Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Repentant Thief

Holy Week Reflection on Luke 23:39-43

This week is regarded as the holiest week of the year. Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem denying Himself for the sake of our souls. And so let me offer a pastoral comment:

Do you get it?

The only way to Get the Resurrection is to travel with Jesus to the cross. We cannot ever know the meaning of the empty tomb without experiencing the bloody cross! The repentant thief on Golgotha got it!

The repentant thief did not justify himself when he was on the cross. The unrepentant thief tried to blame Jesus and his powerlessness to pull himself down from the cross in justifying his pain. After all, we cannot be the ones to take responsibility for our pain. I scream profanity when I stub my toe because someone put a rock in my way. I am justified in my cursing because someone put a stone in my way. The fact I was not looking and walking barefooted is not the cause of my pain! We can never justify ourselves. Blame does not take away my carelessness nor does it take away my pain.

When St. Paul uses the word justify in his letters, he is using it as a synonym of acquit as in the accused has been acquitted in a court of law! In other words, to be found 'not guilty'. We are not acquitted because of our innocence. We are acquitted because God took upon Himself our deserved punishment. The blame is still ours to bear. The repentant thief got it! And with the blame comes the pain. The repentant thief got it!

The English word justify means to make right or to make straight. When the printing press came into being, the printer would have to justify the margins of his text. This was done by taking each letter, placing it in a box in its appropriate spot and then taking the palm of his hand and slamming all the letters against one side of the box before the paper was placed on it. Hence, the terms left justified or right justified which should be familiar to us from using word processing programs. Sometimes when things do not go our way, it is because God is taking the palm of his hand and slamming us to make us into the people He wants us to be. He is justifying us, making us right. We cannot do it ourselves. He is giving meaning to our pain. He is the printer, we are the message! Only by knowing our guilt, our deserved punishment and who paid our debt to the Law, can we ever get it! If we tried to absolve ourselves by not accepting the pain, by blaming someone else, even God, we will not see how He is justifying us! This is what St. Paul is trying to tell us when he writes:

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26NLT)

If you can appreciate the work of Jesus on the Cross for you, then you will get it. But more importantly, your soul will reflect it though your thoughts and behavior. So this Holy Week truly test yourself through self-reflection. Do not tell Jesus what you want Him to do for you. This was what the unrepentant thief was asking. But ask Jesus to show you how He is dying for you!

So the next time someone throws up your past to you face, know that the blood of Christ covers your guilt and the accuser is in the wrong. This even works when we punish ourselves for past mistakes. But and this is a big but, let us be the message of God's love and not bring up the past mistakes of others. Let us be forgiving as we are forgiven and remember our sins no more! (Hebrews 10:26-39)