27/09/17 - Pastor Young
Some of the most fascinating stories that capture our imaginations are those that recall seemingly small choices that result in wildly different outcomes.
Oftentimes these stories take the form of near-death experiences. We love to read tales of people pausing before crossing the street because they notice something on the ground, narrowly missing a certain end from a speeding vehicle.
How much greater is it when we see these stories played out in our Bibles?
This past Sunday, Pastor Tim preached from Luke 22:39-23:56. Within this sizeable section, we see Jesus betrayed, put on trial, and crucified. Just before dying, there is an encounter with two thieves who are hung next to Him.
Both of the criminals berate Jesus (Matthew 27:44, Mark 15:32). But while one goes on to blaspheme Jesus, the other makes a decision that we may read as a near-death experience.
This is the story of two people on parallel paths, living in such a way as to be rightfully punished. They are indistinguishable from the other for the most part. Neither are given names. Both are described as thieves. Both ask our Lord to save them.
But their paths diverge at a crucial point. The first thief's request for salvation seems more an expression of sarcasm. There is no faith behind his remark.
The second thief speaks with sincerity; he, of all people, addresses Jesus only by His name, rather than "rabbi" or "teacher". There is no formality -- only familiarity. It is a strangely intimate moment in a public setting, where three that were condemned to die in full view of everyone share a conversation.
In the dying light of these two lives, one man's tone is discernible as reeking of unbelief and callousness, while the other is poignant in recognising his own failure and his Lord's ability. The first thief remonstrates Jesus, saying that if He was the Messiah, He would be able to save him immediately, whereas the second harbours no expectation of immediate deliverance from death.
Jesus replies with words that give life.
One of the final things Jesus says as He hangs upon the cross is a comforting reply to a dying man's confession and request. The thief hoped that he would simply be remembered by Jesus in the coming of the Kingdom; Christ assures him that "today you will be with me in paradise."
This is perhaps the ultimate in near-death experience stories.
It is the story of a dishonest man making an honest plea. The gospel pulses with life in these words; the richness of the Saviour's words ring in our ears and swell in our hearts -- "this man can be saved at the final hour of his death, why not me now?"
The forgiveness and love of God are for us. We traitors, criminals, and thieves who come into His presence and recognise who we truly are, and who He truly is can be saved. This thief on the cross had no credentials, and no mighty show of faith, except to turn in the last hours and put his trust in Jesus.
How much greater is it when we see this story as our own?