Christ—Profile of Love
Dear heavenly Father, on this Good Friday, as I remember once again the sufferings and death of my Savior on my behalf, lead me to genuine repentance over my sins, to sincere praise of Your love, and to the firm conviction that by grace through faith I am justified in Your sight. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Text: Luke 23:34, 43, 46
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”
In Christ Jesus, whose love for us led to His death on our behalf, dear fellow redeemed:
The apostle Paul once presented the Corinthian Christians a crowning definition of love. He wrote: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4-8a). He then went on to conclude: “Now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
Throughout our Lenten Season we have considered various PASSION PROFILES high-lighting different individuals and actions involved with the Passion History of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is fitting (as Pastor Eichstadt noted last night in our Maundy Thursday service, that during this Holy Week as we bring the Lenten Season to a close) that we consider the PASSION PROFILE of the One whose history this is—our Lord Jesus!
Last night we considered Jesus’ PROFILE OF HUMBLE SERVICE! Today we will view Jesus’ passion from a slightly different perspective as we consider His PROFILE OF LOVE! We will do so on the basis of three statements of Jesus from the cross as recorded by the Evangelist Luke, the first of which demonstrated Jesus’ love for everyone, the second His love for individuals, and the third His love for His Heavenly Father!
When Jesus prayed the words: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do,” for whom was He praying? Whose forgiveness was He seeking? The verses immediately preceding this prayer speak of the Roman soldiers nailing Jesus to the cross. Many would therefore reasonably argue that Jesus was praying for those soldiers. Those Roman soldiers, after all, were committing the gravest crime ever committed by any men--the underserved execution of the Son of God! Granted, they did so unwittingly. That is why Jesus added the words “for they do not know what they do.” It was only after Jesus died and the Romans soldiers saw all of the unnatural signs that the centurion confessed: “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39) I would suggest, however, that Jesus’ prayer was not limited to just the Roman soldiers.
If you consider the wider context, the verses that follow Jesus’ prayer speak of the religious leaders passing under and by the cross hurling their insults at Jesus and mockingly suggesting that if only He were to come down from the cross, they would then believe His claim to be the Son of God. It could be argued that Jesus was also praying for these men who were His enemies. In so doing, it could be said that He was simply providing an example of what He urges all of us to do: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). Jesus certainly was doing that, however, I would suggest once again that Jesus’ prayer was not intended and ought not be limited to those people who were standing there and participating in the events of Good Friday.
When the apostle Paul wrote the Corinthian Christians he told them: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them” (2 Cor. 5:19). That is exactly what Jesus was praying for…that His heavenly Father would forgive the sins of the world in view of His sacrificial death, that He would not impute them (charge them against) any of us! Now, that is a PROFILE OF LOVE for everyone! Jesus, who was without sin, bore our sins and the sins of the whole world in order that we might be forgiven, reconciled to God, and then given the gift of everlasting life!
Jesus’ love, however, is a love for individuals! You do not have to worry about being lost in the crowd when it comes to Jesus’ love. Oh, yes, He together with His Father loves the world. Together they determined to save the world, but not a nameless, faceless world, but rather a world filled with individuals whom they loved! This is one of the themes that Luke develops in his Gospel account, and which we see demonstrated in Jesus’ words to the penitent thief on the cross.
Jesus was hung between two common criminals—individuals sentenced to death by crucifixion in view of their actual crimes of theft. It would appear from the accounts of Matthew and Mark that initially both thieves joined in the open ridicule of Jesus, urging Him to save them as well, if He were ever to save Himself. However, as the hours began to pass, one of the thieves began to think about the words Jesus was saying. He heard Jesus forgive those who abused Him. He heard Jesus cry out to His heavenly Father asking why He had forsaken Him. He heard Jesus lovingly entrust His mother for care to another man. Jesus’ words were used by the Holy Spirit to work a conviction within that thief’s heart that Jesus was indeed different, that He did not deserve to be crucified, and that He must indeed be whom everyone claimed Him to be—the Christ! Perhaps he did not understand all that was going on that day, but he knew this—he was sorry for the crimes he had committed and the One hanging next to him was his only hope. Consequently, the thief cried out, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Lk. 23:42). Jesus responded: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
My dear friends, just as Jesus’ love for everyone should prove a great comfort for each of us, because if Jesus loves the world and you and I are part of that world, then He loves you and me! In the same way, it is so very comforting for each of us to know that Jesus loves us as individuals! When Jesus earlier identified Himself as our “Good Shepherd,” He commented that He knew every one of His sheep, and that they were in His hands! You and I are in the good hands of Jesus—hands out of which no one and nothing can remove us (cf. John 10:11, 27-28). No matter where you are, no matter what time it may be, no matter in what circumstances you find yourself, Jesus loves you as an individual! That is His PROFILE OF LOVE!
It is a love, however, that also and ultimately finds its completion in His relationship with and love for His Heavenly Father! The final statement of Jesus that we will consider today are the last words Jesus spoke before His death on Good Friday. He had endured “God-forsakenness” as He suffered the torments of hell on our behalf. He had cried out in victory, those words which everyone listening that day must have considered so mysterious: “It is finished!” (Jn. 19:30) Then, looking up to heaven, He said: “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.” (Lk. 23:46)
Jesus, who had come into this world to fulfill the will of His Father concerning our rescue from sin, Satan, and death, had completed everything that was required to accomplish that goal. His love for His Father had been demonstrated by the obedience He had shown. As the apostle Paul pointed out to the Philippians, Jesus Christ took on “the form of a bondservant” and “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (cf. 2:7-8). Now, with all accomplished and looking forward to the glory to come, Jesus expressed His full love for and confidence in His heavenly Father.
Make no mistake--no one was taking Jesus’ life away from Him. He was laying it down Himself (cf. Jn. 10:17-18). He did so in order, as the writer to the Hebrews states so dramatically: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (2:14-15). Jesus had paid the price to overcome the penalty of sin, but now He in love for His Father and for us died to demonstrate that death no longer needed to be feared! He did so entrusting Himself to His Father, whose plan it was to restore His Son to life three days later even as He had promised in the Old Testament Scriptures and as Jesus Himself had testified so plainly to His disciples at an earlier date.
Consequently, when everything God had planned for Him to do was indeed done, Jesus in love entrusted His spirit to His heavenly Father…and died! The earth shook, the curtain in the temple was torn, the bodies of previously dead saints were raised—all in testimony to what Jesus had accomplished…all demonstrating the power of Jesus’ love! That, my dear friends, is our finalPASSION PROFILE—A PROFILE OF LOVE! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting
Soli Gloria Deo!