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"And They Crucified Him"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 25, 2018
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:And They Crucified Him)
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Mark 14:24a

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! But before that wonderful victory could be won, it was first necessary for the Lord's Son, our Savior, to suffer and die. His sacrifice to save sinful humankind is the blessed story which saves. Lord, grant such a saving faith in that message to us all. Amen.

When I was a young boy, during the early days of television, CBS produced a program called You Are There. Using the best writers, the best actors, the show pretended they were taking their audience to important dates in history. Acting as if they were actually present at these events, You Are There reporters would unfold an accurate history lesson as they interviewed the important people at those events. One week they would be on the deck of the sinking Titanic; the next week You Are There would interview Davy Crockett at the Alamo, and the following they would be standing on the sidelines for the assassination of Julius Caesar.

This past week, I went over the list of places and events You Are There covered. I was shocked to find that they never had any reporters interview the Bethlehem innkeeper on the night Jesus was born. They never spoke to a shepherd who had heard the angels tell how God's Son had come to change and save the world. They never went to the stable. They never spoke to Mary and Joseph.

But that's not all. Although the program covered the gunfight at the OK Corral and Eli Whitney inventing the cotton gin, they never managed to be at the borrowed Jerusalem tomb of Jesus. What a scoop that would have been to record the soldiers collapsing in terror at the sight of the risen Redeemer or to talk to the women who came to finish Jesus' burial and ended up seeing their living Lord face to face. No, they never covered that event, and there is yet a third event which You Are There never covered. They never went to Jesus' crucifixion outside the city walls of Jerusalem, almost 2,000 years ago. Although the rest of the Christian world will not get there until this Friday, Good Friday, the traditional day Jesus died, I would like to take you there today. We are a bit early, but you really have to go there this week if you are to understand Dr. Meyer's resurrection message next week.

As we begin our walk up to the hill of crucifixion, let me fill you in on the events of the last few days. Less than a week ago, Jesus entered Jerusalem as if He were a king. Indeed, the crowds which surrounded Him proclaimed Him to be just that: the successor to the nation of Israel's favorite monarch, David. "Hosanna to the son of David!" they called out. "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!" they yelled. It was not an event which was received enthusiastically by everyone. The religious leaders of the nation, feeling power slipping from their hands, and fearing what might be the response of the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate, began a plot against Jesus.

In short order, and at bargain basement prices, one of Jesus' closest disciples, Judas Iscariot, was bribed into betraying His Master. That is how, on Thursday night, Jesus was arrested and put on trial. To be honest, it wasn't much of a trial. It was held at an illegal time when the testimony of the witnesses was bought and paid for. Even so, for a while it seemed Jesus might escape the trap. It was only when He claimed to be the Son of God, the Savior of the world that they felt they had grounds to sentence Him to death.

Sadly, at least from their perspective, the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court, didn't have the legal authority to put anyone to death. To do that, they needed the blessing of the government. With a bit of fancy footwork, which included changing the charges against Jesus, urging the crowd to call for His death, and threatening to take the case all the way to Caesar in Rome, they got Pilate to give in and order a Man whom he knew to be innocent, to be sent to the cross. Which takes us to the place where we are right now-near the top of a hill, which more than one person says resembles a human skull. As the old TV program would have said, "You are there." You are there at the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.

If you look around, you can identify a number of groups. See that small bunch over there-the distraught ones with the tears. That is Jesus' mother, some friends, and John, the only one of Jesus' disciples brave enough to put in an appearance. The easiest group to recognize are the members of the Roman execution squad. It is not an easy thing to nail a squirming man to a cross, but experience has taught them how to do the job with efficiency and a minimum of effort. In our age, artists show people being crucified on crosses way up in the air. The Romans knew better. Such a cross is a waste of wood, and besides, it's far easier to hang a person on a cross with his feet only inches off the ground. You can see that part of the job has been done. Now, the soldiers wait for the end and make sure nobody attempts some kind of rescue. They occupy themselves by laughing at the condemned, playing games, and dividing up the earthly goods of the crucified. It is one of the perks of their job.

On this side of the Romans are the fellows who put Jesus on that cross. They have waited a long time for this day and feel no need to hold back their glee. If you listen carefully, you can pick up some of the things they say. Did you hear that one? "Jesus, You saved others, why don't You save Yourself?" That calls for a bit of an explanation. You see, for the last few years, Jesus has been saving others. Not even His worst enemies can deny His miracles. He touched and healed lepers, those who were possessed by devils, made the lame walk, granted sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and most wondrous of all, raised people from the dead. It's true.

Yes, from the dead. One of His latest miracles, the raising of well-known Lazarus from Bethany, really upset the apple cart. People who had written off His other miracles were touched by this one. It couldn't be explained away. The man had not been kind of dead, he had been dead for days. Still, when Jesus called his name, a living Lazarus, still wrapped up in his mummy-like burial cloths, came shuffling out of the tomb. Yes, after that miracle, a lot of people thought the Messiah had come. So there you have it. Let me ask, do you have any questions?

Ah, a question about the two nameless men who are crucified on either side of Jesus. No, I hadn't forgotten them. In fact, they are the subject of what I want to talk to you about. You see, these men are unique in all of history. Since God first promised to send His Son to be the Substitute to rescue us from our sins, humanity had been waiting for Jesus to arrive. Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah looked forward to this day, and believed God would keep His promise to send a Redeemer; but all of them lived and died without ever seeing the Man who is hanging, right now, upon that middle cross.

And after the death of these three men, the world will look back upon this day as being the greatest injustice the world has ever seen. But these two men on the cross are different. They neither look forward, nor do they look back. Today is all they have. What's that? Do I know their history? No, I don't even know their names. All I can tell you is that both these men were tried and justly convicted by Roman law. Both were condemned to the same death; both were dying next to God's Son; and both could have been saved by Him.

Oh, one other thing: I've been told that when they were nailed to their crosses, they both made fun of Jesus, the Man in the middle. Perhaps they were trying to deflect the jeering and heckling of the crowd away from themselves. Possibly they derived some degree of personal joy from the derision of Jesus. (After all, it's human nature to want to look down upon somebody else). In their situation, the list of candidates for ridicule is a short one. Who knows, maybe it is even possible for these men to want, just for a few moments, to feel they are part of the large group gathered before the cross.

Listen carefully, if the wind is right, you can hear the one call out. "Jesus," he says "if you really are the Messiah You claim to be, don't You think it's about time You came down from the cross? And as long as You're getting down, why not take the two of us with You?" You know my friend, in our age it's going to be fashionable to believe Jesus didn't die. People will say He went into a coma, or fainted, or well, they will just say He didn't die. But this thief knew better than that. He knew if that were to happen, these Roman guards would forfeit their lives. He knew that nobody who was crucified came down off the cross alive.

Wait, what? This is strange. The other thief who had earlier been throwing jibes of his own is silent. No, not silent. Just thinking. Thinking before he calls back, "Man, don't you get it? We're dying and will soon answer to God for the crimes we have committed. We're here because our lives earned it, but this Man has done nothing wrong." That's a lot for a man in such pain to say, but it appears he is not done. Looking at Jesus, he humbly pleads, "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."

Over the centuries, wise men will write great commentaries about the Bible. Many of those men will say this crucified thief did nothing. In some respects they are right. He was never baptized; he never joined a church; he never made a pledge; he never went to a Bible class; and he never gave a single penny to missions. But that does not mean this man did nothing. In those few short sentences, this man did a great deal. Consider, Jesus had once said, "Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven." No doubt about it, our thief has done that.

Years from now the apostle John will write, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." If I heard correctly just now, the thief has also made such a confession of his transgressions.

But that last part, the request that Jesus would remember him ... and the promise of eternal life Jesus gave in return. You know, you can read through the Gospels most carefully and you will find Jesus never gave such a promise to anybody else. We probably shouldn't be surprised. If the thief had lived to read 1 Corinthians, he would have understood when Paul wrote, "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." No explanation would have been necessary if the thief had heard Paul say, "But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Of course, there is John 3:16. Those familiar words seem written for this dying thief. You remember them, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

I am glad you have come here with me today. I am glad you are there. I am glad you have a chance to see two men who represent all of humanity. You see, like those thieves at the beginning of this execution, we all began our lives alienated from the Lord. Certainly not all of us mocked the Lord, but that doesn't mean we were His friends. Our innate sinfulness was there, and it was enough to separate us from the Triune God, and it was enough to keep us from salvation.

But then something happened to some of us-just like something happened to that thief. I don't know what changed the mind and heart of that man on the cross. Was it Jesus taking care of His mother or forgiving those who put Him there? I don't know what changed the thief, but I do know who changed Him. Somewhere, somehow, the Holy Spirit spoke to him, spoke to both those thieves. And somewhere, somehow, one of those thieves was saved, and the other was not-just as some who are hearing this message will not be saved.

And that's sadness because it doesn't have to be. Look again at the picture in front of you. Jesus, God's Son, our Savior, is dying, As He does, He carries all of our sins. On either side of Him hangs a sinner. Both of them, understandably, want to be delivered from their death sentence. One of the men said, "Jesus, save Yourself and us." That man wanted to go back to his sin, back to his crimes, back to his old way of life, and pick up where he had left off. Did you notice that Jesus said nothing to him? But the other criminal, well, he wanted to be delivered, but he wanted his deliverance to be forward. Respectfully, repentantly, he prayed, "Jesus remember me when You enter Your kingdom." In spite of Jesus' pain, in spite of all our sins which He was carrying, Jesus turned to that man and said, "Today you will be with Me in paradise."

There is a profound truth here. The truth is this. Our sinfulness, our human nature, our blackened desire always wants to go back ... back to the dark ... back where nobody can judge us ... back where nobody can condemn us. But the Lord never delivers people backward. His deliverance is always forward. "Today you will be with Me." That was Jesus' promise, and the direction He was taking that thief was forward: forward to salvation, forward to heaven, forward to an eternity without fear, greed, need, tears, or sorrow.

But that forward direction is not just for this thief. Look at your Bible. When the children of Israel were in the wilderness they kept whining about how they should never have left Egypt. They wanted to go back. But God's deliverance is always forward, and although it took a while, His people eventually ended up in the Promised Land.

And so it is for you. Actually, that's the way it is for everybody. In the course of this message I have repeatedly said, "You are there," and that's the truth. But now I would like to have you turn around. Go slowly, because you are going to be surprised at what you see. The sight almost takes your breath away, doesn't it? Let me tell you what you are looking at. You are looking at every man, woman, and child who is alive today. There are billions of people here There are people from every continent, every culture, every climate, and of every color.

But that number is only a small portion of the people you can see. The truth is, every person who will ever be born will someday have a you are there moment. People from the present and the future will, sooner or later, line up on one side of that cross or the other. Every one of us will identify with the thief who wanted to be left alone or the thief who was given a repentant heart, faith in the Savior and the gift of eternal life.

Today you have stood at the foot of the cross and watched God's sinless Son carry the sins of the world. But this message cannot end without me telling you there is another you are there moment you must behold. If this day was the darkest in humankind's history, and it was, you need to be here for the greatest day this world will ever see. Be there as a doomed and damned world recognizes its Savior who not only carried our sins, but whose resurrection also defeated death. Listen to next week's broadcast, when Dr. Dale Meyer speaks about the risen Redeemer. And if you cannot wait that long to hear more about the living Lord, then don't hesitate. Please, call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.

Reflections for MARCH 25, 2018

Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. That was Pastor Ken Klaus, and Dr. Dale Meyer joins us now here in the studio. Dr. Meyer, here we are at the beginning of Holy Week. Our topic for today is how does one make or keep Holy Week holy?

Dale Meyer: A day or a week is not holy of itself. Paul teaches that in Colossians. We make it holy by giving time to the Word of God in meditation. That means that, as we begin this week's journey to the cross, which Pastor Klaus presented so nicely to us, we should make an intentional effort to meditate upon the Word of God and thereby this week becomes holy for us.

Mark Eischer: I think sometimes we have the wrong impression of what holy means. It really means to be set apart or consecrated to something. Right?

Dale Meyer: Absolutely. We are not the people of this world. God has called us out to follow Jesus, to follow Him to the cross, to the empty tomb, and one day to heaven. We are a different people. We may have forgotten that during the decades when America was, quote unquote, "Christian America," but the way the culture has changed now, we are, as St. Peter says in his first epistle, we really are a "peculiar people." We are holy.

Mark Eischer: As a people set apart by God's grace, how do we make this week also set apart and consecrated?

Dale Meyer: I think by taking the time to meditate, to read the Bible and our devotional literature, to see also how the people around Jesus reacted. Pastor Klaus talked about, "You are there." Well, what would we have done if we were there? I'm not so sure that we would have reacted any differently than many people did. Then thirdly, in meditation, in looking back to the story, let's also look at our story. Am I living now as someone who knows that Jesus died for my sins, that He rose for me and I have been called to live a life set apart, peculiar, holy?

Mark Eischer: How does one meditate on God's Word?

Dale Meyer: We have the Third Commandment, which says, "Remember the Sabbath
day to keep it holy," and Dr. Luther says, "We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it." That's one thing we would especially do this Holy Week: take the time to meditate on the Word of God, especially the Passion of our Lord Jesus.

Similarly, in the Lord's Prayer, the first petition says, "Hallowed be Thy Name," meaning may Your Name be holy, Name meaning His revelation. May that revelation be special to us. Again, Luther: "God's Name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also." Then the question is how is God's Name kept holy? God's Name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we as children of God also lead holy lives according to it. Help us do this, dear Father in heaven, that anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God's Word profanes the Name of God among us. Protect us from this, Heavenly Father." The Third Commandment and the first petition talk about how we sanctify every day and our lives, and that's by the Word of God and meditation.

Mark Eischer: Would you say that's particularly hard to do in our day and age, and if so, why?

Dale Meyer: Great, great question, Mark. I think one is familiarity. Here in Christian
America, many of us, especially in the church, have been through Holy Week so many times that we think we got it down pat. I, for one, as a minister, find Good Friday, Easter, Christmas, very difficult to preach, simply because of this familiarity. How do we crack through the familiarity to see the shocking nature of what really happened? That's one.
A second reason is I think in our day and age we have separated spiritual from real life. We are body, soul, and spirit, all one person, but in this day and age, well, that's spiritual. You can take care of that on your own time, but now we're here about real life. I think that separation of spiritual from the realities of life in this sinful world makes it more difficult too. The fact of the matter is, Jesus didn't die a spiritual death. The crucifixion was agonizing, ghastly, and it was body, soul, and spirit. That's another reason why I think it's difficult because we've divorced the spiritual from real life.

Mark Eischer: Again, our question today is, how does one make or keep Holy Week holy? Dr. Meyer, what does that look like in your situation?

Dale Meyer: Here's my plan. I think on Thursday, Maundy Thursday, I'm going to put my devices away, cell phone away, no Facebook, no tweets, none of that stuff. I'm going to find a place where I can put it away and not get to it very easily, because one of the problems with the blessings of our digital communication is that it makes us superficial and instantaneous. These days, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and then joyous Sunday, got to get all this ephemeral stuff out of my mind so that I can actually sit and be still before God on His cross.

Then I think on Good Friday, that'll be a solemn day. What I have done many times in the past and may do again is listen to at least part of Bach's St. Matthew Passion. It starts out,
"Come ye daughters, share my wailing," and I start to put myself in that scene, much the way Pastor Klaus did for us in his fine message today. I start to reflect on all that's going on here, and I confess I can never fully comprehend all that's going on here.

Then Saturday, I'll keep my activity minimal, meditate. I hope to learn more, that I really am there at the cross, not just as a spectator, but as the person put to death. I am put to death at the cross. That's because I have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, as St. Paul says in Romans 6, more and more I want to see that it is my sinful self that was put to death on Good Friday. Without dying to my sinful self through Jesus' cross, I can't appreciate the new life that comes Easter morning.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"All Glory Laud and Honor" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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