The second statement from the cross may prompt us to explore the type of people we find Jesus hanging around with in the Gospel. More specifically, we might be interested in the types of people Jesus invites into the kingdom. There is a substantial list of people who are welcomed by Jesus that may prompt a series of questions. Does everyone receive this invitation the same? Are others always in agreement with those Jesus chooses to invite? What tensions enter the narrative due to Jesus and his care free invitations? Is there any significance of this criminal being with Jesus?
Luke includes multiple people who may appear unlikely to be welcomed into the kingdom. Perhaps it would be valuable to examine any number of them on the way to our text where Jesus speaks with this criminal at this place called skull. These words are spoken in the context of a conversation between three men who are being executed, one of them Jesus. It is of interest that Jesus not only spent his life with such people, but also his death. He dies with them and for them. Jesus is crucified because of conversations like this one. Yet he does not stop, not even now, not even from the cross.
We do not know what else, if anything, these three on the cross may have said to one another. If there was anything else, Luke did not think it necessary to report it. Yet this conversation continues. Every one of us continues to ask for or to receive what we do not deserve. We are either asking Jesus to do things the way we want them done “Save us and yourself” or we are believing he knows what he is doing “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Again, we are not accumulating information for the sake of information. When working toward application, we ask ourselves “what are we to do with this information?” It is not enough to know that Jesus welcomed unlikely people into his kingdom. We are also expected to be inviting as well. But be aware, one has already been crucified for this kind of behavior.
Luke shares three different statements from Jesus on the cross. Simply stated, one of them is directed to the Father about the mob or the hostile world. The second is directed toward an unlikely recipient. The final one Jesus directs to the Father about his own self. While it would be easy to make too much of this observation, it is possible that distinguishing the words this way could help during our preaching.
For instance, upon reading the first text, we might explore the way the world operates. What is important to the world? What are the world’s expectations of others? How far is the world willing to go to maintain its control on the way things operate? Questions like these will help us understand the crucifixion from the world’s perspective.
On the other hand, there is another perspective on display in the text. We might explore the way that God operates (in this case, how God operates in the person of Jesus). What is important for Jesus? What expectations does Jesus have for the Father? How far are Jesus and the Father willing to go in order to demonstrate the way they operate? Questions like these help us reframe the crucifixion from God’s perspective.
Keeping questions simple will help preachers to prompt listeners to think without making the sermon a cognitive exercise. The episode surrounding our text reveals information about how the world responds to the ways of God. It also provides us with information of the way God responds to the ways of the world. Our text helps us understand that what the world (and all onlookers) thought was a criminal execution was actually an opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate the way God works.
Our application is then related to what we do with this information. While we are reminded of God’s desire to forgive, we are also reminded that as followers of one who is willing to forgive (even from the cross), we are expected to be a people who practice forgiveness.
Luke brings us together to hear Jesus preach in chapter six and then turns us loose into a rather ominous situation. For the next two chapters it seems that we are surrounded by death.
That very first scene after the sermon directs us to a centurion and his slave. Luke says that this slave was “about to die”, but he goes on to tell us that Jesus grants him good health. In the next episode we encounter one who has already died, the only son of a grieving widow. Yet, Jesus touches the coffin, speaks to the dead man, and “the dead man sat up and began to speak.” Chapter seven seems to acknowledge death and sickness as significant barriers. But, Luke wants us asking whether these things are barriers for Jesus.
Then, in the next chapter we find one possessed by many demons. One who is living among the dead, “in the tombs.” Luke does not tell us how to identify a demon. He does not give pointers on casting one out. But, he certainly wants us to know who rules in this domain. For “the man who was demon-possessed had been made well.” Afterward, we are in a situation where an official of the synagogue requests that Jesus help his twelve year old daughter who is dying. Before they reach the official’s home, they get word that she had already died. But Jesus takes her by the hand, speaks to her, “and she rose up immediately.”
In this context of death, Luke wants us to be aware that other things are going on as well. Jesus receives an envoy from John the Baptist, ministers to a Pharisee and an immoral woman, tells parables, calms a storm at sea, and heals a woman who could not be healed. While one or more of these things may add to any death related theme (for example, the disciples cry out “we are perishing”), they may also remind us that even in dire circumstances, other parts of ministry remain important.
Whatever goes through our mind while reading this section of the Gospel, Luke wants us to understand something about death. Luke just puts it out there, even before Easter, death may be a significant barrier, but Jesus rules even in this domain.