All throughout Luke's gospel Jesus has been on a journey to Jerusalem. He is now in Jerusalem and is in the hands of Pilate, or should we say the Jewish leaders? They have insisted that Pilate execute Jesus, in spite of Pilate pronouncing Jesus innocent on three occasions. Pilate wants no part in killing Jesus. But, Pilate can not prevail over the will of the Jewish leaders.
"A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, 'Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children..." (Luke 23:27-28)
This is a scene from the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah. Remember, Jesus has been identified in Luke's gospel with the prophets. He can only be killed (his words) in Jerusalem (outside the walls) for Jerusalem is the city that kills the prophets. (Luke 13:33) While the Jewish leaders cause the execution of Jesus it is the women who recognize the unfolding tragedy.
Well, Jesus is hanging on the cross and Luke's account of the crucifixion offers further insight than Matthew and Mark's account. If you recall, Matthew and Mark both record Jesus' last statement as being; "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Luke, however, does not record that particular statement. Luke records three new statements: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing," (Luke 23:34) and "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43) We will look at the third statement in a moment.
We are told by Luke that Jesus was executed at a place called the Skull. (Luke 23:33) We also know this to be Golgotha. Long ago while I was the minister of the Mt. Zion Charge in Calhoun County, West Virginia I was privileged to have a retired minister (elder with our conference). He loved to tell stories of his visit to Israel. He told about going to where Jesus had been crucified and how it looked exactly like a skull. At that time I had no expectancy of ever going to Israel. However, in 2011, I was fortunate to go. I could not wait to see this place that looked like a skull. Well, the time came for us to see this place. The guide had us in a group and pointed to where the place once was, but is now a bus stop. That's right! Today they will show you a picture of what you once could see, but now can not. I was very disappointed.
Can you imagine hanging on a cross and looking at those who have done all the things that have been done to you (and some still are) and declaring: "Father, forgive them...?" I can not, but Jesus did just that. Not only that, he was hanging between two criminals. One of the two "hurled insults at him," (Luke 23:39) but the other declared "this man has done nothing wrong." (Luke 23:41) This is significant. Why? For one thing, remember, Pilate pronounced Jesus to be innocent. Again, it was the Jewish leadership who condemned Jesus. Well, the criminal asks Jesus: "remember me when you come into your kingdom." (Luke 23:42) Now, the criminal is not just recognizing Jesus' innocence, he is recognizing him as messiah. (whose kingdom is not of this world.) Jesus then makes his next to final statement: "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43) This is an interesting scene. What is it that gets this man entry into paradise? Well, he does in fact confess his sins (verses 40-41) and he recognizes Jesus for who Jesus is and in a way that so many others have not. (even though they should have)
Let me say this: So many have used the thief as a poster child for not needing to be baptized. This passage is not meant to excuse anyone from baptism. It does declare that God can declare mercy even while hanging on a cross. This thief could not be baptized due to his circumstance. (He was nailed to a cross) The soldiers were not going to let him have a thirty minute pass so he could be baptized. I would suggest to anyone willing to allow this one passage to excuse baptism to look at all the many others that speak of baptism. I always ask the question: Who do you want as your example: The thief who was not baptized, or Jesus who was?
"Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he said this, he breathed his last." (Luke 23: 46) O.K., Jesus dies, but not before darkness covered the land and the "curtain of the temple was torn in two." (Luke 23:45) The curtain was that which separated the Holy of Holies from everything, and everybody. (except High Priest once a year) The Holy of Holies represented the presence of God. (His residence) Now, the curtain is torn allowing assess to God by anyone.
In Matthew and Mark, if you recall there was a character that appeared at the end of the crucifixion scene. He made a statement immediately after the death of Jesus. Based upon what this character saw he declared Jesus to be the messiah. What causes him to recognize this truth, however, is different in each gospel. Guess what? He appears again in Luke. (He does not appear in John)
"The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, 'Surely this was a righteous man." (Luke 23:47) The NIV and the KJV each use the word "righteous" here, but the Greek word is dikaios which can be translated into "righteous" or "innocent." (The NRSV uses "innocent.") If you recall, Pilate pronounced Jesus "innocent" on three occasions. The thief declared Jesus to be innocent. Here, the centurion (a Roman) recognizes what the Jewish authorities refuse to see.
Well, we will end here for today. Join me tomorrow as we conclude our look into the Gospel of Luke. -Pastor Rick