This week, we celebrate the most exciting set of events to occur in human history. Some would read this and say, “Spoken like a true preacher!”. Yet, if you really understand Who we are talking about and what happened during the week the church now refers to as “Holy Week”, you will not pass off my comment as an overstatement.
Next Sunday is Easter. Yet, the entire week leading up to Easter is full of dramatic events that affect each of our destinies. It was during this week, when Jesus walked on the earth, that the showdown between sin and holiness reached it’s climax.
For three years, Jesus had been moving about the countryside of Israel, teaching about the Kingdom of God, demonstrating the heart of the King through signs and wonders of healing and deliverance and reaching out to all – from the “down and out” to the “up and out”.
Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday for a date with evil. While the people are cheering His arrival, He is thinking of what is ahead. The first thing He does is attack the sin blatantly operating in the temple-His Father’s house. This sets Him at odds with a group of religious leaders who were never His fans. He has embarrassed them by having the courage they failed to possess and, through His zeal, exposes their complacency.
Instead of conviction and repentance, they choose anger and retribution. During the rest of the week, while Jesus is reaching to the hurting and confused, they are plotting to destroy Him. The more they scheme, the stronger He gets until, they can stand it no longer. At one point, they say, “You see that we are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!”
The whole time the people are fighting to secure their own “kingdoms”, they are moving farther away from the Kingdom of God. Finally, they convince a greedy disciple of Jesus to betray Him after dark, when no one else is around, in a garden called Gethsemane. After a “kangaroo court” trial, held in the middle of the night away from the general population, they convict Jesus as a blasphemer. Early in the morning, they take Him to the Roman procurator, Pilate to get him to put Jesus to death. Pilate, a Gentile has never met someone like Jesus. He and his entire household is afraid of the spiritual authority that surrounds this Man. But, after literally threatening Pilate’s career by saying that, if he frees Jesus, he is not loyal to Caesar, the leaders get their way – Jesus is crucified.
The events of the crucifixion are horrific. The Romans made it a policy to make an example of those sentenced to capital punishment. Jesus is crucified between two men who are condemned to die for theft.
During the agonizing process of death by crucifixion, one thief, knowing he will receive no mercy from the Romans cries out to Jesus in an effort to live. I’ve often wondered – why would he do such a thing? Jesus is condemned, hanging on a cross – why would you seek His help?
Sometimes, a thief has a better view of what needs to change than a leader. Sometimes, the view from a cross brings more clarity than the view from a palace. From a cross, a man reflects on the road that brought him there. He can see that his problems didn’t start at the cross but off the cross: in the life lived by those looking up at him. From the cross, a man can see that the kingdoms that operate freely below him are tainted with sin, and all who live in them are infected. Whether you hang for your sin or live in it till you die naturally, all are guilty.
From a cross, you look for alternatives to what you’ve known, but, even if you find the alternative, is there hope for the guilty?
From the viewpoint of the cross, where everything is becoming clear, the thief sees a doorway. It is opened through a King willing to sacrifice for all those who crave for freedom from the sin that taints all they survey, including themselves.
Looking at Jesus, the thief says, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Jesus responds, “I tell you the truth, today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Paradise is a word, most believe of Persian origin which means, “an enclosed garden”. Jesus is saying to this man, “You have found the door back to the place you fell from. Now, you will return to the place I created for you. Eden awaits! Join Me there!”
Easter is about a return to Paradise. As a song popular years ago said, “I have two tickets to Paradise. Pack your bags, we leave tonight!”
Look around, can there be more to what you see? Something is making things the way they are – something invisible and sinister is infecting things. Jesus is here to kill the infection, but you have to climb up on a cross to get in position to receive the cure!
This Easter, make the choice to return to what God intended for you.