Pastor Pete's Weekly Message
The Church In Jerusalem
Acts 2:37 - 47
Today, I want to take us on a journey through a few verses in the book of Acts that I hope will assist us to understand what God wants for His Church today.
On the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came and filled the believers, Peter stood up and delivered a sermon to a crowd of thousands of people. Perhaps you were at the MCG when Billy Graham proclaimed the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to over a hundred thousand people in 1959. This was before my time, but I was there in 1969, although my memories of that day are more about catching the train at South Geelong station and sitting in a big grandstand. Because of the Holy Spirit and Billy Graham’s preaching, many people came to ask Jesus into their heart. A couple of thousand years before Billy Graham, the first of the “big scale” evangelists, the Apostle Peter, so challenged his hearers that many of them responded with this question: “Brothers, what shall we do?”
In response to this question, what did Peter say? His words are as relevant today as they were to his listeners two thousand years ago. “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
On that day, three thousand people were added to their number. This is a huge increase, when we consider there was a base group of about one hundred and twenty believers.
This leads me to ask this question tonight. What would we have to change in this Church fellowship if three thousand new converts suddenly showed up next Sunday?
Put your thinking caps on and let’s have some answers.
What would we have to change in this Church fellowship if three thousand new converts suddenly showed up next Sunday?
What I have as some answers may be the same or different to what we have already heard.
First, we would need a bigger building. This one is quite an obvious one, given the size of this building would not cope with an extra three thousand people.
Perhaps we would need different meeting times, even on different days and not just a Sunday.
It is good to hypothesise, and realistically, I cannot really see three thousand new converts turning up at Church next Sunday. However, it does lead to the next question, which is perhaps more challenging than the first one about change.
Would the Church fellowship be willing to change?
We can easily talk hypothetically about change, but the real issue is this: Are we willing to change? Whether it is new converts or new attendees, are we willing to change, or do they need to conform to our way of Church? The emphasis here is on “our way.” Sometimes we get caught up in what we want for the Church, instead of what God wants for His Church.
Change was certainly on the agenda for the early Church. From the intimacy of one hundred and twenty believers, there are now over three thousand believers. From the account in Acts, the one hundred and twenty believers did not remain one group, excluding the three thousand converts, but instead embraced all believers. They welcomed them in to the fellowship and ensured they would grow together.
At this point, we must ask the question, “What is God’s vision for His Church?”
In other words, what did God have in store for the early believers who were filled with the Spirit? In a few short verses, Luke is able to relate to us just what God’s vision for His Church really is. Today, I hope we allow the Spirit to speak to our hearts so we can know exactly what God wants to see happen in His Church here in Geelong.
There are some basic ingredients that allowed the early Church to function as well as it did. These four basic ingredients are the same we should embrace for the Church of God in the twenty-first century, if we truly desire to see His Church grow and become what He intended it to be – a living Church.
The four ingredients of a living Church listed by Luke are Study, fellowship, worship and evangelism. The seventeen areas of “one anothering” we looked at over an earlier sermon series all fit in to these four categories.
Here is what Luke writes in Acts chapter two and verses forty-two to forty-seven.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The early believers were devoted. That word devoted is very strong. In other words, they were zealous or devout. They wanted to be involved. It seems they were not forced to be devoted, but rather this was their desire. They wanted to hear from the Apostles. They wanted to share in the fellowship. They wanted to worship God. They wanted to see others come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. We need to ask ourselves these question: Are we as devoted as the early believers? Or have we lost our first love?
Of course, the early believers could devote themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, because they sat at the feet of those who had walked with Jesus. Enthusiastic converts soaked in everything they could about Jesus. Two thousand years on, these Apostles are well and truly dead. So for us in the Church today, how are we to devote ourselves to their teaching? Thankfully, we have the New Testament, and it contains the Apostles’ teaching. This is not to say the Old Testament is out of fashion, for throughout the New Testament there are numerous references to the Old Testament.
However, the New Testament contains the truths of Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension and goes on to tell of the coming of the Holy Spirit, as well as numerous teaching material contained in the various letters. Faithful devotion to the Apostles’ teaching is the very first mark of an authentic, living Church. It may come as a surprise that this is the first ingredient mentioned by Luke, but without it, the Church would very quickly become a cult. We have so much to learn from the Apostles’ teaching. When Christians step aside from the Apostles’ teaching, then it stands to reason they can no longer claim to be members of the Church of God, for this is not what God intended.
According to Luke, the second mark of a living Church is fellowship. We would probably put this at number one, with a bullet, because for the most part, Christians love to come together Sunday by Sunday and at other times throughout the week. We love meeting with likeminded people. Many factors separate us, such as age, nationality, culture and gender, but we are united in having the same Heavenly Father, the same Saviour and Lord, and the same indwelling Holy Spirit. We share in God, and this is the richness of true fellowship. The fellowship Luke refers to is one of joint-participation or sharing something in common. Is it any wonder we can say we are one in Him.
Because of being a caring fellowship, they also shared with one another. They looked out for the needs of others, and ensured no one was lacking anything.
We need to guard against becoming an elite group of people. We must be prepared to welcome newcomers into our midst. I do not mean tolerate them; I mean welcome them in love. This is just what the one hundred and twenty believers did with the three thousand new converts. How terrible it would have been if the one hundred and twenty believers distanced themselves from the new converts. Just imagine the weird teachings and ideas that could have emanated from three thousand believers having such a limited knowledge of Jesus Christ. Thankfully, this did not take place. The reason it didn’t is because the one hundred and twenty believers welcomed the three thousand converts into their fellowship where they could sit under the Apostles’ teaching.
In one John chapter one and verse seven, it says:
If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.
When we fellowship, we share in the lives of other believers. As we do, we act out the “one anothering” principles. Let us make sure that as we fellowship, we do not just look inward, we also look outward. A Spirit-filled Church is a generous Church. The first fruit of the Spirit is love – a love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, but also a love for the lost and lonely in this world. As the Bible says, “Love one another.”
A living Church learns through the study of the Bible and cares for each other in the fellowship of believers. The third mark of a living Church is that it is a worshipping Church. Worship has all sorts of connotations today. We make the mistake of dividing worship into segments and giving it a different name. We might call it praise, adoration, sermon, communion…yet all these are part of worship. In Acts, specific mention is made of the breaking of the bread and prayer. The early Church had formal and informal components of worship. They met in the temple courts and in people’s houses.
Today, it is important we continue this practise. We meet formally Sunday by Sunday, but how wonderful to meet informally in small groups.
The early Church’s worship was both joyful and reverent. Is it possible for us to do the same? Sadly, we have confused the word reverence with being solemn and morbid. True reverence is when we come to worship Him for He is God and He is wonderful. Consequently, this should make our worship of God joyful and not solemn. The fruit of the Spirit is joy. I am not talking about a big cheesy grin; I am talking about a joy that comes from deep in our hearts because we know Jesus as Saviour and Lord. I don’t need to tell you to be happy and smile, because if you know Jesus you should be doing it automatically.
The early Christians devoted themselves to the study of the Apostles’ teaching, fellowship and worship. These were essentials for the growth of the Christian Church. We cannot gauge the health of a Church by simply looking at what takes place within the Church’s interior life. The teaching, fellowship and worship may be fantastic, but there is still one more ingredient to becoming a living Church. This final ingredient is evangelism. If the Church is not willing to evangelise, then we are simply an exclusive club for the personal use of its members. We must become mission minded. I am not just talking about supporting missionaries overseas with our prayer and finances. I am talking about the mission field that exists outside these walls – in our backyard. If I simply preached on Acts chapter two and verse forty-two, I would present an unbalanced picture of the Church as God intended it to be. Verse forty-seven corrects the imbalance of verse forty-two, for it teaches us three lessons about the early Church’s evangelism. Listen to what Luke wrote.
And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
For starters, the Lord added to their number. No doubt, He used the Apostles’ preaching, their everyday witness and the common life of love. Yet ultimately, the Lord added to their number. Two thousand years on, and guess what? - the Lord wants to use us. Are we obedient? Are we willing to be used by the Lord, or do we push Him aside so Church can be what we want? I believe the Lord is in the business of growing His Church, but we need to be willing to let Him have His way and use us to further His Kingdom.
Second, Jesus did two things. The Lord added….those being saved. He did not just add people to the Church without saving them, neither did He save them without adding them to the Church. Salvation and Church membership still go together.
Third, He did both daily. For the early Christians, evangelism was not a once a year event. Daily, people were being added to the Church. How exciting it must have been to see a new believer join the group. As they joined the fellowship, they were discipled by the believers. When was the last time we nurtured new believers? I suspect quite some years ago. Three out of the four ingredients of a Living Church is not good enough. Either they are all present, or we fall short of God’s vision for His Church.
Today, we need to be a Church where the Bible is taught.
We need to be a loving, caring fellowship.
We must have sincere and humble worship.
We must have a compassionate outreach to the world outside.
The first three we can comfortably do within these walls should we so desire, but the final one, compassionate outreach to the world outside, takes us outside our comfort zone. As the Lord adds to our number, we must be willing to change and help them grow in their faith. The Holy Spirit longs to do so much in our midst, and beyond these walls through us.
Following a heart attack, Doctor Peter Marshall was asked if he had learned anything during his illness. This is his response: “I learned that the Kingdom of God would go on without Peter Marshall.”
In closing this evening, I want to quote these words from Doctor Peter Marshall.
“The Church will go on. The Church has gone on…not always the same, thank God, changing, adapting itself to meet new conditions, testifying in every age to the Spirit of the Living God to a new flaming forth of that spirit in new forms.
No other institution has such a record, living on through centuries, utterly dependent upon human faith and divine grace.”
John, in particular, focuses on Mary Magdalene, in his account of the resurrection of Jesus. In so doing, he makes it a very personal story. This is what Jesus is all about – our personal relationship with Him. I do not love Jesus simply because my dad loves Jesus. I love Jesus because I met Him for myself and received Him as my own Saviour and Lord.
Let’s remember the time frame of events here. On the Friday, Jesus was crucified. He died at three in the afternoon. Before sunset, He was placed in the tomb. Mary was present for all of this. You can imagine she must have been emotionally and physically exhausted when she gets home. The Sabbath comes and goes, and naturally, Mary would be grief-stricken throughout this day. Come Sunday, she is up while it is still dark and makes her way to the tomb. On this Sunday morning, the women had unfinished business to do. Out of love and devotion to the Lord, they wanted to anoint the body of Jesus with spices and perfumes. Joseph and Nicodemus did as much as they could in the available time on the Friday, but the women wanted to finish the task.
As they approach the tomb, the women are unsure how they will gain access to the body of Jesus. They would be unable to roll the stone away from the tomb, and would need assistance. Perhaps one of the soldiers guarding the tomb might assist them in their cause.
In the dim light of the early morning, Mary notices something very out of place. When she arrives at the tomb, she discovers that the stone is rolled away from the tomb. Can you imagine how Mary would have felt? She has gone along to do a job, and now she is at a dead-end. No wonder she dashed off to find Peter and John and tell them that some people had taken the Lord out of the tomb, and now they do not know where He is. Bad enough Jesus was crucified, and now this just adds to the pain and confusion.
On hearing that the body of Jesus is missing, Peter and John run to the tomb. News like this can often prompt a very fast response. Although Peter and John may have been sleeping soundly when Mary came to them, they soon awoke and moved quickly. In their grief, they were not thinking straight. If they had remembered Jesus’ words about rising from the dead, they could have almost gone back to sleep again, comforted by the news Jesus is alive.
Off they go, and John arrives at the tomb first. He sneaks a peak inside the tomb, and notices the strips of linen lying there, but chooses not to enter. Most of us are not that comfortable around death, and we usually do what we can to avoid it. Perhaps this is how John felt when he came to the tomb.
Peter, on the other hand, is his usual impetuous self. He does not hang around outside with John, instead he goes in for a better look. He also notices the strips of linen lying there, but he sees the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head separate from the linen. This cloth was neatly folded. By this stage, John has joined Peter inside the tomb, and seeing is believing for him.
John mentions the folded burial cloth for a reason. An email has been circulating for the past three years offering an explanation as to the significance of this, but on further investigation, I have discovered this to be untrue. The email sounded feasible, but it took away from the Scriptures and tried to spiritualise something that is not true. So can we know some two thousand years on just why the folded burial cloth is mentioned? I believe we can. If Jesus’ body were stolen, surely these grave robbers would not have taken the time to leave the scene neat and tidy. This is the point John wanted to make. His body was not stolen – it simply was not there. Grave robbers do not take the time to carefully unwrap the body and then leave the grave clothes neatly behind.
I say neatly, because Joseph and Nicodemus used thirty-five kilograms of spices in the grave clothes that covered the body of Jesus. If grave robbers had stolen the body, all these spices would have been over the floor of the tomb. John makes no mention of stepping on the spices. Therefore, we conclude human hands did not disturb the burial clothes.
The only way the grave clothes of Jesus could be left neatly is if Jesus passed through them as He arose from the dead. John says he “saw and believed.” His resurrection faith was now dawning. At long last, the words of Jesus started to make sense. Maybe I am being too harsh on John here, because I do have the benefit of hindsight.
Although the disciples were witnesses to Jesus raising several people from the dead, how then is it possible for Jesus to raise Himself? He cannot raise Himself. He is dead! Although Jesus said He would die and rise again, to all intents and purposes, these were just words. Of course, Jesus died on the cross and the disciples were well aware of this truth. With the exception of a few who were raised from the dead, death was final. Trying to make sense of His death amidst their incredible grief, confusion and fear was all too much. Maybe one day they would understand. Thankfully, they did not have long to wait. On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead, just as He said He would. The disciples eventually discovered, and proclaim, God raised Jesus from the dead.
Peter and John provide a brief interlude in this focus on Mary Magdalene. Through their eyewitness account, we have the evidence of the grave clothes lying on the stone shelf without any evidence of violence or crime.
The disciples go back to their homes. As far as they are concerned, there is no more to be done at the tomb of Jesus. They investigated Mary’s allegations and agreed with her that Jesus’ body was not in the tomb. Why hang around an empty tomb when they could be at home?
Mary wandered back slowly to the tomb. Initially, she had gone to the tomb with a heavy heart, then out of anger dashed off to Peter and John to report a theft, and now she returns to the empty tomb. One wonders why she went back to the tomb. Perhaps she went back because this was the last known sighting of Jesus – even a dead Jesus. Maybe she wanted to remember Jesus and all He meant to her. On the other hand, was it a place for her to grieve alone? This last option seems to fit with John’s account. Mary is standing outside the tomb crying. Bad enough He died, but now with the body missing, she is unable to anoint His body properly for burial. Is it any wonder she stood there and cried? She had lost the best friend ever. Jesus made time for Mary. Now He was no longer there for her.
In tears, she bends down and once more looks inside the tomb. I do not know what she hoped to see, but I think it is a fair bet she did not expect to see two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had been. Mary does not seem alarmed by their presence. Perhaps she is in a state of shock and not really comprehending what is happening. As a young boy, I was taught not to walk over a person’s grave, as this was a sign of disrespect. Yet here we have two angels sitting where the body of Jesus once lay. Of course, they were not being disrespectful of the dead. How could they when Jesus is no longer dead?
These angels were concerned for Mary’s welfare. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
Once more, Mary wrongly assumes some people have taken Jesus’ body. Let’s just listen again to how she responds to the angels.
“They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put Him.”
There is a subtle difference here compared to what she said to Peter and John. There she said, “The Lord,” yet to the angels she says, “My Lord.” One word can make a big difference. She may have said “the Lord” initially because she was speaking on behalf of the other women, too. When the angels spoke to her, she is alone at the tomb and speaks personally of Jesus. As I said, one word can make a big difference, and I believe it gives us an indication of the love she had for Jesus. “My Lord” – it is so personal. Not only did she act out of her love for Jesus by coming to the tomb this day, she also spoke of her love for Jesus.
Before the angels can give Mary an answer, something else has grabbed her attention. Something made her turn around. Why did Mary turn and not continue her conversation with the two angels? Did she hear a sound behind her? Or did the angels stand and recognise the presence of their Lord? We do not know the reason, all we know is she turned around and saw Jesus standing there. However, she did not know it was Jesus. Here she is searching for Him, and when He presents Himself He is not recognised. Why did Mary not recognise Jesus, her Lord? For starters, I doubt very much she expected to see Jesus alive. She was looking for the dead body of Jesus, not the risen Jesus. Jesus may have deliberately concealed Himself from her, just as He did later that evening when He walked with a couple of His followers on the road to Emmaus. It was still early morning, and perhaps shadows darkened this part of the garden. Mary was crying, and trying to see through her tears may have proved difficult. Whatever the reason, Mary did not realise Jesus was standing right there.
He echoes the question of the angels. “Woman, why are you crying?” Then He adds another one. Who is it you are looking for?”
Had she realised Jesus was alive, she would have wept tears of joy and praised God. Of course, her tears are of sadness.
Mary answers this man. She assumes He is the gardener, and He may just know something about the empty tomb. This is what she is pinning her hopes on. She just wants to have the body of Jesus back. If the gardener has taken the body, then Mary will see to the rest. She will organise to get Him back.
This is one of my favourite passages in the Bible. Jesus knew Mary’s heart was broken and she was confused. Gently, oh so gently, He revealed Himself to her.
I sense Mary is scanning the area, trying to figure out where the gardener has put the body of Jesus. She turned around quick smart when Jesus spoke her name. “Mary.” This time she recognised Jesus. Mary was looking for a dead Jesus, and Jesus presents Himself alive to her. I love this moment. What strikes me is that Jesus knows my name, too. If you love the Lord Jesus Christ, He knows your name, too. Jesus does not need to call you mate, or love, for He knows our names. This is just one thing that makes Jesus so special. He knows us personally. Nobody else knows us the way Jesus does. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Because Jesus knows us, we can know Him in return. When Jesus said, “Mary,” she immediately responded for she knew His voice, and she recognised Him as her Lord. To hear His voice and recognise His voice we must be willing to spend time with Jesus every day so our relationship can grow.
How did Mary respond to hearing Jesus say her name? She cried out, “Rabboni!” which means, my Master, my Teacher. Imagine the joy in her voice as she cried out to Jesus. I reckon Jesus’ eardrums almost burst at her cry of joy. Having found Jesus, she never wanted to let Him go. She is down on her knees, holding on to Jesus’ feet. In a sense, she is saying, “Stay put! Do not move!” At this point in time, Mary and the other believers still had a great deal to learn about His resurrection body. They liked the old Jesus, and longed to replicate the good old days, but the resurrected Jesus in His new state of glory would be beyond their imaginations.
Jesus says to Mary, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.” Jesus knew He would be around for a bit longer, and would see Mary again, so Mary did not have to try to restrain Him at this moment. Jesus also had a job for Mary. She had to go and tell His brothers that He was alive and would ascend to His Father. Previously, Jesus had called His disciples servants and friends, and now He calls them brothers. His use of the word brothers has great significance. It means they shared His resurrection power and glory.
Let’s face it, after all that had happened on the Thursday evening and Friday, you would excuse Jesus from treating His disciples like brothers. However, Jesus does not hold a grudge. He loves them and wants them to experience His love.
Jesus had a unique relationship with the Father, and yet He does not preclude the disciples from having a relationship with Father God. In His words, Jesus reminds Mary and the other believers that God was their Father and that He would be with the Father in heaven after His ascension. In the upper room, Jesus taught His disciples that He would return to the Father so that the Spirit might come to them. In a sense, everything is falling into place. Through Mary, Jesus just wants to send a reminder of hope to His brothers.
From the text, Mary went to the disciples with the most exciting news ever. However, I have to wonder how she felt when she left Jesus to do her job. It must have been so hard to let go. She needed faith to believe she would see Him again, that He was not just a hallucination. Her love for Jesus is seen in her obedience to His command. Even though she could have held on to Him forever, she was willing to let go and do His will.
Mary said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”
What a rollercoaster of emotions Mary Magdalene experienced over a week. When Jesus entered Jerusalem on the previous Sunday, Mary would have been so happy for Him. By Friday, everything was gone. Her Jesus was dead and lying in a cold stone tomb. Everything had changed so quickly. The high of cheering Jesus into Jerusalem on the Sunday was replaced with the lowest of lows on the Friday. Come Sunday, Jesus is alive and I think Mary must have been on a high like never before. Even though she goes to tell the disciples Jesus’ words, she is no longer sad. Jesus turned her sadness into joy, a joy that lasts for eternity.
On this Resurrection Morning, do you know whose you are and where you are going? Do you know, like Mary, that Jesus is alive? This morning, I hope and pray everyone gathered here will not leave this place until they can say “Jesus is alive” and say it with a believing heart...a heart transformed by recognising Jesus for who He is, what He has done and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As nice as the chocolates are today, and I love chocolate, the real message of this Resurrection Sunday is full of power and eternal hope because God raised Jesus from the dead.
Jesus is not on the cross. He is not in the tomb. He has ascended into heaven, and one day He will return. In the meantime, we can personally know the risen Jesus and invite Him into our heart by faith. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. This is the hope we as Christians have. What a hope we have for it lasts for eternity all because Jesus has defeated sin, death and Satan. Jesus has won the victory.
Seven Words From The Cross
Carrying His own cross, He went out to The Place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified Him, and with Him two others – one on each side and Jesus in the middle. John 19:17 & 18.
First Word : Luke 23:32 – 34
“Father, forgive them,
for they do not know what they are doing.”
Let me set the scene. Jesus is sleep deprived. He has been beaten and whipped. If you have seen “The Passion,” you have some visual idea of what took place. Jesus did not receive six-of-the-best on his hand. His whole body bore an incredible amount of punishment, and awaiting Him still was the cross. I have enough trouble dealing with a splinter, yet Jesus took a physical beating of such magnitude to render someone close to death.
Jesus bore the cross for a time as He walked to His death. From the moment He is nailed to the cross until His death six hours later, Jesus utters what we now call the seven words from the cross. Jesus is in unimaginable pain, yet not once does He lash out at His tormentors. In a sense, He prepares for His death just as He lived – faithful and true to God.
The Roman soldiers would have expected Jesus to scream out with obscenities and curses. One Roman philosopher, Seneca, said that all who were crucified cursed the day they were born. Another Roman philosopher, Cicero, said the cursing was so violent and wicked that the soldiers often cut out the tongues of those being crucified, because their language was so filled with pain, rage and hatred. Jesus did the opposite from the cross. He spoke the language of love.
The first recorded words of Jesus, spoken shortly after being nailed to the cross, demonstrate His incredible love for humankind. He does not hurl abuse from the cross, but instead prays for forgiveness for those soldiers nailing Him to the cross. “Father, forgive them.” Faced with this sort of situation, I imagine forgiveness would be the furthest thing on my mind. Thank God, Jesus is different. The soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross were simply obeying orders. The religious leaders saw Jesus as a threat to their authority, and so treated Him as just another warped religious fanatic. They certainly hoped the death of Jesus would bring peace, and allow their religion to continue unheeded. As we know, the death of Jesus did bring peace - a peace between God and humans that no animal sacrifice could achieve.
It is only through the death of Jesus on the cross that any of us can have our sins forgiven. This is why these first words of Jesus are so amazing. Jesus is interceding to God the Father on behalf of sinners. “Father, forgive them.” When anyone becomes a believer in Jesus Christ, I get the sense Jesus says this same prayer on his or her behalf.
Jesus spoke of forgiveness.
Second Word :
Luke 23:35 – 43
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Even when faced with His own death, Jesus took time to comfort another. The penitent thief reached out to Jesus, and Jesus responds. Jesus responds with an eternal hope. The suffering this thief endured on the cross was tempered by the hope of being with Jesus in paradise. Because Jesus died first, we have an image of the Saviour awaiting the penitent thief in paradise. A believer does not end up without Jesus. Jesus awaits each person that has received Him into his or her heart as Saviour and Lord. No wonder death need hold any fear. Jesus is waiting.
What led to this thief turning to Jesus? There was something about Jesus that grabbed his attention, even while on a cross. Initially, it seems the two criminals hurled abuse at Jesus. One continued to do so, saying, “Save yourself, and us!” However, the penitent thief turns to Jesus. While the two criminals were hurling abuse, he noticed Jesus did not do the same. Instead, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them.” Jesus is not screaming in pain. What is it about this man that makes Him so different? Hanging on the cross, this thief starts to see things in a new light. Crucifixion was a punishment for criminals. This Jesus is not a criminal. In fact, He has done nothing wrong.
This criminal makes a stand for Jesus. He rebuked his fellow criminal, and then turns to Jesus by faith. He has seen the sign nailed to the cross and heard the crowd call Jesus a king. In his plea, he recognises Jesus is a king. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” You would not hear this prayer at an evangelistic rally, but it worked just as well. You see, Jesus saw the heart of this penitent thief. I wonder if today we put too much emphasis on the correct wording of a prayer and ignore the cry from the heart. Jesus looks for the cry of the heart. Words can sound great, but can often be heartless.
How does Jesus respond to the penitent thief? Does He say, “You should have learned your lesson a long time ago and now it is too late?” No, of course He does not. Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
What an assurance the penitent thief receives from Jesus. Jesus tells the truth to this man. The truth is that today, they will be reunited in paradise.
Deathbed confessions of faith in Jesus Christ are not to be sneered at. The dying thief is a perfect example of someone receiving eternal life at the last minute. Jesus does not turn anyone away who reaches out to Him by faith.
Jesus spoke of hope.
Third Word :
John 19:25 – 27
“Dear woman, here is your son,”
and to the disciple (John), “Here is your mother.”
Ignoring His own pain, Jesus displayed a great deal of care and compassion for His mother, Mary, and close disciple, John. For Mary, the crucifixion of Jesus fulfilled Simeon’s prophecy that a sword would pierce her soul. I doubt very much whether Mary understood this prophecy, until this very moment. Mary did not intend for her eldest son to end up on a cross. I am sure she wanted Him to live a full life, and never expected to see Him die.
In a sense, Jesus is tying up loose ends. He is making sure His mother is taken care of, and in a way, John is a replacement for Jesus. Of course, nothing, or no one, could ever replace her first son. There would never be another like Jesus, for Jesus is Son of God and Son of Man. Up until now, Jesus’ brothers and sisters did not believe in Him. In their care, Mary’s faith may easily have diminished. Aware of this, Jesus ensures someone He trusts takes care of His mum.
Some commentators believe John took Mary to his home at this very moment, to protect her from seeing Jesus die on the cross. The reality is, we do not know if she was present or not at the time of His death.
Mary and John watch, and feel for Jesus. Yet they are unable, or unwilling, to relieve His suffering. Mary could have easily said that Jesus was crazy and that His claims were false, but she chose to remain silent for something inside her heart knew Jesus had to do what He did. This is something Jesus has to go through, and willingly and obediently, He does. Not only did they watch Jesus suffer, they also heard the taunts from the crowd. How could these people say such things, after all the good Jesus had done?
Jesus also heard all these taunts. Ignoring them, He focuses on His mother and John. Even when faced with His own death, Jesus displays an incredible interest in people. His love to the very end is evident. We have already seen how He prayed that those who crucified Him might be forgiven, and in these next two words, He reaches out to those with their particular needs. We should not be surprised at this, for throughout the Gospels, Jesus always thought of others ahead of Himself.
Jesus spoke of care.
Fourth Word :
Matthew 27:39 – 46
”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus was crucified at 9.00am. The first three words spoken from the cross were early on in the piece. From the sixth hour until the ninth hour, that is, from noon to 3.00pm, darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice…”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In this statement, Jesus is the most human. He shares with us His emotional pain, that God has abandoned him. That is what all human beings feel sometimes during their lives. As human beings, we all at some moments feel abandoned by God, and we all cry out to the sky, “Where are you God?” So did Jesus. Here, Jesus is most human.
For several hours, Jesus did not utter a word. For three hours, there was total darkness. Some have tried to explain this darkness. One suggestion is there was a sandstorm, and another that an eclipse took place. As Passover occurs near a full moon, the notion of an eclipse is impossible. This was a God-sent darkness that shrouded the cross as the Son of God was made sin for us. The One without sin became sin for us. None of us can imagine the burden of the sins of the world Jesus came to bear. There is no explanation in the Bible as to what exactly Jesus went through during these three hours. All we can tell is that He felt abandoned by His Father. What amazes me is that He still went through with this plan of salvation. Instead of stopping, and coming down from the cross, Jesus persevered to the end. Ultimately, He believed good would come out of this.
It may be of interest to some that when Israel was in Egypt, three days of darkness preceded the first Passover. When Jesus was on the cross, three hours of darkness preceded the death of God’s Lamb for the sins of the world.
When you consider that all the sins of the world were laid upon Jesus, it is no wonder He felt forsaken by God the Father. Sin creates a barrier between God and humankind, and Jesus bore all this sin. No matter how temporary, a barrier existed between the Father and the Son. Sin does that. Ultimately, when sin was dealt with, there was unity once again.
Jesus spoke of loneliness.
Fifth Word :
John 19:28 & 29
“I am thirsty.”
It is most likely Jesus last had a drink at the Last Supper He shared with His disciples. Many hours have elapsed since then, add to this the physical and emotional beating Jesus has endured, and you can understand why He is thirsty. There is a physical thirst, and it is possible a spiritual thirst. Jesus was well aware of everything taking place. He had refused the pain-deadening wine that was always offered to those about to be crucified. Finally, after six hours hanging on the cross, Jesus admits His thirst. This was also a fulfilment of the Scriptures. In Psalm sixty-nine and verse twenty-one, we read, “They gave me vinegar for my thirst.”
Jesus was enduring real physical suffering, for He had a real human body. Jesus was not immune to hunger, tiredness, thirst or pain. When He acknowledges His thirst, He has just emerged from three hours of darkness when He felt the wrath of God and separation from God. When you combine darkness, thirst and isolation, you have – hell!
Although there were obvious physical reasons for His thirst, there were also spiritual reasons. Again, we turn to the Psalms for some answers. In regards to the physical thirst, listen to these words from Psalm twenty-two and verse fifteen.
“My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.”
Jesus was thirsty. He was dehydrated. Yet He made no demands.
In regards to the spiritual thirst, we turn to Psalm forty-two and verses one and two.
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God. When can I go and meet with God?”
Before Jesus spoke His final two triumphant words, He received wine vinegar from a man standing near the cross. It did not quench His thirst, but it did enable Jesus to proclaim clearly those two words. His final words were not just for the benefit of those near the cross; He wanted us to know them, too.
Jesus spoke of suffering.
Sixth Word :
“It is finished.”
When He had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”
What was finished? His life? If this is all Jesus meant, then His cry was that of weakness and defeat.
So what really was finished? Of course, it was His life, as a human, and so much more. Jesus completed the work He had come to do in this world. God gave His Son Jesus to this world for a purpose, and that was to die on the cross for our sins. Jesus’ work as redeemer and mediator was finished. There was no need for any more sacrifices for sins. Through His death on the cross, Jesus paid the one, full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!
“It is finished” is a cry of victory. I am not a Greek scholar, but I learnt the Greek word for this saying while doing Evangelism Explosion. In the Greek text, it is “tetelestai.” It can be used in several ways, which essentially all mean the same thing.
First, “It is finished, it stands finished, and it always will be finished!” While it is true our Lord’s sufferings were now finished, there is much more included in this dramatic word. Many of the Old Testament types and prophecies were now fulfilled, and the once-for-all sacrifice for sin had now been completed. Jesus’ completed work on the cross continues in this age of grace, and what He won lasts for eternity.
What Jesus finished on the cross is as relevant for us today as for those two thousand years ago.
Second, it could be used by a servant reporting to his or her master. “I have completed the work assigned to me.” In the opening verses of John chapter seventeen, Jesus is clear He will glorify the Father by completing the work He was given to do.
Third, tetelestai would be used when a priest examined an animal sacrifice and found it faultless.
Finally, perhaps the most meaningful meaning of tetelestai was that used by the merchants. “The debt is paid in full.” Perhaps not so much today, but in past years, whenever you paid an account, it may have been stamped, “Paid in Full.”
When He gave Himself on the cross, Jesus fully met the righteous demands of a holy law; He paid our debts in full. None of the Old Testament sacrifices could take away sins. The blood only covered the sin. But the Lamb of God shed His blood, and His blood can take away the sins of the world.
“It is finished!”
Jesus spoke of triumph.
Seventh Word :
Luke 23:44 – 46
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When He had said this, he breathed His last.
Previously, Jesus felt forsaken by His Father. Now, he commits His spirit into His Father’s hands. When I was a child, my dad taught me the prayer that started with, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” In the same way, every Hebrew child was taught to pray, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” These final words of Jesus indicate to us how He died: Our Lord Jesus died confidently, willingly and victoriously.
Those who know Jesus as their Saviour may die with the same confidence and assurance.
Interestingly, none of the Gospel writers says that Jesus “died.” In fact, they seem to deliberately avoid the word. What we can learn from this is that death did not claim Jesus, nor did He have to submit to its authority. Death did not claim Jesus as its victim; Jesus seized death as its victor. What a tremendous victory Jesus won for us through His death on the cross at Calvary.
Jesus’ death was voluntary. He allowed Himself to be arrested, tried and condemned. As He hung on the cross, He had six hours to call upon legions of angels to rescue Him. He could have chosen to come down from the cross as His mockers challenged Him to do. Yet, did He choose to escape death? No, He did not. Jesus did not escape death; He went through it and won the victory. Of His own freewill and deliberate choice, He gave Himself up to death. Jesus determined the time, the place, and the manner of His departure.
Jesus’ death was no accident; it was a divine appointment. He willingly gave His life for us. His death was an atonement, not just an example. He actually accomplished the work of redemption of the cross.
No wonder Jesus could turn to His Father at the end, and know He was safe. He was safe in the hands of His Father.
When Jesus released His spirit, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This miracle announced to the priests and the people that the way into God’s presence was open for all who would come to Him by faith through Jesus Christ.
The first word from the cross Jesus spoke, He said Father. In this final word from the cross, Jesus once more begins with Father. Jesus started with the Father, journeyed through pain, isolation and abandonment, and ends up with the Father. This Father is our heavenly Father. He is our personal Father. He is the Father who will receive our spirit when we die and enter heaven. When we die, our spirit goes to be with God. We give our spirit up to the living and loving hands of Father God. Just as Jesus did, so too will we come to a time when we commit our spirit into the loving care of God.
Jesus spoke of reunion.
Christ our crucified Saviour draw you to Himself, that you may find in Him a sure hope and the assurance of sins forgiven; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be amongst us and remain with us always. Amen.