Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:24, ESV)
(Based on a sermon by Pastor Tim Pauls)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Well, today’s text just doesn’t quite seem right. Jesus on the cross? But, Christmas is coming. Well, today is Christ the King Sunday, where we remember Jesus is the King of everything. One of the things I like about the new hymnal is the prayer before communion that goes, Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, king of all creation… That’s what today’s worship service is all about, Jesus, king of the universe. It’s just that when we humans think of the great kings of the world we don’t think of men being executed for treason. Well, Jesus does reign over His kingdom from a cross. And if you don’t believe me all you have to look at is the thief that was crucuifed next to him. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He says. He recognizes Jesus as king. He sees Jesus as more than and earthly king who reigns over territory. He has faith that Jesus can save him from eternal punishment in hell. He has faith. Jesus answers that faith “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Paradise. Well that’s kind of interesting isn’t it? Paradise is the place that Adam and Eve lived isn’t it? That was God’s kingdom too! They blew it by rejecting the king and getting kicked out of paradise. I wonder what it was like for Adam and Eve as they left the garden? The world out side was big, and not completely understood. Of course everything was different than it had been. Sin had changed everything. I’m sure they were afraid. Everything that was in front of them, their future, their lives outside of the garden, was unsure. You can relate to their feelings. The country is at war, you all know someone whose been effected by it. You have questions about life. Will gas prices keep going up? Is my job secure? Will I be able to keep the farm afloat? What will happen is really unknown. That’s how Adam and his wife felt, I’m sure. They were afraid and alone in a dangerous world.
It is strange how much it had changed from before. Before sin, they loved God’s presence. “They walked with him in the Garden.” The bible says. But not they were afraid of God. The relationship they once enjoyed was shattered. Genesis 2:16-17 “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” They had done exactly what God said they should not do. Now everything was different, now death was a part of their life.
Adam tried to blame his wife. “She gave me the fruit to eat!” He pleaded with God. But he was standing right there watching her pick it. Instead of loving, honoring and cherishing her, he allowed her to do the evil thing. And he took a bite, too. It was then that everything changed. Suddenly, they felt uncomfortable standing together. Suddenly, they realized they were naked. They were embarrassed. The perfection that God had created in them was gone.
When they heard God walking in the garden, fear gripped them. “…you will surely die.” God was no longer a friend, but a feared judge. “Where are you?” God called to them.
“I heard you coming and I was afraid, because I was naked.” The man timidly answered.
“Have you done what I told you not to do?” God asked painfully knowing the answer already.
“It was her!” Adam tried to blame.
“It was the snake!” She quickly added. But the guilt was theirs, together.
The consequences began, immediately. God killed an animal to make clothing for them. Blood was spilled to cover their guilt and shame. Death began in earnest. Paradise in the Garden ended. God’s kingdom was lost to them and their children. They were driven out. The Tree of Life was out of reach.
Everything was different. Sin had turned the world upside down. Death was out there waiting for them. And strangely the good things of God seemed to be wrong, and the evil things of Satan seemed to be right. The darkness of sin was preferred to the Light of God. And even God’s plan for setting things right again was difficult to understand. God would send a Savior to restore Paradise lost, the Tree of Life, and He would do it through another tree, a tree of death.
“He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ, the Chosen one!” came the hateful shouts to the three men dying on the hill. “Look at him! He thinks he’s the King of the Jews!” someone adds about the man hanging in the middle. Clearly he doesn’t look like a king. There’s no golden crown here, only bloody thorns. There’s no robe of Minsk, in fact he has no clothing at all. He hangs there nailed to the cross, naked, bleeding, and tortured, in shame. One of the men next to the king adds to the insult. “If you’re the Christ, save yourself and us too!” His word are empty and with out hope.
The King, who doesn’t look like a king, makes no reply.
But remember, nothing really looks as it should; the world is really upside down. That’s what the man and the women realized when they left the Garden. The crowds that shout at the foot of the crosses are wrong. The man who they hate is not just king; he is The King. He is the Savior sent by God to restore Paradise Lost. They don’t see it, but He is covering their shame and guilt and sin with the blood that pours from the nail holes, the torn flesh, and the crown of thorns. He is naked bearing their shame. Animals shed their blood for Adam and Eve. Jesus Christ sheds His blood to cover the sins of His mockers. He won’t come down. It isn’t because He can’t. He wants to do what He is doing. He wants to bear the shame of sin for the whole world. Adam blamed others; Jesus accepts all the blame and takes it all with Him to the grave.
For the people standing there it doesn’t make sense. This man can’t be the one who God sent to be Savior. He isn’t anything special; he isn’t glorious; he wasn’t born in a palace. It’s upside down from their thinking. Jesus is the Savior, he is the King, but they can’t see it.
But someone there does. The man hanging in silence on the other cross is keenly aware of what is going on. The nails that hold him there have convicted him of his own guilt. He has earned the wages of sin. But he has watched Jesus… and listened. Jesus forgives, even the people who are killing Him. “Father Forgive them…” Jesus loves; He makes sure His mother is taken care of. “Woman, behold your son.” A person like this doesn’t deserve this kind of punishment. Jesus is innocent and yet He dies. “Lord,” He confesses to the True King, Jesus, “remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Pierced by the law, convicted of his sin, under the judgment of death, he turns to Jesus in faith. And Jesus answers, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Here on a blood stained mountain, where three men are dying, Paradise is found. That thief on the cross has it. He didn’t find it because of his life of good works. He didn’t find it because he was a good man. It was given to him by Jesus Christ as an answer to a simple cry of faith.
Jesus Christ suffers and dies there on that cross for that thief. He suffers and dies for Adam and Eve. He suffers and dies, even for the people who drove the nails into His body, and for those who don’t see Him as king. The thief is given Paradise because Jesus died there and suffered the shame and punishment for all the world’s sin. He is given life forever with Jesus.
We didn’t see it happen. We’ve never been in Paradise like Adam was. It makes it difficult for us to understand what it means to be in Paradise. After all, the world is upside down; wrong seems right; darkness seems to be light. Nothing in the world is as it should be. Everything is full of uncertainty. We worry about our future, our nation, and our economy. Our relationships are always breaking up. We suffer from illness and pain. Our loved ones die right before our eyes. It’s just not the way it should be. It’s not the way God created the world. Sin has turned everything on its ear. Sin has ruined everything. It’s difficult to see that Paradise has been restored. It’s difficult to see that God really is King.
What’s easy to see is people’s reaction to Jesus. Still bold as ever people mock Him and deny Him, just as if they were standing at the foot of His cross. People want miraculous signs to show that God is present. “Come down from the cross and save our nation. If you’re really the king give me a healthy family. Show me that you’re here by taking away my cancer.”
But Jesus is quietly present just as He promises to be. He is there in the spoken word of forgiveness, in water and in bread and wine. And yet these too are often rejected. “What good is it for a person to tell me I’m forgiven? Confession is damaging to self-esteem. Private confession is too Catholic. What good is pouring water on a baby’s head, they can’t believe. God can’t be present in bread and wine. Those are just symbols of what Jesus has done.”
We shouldn’t be surprised, either. People who saw Jesus in the flesh denied Him. People who looked into His eyes, and passed by Him on dusty roads rejected Him. Sin has turned everything upside down. God was present in the world in Jesus Christ for all to see and many didn’t believe. And now He is present, hidden under water, word, and bread and wine, and many don’t see Him still. But He is present as surely as He walked among the disciples, and bled and died on the cross. As surely as He broke the bonds of death and lived and breathed the world’s air. He is present among us.
Paradise, God’s kingdom, is here, restored to us. The thief saw it in Jesus when he heard Jesus speaking of forgiveness. “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” He didn’t listen to the angry mob denying Jesus. We don’t listen to those who deny Him either. We listen to the Words of God. It is the only thing that is sure in an unsure and unstable world. It tells you that Jesus Christ died for you. He took the punishment that God should have given you. He suffered and died the death that you deserve because of your sin. He rose again for you to give you Paradise forever. He gives you forgiveness of all your sins through His life, death and resurrection.
But it doesn’t seem like Paradise, does it. In fact, more often the not we feel like Adam and Eve must have felt when they first stepped from the garden into an unknown world, covered by the still warm skin of freshly killed animals. The News tells us of death and we wonder about our future. We can’t avoid sin, even in our closest relationships. And that’s exactly why Jesus comes to us here. Right along with the forgiveness He gives, He gives faith to trust in Him. “I forgive you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is my body given for you. Surely I am with you to the very end of the age. Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” You see, Adam and Eve didn’t face the world alone God was with them. He promised a Savior who would shed His blood for them, just like the animals did. That Savior has come in Jesus Christ. He promises to be with us too.
We have Paradise restored right now, but there’s more yet to come. All of this that surrounds us, all the pain, death and trouble, this upside down world is going to be set right again and turned right-side-up. Jesus is coming again to bring Paradise Restored in full. Right now it’s hidden in with and under words and water, bread and wine. Right now it’s hard to see because sin is still with us. But someday soon, Jesus Christ the King will bring it all out in the open. It will be clear to see and easy to understand. Sin will be gone forever. Death will be left behind. We will be with Jesus in His kingdom forever, just like the thief on the cross. Paradise Restored by Jesus Christ, the True King. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.