The thief on the cross wasn’t baptized

Jesus looked at the thief hanging on the cross next to Him and spoke the most grace-filled words ever, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
We see in the dying thief a couple responses that were, no doubt, the reason for Jesus’ words of salvation to him.

 
1.  The forgiven one admits wrong. He says,”Hey, I’ve sinned, I’ve done something wrong.” Luke 23:41 says, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” In other words, “We have sinned.”

 
2. The second thing that he did was, the forgiven one asks for eternal help. Here’s what he said, Luke 23:42-43: “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.’” 

Check this out. Both thieves were guilty. Both were suffering severely. Both were dying. Both needed a Savior. Both heard and saw the same things during those fateful six hours on the cross. One was forgiven and one wasn’t. 

This was the text and story I addressed on Easter Sunday in our morning service. Then as our Resurrection day service ended six people came forward to accept the forgiveness Jesus died to provide and were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.

You see, after Jesus died on the cross and was buried in a tomb he came forth alive on the third day. Then for forty days He taught his followers about this new kingdom that was about to burst forth into history. On the fortieth day he was taken out of their sight back to heaven, but before he exited he left clear instructions, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:19-20)

His followers were then instructed to go back to Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit at which time this new kingdom, known as the church, would be born. Ten days later it happened. Hundreds of thousands of people were in the city for the feast of Pentecost. Peter was the one chosen to deliver the message that day. As he came to the end of his discourse many of the people in the crowd were convicted of their sinfulness. The Bible says, “They were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)

And to their question, “Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”(Acts 2:38) That very day 3000 people were baptized and became the first members of the new kingdom, the church.

Which leaves us just a little confused. For one reason, if baptism is for the forgiveness of our sins, and I think we all want our sins forgiven, then the first leaders of the church placed a pretty high importance on it. It was more than just a take it or leave it, nice ceremony, to observe. It was not just an outward expression of an inward faith. Baptism had sin’s forgiveness attached to it and it was serious. Not always the message we hear today! Right?

But the confusing thing is that Jesus had said to the thief on the cross just fifty days earlier, “Today you will be with me in paradise” and we all know he wasn’t baptized.  Jesus and the apostles seem to contradict themselves here. Or do they?

For one thing, Jesus is God and Jesus has the power to save anyone at any time with a spoken word. He can do what he wants to do whether or not we have the ability to figure it all out. If He says, “Today you will be with Me in paradise” who are we to say, “But Jesus, that doesn’t jive with what you said over here…” Jesus saves when, where and how He chooses.

But the bigger issue, when it comes to the thief on the cross, is this. Jesus was still alive. You say, “So, what does that have to do with the explanation?”
Look at how the writer of Hebrews explains this,”For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance — now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” Wow, that says that the blood of Christ not only was for the sins of those living under the new covenant, but also flowed backward and covered the sins of those living under the old covenant. But, that’s a subject for another time.

And then the writer continues, and this is the answer for the thief on the cross. “In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.” Heb 9:15-17

When Jesus spoke those words on the cross to the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” He was still alive. And since he was still alive the old covenant was still in effect. The new covenant, upon which the church was to operate, was not open yet. The thief on the cross was still living under the old covenant age. The new covenant was ushered in and established with his death and only with “the death of the one who made it”, and baptism was an expectation of the new covenant.

There really isn’t a contradiction just a little more understanding to embrace.

You can stake your life on it?

Why is Easter So Important? In the next few days billions of people will be celebrating Easter. What’s the big deal about it?

Easter, thought not the best word, refers to the time of year we focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. The entire Christian message is built upon the resurrection of Jesus from death. History reveals that God came to earth in the form of Jesus and was born as a baby. We celebrate that event on what we call Christmas.

Then Jesus grew up like a normal person of His day. He faced the same challenges and temptations in life as we do. Yet we are told in the Bible that He did not commit any sin.

At the age of 30 he began a public ministry that lasted for 3 years. It ended in an ugly way. Because of His claim to be God he was crucified on a cross between two thieves. This took place on Friday. He was buried before the sun went down. Friday, Saturday Sunday. Three days later some of his followers came to his tomb to complete the burial process. Upon arriving they found an empty tomb. They were greeted by an angel who asked, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen just as He said He would”. 

Let’s make an assumption. Let’s assume for sake of argument that the resurrection did happen. If it did, when Jesus Christ rose from the grave after being dead for three days this is what it did: IT PROVED HE WAS WHO HE SAID HE WAS

John 8:25 “Tell us who you are, ‘they demanded. Jesus replied, ‘I’m the one I’ve always claimed to be.   When you have killed the Messiah you’ll realize that I am he.'” Jesus made some incredibly outrageous claims while He was here on earth. He said things like “I’m perfect… I’m the savior of the world… I’m the only way to Heaven… I’m God.”  “Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one gets to God the father except by means of me.'”

No religious leader ever made that kind of claim. No other leader claimed to be God. Buddha never claimed to be God, Mohammed never claimed to be God. Jesus made some outrageous claims. When He said, “I am the way, the truth, the life” — the only way to heaven, that doesn’t leave many options. There’s not a whole lot of middle ground there. You either say, “Yes, He was who He said He was” or “No, He’s not”. He’s either who He says He was ~ the Lord ~ or He’s a liar or lunatic. Jesus said “The way you’ll know that I am who I say I am is I’m not going to stay dead. I’ll come back to life after three days in the grave.”

He didn’t say, I am A way. He says “l am the way.” There are a lot of people who will say, “I believe Jesus was a good teacher.” There’s only one problem with that. He didn’t make that claim. He didn’t claim to be a good teacher. He claimed to be God. If He wasn’t who He said He was, He’s a fraud. If I say to you, “My name is Steve and I am a good teacher.” Some of you would say, “Yes, I could buy that!” But If I said, “I’m Steve and I’m God” that’s a whole different ball game. When Jesus made statements like “I’m God” He’s either who He said He was or He was the biggest fraud who ever lived.

He said in Mark 10:34 “They will mock and flog and kill me but after three days I will come back to life again.” Why did they crucify Jesus Christ anyway? They crucified Him because of what He claimed. He claimed to be God. The religious leaders had two options– fall down and worship Him or kill the guy ~ get rid of Him. There wasn’t any alternative. So rather that worship Him, they killed Him.

The only problem was, He didn’t stay dead. Now, not everyone believes that to be true. Not everyone believes he came back to life.

However, three days later He’s alive again. There’s some humor in the Easter story. Can you imagine being a religious leader? You’ve publicly executed this guy in front of thousands of people. Everybody knows He’s dead. He’s in the tomb. And three days later you bump into Him on the street! The Bible says that the Romans put a large stone in front of the tomb and they put a seal over it and they put a 24 hour guard around it. They were only postponing the inevitable. He said, “I’m going to come back to life.”

He said, “I am the Son of God. Don’t believe me unless I do the miracles of God.” Jesus said, “Here’s what I claim and here’s what I’m going to do to prove it. If I don’t do it, I’m not God. I’m a fraud.”

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a matter of public record. This was not something done in secret. It was big headlines in the Jerusalem Times. The whole city knew about it. Eventually the whole Roman Empire did. It was big, big news. The guy was publicly executed and three days later He’s walking around again. If there had been major news outlets they would have had live coverage broadcasted to the world. There are at least 15 incidences in the Bible alone of what Jesus did after He came back to life. He walked around Jerusalem for awhile, He talked to people, He ate with people. They touched Him. This was common news.

George Gallup did a survey that found that 89% of Americans accept the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a historical fact. I believe he was exactly who he said he was and the resurrection is all the proof I need. Case closed!

Oh, wait a minute. So what? What difference does that make in your life?

The Empty Egg

Jeremy was born with a twisted body and a slow mind. At the age of 12 he was still in second grade, seemingly unable to learn. His teacher, Doris Miller, often became exasperated with him. He would squirm in his seat, drool, and make grunting noises. At other times, he spoke clearly and distinctly, as if a spot of light had penetrated the darkness of his brain. Most of the time, however, Jeremy just irritated his teacher. One day she called his parents and asked them to come in for a consultation. As the Forresters entered the empty classroom, Doris said to them, “Jeremy really belongs in a special school. It isn’t fair to him to be with younger children who don’t have learning problems. Why, there is a five year gap between his age and that of the other students.”

Mrs. Forrester cried softly into a tissue, while her husband spoke. “Miss Miller,” he said, “there is no school of that kind nearby. It would be a terrible shock for Jeremy if we had to take him out of this school. We know he really likes it here.” Doris sat for a long time after they had left, staring at the snow outside the window. Its coldness seemed to seep into her soul. She wanted to sympathize with the Forresters. After all, their only child had a terminal illness. But it wasn’t fair to keep him in her class. She had 18 other youngsters to teach, and Jeremy was a distraction. Furthermore, he would never learn to read and write. Why waste any more time trying?

As she pondered the situation, guilt washed over her. Here I am complaining when my problems are nothing compared to that poor family, she thought. Lord, please help me to be more patient with Jeremy. From that day on, she tried hard to ignore Jeremy’s noises and his blank stares. Then one day, he limped to her desk, dragging his bad leg behind him.

“I love you, Miss Miller,” he exclaimed, loud enough for the whole class to hear. The other students snickered, and Doris’ face burned red. She stammered, “Wh-why that’s very nice, Jeremy. N-now please take your seat.”

Spring came, and the children talked excitedly about the coming of Easter. Doris told them the story of Jesus, and then to emphasize the idea of new life springing forth, she gave each of the children a large plastic egg. “Now,” she said to them, “I want you to take this home and bring it back tomorrow with something inside that shows new life. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Miss Miller,” the children responded enthusiastically-all except for Jeremy. He listened intently; his eyes never left her face. He did not even make his usual noises. Had he understood what she had said about Jesus’ death and resurrection? Did he understand the assignment? Perhaps she should call his parents and explain the project to them.

That evening, Doris’ kitchen sink stopped up. She called the landlord and waited an hour for him to come by and unclog it. After that, she still had to shop for groceries, iron a blouse, and prepare a vocabulary test for the next day. She completely forgot about phoning Jeremy’s parents.

The next morning, 19 children came to school, laughing and talking as they placed their eggs in the large wicker basket on Miss Miller’s desk. After they completed their math lesson, it was time to open the eggs. In the first egg, Doris found a flower. “Oh yes, a flower is certainly a sign of new life,” she said. “When plants peek through the ground, we know that spring is here.” A small girl in the first row waved her arm. “That’s my egg, Miss Miller,” she called out. The next egg contained a plastic butterfly, which looked very real. Doris held it up. “We all know that a caterpillar changes and grows into a beautiful butterfly. Yes, that’s new life, too.” Little Judy smiled proudly and said, “Miss Miller, that one is mine.” Next, Doris found a rock with moss on it. She explained that moss, too, showed life. Billy spoke up from the back of the classroom, “My daddy helped me,” he beamed.

Then Doris opened the fourth egg. She gasped. The egg was empty. Surely it must be Jeremy’s she thought, and of course, he did not understand her instructions. If only she had not forgotten to phone his parents. Because she did not want to embarrass him, she quietly set the egg aside and reached for another. Suddenly, Jeremy spoke up. “Miss Miller, aren’t you going to talk about my egg?” Flustered, Doris replied, “But Jeremy, your egg is empty.” He looked into her eyes and said softly, “Yes, but Jesus’ tomb was empty, too.”

Time stopped. When she could speak again, Doris asked him, “Do you know why the tomb was empty?” “Oh, yes,” Jeremy said, “Jesus was killed and put in there. Then His Father raised Him up.”

The recess bell rang. While the children excitedly ran out to the schoolyard, Doris cried. The cold inside her melted completely away.

Three months later, Jeremy died. Those who paid their respects at the mortuary were surprised to see 19 eggs on top of his casket……. all of them empty.

Sometimes there are just no answers–Final part, “When God doesn’t make sense”

We continue, for one more post, our discussion of, “When God Doesn’t Make Sense.” Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, reasoning power and the comfort and advice of others, we just can’t figure out what God is up to or why certain things have happened in our life. It just doesn’t make sense. We are left with one big question; WHY? In those times, more than ever, I think there are some difficult yet vital things God wants to say to us. We have already looked at God insistence of, “Let Me be God.”

A second and final thing God says to us is, “Trust Me.”

Referring to some of those great Old Testament Christians in Hebrews 11:13 it says “Each of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised but still believing, still trusting.”  They trusted God and had faith up until the time of their death.  They went through often long agonizing trials.  Many of them often failed.  And the reality is sometimes God’s purpose is accomplished not by delivering us out of our difficulties but by demonstrating Himself in the midst of life’s problems.

Again, that is not an easy step.  Sometimes the gap between my personal pain and the ability to trust God seems so wide I’m not sure I can cross it.  I’ve learned that trust is not a once for all step but rather a moment by moment struggle.

Here are a few simple things that I am still learning about what it means to trust God.

1. Trust is a choice I make.

I’ve been told that the Chinese word for “crisis” also has at its root the word “opportunity”.  Every crisis is an opportunity for me to deepen my relationship with Jesus Christ.  And I’ve become convinced that God is more interested in seeing my response to difficulty than supplying me with all the reasons for my difficulty.  There’s a great nugget tucked in the middle of the book of Job.  Going through all that he’s going through, all the questioning, all the dialogue in the middle of chapter 13 there is one phrase where Job’s faith surges and he declares for the entire world to hear, “Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him.”  It was a choice he made.

If there’s a common denominator to be found among those who encounter Christ it is the willingness to choose to trust when all of life screams out that they should not.  The essential character quality is a humble willingness to leave some questions unanswered and a quiet decision to believe that God is good even when all the evidence seems contrary.

Trust! Trust is a choice I make.  The second lesson I’m learning is…

2.  Keep one eye on heaven.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but what is unseen for what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal.”  He says it even more directly in 1 Peter 2 (the Message) “Friends, this world is not your home.  Don’t make yourselves cozy in it.” 

In generations past one of the favorite topics of Christian songs was heaven. But I find that there aren’t many Christian songs written about heaven any more. I think it’s largely because our lives are comfortable and convenient.  And without realizing it we begin to put our roots down in this world and we kind of like it.  And thoughts about heaven are pretty far from us.  It is only sometimes in pain that our world gets rocked enough that we get a new perspective.  And we realize that this life doesn’t last forever.  And this world really isn’t our home and that we have the promise of heaven.  And like scripture says, “Life is like a vapor, here today and gone tomorrow.”  When life gets hard and unbearable the Lord’s encouragement for us is to remember you’re not home yet.  Heaven is your final destination so keep one eye there.

3.  A third lesson that I’m learning is that the more I get to know my Father, the more I trust Him. 

I love Psalm 34:18 which says, “The Lord is close to the broken hearted.  He rescues those who are crushed in spirit.”  It reminds me of the story of the little girl who was having trouble sleeping one night so her father came in and lay down on the little bed beside her.  When he turned off the lights and lay beside her she began to reach out her hands for his face because she said, “Daddy, if your face is toward me I can sleep.”

I’m convinced that the most important thing for some of us is not finding God’s answers or even finding God’s purpose, but finding God’s presence in our pain.  Some of us need to rest in the reality that God’s face is towards you.  He has not forgotten you.  He is not mad at you.  You matter to Him.  It’s not that you lack faith.  It’s just that right now God has purposes of which you maybe don’t understand.  But it doesn’t mean that He has forgotten you.  You can trust Him.

As the years have gone by and as I’ve walked with the Lord these years I’ve come to the place of knowing that as my Father, He can be trusted.  And I need to be constantly reminded of that fact. I don’t always have to understand His reasons.  But the more I know Him, the more I trust Him. 

One final statement before we end.  I can let God use my problems and pain to demonstrate His power.  The brightness of God’s glory and power is seen most brilliantly against the dark backdrop of human suffering.  Without a doubt, the greatest example and the most graphic example of this is the cross.  God brought incredible good out of the incredible suffering of Jesus on the cross.  And the Bible says that Jesus voluntarily laid aside His immunity to pain and entered our world and He did so that you could have a relationship with Him, so that I could have a relationship with Him and so that He could walk with us through our times of pain. 

The Bible says that He was broken and despised and rejected and scoffed at and nailed to a tree and out of that immense suffering now is the possibility and opportunity for you to have eternal life.  I don’t fully understand why, but God has determined to do His most significant work through pain and suffering.  There are some things in life that God can only do in us as a result of pain. 

The apostle Paul, one of the greatest men in the Bible, the Bible says was afflicted with a thorn in the flesh.  And time and time again he prayed to God that God would remove it.  And it was not removed.  It certainly wasn’t lack of faith.  But God has an answer for him.  2 Corinthians 12:9 God says to Paul “My gracious favor is all you need.  My power works best in your weakness.”  Then Paul says, “Now that I understand this I am glad to boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may work through me.  For when I am weak then I am strong.”

Could I pose a possibility to you today?  Could it be possible that what our world really needs is not necessarily more miracles, even more healing?  But for average men and women, ordinary people like you and I, to find the strength, to find the joy and the peace and the ability to trust God in the midst of our suffering.  That maybe God’s greatest power is that we walk through our pain, not just that we get delivered out of it.