Category Archives: Cross of Christ

Study 3 – Faith Grants Eternal Life – Luke 23:32-43

Discuss this quote: 

“faith … is the hand of the soul, to lay hold of all the graces, excellencies, and high perfections of Christ.” (Richard Sibbes circa. 1600).

Context

Our study on “faith” has, so far, taught us that faith is not about feelings but about a certain hope (Hebrews 11:1). That is, we don’t live on wishful thinking, rather, we live in the certain hope of the resurrection as proven by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Secondly, we learned that faith is something that we can observe in someone’s life. We act and speak in response to our faith. James 2:14-26 showed us that faith is not simply what we think, but what we do with that thinking.

This week, we turn to an account in the Gospel of Luke which reminds us of the importance and power of faith.

The context of this account, as you will quickly see, is the moment of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Read Luke 23:32-43

Retell the story in your own words.

Reread Luke 23:32-43 (these three steps will help get the passage into our vision so we can see it clearer).

Observation

Structure

  • 32-33 With Jesus
    • 34 Jesus said…Forgive them.
      • 35 The people and rulers said…IF he is God’s Messiah
        • 36-37 The soldiers said…IF you are the king
          • 38 The public notice said…This is the king of the Jews.
        • 39 One criminal said…Aren’t you the Messiah?
      • 40-42 But the other said…This man is innocent…he is the King.
    • 43 Jesus said…Today you will be with me in paradise.
  • 43b With Jesus

Notes on the structure

A study of the structure above will show you the flow of the passage as well as the central theme – Jesus is the King, God’s chosen One, the Messiah, but who can see it? The account begins a birds eye view of Jesus nailed to his cross with two criminals on his right and his left. It is a mockery of a kingdom. The description sounds like a kingly position with those on his right and his left but they are criminals and the place of honour is a place of shame – the cross. Jesus, however, declares that they do not know what they are doing. The spectators then get numbered off as all questioning and/or mocking the point of Jesus as Messiah. The great irony is placed at the centre of the story: a sign with the plain statement that Jesus is the King of the Jews. The sign is of course there to mock either Jesus or the Jews or both, but the message does not come with a snarling voice or a mocking laughter – the sign is neutral, without emotion – it states what we know to be true. Everyone around the sign has their own opinion.

The punch line comes with the second criminal who, firstly, rebukes the mockers (namely the other criminal), secondly, declares Jesus’ innocence, and thirdly, puts his trust in Christ alone: by speaking of Jesus’ kingdom, he declares his own faith in Jesus as King. He is the only person in this account who sees Jesus for who He really is.

Some questions to work through the passage:

Question 1: How is the scene depicted in Verses 32-33? (Note the use of the words “with him” and “along with” and finally “one on his right, the other on his left” which highlight the obscenity of this scene – the King of Glory is pictured as the chief of thieves.

Question 2: List the various characters in the passage from Verse 35 to 39 and comment on what they said to Jesus or about Jesus. What do these statements tell us about the theme of this account? (Make sure to include the sign in Verse 38. The theme could be stated as: do you believe Jesus is the Messiah?)

Question 3: Focus on the statements of the 2nd criminal in Verses 40-42. What does he believe? (about God, judgment, himself, and Jesus?)

Question 4: What does Jesus believe? (see Verses 43 and 34)

Question 5: Do you believe that this man was saved? Why?

Meaning

Luke believes that Jesus is the Messiah, the Chosen One of God and that forgiveness comes to those who hear this good news and repent (see also Luke 24:46-48). The 2nd criminal put his faith in Jesus and, with no good works of his own, was promised a place in paradise by the King who can make that promise. His faith was not blind, although it was present despite the present reality. That is, most people saw a sad and pathetic fool but he saw the saving work of God.

Application

Application A: Seeing what’s really there. The mockers on that day were blind to the reality of who Jesus is and therefore rejected him. Jesus demonstrated no strength (apart from patience, kindness, love and self-control) and yet the 2nd criminal saw a king. What the 2nd criminal also saw was the unfairness and shallow mindedness of the people of this world. In the same way, it is easy for us to overlook the reality of Jesus as King when we live in a world where he is invisible. Our happiness seems not to come from faith but from money, sex and power (it would be great to do a short sermon series on those!) What we can see and feel is real. But, as Romans 1 reminds us, God’s eternal qualities and power are clearly seen from what he has made and done. Romans 1 also tells us that the gospel is the power of God that saves. We are being asked today, “do you believe that Jesus is the Messiah/King of paradise?” Or would you rather believe that paradise is only what you make of yourself in this world?

Application B: Which criminal are you? The first criminal comes across quite angry with Jesus (at least that’s the emotion I hear in the text). He almost blames Jesus for the state that he is in! Have you ever prayed like, “God, if you are there and real, what are you doing?! If you were real, my life would not be like this!” His position is: My Messiah would do x, y and z. If you are not doing these things, then you must not be the Messiah! On the other hand, the other criminal accepts where he is in life, and turns to Jesus for deliverance. He doesn’t try to change Jesus or rebuke Jesus – he turns to Jesus for help. Note that his act of repentance is subtle – not really stated bluntly but his declaration that Jesus is King is fairly clear. His repentance looks simply like a declaration that he is in the wrong – getting what he deserves. And his confession of Jesus as LORD comes in the form of, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Do you wish Jesus to be what you want him to be? Or do you wish Jesus to include you in His kingdom?

Application C: Living like a criminal. The righteous criminal turned to Christ (literally) and was saved. But his earthly life came to an end that day. We who have turned to Christ continue to live out our faith as changed people. We will look more into what this looks like in the coming weeks but it is true that the only difference between us and that criminal is time. He was guaranteed a place with Jesus that day (refrain from questions about the time-frame between death and the resurrection – good question but it is a sidetrack to our point). We are guaranteed a place with Jesus at a later date – but our guarantee is not changed. Read Ephesians 1:13-14 and see who will see to it (guarantee) that we make it to eternity. Hint: He is named in the passage.

REVELATION 22:6 -21 -GROWTH GROUPS DISCUSSION NOTES

As we come to the end of the series on the Book of Revelation it is helpful to recall the historical perspective that lies behind this wonderful book. This is summed up by Paul Barnett in his commentary Revelation: Apocalypse Now and Then at page 153:

Revelation leaves us in no doubt: the great end-time battle of God does not lie in the future but in the past. By his death and resurrection Christ has conquered the twin evils of guilt and death. As a consequence, God’s kingdom is now, a present reality. These are perhaps the most important keys to the mysteries of this book.

As for the evils that the original Christians (and Christians ever since) were facing, Barnett reminds us:

The book repeatedly portrays God as not the source of evil. In his mercy he limits the extent of satanic destruction to provide rebellious humanity with the opportunity to repent of the worship of demons and idols, and their breaking of his commandments (9:2). In the face of this evil, Christians are continually called on to display patience and faithfulness to Jesus. And it is by endurance and faith that believers share in the completed conquest of the Lamb who was slain.

So what is there left for us before we become fully glorified in the presence of the Lord as depicted under the imagery of the new Jerusalem and the bride adorned for her husband?

The answer of course is the second coming of Jesus to bring this age to a close and to bring about the fulfillment of his ultimate plan for his people.

That is what chapter 22:6 is all about.

QUESTION ONE: Rev. 22:7 quotes Jesus as saying, ‘Behold, I am coming soon’. Given that 2,000 years have passed, how would you explain the meaning of the word ‘soon’?

QUESTION TWO: From your knowledge of the New Testament, what do you know about its teaching about the return of Jesus?

QUESTION THREE: How are we meant to prepare for his coming?

QUESTION FOUR: The book of the Revelation ends with a prayer, ‘… Amen, come Lord Jesus.’ It is rare for such a prayer to be heard in worship services today and it is probably rare for it to be uttered in the private prayers of most believers. Why is this so and how can we change our thinking to follow the example of this verse in beseeching Jesus to come quickly?

REVELATION 4 AND 5 STUDY GUIDE – THE GREAT VISION OF HEAVEN

The basic message of this book is that even though Christians may be called upon to suffer terrible persecution in this life, they must remember that they will win in the end because Jesus, described as the Lamb that was slain, defeated evil on the cross and has prepared a place for his faithful people to be with him forever.

The way this message is conveyed is through pictures. All these pictures are from this world, reminding us that they are not to be taken literally. The reader has to look for the meaning behind the pictures.

Always remember, the reality which the word pictures represent will be far, far, greater than anything that can be imagined; like the very first scratchy black and white moving pictures of over a century ago have morphed into a big, smart, ultra-high-definition TV, able to tune in live to anything, anywhere in the world.

All that said; let’s look at the great vision of heaven which John described in Chapters 4 and 5 of the Revelation.

Revelation 4:1-6 [Read]

John sees an open door into heaven. Before him is someone, not described, on a throne. This represents God ruling over all things.

Surrounding the throne are 24 other thrones with 24 elders sitting on them. They represent all of God’s people gathered in the presence of God. They are decked-out in white, with crowns of gold on their head; these represent purity and honour.

From the throne comes flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, representing God’s awesome power and holiness. Before the throne is what looks like a sea of glass, clear as crystal, representing the tranquility and safety of that place.

Revelation 4:6-7 [Read]

Then there are the four living creatures, representing the whole heavenly realm, who know all that can be known about the one who sits upon the throne.

Revelation 4:8-11 [Read]

They never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.’

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the 24 elders fall down before him seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever saying;

‘Worthy are you our Lord and God to receive glory and honour and power for you created all things and by your will they existed and where created.’

Here are the essential elements of heaven in worldly pictorial form. We don’t know what it will actually look like, but we know enough to be sure that it will be wonderful beyond description and much too marvelous for words.

All his people, purified from sin, will be in his presence. It will be a place of awe and wonder, and it will be beautiful and secure like a tranquil sea.

Notice also that the focus in this vision is on God as creator. In a sense it takes us back to Genesis.

Revelation 1:1-25 [Read]

The theme of God as creator permeates the whole Scripture.

Take as an example Psalm 8 as David gazed up to those very same heavens:

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. … When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you care for him? … O Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth.

Back to Revelation 4, what do the people of God, gathered in his presence, say? Verse 11:

Worthy are you, our Lord and God to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things and by your will they existed and where created.

When faced with the challenges and mysteries of life in this world, we need to give more thought to our great, almighty Creator, who can do anything he wants to, and always does what is exactly right.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

  1. How would you explain to a new Christian the significance of God as creator when so many today live as if he doesn’t even exist?
  2. When faced with natural disasters such as the Covid -19, or terrible earthquakes, how do they fit into our world-view as Christians in ways that might lead us to worship God the way it is portrayed in this vision?

Revelation 5:1-5 [Read]

But even the picture of God as creator is not the complete story. For that we must go to the second part of this vision, Chapter 5:1:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break the seals?’

In all of heaven, no one was found worthy to open the scroll. John began to weep loudly because of this. Then, verse 5;

One of the elders said to me, ‘weep no more; behold, the Lion of Judah, the root of David has conquered so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’

Is that familiar? Think of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), Isaac (Genesis 26:1-5), Jacob (Genesis 34:9-15), Judah (Genesis 49:8-10), David (2 Samuel 7:8-17), and great David’s greater son, Jesus?

He is the one who has conquered Satan and all his works. … So he alone has the right to know what is written on the scroll and what is to come.

Revelation 5:6-7 [Read]

Having introduced us to the long promised conquering king, under the title ‘The Lion of Judah’, the imagery changes; verse 6;

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a lamb standing as though it had been slain, with seven eyes which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.

From now on in the Book of Revelation, Jesus is mainly referred to as ‘the Lamb that was slain’, who has redeemed us to God.

This reminds us that in heaven we will never be able to forget that we are there because he laid down his life for us and took upon himself the penalty for all our sins.

Revelation 5:8-10

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying;

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open the seals, for you were slain and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God and they shall reign on the earth.

Is this not what God promised to Abraham in the beginning? Is this not what God promised, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David and is not Jesus the fulfilment of all those promises? That is what we will be affirming in heaven, that all the promises of God find their fulfilment in Jesus.

Exactly what it will be like in heaven, we cannot imagine, but the key point to remember is that whatever it turns out to be like, it will all be about our Lord Jesus Christ.

He will have gathered us to himself like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings and it will be wonderful beyond anything that has ever entered our minds.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

  1. In addition to God as Creator, how would you explain to a new Christian the significance of the phrases ‘the lamb that was slain’ and ‘The Lion of Judah of the root of David’?
  2. Why do you think it is important to state these descriptions of Jesus in the vision?
  3. How would you explain why the ‘Lamb’ is worshipped alongside the one who is seated on the throne?

CONCLUSION

Imagine we are those Christians in Asia Minor being told to confess Caesar as Lord. Imagine you are a Christian in the Middle East or in Nigeria being ordered to renounce Jesus and embrace Islam, imagine you belong to a house church in China and the knock comes on the door and they take you away for re-education. What would we do?

If we have the hope of eternal life burning in our hearts, if we fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, we will stand but if we take our eyes off him …

That is the message behind is great heavenly vision which we must hold onto in good times and the bad.