Message Supplement for Sunday 24 November 2019: “Mocker & Shocker”

Today’s message is based on Luke 23:33-43, which covers a scene from Calvary, the place of execution for Jesus and two anonymous men.

This is not a light, happy topic and the issue of persecution is ever-present in humanity. In ancient times, non-Roman citizens such as Jesus had few legal protections. Moreover, anyone instigating a revolutionary insurrection, threatening Roman rule, or insulting the Roman emperor could easily face a death sentence. Add to all this the agitations from hostile Jewish authorities and it is no wonder that the situation seemed hopeless.

The distressing fact of Jesus’ death must be confronted but not dwelt upon. It’s easy to be drawn into negativity but the challenge is to be embraced by God’s love rather than immobilized by the horrors humans inflict upon one another. God’s people are invited to bring light and life into even the most deplorable situations. A powerful point is that while he was on the cross, Jesus maintained a forgiving attitude.

There were two men crucified along with Jesus, one of whom mocked Jesus by sarcastically calling him to use his messianic status to escape the cross. The other guilty man took an entirely different approach. The man who came to Jesus’ defense realized that cynicism and skepticism had no value when staring death in the face. Following a much better path, the man who sought redemption focused on a course of making amends while looking beyond physical death.

The man who had the good attitude first spoke against the naysayer who had mocked Jesus. Next, the repentant criminal admitted his own guilt while affirming Jesus’ innocence. Then came the extraordinary last step, wherein the man asked Jesus to remember him. This was a plea for redemption, to which Jesus responded, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43b). How marvelous! Even in his agony, Jesus ministered to someone in need. In forgiving a condemned criminal Jesus modeled compassion. What a tremendous standard Jesus set for people to follow. You can, like Jesus, love those around you even when you are suffering.

Today’s message reveals that it is seldom productive to focus on other peoples’ sin until you’ve come to terms with your own. Before crying against other peoples’ issues it’s best to manage oneself, to own your sins and thereby also avoid a fatal hypocrisy. Yes, there’s value in confronting wrongdoing and calling-out evil helps ensure that there’s no condoning peoples’ wickedness. But make no mistake: self-examination and confronting internal and external problems requires persistence.

Another great gift from today’s story is that Jesus didn’t act vengeful; neither should you. Jesus left a wonderful blessing of redemption. In the crucifixion scene and other countless, heinous situations it is challenging to minister, especially to perpetrators. Also, the impulse when someone is attacked and persecuted is to have an eye-for-an-eye response, one that repays evil for evil. But this is not the ideal path for people who seek the greatest good. Even when he was miserable Jesus was able to forgive.

Receive and share blessings even while you’re under duress. In doing so you will bridge the gap between unspeakable horror and eternal life.  Thank God that Jesus provided forgiveness rather than condemnation. As a result, we’re eternally blessed with not only our redemption but the promise of helping others find theirs.   –Reverend Larry Hoxey

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