – is the most important. Which includes Jesus’ words in the next verse:
34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[a] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
Man, if we take seriously that God answers prayer, and that especially God answers the longing of all the persons of the Trinity, this is really good news. And who is the “them” here? The crucify-ers, the criminals, or both? I suspect that it is both but however you answer THAT, the fact remains that THIS is a truly breathtaking prayer.
And then the scene gets more interesting. Look at 23:35:
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
Ah, “if.” So Jesus is supposed to prove his identity by his self-interest. If he will HELP HIMSELF, we would believe he is who he says he is. Then and only then. They’re putting Jesus to the test and the test revolves around Jesus interest in and ability to help himself. Which he fails. I don’t know what you look for in a leader, but those folks who promote themselves, who look after their own interests, who elevate themselves … those are usually the people we at least NOTICE if not always admire. And this is the kind of figure that the people and their rulers want Jesus to be. Or challenge him to be.
Yet Jesus is so different from that. Because he greets their taunt with silence and look next in 23:36-37: 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
Ah, so the SOLDIERS join in here and notice the continuity: IF (test) you are King (Or Savior Or Messiah), SAVE YOURSELF. It’s natural and normal to think that if you can’t take care of #1, then you can’t take care period. The mocking continues in 23:38:
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the King of the Jews.
READ. And then, and then, it moves back to “one on his right and one on his left guys.” Remember them? The detail that Luke includes and expands upon that no one else does? Look at what one of them says, contempt dripping off his lips: 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” See that commonality with all of them, people to soldiers to fellow crucified? IF SAVIOR SAVE YOU. Any real Savior would know that.
It’s almost like on an airplane where they give instructions that if you’re traveling with a young child and there is an issue, you need to make sure you get your own face mask on first and then tend to the young un. So this is the pile on, the pattern, the accusation: SAVIOR: HELP YOURSELF. If you’re the Savior, Save You First!
Which is why the other criminal’s response in 14:40-41 is so staggering:
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Ah, total awareness, not only of Jesus holiness but his guilt! Not only Jesus power but his desperation! And then, in contrast to everyone before, because he sees that the sign put up in 23:38 in mockery IS IN FACT JESUS’ CORONATION! (Coronated on the Cross!!!), the man says this in 23:42: 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[b]
Ah, where others saw failure, he saw victory. Where others saw loss, he saw triumph. Where others saw weakness, he saw power. Where others saw a scoundrel, he saw a Savior.
Which explains Jesus’ equally stunning answer:
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
And suddenly it all becomes clear: the steadfast refusal, the I WILL NOT SAVE MYSELF TO PROVE MYSELF, the mocking, the one criminal who is different from the other. Because here is the effect he longs for: Jesus refused to help himself so you’d remember to humble yourself. He doesn’t do what he no doubt wanted to do and was able to do … all so you would surrender to his overwhelming love for you and for people just like you.
Because do you know what is beyond cool in this story? This guy is the First Responder to Jesus! The first in the kingdom following the cross. I mean he thought he was going to have to wait a long time til Jesus came in his kingdom and yet what’s the promise? THIS DAY. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not when I return. But when you take your last breath here it’s followed by your first breath in my paradise and so THIS DAY – 10 minutes from now? – you’ll be in a glory that words can’t really describe. The first one! If we numbered all the people who followed Jesus through the centuries, he’s like #000000001 … and he’s a criminal! Look he Jesus loves to surround himself with! I bet there’s even room for you.
Jesus refused to help himself so you’d remember to humble yourself.
And when I say “humble” I’m not talking about “poor pitiful me.” Nor am I speak of being proud of yourself for how humble you are. Nope. Because humility isn’t about thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking more of your Christ. It’s like that funeral I had awhile ago in which we remembered, celebrated, and mourned an 86 year old saint named Mary Hutto. I had actually led her husband’s funeral some 15 years before. But I knew this woman well enough and knew her faith was deep enough and had heard her talk long enough that I KNEW the reunion she anticipated in glory was NOT with her husband. But with her Savior. Not that she didn’t love her husband. She DID. She just knew that heaven is a lot more about adoring at Jesus than partying with family. And when I said that in the funeral, a man in our church in attendance called out TELL THAT! In a funeral … like we were Pentecostal or something! (Which we ARE.) That’s what it’s like. It’s recognizing that there’s never NOT a day when he’s NOT the most important thing in your life. It’s why people kept asking him to prove himself through force and he did it through weakness: so we’d be in awe of our Crucified Messiah, our Executed Savior. Jesus refused to help himself so you’d remember to humble yourself.
See, when I tell you that Jesus went through what he went through, that HE PROVED HIS IDENTITY BY HIS RESTRAINT AND NOT HIS REVENGE, so that you would remember to humble yourself … it’s when you have the self-awareness to admit:
I’m a wreck.
I’m a mess.
I’m not better than.
I am powerless over my own life.
When those are your daily truths. More than that, those are you daily celebrations! I’m powerless, I’m not in control, I can’t earn my way … and that’s the best thing about my life because I’ve got a Savior who is more than capable of carrying all of that! He more than makes up for all that the ways I’ve let him down!
And you know what else? It’s kinda pointless to put him to the test. Like all these people were doing? Man, I remember BEFORE I was a Xn praying, “God if I wake up and there is no pimple on my face, THEN I will believe.” Wake up … same stuff there. You know what? Some of you are into that same bargaining. You’re not sure you believe or even want to believe, but if he will give you that girl, send that guy, give that job, heal that sickness, pay those bills, THEN you’ll give it a go. I appreciate your openness but I have to tell you why I believe he doesn’t work like that. Jesus is not interested in you putting him to the test because he already went through the greatest test of them all, on the cross, and passed with flying colors. So we don’t test him, we don’t tell him what kind of Savior to be for us (well MY Jesus wouldn’t send anyone to hell. Guess what? There’s no such thing as YOUR Jesus. There’s Jesus. And he spoke quite a lot about hell.) Jesus refused to help himself so you’d remember to humble yourself.
It’s funny to me how often people think God’s love is sentimental. God is love. And love is God! Nope. If you want to see the love of God, ponder the work of Christ (AV from The Passion). That’s love. Bloody, sacrificial, SUBSTITUTIONARY. The opposite of sentimental. See the love by marveling at the work.
Jesus refused to help himself so you’d remember to humble yourself.
Do you remember how I said when we began that this story was at the same time the most liberating and terrifying? Hopeful or hellacious? Why do I say that? Well … what about the other guy? This day you will be … where? With whom? If the one who humbled himself is THIS DAY, WITH JESUS, IN PARADISE, then the one who prided himself was … too awful to imagine the opposite. I don’t want you to join him wherever or with whomever.
Because the other side of the coin is in fact liberating. Whether you’ve gone 20 miles in the wrong direction or spent 20 years in the wrong life, it’s never too far & it’s never too late. Because this guy – the one who was not like the other – was the FIRST RESPONDER. Why don’t you become the NEXT?