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A Good Friday Message

Introduction: Rembrandtrembrandtcrucifixion_sm.jpg

  • Rembrandt, one of the Netherlands’ most famous artists, drew a representation of the crucifixion scene.
  • In his sketch the individuals are indistinct because the event is most important.
  • At his side, on two separate crosses we find the thieves who were crucified with Christ. One is in the dark while the other is in the light.
  • But the central image is the cross of Christ, and through lighting our attention is draw to Him.
  • Such pictures represent our typical image of what happened.

You can see a larger version of the image here


The cross captures the essence of the Christian message. 

  1. The apostle Paul sums up the message of the New Testament as “the message of the cross” (1 Cor 1:18). Galatians 6:14– May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ… (NIV).
  2. But what we often forget, is that the cross was a scandal to the Jewish mind and an offense to the Roman mind. To the Jewish mind, being nailed to a cross was such a shameful way to die that they considered any who were crucified to be cursed in God’s sight. For a Jew, To even touch a cross made you unclean. The Romans reserved crucifixion on cross only the worst criminals.
  3. Had the early Christian church hired a marketing group to help them come up with a logo for the Christian faith, a cross wouldn’t even be on their list. The image of Christ on the cross doesn’t even appear in Christian art until 300 years after the event.

We often forget the ugliness of the cross

  • It wasn’t smooth gold or silver, but rough splintered wood.
  • It did not sit on a table between two candles, but on a hill between two thieves
  • It wasn’t in a place of honor, but on a garbage heap, a place of public spectacle
  • It wasn’t hymns that were heard at the cross, but the curses of thieves and onlookers
  • People did not kneel in worship, but instead soldiers gambled at the foot of the cross

But it was for such people that Christ chose the cross. For thieves, for those in the garbage heaps of life, Christ was raised on a Cross so that the lowest and the least might be raised to newness of life with God!

It is Christ on the cross we remember today. Good Friday.
With the cross, Christ made a choice. But other choices were also made on that day. When we remember the skull-shaped hill called Calvary, with its three crosses outlined against the darkened sky we might not recognize that among those three crosses, three choices were made. But Three VERY Different choices.

Choice #1: Upon the cross in the center hangs a man

A man, yet much more than a man – God, having emptied himself, taking the form of man. He who was sinless took our sin upon his shoulders. He who was eternal, took our sentence of death. He who was exalted, humbled himself. Stripped of all his dignity and Pride. Punched and kicked by people – He only wished to save. Spit upon and degraded. Mocked and despised. Angry yells of hatred tore at Him from a hundred throats as the blood thirsty crowd yearned for blood..

While God was giving His best, man was doing his worst.

But it was no accident that Jesus was on that cross.

  • It was a choice reserved before the foundation of the world
  • It was a choice revealed from a manger in Bethlehem
  • It was a choice remembered daily as Jesus ministered among sinful man
  • It was a choice reinforced as Jesus prayed in the garden

But it was not a choice that Jesus regretted. Jesus chose the cross!

  • Jesus could have saved himself in the desert by accepting Satan’s temptation to rule the world
  • Jesus could have saved himself when he prayed in the garden if there be any other way, please God let this cup pass from me.
  • Jesus could have saved himself when he stood before Pilate and Pilate demanded that he defend himself but Jesus was silent.
  • Jesus could have saved himself at any time on th cross. A simple command and he would have been removed

Christ chose accept all the violence man could unleash, so that through our acceptance we might have peace with God.

It is the central cross we are most familiar with. And on that Cross hangs the Savior of the world who CHOSE to suffer and die for the sins of the world. As Paul says, the message of the cross is the center of our faith.

The Other Choices: Jesus was not alone on a cross
To each side hung another man. In Rembrandt’s sketch, One is in the dark while the other is in the light. TRY to picture the scene in your mind…

  • Three crosses…
  • Three men nailed to a wooden death sentence
  • Three men; suffering, bruised, bleeding,
  • Three men all dying.

Now there isn’t much information in the Bible about the other two men. And truly they are of little importance compared to Christ on the cross. But they are significant in the choices they make concerning Christ on the cross:

  • Luke 23:32-33 “Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals one on his right, the other on his left.”
  • Mt 27:44 “In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”

They are called robbers and criminals, but not just any kind of robber. The Greek word that Matthew uses (Lestes) means, “one who uses violence to rob openly.” They are violent men!

Choice #2: Rejection

While it seems both joined the crowd in insulting Christ, one is more calloused than the other “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” “If you’re the Messiah, the Son of God, like you say you are, why don’t you get out of this situation? And get us out of here too!” He mocks the claim of Jesus to be the Christ. Instead of being humble and looking for mercy, we are told this thief in Luke 23:39, “railed” on Jesus, he scoffed, was insolent and reproachful. Next to him was a chance for redemption but he instead chose rejection.

We have more in common with this criminal than we would like to admit.

  • In the eyes of God, all of us, really are criminals. All of us, have led lives of disobedience and rebellion against God.
  • “Do things this way,” God says. And we say, “No, I’ll do things my way instead.”
  • Sometimes, like the robber, it is our words that we use to mock him, sometimes it is the way we live.
  • We are all sinners and it is because of our sin that Jesus is suffering.
  • It wasn’t the Jews. It wasn’t the Romans. But it was us – our rebellion, our blasphemy, our sin – that put Christ on the cross.

Christ hangs on the cross in the middle. He chose to die for the sins of the world. A violent robber rests on the cross at his side. He chose to reject Christ and judgment awaits him.

Choice #3: Repentence.

There is a third cross. I imagine the robber on this cross did not sleep the night before. And it had nothing to do with the hardness of the prison floor or the dampness of the prison cell. I imagine He tossed and turned all night – as frightening images of the Roman soldiers coming for him, relentlessly flashed through his mind. He had seen enough crucifixions to know what was about to happen. All through the night, I can imagine him looking at his hands and his feet – touching the spots where the seven inch spikes would be driven. Morning came to soon. But the new day did not bring hope, It only brought despair and the sound of footsteps as the Roman guards came for him. Like Jesus, violence and pain awaited him. Like the other robber, he was a condemned man. And as he hung from the cross he joined the crowd in taunting Jesus.

But then there was a “change” of heart. To “repent” means to make a change.

This thief watched Jesus for hours – he saw the way he handled everything. He heard Jesus as he prayed for forgiveness for those who were taking his life so cruelly. He observed as Jesus handled pain without profanity, taunting without retaliation, being hated w/o hating. When the thief looked into the eyes & face of Jesus he didn’t see weakness and despair, he saw strength and power. Jesus’ death was SO distinctive that this dying thief realized that Jesus’ claims were true. Instead of continuing to mock Christ, he grows silent, and then rebukes his fellow criminal: “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

  • The thief openly acknowledged his wrongs, “We have received due reward of our deeds” (v. 41).
  • He recognized the innocence of Christ. “This man has done nothing wrong” (v. 41).
  • His final words a request: “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

His words meant, “I choose to believe

I believe that you are a king of the life to come, the Christ. One who shows mercy. Forgive me for the life I have led. Forgive me for the way I mocked you. When you come into your kingdom, have mercy on me. Remember me.” His, is a very different choice from that of the other robber.

And Jesus responds to that choice: “Today shall be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

The thief asked to be remembered, but Jesus promises him a relationship. The hymn writer put it so well, “the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.”

With thorns piercing His brow, with face bruised and stained, with blood flowing from the wounds of His body, with the weight of all human sin upon him Jesus opened the way to paradise for a thief.

  • He saved a thief
  • He gave a hopeless man hope
  • He gave a loveless man love
  • He gave a violent man peace
  • He gave a dying man life
  • “Today, you shall be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Why? Because, at that very moment, Jesus was dying on the cross for that criminal’s sins against men and God Jesus was paying for all this man had done as well as all you and I have done. 


Three crosses at Calvary: Three Choices

  • One cross holds a man dying for sin. (Choice: Redemption)
    – In his choice, the peace with God becomes available to all who will trust him
  • One cross holds a man dying in sin (Choice: Rejection).
    – In his choice, he has rejected God and only judgment awaits him
  • One cross holds a man dying to sin (Choice: Repentance)
    – In his choice, peace with God is accepted and eternal life with God awaits.

There were many people who were present in the crucifixion of 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. Each made choices. But you and I also have a choice to make.

Remember Rembrandt’s painting of The Three Crosses. Those who view it have their attention drawn first to the center cross on which Jesus died. Then see the two thieves on either side. One thief rests in darkness, but the other shares the light of Christ. People look at the indistinct crowd gathered around the foot of that cross, impressed by the various facial expressions and actions of the people involved in the awful crime of crucifying the Son of God. But people sometimes miss something:

At the left edge of the sketch, right in the middle, there’s another figure, almost hidden in the shadows, peeking into the scene. Art critics say this is a representation of Rembrandt himself, for he recognized that by his sins he also helped nail Jesus to the cross.

Our Choice: We each must also make a choice.

Each of us has a choice to make. We must 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. Christ has already Chosen Redemption on our behalf. Now we also, like the sinners on either side of Jesus must make a choice. We can chose repentance or rejection of what Christ has done for us.

Unfortunately, too many of us are like the soldiers, playing games at the foot of the cross. Focused on material possessions instead of our spiritual condition. They missed the most significant event in all history because they were too busy looking down, throwing dice, rather than looking UP – and beholding the Christ. Today we all stand before the cross. Its our sins that are on it – our sins that Christ bears. Have we called to him as our Lord or rejected him and mocked him? Some of us made a choice long ago, but like Christ, who affirmed his relationship with the Father and what he came to do at every opportunity, we must continually reaffirm that choice. Our day to day lives must be directed toward the cross.

Call to Decision
Which thief are you? What choice have you made?

  • Maybe today you need to make a choice of acceptance
  • Maybe today you need to reaffirm your choice

Instead of mocking Christ with our words and our lifestyle, we need to make him Lord!

Don’t leave today until you can also say, Lord, remember me in your kingdom!


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