God is rich in mercy to all, but shows the magnificence of his grace in bestowing favor to the penitent who deserve nothing but his unmitigated justice.
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No Greater Love-Part 10
Pardon for the Penitent
Pastor Mike Fabarez
Well, I’ve been praying for you this week. I pray for you every week but I’ve been praying for you this week in particular in light of this sermon. I’ve been echoing the prayers for you that Paul prayed for a segment of one of his congregations in Ephesians Chapter 3 verses 18 and 19. When he prayed that they “would have strength,” here’s how the verse goes, “that they might comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, the length, the height and the depth, of the love of Christ, and to know that love that surpasses knowledge.” There’s an interesting phrase. Right? “So that,” here’s the purpose clause, “so that you might be filled with the fullness of God.” I would take some time to unpack what was intended by that phrase, but it sounds good. Right? I mean, if you’re a Christian you’d think, I’d like to have my Christian life be filled with the fullness of God, that would be awesome. I mean, that sounds like something that we as Christians should desire. We want that. That would be good.
As a matter of fact, it is a safeguard against so many things that can go wrong in our Christian lives when we’re not filled with the fullness of God. If we got a weakness, if something is crumbling in our Christian life, filled with doubts, whatever it is, to know the love of Christ is the answer there. Not just to know it. Not just to say, “Jesus loves you,” or, you know, “I know Jesus loves me, this I know.” But to inject into that something of the breadth and the length and the height and the depth of what that means, and to comprehend that, to have the power to comprehend that, so that I might be able to say, “Yep, I get it, and I understand it. I understand something that really goes beyond any logical knowledge.” It’s an amazing kind of truth to know the love of Christ. We throw the phrase around but we should understand it.
I would think when you think about anybody saying they’ve done something loving for you, you would recognize the title of our series, kind of defining what the ultimate expression of that is. Right? The series that we’ve been in, this is the tenth installment of our study through Luke 22 and 23, we’ve called it “No Greater Love.” If you’re a Sunday school graduate you know “no greater love” that’s a phrase that comes from Jesus’ words in the Upper Room Discourse when he says in John, “No greater love has anyone than this, that a man would lay down his life for his friends.” And that’s what he’s about to do. I mean, the very next day he’s going to go and die on a cross and that would be the ultimate expression, as it says in Romans 5, that God demonstrates his love for us in this, “that while we were yet sinners,” not just friends but “while we were sinners Christ died for us.” That is the ultimate expression of love. No greater love.
Now when you think about someone doing something loving for you, I mean you really measure the depth of that, talk about the dept, the height, the length, the breadth, you measure that based on really what that costs. Right? To evaluate love and what kind of love is this compared to another kind of love, if this is the incomparable love of Christ and it was ultimately demonstrated in the scene that we’ve now reached in our study of Luke 23, then you’re going to say, OK, if I think about someone and I say they did something loving for me, you’d have to say, “Well, what does it cost?” That gives us a sense of the fullness of that statement. Right?
If you said, “Pastor Mike is so loving, he dropped by the store on the way home from the office, he brought me a gallon of milk.” Right? That would be loving of me if I did that for you. You’d say, “Wow, that’s loving of Mike.” Well, that’s one thing. But if you said, “No, Pastor Mike loves me so much he came over and spent all afternoon detailing my car.” Well, that would be evermore loving. Or if I said, “I’m going to come and cut your grass and weed your yard for the next two years of my life.” Loving still. You needed a kidney transplant, I said, “Hey, you can have one of my kidneys. Send your surgeon over to take one out, whip one out, put it in you. That’s great, you can have it.” Even greater love. I think you could look at it from another strata, you can say, “OK, well if this is my family member, that’s one kind of love. If it’s my friend, that’s one kind of love. If it’s my neighbor, if it’s my co-worker, if it’s a stranger at the mall, or if it’s my enemy that I really, really don’t like and they don’t like me, and now I do that for them, whatever that might be.” Well, now it’s, I mean, man, that love is even greater.
And then you have to measure it in terms what it cost. Did it cost you money, did it cost you pain, did it cost your reputation, did it cost you time? What did it cost you? You start adding all those factors up and you start thinking about the breadth and the length and the height and the depth of the love of Christ, you start to say, “OK, I can see why Christ dying on a cross becomes that greatest expression of divine love for us.” My goal and my prayer for you has been that we can leave the parking lot today with a greater sense of what it means that Jesus loves me. For you as a Christian to say Jesus loves me, I want us to have a deeper, more profound understanding of that. And it will be a safeguard, because when bad things happen, when difficulties come, when disease or lawsuits or problems or marital conflict, when you start to say, no, what I know for sure is that Jesus loves me, to be filled with the fullness of whatever that means. Right? I mean, that’s to be a safeguard against the kind of crumbling of your Christian life that we’re all subject to when we don’t understand that.
I mean, our love for Christ is going to grow cold, we will lose our first love if we don’t understand the depth and the length and the height and the breadth of the love of Christ. So, so much comes into sharp focus here. As a matter of fact, if you were to look at the scene turning from his earthly ministry in the Gospel of John to the death on a cross, there’s a pivotal verse that comes in John 13 verse 1, and it speaks of the editorial comments about Jesus moving from healing people and teaching and doing all these things he’s doing in the ancient world, to going to die on a cross, to be beaten and to be whipped and scourge and hung naked on a Roman execution rack. That transition is described this way in John 13:1. It says, “Now Jesus, who loved his own,” speaking of his disciples, “who were in the world,” he now, literally in the Greek text it says this, “he loved them to the end,” which I think is the way the English Standard Version puts it, “he loved them to the end.”
Now there are two ways to understand that. You can think of that in terms of time, he loved them right up to the end of his life, or you can think about it the way that I think most interpreters, and I agree, would consider that this is a statement not of time and duration, this is a statement in terms of depth and value and the meaning and richness and profundity of his love. That’s why some translators translate that little phrase, depending on your translation, “He loved them to the uttermost.” He showed them, I think the New International Version says, “the fullness of his love.” Why? Because he’s going to say, just two chapters later, “No greater love has anyone than this, that a person lay down his life for his friends.”
This concept of being able to say that we sit here today understanding that what we’re about to read, these 12 verses today that we’re going to look at, they all really come in our minds as the anchor and bedrock of what I think about when I think about the fact that Jesus loves me. That he didn’t just lay down his life for his friends who they would become, really, theologically speaking, but they were, as it says in Romans 5, they were his enemies. And that you and I need to understand something about God and his character and who we are and our character and what it means to say, you know what, I leave this parking lot today, I head into my work week knowing this: Jesus loves me and that means a ton. And the more I understand that, the fullness and richness of what it means to be a Christian, I mean, it’s radically transformative.
There is a corollary between those two. So take your Bibles, if you haven’t already, let’s look at these 12 verses that we finally reach in Luke Chapter 23. I know we’ve had a lot of heavy passages in our study of Luke. I don’t apologize for that but I acknowledge it at least. I know these have been heavy text because we’re dealing with the crucifixion of the innocent one, the Christ, the Holy One. But here we go again. This time we get the picture of him being crucified between two criminals. So let’s start in verse 32, I’ll read it for you, follow along please with your eyeballs, and we’ll look at verses 32 through 43. I’ll read it from the English Standard Version.
Here it goes. “Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull…” And that’s the way it’s put in Koine Greek in Luke’s Gospel, and it just translates for us because the connection is in our language “the skull,” but maybe you know it from the other Gospels and that’s the Aramaic term and it’s just transliterated for us, “Golgotha.” So when we talk about Jesus dying at The Skull that’s Luke’s very Latin way, the only Gentile to write a book of the Bible, and he writes it in terms of what we would translate, The Skull, Golgotha. And if you open up a Latin Vulgate, it’s called the Latin Bible, which was the Bible of the Church for a thousand years and you read this passage in Latin you’ll see the word that translates or transliterates into English “Calvary.” So we get the word Calvary, we get the word Golgotha, we get the word translated here The Skull.
And at this place called The Skull, which is somehow just this dark and ominous place where they crucified criminals by the road as people went down the street and saw the evil people being crucified, that’s where they crucified him. “There they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” Picture that. These guys beaten, the dregs of society, hung up to die, beaten by Roman soldiers, now hung up and nailed to a cross by Roman soldiers. Then it says in verse 34, a line you wouldn’t expect, “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'” Whoa. Talk about out of left field. That’s an amazing statement. Now it’s got to be carefully understood and we’re going to do that this morning, but that’s an amazing statement.
Then we get right back to what’s going on in the passage and that is, “They are casting lots for his garments.” I mean they’re there in the humility of this situation with a naked guy hanging up there not wanting to cover his body with the last piece of clothing he has, but they’re sitting there saying, “Well, I want it, no you want it, well we can’t tear it in half. Let’s just play dice for it,” and that’s what they’re doing. Verse 35. “Other people stood by watching.” They didn’t even say, “Oh no, no, don’t do that. It’s terrible, that’s horrible. Why are you doing that? We should give it to his friend.” No. They stand by passively just being who people are, “Just OK, I guess we’re just watching what’s going down.” But then the rulers, they step up, they start scoffing at him, the innocent one, the one who went around doing good, the Bible says, the one who healed people, the one who took Lazarus out of a tomb, the one who’s out there trying to do good and help people. And now, just humanly speaking, you picture an innocent guy who even Pilate could see was innocent, and they’re sitting there now “scoffing at him,” mocking at him. And they said stuff like this: “He saved others; let him save himself.” Never was there a more true statement than that. Not just on a theological basis but on a physical basis. He saved people.
He had people who were dying. He reached out and touched them and healed them, lepers. I mean, think about that. And now they’re saying, “Hey, Mr. Healer guy, save yourself, let’s see you save yourself if,” by the way, “you are the Christ,” the Messiah, “of God, the Chosen One!” I mean, you can just see the sarcasm dripping from this horrific, egregious mocking of Christ. The soldiers, who were just employed to do the crucifixion, they weren’t even part of this debate that was going on. They certainly weren’t filled with jealousy and envy that the Jewish leaders felt, they just jump right in and start mocking him too. They’re professional executioners, but they’re going to get on the bandwagon. Now, they start coming up offering him sour wine, which was an act of really not kindness as we’ll see later in the following text, it’s a statement of mocking as well. And they’re saying things like this in their mocking tone, “If you’re the King of the Jews, save yourself.”
“There was also an inscription,” you might remember this in that scene, that was affixed above his head that said, “This is the king of the Jews.” Right? Here, you Mister messiah man, king of the Jews, son of David, you’re supposed to be someone important in this nation, we’ll put a sign up here mocking, just like when they put the robe on him, like they put the crown on him that was nothing more than something to make his head and his brow bleed and hurt. All of this was just mocking.
Then something strange happens in verse 39. Well, it’s not strange, the first part I suppose, that one of the criminals, he joins in, he’s got no originality. Right? He’s doing what the soldiers are doing, what the crowd is doing, what the leaders are doing. He starts railing at him. Right? One of the criminals who was hanged railed at him saying, “Are you the Christ, are you’re not the Christ?” Come on, if you are “save yourself,” and as long as you’re taking yourself off the cross why don’t you supernaturally save us as well, “save us.”
Now here’s the remarkable part. As one criminal, one thief here, one insurrectionist is now mocking Christ, the other one sticks up for him. “The other rebuked the other criminal and he said, “Do you not fear God?” I mean, think about the stuff before these words erupt out of his mouth that must have been going on in his conscience and his heart. Now he says, you know what, “If you don’t fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” You’re sitting here dying on a cross just like this guy is but, “We indeed,” it says, “justly.” We are bad guys. We’re criminals here, “for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds; but this man he’s done nothing wrong.”
Then he turns to Jesus. “And he says, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'” They keep saying you’re the king, you’re the Christ, you’re the messiah, the king of the Jews, all this king talk. Well listen, there’s something going on in his heart. He recognizes who he is and his problem and his other criminal buddies’ problem and he now says, “But Jesus, I don’t think you’ve done anything wrong. I think you must be who you say you are. Would you remember me whenever this kingdom thing is going to happen? And he,” that is Jesus, verse 43, “said to him,” that is the criminal, “truly,” he didn’t throw that word around lightly. Here’s what he saying. I want to tell you something that I’m committing to. Here is a covenant, clear, I want you to know how firm this statement is. I say to you, you don’t have to wait long for this kingdom. Oh, the formal entry and arrival of the kingdom is down the road on the eschatological timeframe, but when it comes to you, you’re going to get a taste of the kingdom before this day is over. “Today you will be with me,” and then he employs this word, which is interesting, we’ll look at it, “in Paradise.” Today. What an interesting turn of events here as you picture Jesus in that scene that is so horrific, so shameful, dying on a cross, a conversation between three people hanging on a cross as the crowds are mocking him, as they’re scorning him, as they’re making fun of him, and as they are jeering him to come off the cross if he’s anybody important.
I want to start by looking at the statement in verse 34, which really is described, at least in context, throughout, but particularly in verses 32 and 33. In other words, when Jesus says in verse 34, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” we need to understand what kind of forgiveness you’re talking about here. What kind of forgiveness are you talking about? The word “aphiemi” that translates this word “forgiveness” is a word that really means “to release, to let it go.” To let it go. OK. What kind of “letting go” are you talking about? Well we can see immediately in the context here, verses 32 and 33, there are these criminals being crucified. Now that’s all just and that’s all the due penalty for their sin. But Jesus is being crucified there as well. He’s got criminals on either side of him. He’s flanked by bad guys and he’s not a bad guy. That’s something we would call injust, we would say it’s egregious, it’s immoral, it’s scandalous, it is not right. We would all sit here and say this is treachery, it’s wrong, it shouldn’t be happening. But it is happening.
I want you to think for a second. When this starts, the scene that started the night before, we’re about nine o’clock in the morning now where this is taking place. The night before Jesus had no sleep. The garden scene was what started it all. When Judas arrives with the Roman soldiers and gives him that kiss on the cheek to show that he is the guy and they all come up and arrest him, Peter pulls out the sword, do you remember that? And in that scene Jesus responds to him and says this: he says, “Peter, put your sword away. Don’t you know that I could call legions of angels? I could have 72,000 angels here to shut this thing down if I wanted. Put your sword back. We’re going to let this happen. We’re going to let this go.” That’s a sense of forgiveness.
Now you may not be buying that but let me show you. Go to Acts 2. Before we put this first point down I what you to go to Acts Chapter 2. Peter is preaching to the same crowd in essence. Now, I know this is a pilgrimage. Jesus is being crucified on a holiday. What holiday is it? The Passover. Everyone in Israel is supposed to come, if you’re a religious, devout, Jewish person, to Jerusalem during the Passover. Right? 50 days later what you’ve got is the festival we call Pentecost, another pilgrimage feast and you’re supposed to come back a few months later and you’re going to celebrate again. That’s when God decides to distribute the power of the Spirit on these people. And now Peter’s standing up and he’s preaching to the crowd and here they are back again, a lot of the same people who were part of the crowds having Jesus crucified and Peter is preaching to them.
And just to give a little context, start in verse 23 when you’ll see he’s talking about Jesus. Look at the phrase there. “You crucified and killed him by the hands of lawless men.” Now, I know they jumped in and started mocking him. But this was all driven, as Pilate could see, by the Jewish people who didn’t like what Jesus was saying, many of them because of envy and jealousy, Pilate said, were delivering him over to be crucified. And all of that was taking place through the agency of the Roman soldiers. He said, “You guys did this. You put them on a Roman execution rack. You had the Roman soldiers with their big burly fists beat his face. You had them put a robe on him, put the crown of thorns on and then strip him naked and hang them on the cross. You did all of that, but you need to know,” drop down a verse 36 now, here’s the punchline of his sermon, “Let all the house of Israel know therefore for certain,” you’ve all come from all over, from everywhere in Israel, you’ve come to Jerusalem, I’m telling you now, you should know “that God has made him both Lord,” he’s in charge, he’s the king, he’s been glorified, he’s been resurrected, “and the Christ,” he’s clearly the Messiah, “this Jesus whom you crucified.” You crucified an innocent man, not only an innocent man, you did crucify the king of the Jews. You crucified someone you mocked as the king of Jews. You crucified someone who came to save us. He could have saved himself. He didn’t save himself. God did this. I’ll let this happen. That’s “aphiemi”, I’ll let it go. I’m letting this go. They didn’t know what they were doing, clearly.
That doesn’t mean they were innocent though does it? Is there ever in Scripture an exoneration, are you not impugned, is there impunity in your judgment when you don’t know the rules? Tell a cop that next time you get pulled over. “Well, I didn’t know the speed limit.” He doesn’t care what you know or don’t know, it’s wrong. Right? And so it is in the Scriptures. Right? You have, which by the way the Bible says, a conscience. You have creation, not to mention the Scripture. You’re never ignorant. The Bible says in Romans 1 and 2, “You are without excuse.” So we know that there’s a sense in which there’s nothing truly done by adults, at least, mature people, that could say, “Well, I didn’t really know what I was doing.” When it comes to moral sin, we know what we’re doing. But there’s something here about the egregious nature of crucifying the Lord, the Messiah, that they were like, they didn’t really know, God let this happen. That’s “aphiemi”, forgiveness. But now he’s going to now tell them all this 50 days later and what happens? They get conscience-stricken.
Look at verse 37. “Now when they heard this,” and you can add in that, they started to believe it, they get it, they understand it, “they were cut to the heart,” which is an idiomatic way of saying they had that pang of conscience. “Oh, no. We did it now, man. We did that. You’re right, we’re wrong.” There’s a sense of awareness and confession hearing that. And they said to Peter and the rest of the Apostles, here’s the question, “Brothers, what shall we do? What are we going to do? We did the wrong thing, we’re guilty, we did the wrong thing.” Verse 38, read this, get your highlighters ready. Ready? Peter said to them, underlined this next word, “Nothing. You’re already forgiven.” Highlight that. Do you see that there? Well, that’s what Jesus said. Right? “Father forgive them.” What did Jesus have a prayer then get answered by the Father? Is that what happened? No. What Jesus said was happening. He was letting go. He was letting this thing happen.
And yet in this passage it says, no, no, no, forgiveness. You want the forgiveness, the “aphiemi” of not having any punishment or culpability or consequence or condemnation for your moral, egregious sin of crucifying the Lord of life. You want that? Well then, there’s something you got to do. “Peter said to them,” hey, if you’re cut to the heart, “you need to repent.” You need to repent. You need to turn from this. You need to recognize it and see it, and then every one of you needs to follow Christ in what he said, “Make disciples and baptize them.” You need to go be baptized. Repent. Obey the Lord. Do what he says. Get that sense that he was right and you were wrong. You need to respond to that and if you do, look at it, you’ll get it. You do that in the name of the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. That does not mean that that expression of obedience, by the way, is the agency of your forgiveness. It means that real faith is always going to result in obedience and particularly the most simple and first step in your obedience, baptism. Right? This sign and external symbol of that, that is all, the Bible says, as you do that in that response of repentance and faith, it is the thing that from a human perspective triggers this forgiveness of your sins.
Now that’s different than whatever is going on here in Luke 23 verse 34. That changes everything. So that must mean there are two kinds of forgiveness. That’s exactly what I’m trying to say to you. There are two kinds of forgiveness. A kind of forgiveness where Jesus lets bad things happen. I’m going to blow your mind, but here’s a word for you, you may not think in any way belongs in that category, but it does. Are you ready? Got a few biblical words for you this morning. Here’s the first one. Write this down, number one. You and I need to recognize God’s, here’s the word, mercy. “Recognize God’s Mercy.” What? No, this is strange because that seems like such a positive word, doesn’t it? But it is the word, if you properly understand it, it’s the reason your non-Christian friends, particularly those heady atheistic types or agnostic types, they don’t like your Christianity and your theology.
Because you know what they’re going to say, and they’ve already said it to you. “If your God is so good and your God is so powerful and your God knows everything that’s going on down here in the world, then why would he let all this bad stuff happen?” What I’m trying to show you in verses 32 and 33 is really, really bad stuff. The pinnacle of bad stuff in human history is happening right here. And you know what the Lord is doing? Letting it happen. He is giving, here it comes, mercy to them. Now here’s another word for it. Sometimes we call it “divine forbearance.” It’s the sense of God letting things happen in a terrible, egregious, immoral, scandalous way, in a treacherous way on this earth and horrible things happen. That’s why people ask, “Why is there all this disease?” Why do babies die? Why is there a cancer? Why are there rapes? Why are there murders? Why do all these terrible things around the world happen?” And they say, “That’s why we don’t like your God.” And I’m going to give you a word for it. It’s called God’s mercy. “What in the world are you talking about?” No, it’s God’s mercy. God’s mercy is looking at a scene like this and not stopping it.
When Jesus said to Peter, “Hey Peter, you know if I wanted to I could call 72,000 angels down here and destroy this. We could have a mushroom cloud right now of moral justice delivered on all these people. Judas would be incinerated, all these people would be judged, God could immediately with those angels settle the score. But I’m giving them forgiveness.” Now, all I’m trying to point out here, guess what kind of forgiveness that is? It’s a temporal forgiveness. It’s a forgiveness that has a timetable on it. And let me prove it to you. Jot this one down. Second Thessalonians Chapter 1 verses 7 through 9. It says, “When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,” it says they will come, “in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and those who do not obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Here’s something: these people in the crowd, crucifying Christ, “did not know God and they did not obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” And you know what? One day the angels will come. When Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword away. I could call angels right now but I’m not going to call angels right now. I am going to “aphiemi”. I’m going to say, “Father, forgive them. Let this happen.” Of course there are deep and important theological reasons why it has to happen. But he is now giving them mercy. What does that mean? That means that he is allowing these things to go on in this world that are completely against his will, just like this, humanly speaking, to crucify an innocent man in the first century, completely against the will of God. It is not what God wants, it’s not what God says in his Word, it is not the plan of God, at least in the revealed plan of God. Do you follow what I’m saying? But in allowing it, he’s granting mercy or divine forbearance.
Here’s another word, “patience.” He’s being patient. What’s that all about? Jot this one down now, Romans Chapter 2 verses 4 and 5. It says this in speaking to people that are presuming upon the kindness and forbearance of God, it says, “Do you presume upon the kindness and the forbearance of God, his patience and the riches of his kindness. Don’t you know that his kindness, his forbearance, his patience, his mercy is meant to lead you to repentance?” The point of him not destroying people the moment they sin is he’s giving them ample opportunity, to put it in human terms, so that they might repent. Does that sound biblical? You read it this week in your Daily Bible Readings, Second Peter Chapter 3 did you not? The whole passage is about God coming and settling the score, looking around the world, looking at all the bad stuff that’s happening, reading your news feed saying, look at the rapes, look at the murders, look at the terrible atrocities in the world and saying this is all really bad, God should come and judge the world. That’s the promise of God that he will. He destroyed the world once with water, he’s going to destroy the world next with fire. That is coming. Ultimate global warming, right here. It’s going to get really hot on planet earth, that is going to happen.
The Bible says, when you think that through, that it’s going to happen but it’s not happening right now. And then he says this, the logic is, “God is not slow in keeping his promises as some count slowness.” No, no, no. “He is,” here it is, “patient toward you.” Want another word for that? “Merciful toward you.” Another word? “Divinely forbearing toward you.” He is someone who right now is forgiving you. He’s bearing with you. He’s all of that. Why? It says this: “So that you might repent, not wishing that any should perish, but that,” all should repent, “all should come to repentance.”
The whole point of God letting things play themselves out, like this scene, I know it has other theological necessities tied to it, but when you look around the world and all these people are shaking their fist at God and saying why is all this bad stuff happening, you need to say this: all of this is continuing on, with all this terrible stuff, when they say, “Where’s the coming of the Lord? Why doesn’t he fix all of this?” It’s because he’s wanting people to come to repentance. And in that regard, we’ve got to understand that’s an act of mercy from God. The old-time preachers called it “the door of mercy.” The door of mercy is open, but just like the gate or the door on the ark, it’s going to close, the door of mercy is going to close. That door of mercy is to let people drive themselves to the solution to the problem. This is the mercy of God. We call it common grace, divine forbearance, patience. You could even say it’s a category of forgiveness, that God is forgiving toward the unrighteous. So much so that he does things that seem completely counter-intuitive.
To quote the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, “He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good,” and all of us need that, we need the sun to rise, “and he sends his rains on the crops of the just and the unjust.” That is an act of God being kind and allowing “aphiemi” of releasing and giving ample opportunity for good to come to people who don’t deserve it. Jot this one down if you’re taking notes, Psalm 145:9. You want a good summation of it in one verse? Here it comes, “The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he made.” What does that mean? God is good to all, but you know what else the Bible says? Nobody’s righteous, everyone’s sinful, all have sinned. Right? “There is none righteous, no not one.” And yet he’s good to all. Now, is that equal? No. He’s good here and he’s better there and he’s not as good here to some people, in his mercy. Well some people get less mercy than others. God is not distributing this fairly, I understand. But it is a statement of truth, that his mercy is over all. Because we deserve a lot worse than what we have. The reality is that we need to come to grips with the fact that when God does not immediately judge sin, what we’re having and experiencing is the mercy, the divine forbearance of God. And Jesus, even in that statement, shows his kindly disposition toward us. Not that that grants us the forgiveness that’s preached in the Gospel of no longer having condemnation for sin. But it certainly opens up the door of mercy to allow us an opportunity to come to repentance.
As Acts 17 said as Paul preached to the Athenians, those times of ignorance, if you want to call them that, God has overlooked, that’s called Divine Forbearance, that’s called mercy. But now he commands all people everywhere to repent. The call of the Gospel is to repent. The allowance in that, humanly speaking, is the reality of God’s mercy.
Recognized God’s mercy for what it is. I know it is the reason that people don’t like theism. But if it weren’t for that, no one would be around to contemplate the problem, because we would all be cast into outer darkness incurring the judgment for our sin the first one we ever committed. But just like there was in the Garden people sent out and given life beyond that one statement, that condemnation of “the day you eat of the fruit you shall surely die,” well, certainly, there was condemnation, there was relational death, but when it comes to that there is a mercy, there is a door of mercy, in that case hundreds of years of mercy to lead people to repentance.
I speak of all that, which would make no sense, mercy would make no sense without the next thing that I think I just want you to see in this passage. Keep reading in verse 34, bottom of the verse. We’re in Luke 23, bottom of verse 34, “And they cast lots to divide his garments.” They said, what a weird thing that is. The Renaissance picture of Jesus with a nicely placed loincloth around his privates, that’s not what’s going on with the cross. They are out there for hours, defecating, urinating on themselves, completely naked. You’ve never probably seen a real painting of the reality of the shameful act of crucifixion. You have these three naked, beaten, bloodied, bruised bodies hanging on a cross gasping for air, working hard to take every single breath. That’s what’s going on. And here’s a piece of clothing that they’ve stripped off of Jesus and they’re sitting there playing dice to see who is going to get it. If that does not make your blood boil then you’re too desensitized to what’s happening on the cross to even have any human affinity to the reality of what’s happening here. This is absolutely maddening. You should be wanting to jump through the pages of your Bible to strangulate these people. This is horrible.
And then people, they weren’t trying to stop it, they were standing by passively in verse 35 just watching, just watching the one who went around doing good, healing people, teaching people, feeding 5,000 people in one sitting. They’re watching people take the clothing of a naked crucified man just to see who can go home with a tunic. And the rulers, the people dressed in the regalia of the priesthood, they’re scoffing, they’re turning their lip, they’re sneering at him, they’re saying, “Hey, you saved others,” which by the way, couldn’t be a truer statement. He’s going around saving people in every way, theologically, biologically. And they’re saying, “Hey, you saved people? Now’s your time. Show a little power now. Let’s see you get off the cross. Save yourself. Oh, if by the way, you’re the Christ of God. I mean, really if you’re the Chosen One…” Well, he is, all the angels bow before him.
You want to get mad? You should get mad right here. This feeling is the feeling every shoot ’em up movie is trying to produce in the first half hour of the program. Trying to get you to get really mad at the bad guy, so when Clint Eastwood comes along and blows them away you go, “Yeah, that’s what we wanted,” because it’s injustice, we want someone to settle the score. Verse 36, the soldiers, these burly soldiers, you just keep quiet. Even if they’re going to be pawns at the hands of lawless men, crucifying Jesus, just shut up and do your job. No, they’re jumping in and mocking him too. They mocked him. They offer him sour wine, which was an insult by the way. And they said, “Hey, king of the Jews, save yourself.” They’re saying the same things.
And then the inscription. They had the audacity to put an inscription up. “Here’s your king.” Well, he was the king. He’s the king of all things. The Lord of all. Nothing came into being that ever existed that didn’t come through the creative power of Christ. And yet he’s dying on a cross with the sign over him that’s mocking him with a crown of thorns that’s supposed to be some kind of diadem on his head and instead it’s nothing but a painful, a fixed feature that makes his face covered with blood. You should want to crawl through your Bibles and just smack these people around.
And by the way, when you feel that feeling, as we move through this passage, that concept of justice that this criminal, we just read, is going to get a sense of in his own life, I think you need to start moving in that direction as well. Because whenever you want to say, “We want the score settled.” When you sit around and watch Dateline or some crime show and you want the bad guy to suffer, I just want you to realize that what we’re doing here is defining all these things on a sliding scale, because we’re really good at lateral comparisons. It would be like me coming in your mind right now and having you have a sense of what it means, whether it’s a defined issue, whatever the value is, to define it either in relative terms or absolute terms. And what I want you to do in this particular section of this passage is to learn to respect God’s absolute virtue when it comes to his justice.
As a matter of fact, let’s jotted it down then we’ll explain it. We need to, number two, “Respect God’s Justice.” God is a just God. And when we say that he must punish sin, most of us say that in a relative sense, I want you to punish the sins that we see on the news every night. I want you to punish the sins of people that hurt me. I want you to punish sins of the criminals, of the rapists, of the people in prison. I want you to punish them.
But as I said, it would be like me saying this: right now as you sit here in this building I want you to go in your mind’s eye, in your imagination, go back to your house. Reverse the commute to church. Go into your bedroom. I want you to look around in your bedroom and how you left it. You see it? I’m going to ask you a question. Is your room clean? Is it a clean room? Because you’re going to usher me in. I’m going to look at your bedroom now. Are you ready? Now you say, “I don’t know, Pastor Mike, I’m not sure. You know, maybe you think I’m a neat-freak, fastidious, I don’t know.” You’d say, “Well, Pastor Mike, I don’t know if by your standards it’s clean.” Maybe by your kid’s standards it’s clean. Or maybe you’re kind of a clean freak yourself, maybe you’d say, “No, and I vacuumed, I made my bed this morning, I straightened up, I picked up, my room looks pretty good. Come on over, it’s clean.”
But if I started to ask you, “Well, I’m going to bring a Marine sergeant from MCRD to see if it’s clean.” It might be a little different. Let’s look at the creases and the tucking of the corners of your bedspread and let’s see how your sheets are, is your pillow right? I mean that would be a different thing. Or, if I said I’m going to bring a team of nurses who set up the operating rooms there at Mission Hospital and I’m going to have them come in and see if this is a clean room. I think that may feel differently. You may say, “Well, I thought it was clean, I guess it is not clean.” Or if I were to take you on Monday morning around to my neighbors here and take you to many of these buildings, because it’s a little tech area that we’re in, many of these places have what’s called a clean room.
And those guys, have you ever seen those clean rooms? Well, go on the Internet and see it if you don’t know what a clean room is. Many of you work in places that have clean rooms. I mean, this is where these people put on these masks and they put on the hair nets, they put on the little, you know, the little bootie things, and they dress and white and there’s ventilation systems, and it’s just amazing. It’s a clean room because they’re building pharmaceuticals or chips for their computers or things where you can’t have a single speck of dust in the room. Now I bet this, if I took them with all their smocks and white robes and I said, “Come on, we’re going to go to one of my congregants’ bedrooms and I want you to ask the question, “Is this a clean room.” They’re going to go, “It ain’t clean.” If you did have a clean room like that you’re really, really weird. It’s not clean. Because we really need to define the word “clean.”
When you watch your crime show and you get really mad, or you watch some shoot ’em up movie and you get, you know, you say, those are bad people, I just want you to think about the definitions you’re using and they’re always used in relative terms. You want to think in absolute terms. I’m not saying the Bible doesn’t do both. Surely it does. It compares people in relative sense. Matter of fact, one guy like Noah can be considered a righteous man. You can look at Job and say he’s a righteous man in his generation. You can say all of that. But even when you say he’s a righteous man, an upright man, in his generation, we know we’re looking at lateral comparisons.
But here’s a verse for you as long as we’re taking notes. How about this one, Psalm 143:2. Here’s what the psalmist says, “Enter not into judgment with me your servant.” You have authority, I’m your servant, please don’t judge me. Why? “For no one living is righteous before you.” No one, no one who has a breath in their lungs, not Daniel, not Noah, not Abraham, not anyone. None of them. Well, that’s an absolute sense. If I come to your house, and you say, “Yeah, I’ll show you my bedroom, it’s clean.” That’s one thing. But if we want to talk in absolute terms, your room is not clean, not clean clean. And when we look at a passage like this and I say you want to jump through the pages of your Bible and strangulate these people, all I’m saying is you’re looking at relative injustice when you and I live with some level of injustice all the time.
Matter of fact, you want to learn to fear and appreciate the justice of God. Maybe I can quote just two verses for you that may help. How about Ecclesiastes Chapter 12 verse 14. Note takers, Ecclesiastes Chapter 12 verse 14 says this, “For God will bring,” here’s a word, “every deed into judgment.” “God will bring every deed into judgement, with every secret thing,” every secret thing, “whether good or evil.” Think about that. When every single motive of your life is laid bare before God. Which, by the way, that’s the picture of judgment and the promise of judgment when God comes to settle the score. I quoted it. Second Peter Chapter 3 is all about the promise of God coming in judgment and the passage uses that phrase, he’s going to lay everything bare before him. Everything. Every secret thing. As Paul said, every motive of my heart will be laid bare before God. Anyone feeling good about the cleanness of your life at that point? Is your room clean? How about this: is your life clean? “Well, it’s cleaner than those guys.” Well you’re right about that and you can get really into God’s justice when you read that. But all I’m saying is put the mirror up and get really close until you can see the pores in your nose and ask the question, are you clean? Is your life clean?
Here’s another verse, how about this one, Matthew Chapter 12 verse 36. “I tell you, on the day of judgment,” where you want the bad guys to fry. Right? “On the day of judgment people will give an account for every careless word they speak.” Every careless word. I like the adjective because that’s how I kind of justify my careless words, I call them careless, they’re careless. I didn’t mean that. And James 3 says that if we didn’t sin in our words we would be a perfect person. That’s the easiest way for you to sin. Now we’ve sin in lots of other ways this week, but I’ll bet the thing you sinned in the most was the things that you said. It’s a restless evil, this tongue of yours. It’s a fire, it’s set on fire by hell itself, the Bible says. And talk about a godly man controlling his tongue – impossible. I mean we work towards sinning less but you’re never going to be sinless when it comes to things you say.
And the Bible says you want the day of judgment…, you want these guys to fry who beat Jesus, who sat there in the shadow of his naked body and rolled dice for his clothes? You want them to fry? The Bible says every single word that you would say was careless is going to come into judgment on the day of judgment. You better respect the judgment of God. And we, if we understand it, would say I don’t want that. Psalm 143:2, “Enter not into judgment of your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.” You got to get to that place in your mind. The egregious, immoral, treacherous behavior is something you can apply to every single person in this room. You may not be as bad as the guy you watch on Dateline tonight, but you’re as bad off because you’re in the same category. That’s why Jesus always said, when you look at a murderer and you think he’s really bad, why don’t you look at the thing that motivates murder and see if there’s any of that in your heart. It’s called hatred. Do you have any of that? You can’t even drive down the I-5 freeway without hatred in your heart. We need to respect God’s justice.
You want to put all this together? I do. Look at verses 39 through 43. It all comes beautifully together in one of the most beautiful passages in the Gospel of Luke, and yet it comes in the most gross, shameful, terrible, awful, violent scene in the book. Here it comes. “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” He can’t even be original. He’s just mimicking what the soldiers are saying and he’s saying, “Yep, yep you’re bad. You’re not who you say you are. If you were you’d save yourself and you’d save us too.”
But here comes the work of God in the life of someone’s heart. Verse 40. “But the other rebuked him,” looking right across. I mean, you have to talk across Jesus to get this conversation to work. He said, “Hey, you down there. Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” You’re dying on a cross just like he is, “but you deserve it and indeed justly.” I fear God. That’s the implication. “And you don’t show any fear of God. And here’s the reason I’m fearing God, because I’m recognizing right now I deserve this, we deserve this. We are receiving, not you Jesus, we are receiving the due reward for our deeds and you and I, though we have not experienced the judgment of God yet, have got to get to this place in our hearts that when that comes we would say, we rightly deserve the judgment of God.” There’s not a person in this room who is going to go to paradise, there’s not a person in this room who is going to go to heaven, there is not a person in this room who has their name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, who hasn’t had this experience right here. And that is owning it, recognizing it, and saying God is just, I fear his judgment, I deserve it, and if I were to be cast into outer darkness, I 100% have earned it. And there are some of you that aren’t there yet. Because you want Jesus, just a friend, a buddy, a therapist, who comes alongside your life, he’s kind of cool, he’s fine, he helps me make my kids obey, clears my skin up, make me live a healthy life. Whatever your view of Christ is, you’ve never gotten to this broken place. Notice the subtitle of the morning message: “It is the penitent,” the penitent see their sin for what it is and they say God is just. But, bottom of verse 41, this man, as he speaks across the bloodied visage of Christ, this man here between us, “This man has done nothing wrong.” Now he might have spoken that in a relative sense. We’re the criminals. He’s just a rabbi. But he means much more than that. He’s about to ask to go into the kingdom, that means he’s recognizing Jesus is the king. He’s recognizing he’s the Messiah of God, and the Messiah of God was supposed to be the greater son of David, and that means what? This is someone better than the biggest hero of the Old Testament. This man is holy.
And so after addressing the criminal on the other side of Christ, he now turns his gaze to Christ as he struggles to take another breath and he says, “Jesus, you remember me when you come into your kingdom.” “You’re the king. You can help me. I need forgiveness. I’m justly dying for my sin. I’m a sinner. I fear God. I need more than mercy. Mercy is you not torching my life the very first time I said a careless word, the first time I committed a crime,” in this guy’s case. “The first time I did something that really, really violated the Holy Spirit, you didn’t kill me.” That’s mercy. That’s great. “You did not give me the bad I deserved. What I really need in light of your justice, the more I come to respect it and fear the God of the Bible in the proper biblical sense, is I need you to fix my problem.” “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and Jesus turns and says of the criminal, “Truly,” I’m telling you, here’s my commitment, “I say this to you, today, you’re going to be with me in Paradise.”
Paradise. That word comes from the ancient Near East. It was a picture, literally, of a garden in a palace, a big king or someone really rich, would have a walled-off garden in their estate. It was a place where they planted their fruit trees, a place where they have flowing water, wells, ponds, fish. They would have things that were just an idyllic place to hang out, benches, shade trees. It was just like a park, a personal park. And if you wanted the best part of your home it wasn’t, you know, in your hold up part of the palace that didn’t even have air conditioning, it was to sit out in the shade tree of an idyllic place that they would call, humanly speaking, a paradise. That was the word that was later associated, looking back at the Garden of Eden, that’s the paradise of God back there, where God created Adam and Eve and had this perfect experience for them, unmitigated blessing, everything was fine, and in their innocence they enjoyed the Garden of Eden equal paradise.
The word is used three times in the New Testament, once is here. Let me give you another one. Revelation Chapter 2, Jesus is writing the postcards to the churches and he speaks there, in the first church, he says, you know what’s going to happen? If you would overcome, which again you have to define in context, it has to do with me getting right with the living God, he says if you would overcome, here’s the thing, this is a great line, ready? “For those who overcome,” he says, “I will grant to him to eat from the tree of life, which is in the,” here’s the second reference, “the paradise of God,” the Tree of Life in the paradise of God. The paradise of God? Tree of Life?
Now if you follow that phrase, Tree of Life, in the book of Revelation you’ll get it four times. Three times, you’re going to get it in Revelation Chapter 22. Tree of Life, Tree of Life, Tree of Life. If you know your Bible, Chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation are a description of the eternal state. The eternal state is for people who are right with the living God, who’ve been forgiven, no condemnation for them, God has prepared a place for them, and that place is going to come down out of heaven like a bride for her husband. We’re not in this analogy the bride. This time we’re the groom. We stand there, if you will, at the end of the aisle and down comes this beautiful place for us to live, like a bride coming down the aisle for her husband. That’s the picture. And the Bible says that becomes the paradise of God. What does that mean? That means this is the perfect, idyllic place because, as it says in Chapter 21, the dwelling place of God is among men. The perfect place is made perfect because of the unmitigated presence and blessing of God. That’s the picture.
The Bible puts it this way: it is so glorious, and here’s a picture I know it’s filled with symbolism, but the idea of God, now in the second person of the Godhead, dwelling in the throne room of this middled city that’s 1,500 miles by 1,500 hundred miles, this gigantic place, where at the center it says this glorified Christ is so radiant that the place doesn’t even need a sun, because you have this fusion, if you will, this emanation of the glory of God lighting up this entire place. Why? Because Jesus, the greater son of David, sits on a throne. And everything is copacetic, everything is right, no crying, no mourning, no pain, no disease, everything is exactly the way it ought to be. All things are made new. The voice from the throne says that and here God dwells among his people, the paradise of God.
Let me give you the third time the word is used when Paul has a vision of being caught up into, it’s called the third heaven and it’s also called in that passage, verse 3, it’s called into paradise, the perfect place where God is. Wherever God is that perfect place. God is enthroned in “unapproachable light,” it says in First Timothy Chapter 6.
Of course he’s active on Earth in the person of the Spirit, the third person of the Godhead. Sitting at the right hand of God is the second person of the Godhead, he’s going to come and inhabit the New Jerusalem, and from that, the glory of God, the gifts of God, the unmitigated pleasure of God, is going to be there in abounding terms.
The Bible says, here you go, there is going to be that place reserved for this criminal and at the last minute of his life, and I don’t mean the last minute, the last few hours of his life, he’s going to hang on a tree for awhile, but in that last minute he gets the promise and it starts with the word, “Truly, you will be with me in a perfect place and it’s going to start today when you die. When you gasp your last breath, you can’t pull yourself up to breathe anymore and you sit there and dying in absolute shame, at that moment you’ll be translated into the presence of God and I’m going to be there with you.”
Do you know what the Bible calls that? And you can write it down with a smile on your face but don’t smile for too long because your friends don’t like it, it’s the word grace. Number three, you need to revel in that, “Revel in God’s Grace.” But let me tell you why you shouldn’t smile too quickly. Because your friends don’t understand it and I’m not sure we understand it very well. Think this through with me now. This scene right here, if I were to update it, and I was to say there’s a criminal, a criminal in your neighbor’s life who has done all kinds of harm to them, all kinds of harm to your city, to your county, to your state, to your country. He has been a menace to the world and that criminal is deserving the worst punishment that your society can possibly expend on this man. And you got a chance just before he goes to his execution and you’re going to walk in there and you’re going to say the same things that are being said here. Instead of mocking you’re going to present them to him and he’s going to actually do exactly what’s happening here. He’s going to see justly that he deserves God’s punishment and he’s going to turn to Christ and say, “I need Christ. The only way I can qualify is if he remembers me, if he qualifies me, if he makes me ready and able and if I sweep in on his coattails I will be able to go there, so I cry out to Christ, I see my sin,” it’s called repentance and faith. If that happens, you’re going to go back to your neighbor now who’s been the recipient of the bad of that criminal and you’re going to say he dies and you going to go, “He’s with God, he’s in heaven.”
You know your friends don’t like that. Because I could say that about any person who has done all kinds of horrible things in this world. Someone who has raped your neighbor’s daughter, who’s done nothing but terrible in society, and if I go to the jail cell just before he goes to get executed and I say, “Hey, let me give you the Gospel,” and he responds the way this guy responded, I’m going to go back to your neighbor’s house and go, “The guy’s in heaven now.” Guess what? Your neighbor isn’t going to like that. If I said, you know, Hitler became a Christian right at the end, Mussolini, you know, became a Christian right at the end. You’re going to go, this is just terrible. You know why? Because of his grace, people don’t like Grace. They want the good people to go to heaven and the bad people to go to hell and they’re always sure they’re one of the good people but they want the bad people to be punished. And what we’re saying is the bad people, even the worst of the worst, get qualified for heaven, not because they lived a good life, but because of something we call Grace.
Let’s compare now. We talk about the common grace of mercy. And what does that mean? That God does not give immediately to people the bad they deserve. That’s mercy. Now we’re talking about the saving Grace of God. Which is God now giving to people the good they didn’t earn. Mercy. I’m not going to punish you right now. You need to be punished but I’m going to hold that back. The 10,000 angels aren’t going to show up right now. They’re going to come with vengeance and flaming fire but not right now.
I’m going to open up the door of mercy so that you can come to repentance and when you do come to repentance just like this guy came to repentance, here’s the thing, I’m going to wash away all your sins, pin them to the cross, and though you were guilty you going to be white as snow and you’d be welcomed into the paradise of God. That’s called Grace. God giving you what you did not earn and deserve.
And even some of you today, you may have grown up in church, but you do not like that, what I’ve just painted the picture of, that’s called biblical Grace. And because, to quote the passage again, we don’t want God’s judgment because no one living is righteous before him, once we understand that, we know this: whether you’re Mussolini, whether you’re Hitler, whether you’re the worst criminal ever to commit a crime, you’re John Wayne Gacy. Whether you’re John Wayne Gacy or your Sunday school teacher you grew up with who was most virtuous Godly man you ever met, they both get to heaven the exact same way. They get to heaven because of God’s Grace, granting them what they did not earn.
You understand that every other religion works on a whole different set of rules. This is the biblical Gospel. This is why, I hope, you and I are evangelical Christians. We believe in the good news of the Gospel of Grace. Do you believe that? If you believe that, we’re saying something the world struggles to swallow. But that’s what we’re teaching because that’s what the Bible teaches. And Jesus providentially illustrated by having the worst criminal dying next to him. And he says to him, “Truly, I say today to you, you’re going to be with me in paradise.”
Imagine if you were one of the high priests what you would think of that statement right there. Talk about egregious. Talk about injustice. They hate that. And yet you and I are in need of that. Why? Because when we start to see in the fear of God the justice that we deserve, that’s the problem. And, you know, when you see a problem for a problem you say this is a problem guess what you do? You turn from it. Had he had a chance to climb off the cross and live a new life, he would have been different guy. Why? Because he’s repentant. That’s what repentance means. You turn from the problem, you see the problem, you turn from the problem. That’s repentance.
And then he turns to Christ and he says, “Christ I can’t do this. I need to be qualified by you. Bring me into your kingdom, remember me. Grab my hand and pull me in.” That’s called faith, repentance and faith. The two imperative verbs that are always tacked on to the Gospel, repentance means we turn and trust. When that happens we experience the Grace of God. The problem for you and I this morning is being honest about this. I bet there are people in this room, plenty of them, with a group this size, you don’t think you’re a sinner. Because you’re too busy with lateral comparisons. You’re like the parable in Luke 18, which he told, the Bible says, because there are people who trust in themselves that they are righteous and they treat others with contempt. They only treat others with contempt who they think are worse than them. People that are bothersome, pests in society.
So he tells a story about two men who go up to the temple to pray. One’s a Pharisee, one’s a tax collector, a sellout, a betrayer of the people. The Pharisee stands and says this, “I thank you I’m not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” I think all of us have had those moments. You want to talk about lateral comparisons, we’ve all felt good about ourselves because we looked at someone who’s really bad.
There was another man there, a tax collector, standing far off, he wouldn’t even lift up his eyes to heaven, he beat his breast and he said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Even in that choice of words, the mercy is needed. But more than that, God is going to respond, not just with mercy but with grace. Because here’s the next statement, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified,” perfectly clean, “rather than the other,” who went home with all the sin on his account. Why? “Because whoever exalts himself is going to be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” There are people in this room who have not humbled themselves under the indictment of this passage, which is I fear God, I justly deserve punishment, and I trust in Christ to fix my problem.
One last passage. Let’s close with this. Go to Ephesians Chapter 1. The third point is to have you go home and revel in the Grace of God. After you recognize the mercy of God and you can respect the justice of God, I want you to revel in the Grace of God. If you revel in the Grace of God, which is the ultimate expression of his love for you. I can’t do any better than to give it the fuel of Ephesians Chapter 1. So let me give you just a few verses from Ephesians 1 and let this be the high octane fuel that gets you through this week, to say I’m going to do what this passage is really inviting me to do, the pastor exhorted me to do, and that is I’m going to revel in the saving Grace of God. Verse 3. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He should be praised. He should be worshipped. He should be adored. He should be honored. He should be lived for. Why? “Because he’s blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing,” now underline this, “on earth,” underline that.
Now, did this apply to the thief on the cross? As soon as he transferred his trust to Christ he repented, he feared God, he saw justice, he said, “Christ remember me.” and Christ said, “Hey, today you’ll be with me in paradise.” You know what he had at that moment? He had a promise. That’s all he had, at least from his perspective because, guess what, he’s still suffering, he’s still dying, he’s still being jeered at, he’s still being mocked, he’s still suffering and being tortured, all of that. What he had was a promise. But it’s more than a promise because Christ made the promise and when Christ makes the promise he has every one of those blessings including the passage and inheritance into paradise, he’s got it sealed up. Where? In the heavenly places.
You and I got to walk through this world from here until we step into the presence of God, and the Bible says, through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. You’re going to have to “hang on your cross” until you get there. And all I’m telling you is you got to have this perspective. And that is I revel in God’s Grace, not for the present blessings of life because of the spiritual blessings I have in heavenly places. It’s not the earthly blessings in earthly places, not the tangible blessings in my backyard or in the slip on the dock of my boat or my house or whatever it is. No, I’m thinking of things like this: “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be,” set apart, different, “holy” and then with no condemnation, “blameless before him.” Here’s our word, “In love,” the greatest love of all, “he predestined us to adoption.” There’s a word, unnatural benefits. Right? Unnatural benefits.
The benefits that I have, whatever I’ve got, I hand down to my natural kids unless I adopt some kids and then outside of my whole biological lineage I get some other people and I say I’m going to bless you too. I’m going to give you all my stuff. You get the inheritance. Here’s the unnatural benefits of adoption. There’s only one true son of God. You know that right? But we’re sons of God as well, but we’re sons by adoption. Our elder brother, Jesus Christ, as it says here, we’re blessed “in him before the foundation of the world,” because “he predestined us to adoption to himself as sons,” here it is, “through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” He decided to do this “to the praise of his glorious,” there’s our word. I’d like to revel in his Grace, “his glorious Grace, with which he’s blessed us.” And just so you don’t miss it, in Christ, “in the Beloved,” capital “B”. “In him,” in Christ, we have redemption,” he purchased me out of the scene where I should go be punished for all my sins in eternity. I’ve purchased out of it, I’m redeemed, that’s what it means.
Through his death, “through his blood,” through the scene we’ve been studying this morning, “the forgiveness of our trespasses,” not the mercy, not the allowance of things to move on the way they are, but the complete gracious “forgiveness of all of our trespasses, according to the riches,” here’s our word again, “of Grace.” This is one of the reasons I love this passage, verse 8, this word right here, “which he lavished on us.” Poured it out on us. You couldn’t get more of the Grace of God than you have the moment you become an adopted child of God. Whether you are on death row and the worst criminal of our generation, a thief on the cross, or some goody-two-shoes at your office, we all get it lavished upon us to make us qualified, “in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan,” not now, in the heavenly places, it’s coming, “in the fullness of time.”
And guess what? The heavenly places are coming to earth. He’s going “to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.” And the dwelling place of God is going to come upon men and we’re going to live in a kingdom called the New Jerusalem, and that’s the fullness of time. Outcast all those who rejected Christ, all the enemy. BAM! Exiled. Gone. And now we have the kingdom. And it’s there, it’s a blessing, it’s secured for you and heaven.
I use the word secured because if I talked about love and I really got you to think, even on the earthly plane, how great it is to be loved and look how much someone loves me. If I said, look at what they would do, give you their kidney, cut your lawn, detail your car, pick up stuff at the store for you, that’s great love. That’s a great thing. But if I said, “Well, that’s the way it’ll be today. I don’t know how I will feel about it tomorrow. Matter of fact, that promise of two years of cutting your lawn, may be done in six months. I don’t know.” The greatness of love, if I want to talk about the breadth and the length and the height and the depth, it better be long term.
Back to our verse now. John Chapter 13. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them,” at that particular point, “to the end.” Now I think interpretively as I started out this message, I think that means to the uttermost by going to the cross. But if you want to take it the other way, it’s certainly not unbiblical because he loves us to the end. Not the end of his earthly ministry. He loves us to the end. He’s given us his Spirit, as it says in the rest of Ephesians Chapter 1, as a “guarantee of our inheritance.” If you want to really rest in the love of Christ today? If you want to know how great the love of Christ is? You’ve got to be thinking like the Apostle Paul. That is Second Timothy Chapter 4 verse 18, at the end of his life, second Roman imprisonment, he sits there knowing he’s going to be poured out like a drink offering, his end is coming, he’s fought the good fight, he’s finished the race, and he says this, “And the Lord will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.” No doubt about that. “To him be glory.” Right? Not today. No. “Forever and ever.”
As Jesus put it, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, they follow me. I give them eternal life. They will never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Peter said we can, “Bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” because we have a “living hope.” A living hope that’s rooted in the resurrection of Christ from the dead “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, unfading and kept” reserved, secured, “in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded by faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Jesus loves you. That’s a big statement. You can’t fully understand it unless we know something of the mercy, the justice and the lavished grace of God upon your life. I hope that fuels you all week long. Let’s pray that it does.
God, help us please as Christians this morning to no longer think of the love of Christ as something trite, something sentimental, but as something so profound, that we can start to say we’ve got a little glimpse of maybe something more of the breadth and the length and the height and the depth of this love. That you’ve given us power, even this morning, by studying your Word to know this love that surpasses knowledge, so that we can leave this place just a little bit more full with the fullness of God. Because we walk out and it’s not a kid’s song anymore that Jesus loves me. But it’s something profound that is true today, it’ll be true tomorrow, it will be true ten million years from now because of what he’s done in fulfilling his purpose. That just like a thief on the cross, we fear God enough to know the justice of God and we’ve reached out in the time of mercy to grab the Grace of God. What a blessing that is for us today, those of us who have that experience, to be able to grasp on to that, to be held tightly in the grip of Christ’s love. Help us to celebrate that, to revel in that this week, I pray.
In Jesus name, Amen.