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Posted: April 22, 2011 12:00 a.m.

Grace Notes: Good Friday: The Door to Paradise

It's Good Friday, the pivotal date in world history.

I want to invite all of you to come and hear the windows at our church, specifically the one that tells the story of this day. If you don't know where our church is, check the website below, because you really need to hear these windows. And yes, I meant "hear" the windows.

They tell a story. Really, it's the story of all of Scripture. Everything in God's Word points to what happened in history that we celebrate in the next three days. So, on this Good Friday, I want to look at the story of Luke 23 that our Crucifixion window tells, especially verse 43.

The details of the scene are vivid: Three crosses, two criminals. The window zooms in on the one in the middle with a sign hanging above announcing the charge, written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek so all could see it.

Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum

Iesous ho Nazoraios, ho Basileus ton Ioudaion

Yeshua Hanazari Melech Hayehudim
Although I think the Greek and Hebrew text looks much cooler)

"Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." The sign was right, but it didn't even come close. You see, in the first thing Jesus said from the cross, he prayed ("Father, forgive them..."), but now, in the verse we study today - he answers a prayer - he was more than the king of the Jews.

Now, look at the one next to him. He's painted into the background of our window precisely because we know so little about him. Really, the only thing we know about him is that one day, about noon, he said nine words to the Son of God on a cross, words which sum up everything the human heart can ever say to the Eternal - words that bring heaven nearer than the sound of whisper in a quiet room.

He looked to our Lord, and in him he saw his salvation. Then he uttered that most fervent of human pleas: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

Then something amazing happens. While Christ is waging a cosmic battle between good and evil; while Christ was enduring the pain and suffering and shame of all sin of all time, while Christ was dying...he stops and turns and talks to a thief, a thief who all his life had turned from God, a thief, who just a short time earlier, had joined the others in jeering and insulting him. Jesus stops and turns to him...

There is no one that our Lord does not love. He turned and answered that thief. And his answer swept up a soul from the yawning gates of hell and dropped him on the doorstep of heaven.

My friends, do you want to see grace, undeserved love? Do you want to see how God's forgiveness works? Do you want to see the power and the majesty of salvation won by God for us?

Look at that figure in the shadow, and in it, see yourself. See that soul deserving of every punishment promised life. See that soul snatched from hell and given heaven. Because there, in that thief, you see the soul purchased by the man on the cross in the foreground, simply labeled, "The King of the Jews," your King of Grace.

And now listen. Hear your King say to you that because of what He has done, "You will be with me in paradise." Jesus' second word is recorded in Luke 23: "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

As ugly as the scene of a crucifixion looks to our physical eyes, come and see this scene. It's beautiful. It is the open door to paradise... for you. May God bless your Good Friday with that realization. And remember, this isn't the final scene. Make sure you don't miss the proof of it on Easter!

Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.

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