LIFE IN THE SPIRIT

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Location: Phila Metro, Pennsylvania, United States

Tentmaking Evangelist (Architect). An Evangelist with the Anchor Bay Evangelistic Association (non-denominational). Co-Founder of Kingdom Gospel Ministries, a ministry now in its 31st year with a mission to reconcile people of different racial, ethnic, and economic situations, and the producer of two weekly radio programs - a Sunday morning verse-by-verse Bible Study on Radio Delaware Valley and a weekly radio drama on the Wilkins Radio network. He also has archived many, many programs on the Internet. John is also a PA/NJ Architect with his own practice in its 38th year working on a wide variety of projects. Acutely interested in politics since a teenager with many articles published over the last 50 years and served as a guest on a Talk Radio show discussing race relations and on It's Your Call TV show with Lynn Doyle dealing with the subject of interethnic marriage.

Friday, April 6, 2012

TODAY SHALT THOU BE WITH ME IN PARADISE

Note: This Good Friday message is based on one delivered Good Friday, April 6, 2012 at St. David Roman Catholic Church in Willow Grove, PA at their annual ecumenical service.  I have added some additional thoughts to it since there is opportunity to do so and no time restraint. We do hope it ministers to you.

“Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.”  Eight words.  Spoken to one person, but overheard by those standing around.

What an amazing situation.

Jesus was crucified because of false testimony and the jealousy of the religious leaders of his day.   They were empty suits as it were while he spoke words of life.  The leaders spoke out of both sides of their mouths, and put burdens on people they weren’t willing to carry themselves. They were the kind of people who would be sure to tithe 2 1/2 cents if they found a quarter in a pay phone change tray but cross the road if they found a victim of crime bleeding on the road. In fact, Jesus had noted these facts in his teachings. 

Jesus was not a Pharisee with political adroitness and “spiritual correctness.”  Instead, he spoke the same message wherever he went and spoke it with authority.   Huge crowds did not gather around the scribes and Pharisees to hang on their every word, nor did they go without food for a day or two or walk into remote places to hear them either.  Nor did they see ANY scribe or ANY Pharisee heal anyone, forgive anyone’s sin, let alone raise the dead.  No, those men were talkers and power brokers but not doers. They heard the word of God, but chose to parse it rather than truly understand it. They enforced the Sabbath day’s walk of 2,000 paces on the people and criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath while they themselves had no problem plotting his death on the Sabbath and bribing Judas to betray him let alone lying that the disciples stole Jesus’ body and in many other ways showing their utter hypocrisy.

Now the thieves on the crosses flanking Jesus on either side were not Scribes or Pharisees or anyone like that at all. They were career criminals. I’m sure even in Roman times you did not end up on a cross for a single infraction. These men were in the “three strikes and you’re out” category. They did not argue their guilt, and they knew they deserved to die.

According to the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark, both thieves verbally assaulted Jesus and heaped insults on him. However, they both must have known SOMETHING about him, or they would not have begged him to come off the cross and save them.  Certainly no ordinary man could come off a cross with spikes in his hands and feet and THEY knew that better than anyone, with spikes through their own hands and feet just like Jesus.  They taunted him as in a chorus with the crowd.  The Scribes and Pharisees were part of that chorus.  St. Luke says the leaders sneered at him and uttered a paraphrase of the temptation Satan used when he was tempting Christ in the wilderness. 

It always amazes me how people can be so cruel and arrogant when they think someone is helpless and in their total control. They figured they finally had Jesus just where they wanted him.

Something happened rather quickly, however.  We are presenting SEVEN words today – this is the second. Jesus was on the cross approximately three hours when he gave these words.  While we may not know for sure the exact order of the words or how far apart they were, the one thief was racked with guilt fairly soon after he joined with the other thief in his disrespect of Christ.

What is so amazing is that this repentant thief made the simplest request of Christ –  “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  His conscience had been pricked, and as recorded by St. Luke, he had started this interchange by rebuking the second thief.  He said, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”  His words were few, but Christ instantly read the whole book on what was in his heart, and what lay behind those few words. His repentance and his faith in Christ being the Son of God seemingly came in just an instant.

Jesus gave this thief a most precious gift – the assurance of his salvation and a place in heaven with Christ.  All in one short moment.

In just a couple of moments, you will hear Deacon Bill Eliason share about how Jesus looked after Mary.  Even on the cross, Jesus was aware of the needs of two others that are specifically mentioned. One was his righteous mother, but the other was a criminal. Jesus was outward directed and even while in excruciating agony, he was not focused on himself, but on the well being of others.

You know, what happened to the thief was not an isolated instance two thousand years ago.  Just this morning I was talking to another evangelist and he told me this gripping account that happened just yesterday.   There is a demolition contractor named Pat.  A rough and tumble kind of guy.  A guy who destroys things for as living.  Never seemed the slightest interested in God.  He was a chain smoker and developed COPD.  Most of the time, he could not walk even two blocks without being winded. He was asked about his relationship with Christ.  He didn’t have one. But he became interested as he did not know how long he had to live.   He repented and turned to Christ for his salvation.  His comment was that he had no idea that the feeling he now had was possible. He was filled with God’s live and began to cry.  He was prompted to run up and down his stairs a couple times, which he did with no pain or exhaustion.  Perhaps God healed his body as well!

When meditating of this word, I was struck by how few people actually have what that thief gained on the final day of his life. Most have never done what he had done.  They have not been thieves. They have not publicly insulted and taunted Christ. Surely, they have never hung on a cross to die.  Some have gone to church most of their lives, they pray and read the scriptures on occasion, and listen to the homilies when not texting on their phone or checking the score of the big game. They try to live a good life.  BUT…
They have NEVER heard those words from Jesus directed at THEIR spirit or THEIR situation. They have no idea where they will be when they die – whether they will be with Jesus or with the enemy of their souls.

It is a blessed thing to express your faith in Christ TO Christ himself and to acknowledge your sin and your need of him.  Just like Pat did yesterday.  When you transact business with him personally, he will surely put that blessed assurance in your spirit and you will know beyond a shadow of a doubt, just like that thief, and just like Pat, that you are now in the care of Jesus Christ and will indeed spend eternity with him.   I was many decades ago that God put that assurance in my spirit, and I do hope that all have come by today will indeed share that same blessed assurance with me. We simply have to make our request of Christ.  He will certainly answer us just as clearly and definitively as he did that thief, as God is no respecter of persons. May God bless you especially as you contemplate the passion of his Christ today, his sacred heart now wounded, and may you sense his eternal embrace around your soul.   In Jesus name, AMEN