Statements of Christ on the Cross: Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

[This is part of a series of posts during Easter week looking at the seven statements of Christ on the cross.]

Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

—Luke 23:43

Jesus was speaking to one of the thieves on the cross beside him. This man had recognized that Jesus was the Son of God and that Christ had the power to forgive him. In his conversation with the other thief on the cross he had already come to grips that he was a sinner in need of punishment. What he did not expect to find was a Savior hanging on a cross next to him.

Jesus offered eternal life to this man. The man accepted, even though his theology was not completely right. He asked the Lord to remember him when Christ took control in His future kingdom. Jesus said that the day the thief died was also the day he would be in the presence of God.

There were no works, good living or even baptism that was required for this man to have the gift of salvation that was offered to him that day on the cross.

What a glorious promise to a thief on the cross. Praise God that salvation is offered to us in the same simple way.

Statements of Christ on the Cross: Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

[This is the first in a series of posts during Easter week talking about the seven statements of Christ on the cross.]

Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

—Luke 23:34

The men involved in the crucifixion were unaware of the gravity and importance of what they were doing. There may have been some—like the centurion who commented that he believed Jesus was the son of God—who had a small understanding. Yet, I think even the disciples who had spent years with Christ were still very much in the dark of what it all meant.

Thankfully God does forgive us. God forgives because of the work of Christ on the cross. Jesus shed His blood as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins.

Even on the cross Christ was thinking about the forgiveness of others. Which, of course, was His purpose in this world to begin with.

Going Too Far to Avoid a Negative Association

One of the things that has often bothered me as a missionary in Latin American countries is when I see Christians shying away from certain activities or events because of the strong Catholic association. The main one that comes up every year is the lack of emphasis I see in Christian churches on the celebration of the resurrection of Christ.

Catholic depiction of Christ on the cross.Semana Santa

In the Catholic tradition the Holy Week, or Semana Santa as we call it here in Mexico, is a very important week. Most people see it as a week of vacation and nothing more. However, the Catholic church seems to unnaturally worship this blessed time. As an outside observer it seems that each day of the week is worshiped more than the events in which the days represent.

Palm Sunday

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and the streets will be filled with people who won’t be able to enter into their church of choice because the crowds are so large. Everyone will have their palm fronds tied into crosses. Most of the houses in the neighborhood have already started displaying their palm cross.

I don’t pretend to know what it is they will speak about in the service tomorrow. I just know it will be well attended by regular and casual church members.

Resurrection Sunday

The rest of the week will have special celebrations each day culminating on Easter Sunday. I am conflicted with what I will see throughout the week. There will be very sincere people worshiping in their own way. I personally believe they are worshiping the wrong thing, but my point is that they are very dedicated to what they believe.

Going Too Far

While I disagree with my Catholic friends in their extreme worship of events, I am equally saddened by the way I have seen many Christian churches react to the Catholic fanaticism. It seems that in many churches I have been around, even good churches, they want to avoid any type of Catholic association with the remembrance of Jesus’ resurrection that they do nothing special on Easter Sunday. It is like any other service.

Pastors have told me (particularly ones who were saved out of a Catholic background) that they feel the association of the events surrounding the Easter celebration are too closely tied to the Catholic church. They want to make a distinction between their Christian church and the Catholic one their people left. It is like they are allowing the Catholics to control their church’s belief in the Scriptures.

Not Just Easter

Many years ago my wife and I were in an area in Kentucky where a strong group of legalistic Baptists dominated the thinking. Loosely defined, legalism is when a person or church believes that you may be saved by grace, but unless you live a certain way or with a certain set of rules, you probably weren’t really saved in the first place.

What we found in the church we visited was that they were trying to disassociate themselves from the legalistic churches. Therefore the people came to church completely “dressed down.” The pastor wore ratty jeans and flip-flops—and he was one of the best dressed people in the church. He specifically said they were trying to do “whatever they could” to keep people from thinking they were part of the legalistic crowd. Going as far as he did with this thinking he allowed wrong teaching to control his ministry. Going, in my opinion, too far away from error that he passed the truth and went into error the opposite direction.

Where have you or your church allowed others to control your beliefs?

My Favorite Easter Hymn – One Day by J. Wilbur Chapman

The lyrics to this song were written by J. Wilbur Chapman. This song is a progression of the birth, crucifixion, burial, resurrection and second coming of Christ. The five verses are repeated in the chorus.

Allow me to rearrange the song a little and put the chorus at the very end. Read through each of the verses and then read the chorus as if it were a summary of the five previous verses and I think you will get a renewed appreciation for the song. After gaining an appreciation for the lyrics it will probably bother you as much as it bothers me when your church does not sing all the verses to this great hymn. It seems incomplete when only three or four verses are sung.

A photo of John Wilbur ChapmanOne day when heaven was filled with his praises,
One day when sin was as black as could be,
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin—
Dwelt amongst men, my example is he!

One day they led him up Calvary’s mountain,
One day they nailed him to die on the tree;
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected:
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is he!

One day they left him alone in the garden,
One day he rested, from suffering free;
Angels came down o’er his tomb to keep vigil;
Hope of the hopeless, my Saviour is he!

One day the grave could conceal him no longer,
One day the stone rolled away from the door;
Then he arose, over death he had conquered;
Now is ascended, my Lord evermore!

One day the trumpet will sound for his coming,
One day the skies with his glories will shine;
Wonderful day, my beloved ones bringing;
Glorious Saviour, this Jesus is mine!

Living, he loved me; dying, he saved me;
Buried, he carried my sins far away;
Rising, he justified freely, for ever:
One day he’s coming—O, glorious day!

Mr. Chapman was the author of another hymn that has great meaning, Our Great Savior!

It’s About the Resurrection

Tonight I was talking with a Catholic friend who is very curious about my “religion.” She wanted to know what we do for Semana Santa (Holy Week) to celebrate Easter. At her church they have a special celebration on Palm Sunday and then throughout the week they have various displays and dioramas depicting the final week of Jesus.

I told her that we usually don’t celebrate the Passion Week with as much pageantry as the Catholic church does. Resurrection Sunday is where we place all the emphasis. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead and lives today is the focal point of all we celebrate in Christianity.

She is coming to our church’s Easter play tomorrow night in which we emphasize a Savior who came to the world for the sole purpose of dying on a cross in the place of sinners. Though Jesus Christ died on the cross to save us, He rose again to assure us of an eternal life in the presence of God the Father.

For us, it’s all about the resurrection.

Happy Easter!