River Church NOLA
April 2 Good Friday
  • This Is Amazing Grace
  • I Will Rise
  • Above All
  • Introduction
    It’s Good Friday… for us, but it was a difficult day for Jesus.
    On the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, there were three crosses on that hill. What was the difference between the three crosses on Golgotha? Have you ever thought about that? Each one had someone different on it with a different story and a different purpose.
    The Gospel of Luke gives an eye-witness account of the scene at the cross.
    Luke 23:26–43 NLT
    26 As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large crowd trailed behind, including many grief-stricken women. 28 But Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child and the breasts that have never nursed.’ 30 People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’ 31 For if these things are done when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” 32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. 33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. 35 The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. 37 They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 A sign was fastened above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” 40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” 43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
    Luke 23:32–33 NLT
    32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. 33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.
    Calvary or the Place of the Skull, was the place of execution. It’s where the Romans carried out capital punishment and it was location of the three crosses. To us in the Christian era, nearly 2,000 years removed from that awful day, one cross stands out and that was Jesus’s Cross.

    Crucifixion was an instrument of execution performed by the Roman Empire that was meant to humiliate its subjects.

    It was meant to be a public spectacle and to warn others of the consequences of breaking the law. It was a horrible death that pierced the hands and feet of its victims. Hours would pass by as their bodies hung on the cross. They would experience trouble breathing, and would like experience raging thirst that tortured them in the dust and heat, under the gaze of passers by.
    There were three men, three crosses, the same death for all three, but how were they different? We might wonder what led the rulers to crucify Jesus with the thieves. Was it just accidental, as some might say? Were there three men condemned at the same time? Did the captain of the garrison think to himself, "Let’s get it out of the way; do all three of them together"?
    Or was crucifying Jesus with common criminals a final act of cruelty thought out by his enemies, which was calculated to heighten the shame and to humiliate Jesus further in front of the crowd? One can imagine them enjoying a sneer at the expense of Jesus - "Crucify him with thieves; yes, I like it!"
    Well, we don’t know how it came about, but it’s clear that there were three crosses on the hill of Calvary. The crosses were the same, and yet vastly different.
    One was a cross of Rebellion. One was a cross of Repentance. The other was a cross of Redemption. Let’s look at each of them in turn.

    1. The Cross of Rebellion

    This is the cross of the man who mocked Jesus in his hour of humiliation and shame. The dying thief was a shameless criminal, coarsened and hardened in sin. Even the solemnity of death couldn’t restrain the blasphemies from his lips. He could see Jesus, and hear him pray for his murderers. You might expect that at the time of death, a man might think about spiritual things and getting his soul ready to meet his maker. Not this man. This man had been a prisoner of hate and evil for so long, he could not change now.
    You might think just human decency would cause this man to be quiet when the mother of this man was lying at his feet in tears. You would think any decent human being would have some respect. You would be wrong. This man still had no remorse and continued to hurl insults at Jesus. He mocked Christ when he said,
    Luke 23:39 NLT
    39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”
    He was bitter, spurning the good even on the day of his dying, and cursing his way to hell in the most solemn hour of all history. His was a cross of Rebellion because his was a heart of rebellion. He had the chance even then of receiving forgiveness, but he threw it away.
    Illustration: You might think of a similar situation with someone dying in a hospital who is having the Gospel proclaimed to them. It is astonishing that it is not uncommon for such people to still reject Christ even at the brink of death. But we should not be surprised by them or by the thief. They have lived a life without God, rejecting God, and rejecting all things spiritual. They cannot just make a complete change, like turning on a light switch. They have determined their course, and their end, and now they are unable to change.
    Illustration: High up in the Canadian Rockies there is a sign that says, "The Great Divide". It’s the source of two great river systems, one flowing west into the Pacific Ocean, and the other into the Atlantic. Two raindrops can fall side by side, but will flow in opposite directions, never to meet again.
    That thief came to the great divide that day. There were two decisions he could make. 1) Accept Jesus and confess his sins. 2) Reject Jesus and die in his sins. One choice led to eternal life and the other to eternal hell. The thief made his last choice in life and its results would be forever. His was a cross of Rebellion.
    Too many people today fall into this category… the cross of Rebellion and it leads to eternal hell.
    But then there was a second cross. It was the cross of repentance.

    2. The Cross of Repentance

    This is the cross of the penitent thief. We don’t know anything about him other than the fact that he too was a thief like the other guilty man. Both were being justly punished for their crimes. Both were guilty and both were deserving of death.
    In hindsight we want to think maybe this criminal was not as vile as the other. Perhaps his crime was not as grievous as that of the other criminal. We want to believe maybe his sin was some small crime. Perhaps he stole food because his family was starving.
    But we don’t know that. All we know is that he, like the other criminal, was guilty of some crime. Yet, there was something very different about the second criminal. He was able to recognize that Jesus was no common criminal like themselves.
    What was it? Maybe life had not hardened this thief as it had the other. Maybe this thief still had a flickering light of humanity and spiritual sensitivity. H wasn’t less guilty. He appears to be just less hardened, less bitter and less resentful against the world and against God.
    Perhaps he had a spiritual upbringing and seeing Jesus’ mother made him think of his own mother and caused him to become repentant. Or perhaps he was older and more mature so he could understand his own guilt. Perhaps he was just less self-centered. 
    Maybe it was something about the way that Jesus conducted himself which convicted the thief of his own vileness when contrasted with the righteousness of Jesus, visible to all who had eyes to see it. Maybe it was that instead of curses from the lips of Jesus as the soldiers hammered in the nails, he heard a prayer of forgiveness for his torturers.
    It seems likely that this man had known of the life of Jesus, for when the other thief was shouting abuse at Jesus, this fellow tried to restrain him and told him that although they were receiving the just reward of their misdeeds, Jesus had done nothing wrong.

    The drawing of the Holy Spirit allowed this thief to see Jesus for who He really is.

    Though much conjecture can be made, we can know that it was the Lord that caused the heart of this thief to be softened. It wasn't because this thief was more spiritually aware, but it was because of the gracious moving of the Holy Spirit that allows this thief to see Christ as he really is - the Messiah. After all, in Jesus conversation with Nicodemus Jesus makes explicitly clear how one is able to enter the kingdom of God.  
    John 3:5–8 NLT
    5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
    The second thief was guilty but he feared God and that was the beginning of his repentance. No-one is beyond hope of redemption if they still have some fear of God. As he thought about the fundamental issues of life and death, of right and wrong, faith rose in his soul by the power of the Holy Spirit and he blurted out his appeal, 
    Luke 23:42 NLT
    42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
    It was a plea which didn’t fall on deaf ears. The response was immediate. 
    Luke 23:43 NLT
    43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
    The cross of repentance teaches that The way of salvation is simple. The devil has blinded the eyes of men and women to thinking that it is hard to be saved and that it's difficult to become a Christian. But this clearly isn’t true. The man was saved simply by asking the Lord to save him.
    In the words of his request, there is surely an attitude of repentance as he threw himself on the mercy of Jesus. He believed the Lord could and would save him and he committed himself to the Lord and trusted him to save him.

    That’s all that is necessary to salvation - repentance and faith.

    Paul quotes Joel when he makes the following statement.
    Romans 10:13 NLT
    13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
    The cross of Repentance reminds us that the worst sinner may be saved. The extent of his sin didn’t alter his chance of being saved one little bit. Let no-one despair in thinking that they are too bad to be saved. One hymn writer put it so well when he said, "the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives."

    Salvation doesn’t depend religious ceremonies, good deeds, or any contribution from you

    Another important lesson to learn from the personal encounter of the dying thief is that salvation doesn’t depend on religious ceremonies, good deeds or any contribution from man. This man had no chance to do any good deeds, or attend any services. Though this thief never had the opportunity to be baptized, he was definitely saved.

    3. The Cross of Redemption

    Luke 23:41 NLT
    41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.”
    At his trial by the Jews, no grounds had been established on which he could justly be condemned. So, false witnesses were bribed to lie. Pilate in his examination concluded that Jesus had done nothing worthy of punishment. The crowning testimony to his innocence comes from the throne of God at both the beginning and end of his ministry - his baptism and transfiguration - where God confirmed that Jesus was his beloved son in whom he was well pleased.
    Why then did Jesus die? Was it all a horrible miscarriage of justice? From the human point of view there’s no greater blot on human history than the story of Calvary. It is history’s darkest atrocity, but it also the climax of God’s plan of redemption.
    2 Corinthians 5:19 NLT
    19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.
    2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT
    21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
    This tells us that God took the initiative in our redemption. God caused Christ to be identified with human sin in order that we might become identified with righteousness, his righteousness.
    The death of Christ was quite different from the two other victims. They died without any choice in the matter. Their lives were taken away. But it was quite different with Jesus. In advance of the crucifixion he had told his disciples, 
    John 10:17–18 NLT
    17 “The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. 18 No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”
    The death of Jesus was inevitable only because he willed it so. It was as our substitute that he suffered and died. The basis for our redemption is the shedding of his blood. The sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed towards this once and for all effective sacrifice. Evil did its worst on Calvary. Wicked hands took and crucified the Lord of life, but where man’s rebellion against God reached its limit, the grace of God shines through in all of its splendor.
    Illustration: In the year 1815 there was the Battle of Waterloo and all England was waiting for the result. It was arranged that as soon as the news reached the country it should be rushed to Winchester and then signaled to other towns by semaphore from the cathedral spire. The great moment arrived and the words were spelt out letter by letter, "Wellington defeated..." Then suddenly the spire was shrouded by fog, and the country was filled with gloom, thinking that was the end of the message. After a while the fog lifted and the message was completed "Wellington defeated the enemy!" Those last words made all the difference in the world.
    At Calvary the devil tried to make out that the message was "Christ defeated..." - he died. That would have been the case if Good Friday was the end of the story, but the resurrection that followed on Easter Day proves that the message of the cross of Redemption is that

    "Christ defeated the enemy!"

    Conclusion
    There were many people who were instrumental in crucifying our Lord. There were the teachers who hated him, the traitor who sold him, the priests who bought him, even the disciples who deserted him.
    But the story remains academic unless we each admit, "I was there, too". In a very real sense we were all at Calvary, because it was my sins and your sins which Jesus took to the cross.
    We have a choice between the cross of rebellion and the cross of repentance. Look to the cross of redemption and be saved!
      • Luke 23:26–43TLB

      • Luke 23:32–33TLB

      • Luke 23:39TLB

      • John 3:5–8TLB

      • Luke 23:42TLB

      • Luke 23:43TLB

      • Romans 10:13TLB

      • Luke 23:41TLB

      • 2 Corinthians 5:19TLB

      • 2 Corinthians 5:21TLB

      • John 10:17–18TLB

  • I Will Rise

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