39Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed [Jesus], saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” 40But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” 43And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
For nearly two millennia now our fathers and mothers have been celebrating the feast of Easter – the celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. On this day, the first day of the week, nearly two millennia ago our Lord Jesus rose bodily from the grave to conquer sin and death.
So what is the meaning of the resurrection? Is the resurrection just a nice story about the tenacity of life over death? Is it like the fairy tales of old, a tale that’s obviously not true but meant to teach us some moral lesson? The Scriptures proclaim that neither of those answers is accurate – the meaning of the resurrection is, first of all, historical. Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. It is God’s proof to the world of the reality of His existence and the pledge of His willingness to forgive those who believe in His Son. It is then, second, theological. Because Jesus rose from the dead, He has conquered death and now reigns as the Messiah, the Ruler over all the earth, to whom all must give an account. As I said in our greeting this morning – Jesus Christ is “the firstborn from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth.”
The story of the two thieves in our text today helps highlight the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection for each of us. These two men were in desperate straits; they were in need of salvation as are we; but the way they interact with Jesus couldn’t be more different. The first just wants Jesus to do something for him – get me down from this cross. If you really are who you say, if you really are God’s Christ, then prove it. Rescue yourself and us.
Many people treat God in this same way. Life is challenging and they make demands of God. If you really are God, then prove it. They treat God as though He is some cosmic vending machine who exists for human comfort and convenience. “Deliver me from my debt. Give me a good marriage. Heal me of my disease. Vindicate me from my enemies.” But notice something significant: Jesus doesn’t respond to this man. He doesn’t speak a single word to Him. God is no cosmic vending machine.
But now notice the second thief. He is in the same predicament. But unlike the first man, this thief acknowledges his own guilt; he knows that he deserves to die but that Jesus does not: “we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” But, by the grace of God, he also sees in Jesus the face of God and knows that this Man can grant Him forgiveness and reconcile Him to God. So he says, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus speaks to this man and says to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
So what of you? Have you been treating God as some cosmic vending machine, imagining that He has some obligation to prove Himself to you beyond what He has already done? Have you silenced your own conscience, suppressing your guilt and making God the guilty one? If you have, then beware the silence of Jesus. But now, hear the good news, if like the second thief you acknowledge your sin and seek God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ, then He will admit you to His kingdom just as He admitted this thief – not because you are worthy but because Jesus died and rose again that He might reconcile you to the Father.
And so reminded that the only way that we can approach God is by confessing our sin and seeking His forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus, let us confess our sin together today. (Our confession this morning is an acknowledgement of the ways we have transgressed against each of the Ten Commandments.) And as we confess, let us kneel together as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.