Today is Good Friday. We call it "good" because of what happened that day. Jesus died, crucified at a place called Golgotha - "the skull." In church tonight (it starts at 7:30 and you are certainly welcome) we'll be focusing on the seven things we hear our Savior speak as he was being killed. Because in what he says, we see why all this happened. Tonight we'll go through all seven, but, in this article, we've only got room for one:
Heaven or hell? If you were to die tonight, where would you end up? Heaven or hell? In our second word, Jesus answers that question. And the answer is not what you would think. It is not what made sense.
In the First Word we saw compassion and love unlike this world has ever known as Jesus prayed for those who were crucifying him: "Father, forgive them." In this Second Word, we see grace. Grace - undeserved love; GRACE - God's Riches at Christ's Expense; Grace - that love of God that sees nothing in its object but comes entirely from its subject. When we hear Jesus speak, we see grace.
Because there is nothing that deserved anything good in this criminal hanging on the cross next to Jesus. He knew it. He told the other guy, "We are getting what our deeds deserve." He was the scum of the earth. He was "Sinner." Even that very day, Matthew records this criminal mocking and ridiculing Jesus along with everyone else. But then, he saw Jesus and he saw grace. He saw this one praying for those crucifying him. He saw this one with the sign over his head that didn't make sense.
When this criminal's charge was hung on his cross - it made sense. You do the things listed on his sign - you should die. But on Jesus' cross?
Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum.
"Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
The King of the Jews?!? That was his crime?! Then this man realized what he was seeing. This was the Messiah. This one who looked like he was done - who looked like he was dying - being pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. This was the one who was right now establishing a kingdom, an eternal kingdom. That was the only explanation for what did not make sense.
And the criminal he prays, "Remember me." He gives voice to the prayer that lives in every soul of all time - "remember me." "Notice me, God."
And 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.
And he answers his question. Really, he answers your question. If you were to die tonight, where would you end up? You, who deserve every punishment for every failure; you, whose life so often mocks your lord - if you were to die tonight, where would you end up?
"Today," Jesus says, "Today you will be with me in paradise." Hear the answer this crucified man gives. In the first word he prayed. In this second word, he answers our prayer. Luke 23:38-43.
There was a written notice above him, which read: This is the king of Jews. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "Since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
That's the difference Good Friday makes - heaven or hell. And that is just one of the words he spoke. Take some time today on this day we commemorate the 6 hours our Savior hung on that cross and remember God's love for you in Christ. See that love in the pages of His Word. See that love in the sufferings and death of your Savior. May God bless your Good Friday that it prepares you to celebrate Easter. Then, we'll see you then too!
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Good Friday Service is at 7:30 p.m. Easter Sunday at 7 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.