May God’s love for you rest on your hearts. And may the undeserved mercy of Christ fill you with peace. Amen.
The part of the Bible that we meditate on tonight takes place during Jesus’ crucifixion. Turn to Luke 23, verse 39.
Luke 23:39-43 (NIV)
39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
40But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
In the Bible, God uses “darkness” as a symbol for a lot of different things. Ignorance is called darkness. Sorrow is darkness. Evil is darkness.
In our culture, we do the same thing. He’s in the dark concerning this matter. He’s ignorant. 9/11 was a dark day in American history. A day of sorrow. The heart of a murderer is full of darkness. Full of evil.
When “darkness” is used metaphorically we’re almost always talking about EVIL appearing in one form or another.
The Bible says that God is light and there is no darkness in Him at all. He’s all goodness, love and justice. He’s not evil in any way.
On the other hand, the Bible says that beings who live their lives with no connection to God are living in darkness.
The Bible says that Satan and all the evil angels are reserved for judgment in darkness. In His parables, Jesus spoke about people who will be condemned in the final judgment. He said they would be cast out of God’s presence into the outer darkness. In this sense, darkness is separation from God.
This becomes particularly significant when we think about those last three hours that Jesus spent on the cross. The Bible tells us that the sun was darkened from noon to three. It was then that Jesus experienced separation from all the Father’s goodness. That indescribable hell was what we deserved because of our sins. Jesus was paying the price to set us free.
But tonight, we consider the darkness that came before that. As our Savior hung from the cross, darkness hovered at His side in the form of a mocking, crucified man.
This man was no mere sneak-thief, but a violent robber. He was a child of darkness whose own crimes had brought him to this shameful and terrible death. Rome had decreed that he would go from a dark life of sin, to the darkness of death -with a nice long interlude of excruciating pain in between.
On the cross, this robber continued his evil ways. He heard the religious leaders of the people below. They hadn’t gathered there at the foot of Jesus’ just to see Him die. A busy road passed by this place and Pilate had put a sign above Jesus’ head that said this was the king of the Jews. They had come there to convince the passers by that this wasn’t the Messiah.
They called out to Jesus, but really, they were talking to the travelers who passed by. “He said He was the Christ? Well then why doesn’t He have the power to get down off that cross? The Christ wouldn’t have gotten Himself crucified in the first place! He claimed to be God’s Chosen One? Well then why isn’t GOD doing something to save Him? We’d believe Him if He’d just climb down off that cross. We would! But He can’t.”
The robber heard all these words, and the darkness in his heart smiled. He would join them in this fun. And he did. He echoed their words right into Jesus’ ear. “Aren’t you the Christ! Save yourself and us!”
His sinfulness was a dark veil that covered his mind. Blind to the truth, he didn’t see that Jesus was innocent. Or perhaps he just ignored that fact, which would have been worse. In his ignorance he didn’t realize that he was screaming his insults at Son of God, who indeed was the Chosen Savior of the world. The Savior who was even NOW suffering to redeem him from HIS sins.
Satan must has smiled at this. He might have even chuckled to himself as this son of darkness railed at the light of the World. Satan had this man firmly in his grasp.
And not only this man. There was another robber hanging there on the other side of Jesus. And like a twin thundercloud he was thundering the same things at Jesus.
Let me make this clear: there was nothing good in this other man. He too was a child of darkness. His own crimes had brought him here as well. Rome had decreed the same fate for him. He too would go from a dark life of sin, to the darkness of death -with a nice long interlude of excruciating pain in between.
But somewhere along the way something changed.
And God was the one who changed it. The robber stationed to the other side of Jesus had a change of heart.
We aren’t told all the details that caused this change of heart. One moment he was spewing out insults, and the next moment he was rebuking the other robber.
Had this man grown up learning about God in the Temple? Had he studied the Bible in the Synagogue on Saturdays? Had he somewhere drifted away from the truth and into the darkness of unbelief?
What was it that brought him back? Was it something that Jesus said? Did he see how Jesus never returned evil for evil? Did he see the love that Jesus had for everyone around Him no matter what they were doing to Him? Did this robber notice the way Jesus prayed for the men as they slid shanks of iron through His wrists, attaching Him to the cross?
What was it that convinced Him that Jesus was innocent? What was it that convinced Him that Jesus really was the Messiah, the King of Israel? How could he be so confident that this Man who hung in the middle, looking so powerless, would later rule over the Kingdom of God?
I can’t tell you all the details, but I’m guessing the Holy Spirit had something to do with it. We know from the Bible that only the Spirit can turn the heart of sinful man around. Only the Spirit can show a person their sinfulness and their great need of God’s forgiveness. Only the Spirit of God can give the gift of faith, wrapping the fingers of that faith firmly around Jesus.
When the Holy Spirit got through to that robber, the darkness on that side of the cross was swallowed up in light.
Listen to these verses from Micah 7, verse 8.
“8 Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
the LORD will be my light.
9 Because I have sinned against him,
I will bear the LORD’S wrath,
until he pleads my case
and establishes my right.
He will bring me out into the light;
I will see his righteousness” (Micah 7:8-9 NIV).
That’s what God did for this robber. This robber recognized that the crimes he had committed had brought this end on him. He understood that his suffering was right. It was justice for all he’d done in life.
But then he saw Jesus. Not just with his eyes, but with his heart. And He knew that through this Man, He would be drawn out of the darkness of sorrow and suffering and judgment, into the light of righteousness. His sins would be forgiven through Jesus.
That’s the hope he expresses when he says to Jesus, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom”.
During His ministry, Jesus once said,
“…I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12 NIV).
This robber had seen the light, and with Jesus He had the light of life.
Jesus had remained silent for so long that day. So few word had passed His lips. But He couldn’t remain mute in the face of one of His own faith-children. He strengthened this infant Christian’s faith with these words: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The apostle Paul once encouraged his fellow Christ followers by saying:
“…[God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14).
I say the same to you tonight. God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom WE have redemption, THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.
Just like the robber who came to trust in Jesus, we started as dark thunderclouds of sin. There was nothing special about us. Nothing good in us. In the estimation of other sinners we might have seemed like nice enough people, but in God’s eyes we were just as lost as every other sinner born into this world.
But the Spirit of God changed all that.
Through the Word in our Baptism, or through the Word shared by a friend, the Holy Spirit changed us. Brought the light of Jesus to burn in our hearts.
The apostle John said it like this:
“5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:5-9 NIV).
The theme for our midweek messages has been, “Lenten Shadow and Light”. And this is a perfect title for this reading in Luke. That second robber was in the deepest shadows of sin when he was raised up on that cross next to Jesus. But before his lifeless corpse was taken down, the light of faith and forgiveness had overtaken him. He confessed his sin, He looked to Jesus, and Jesus assured him that he was forgiven. He would be with Jesus in Paradise before the sun set on that day.
When we come here on Sundays, let’s think of that. When we confess our sins together with the congregation, and hear God’s representative proclaim us forgiven, think of that cross to cross absolution. And thank God that His Spirit is so great, and so powerful and so gracious that he sought us out like He sought that robber.
And let’s not ONLY think of this on Sunday. Let’s live our lives in with this in mind. It’s as if the cross of Christ has opened up a hole in the clouds above. And through this hole God’s light shines on each of us. Following us wherever we go. Bathing us in forgiveness, and chasing the shadows of evil away.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, walk in the light of our God and Savior, with peace, confidence and joy.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.