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5th Midweek Lent Service
Luke 23:39-43

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, how do you plan your trips?  How do you decide what roads and highways to take?  My wife and I are God-willing traveling back to WI tomorrow for a wedding.  I’m getting to know the way well, but I still like to Mapquest the route, I still like to have my road atlas along, and I certainly like to have our GPS along as well.  I’m guessing also that Leonard and Debra who left on their long trip a couple weeks ago didn’t just start driving down the road.  We tend to plan our way out very carefully, don’t we?

What about the way to heaven?  How are we going to get to that most important destination?  I’d hope each one of us would say there is only one way.  I’d hope we all recall Jesus’ words, “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”  Today as we look at the wondrous names of Jesus, let’s look at how this text shows Jesus to be “The Way.”

The two men who were being crucified next to Jesus belonged there.  They deserved those cross on which they hung.  They were criminals, guilty of serious crimes.  One of them even said, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.”  We don’t know exactly what it was- rebellion? Murder? Were they part of Barabbas’ gang?  Whatever it was that criminal recognized that his punishment fit his crimes.  He and his partner were sinners who both in the eyes of God and in the eyes of human law had lost their way.

But not the one in the center.  When the one thief joined in mocking Jesus, the other one rebuked him saying, “This man has done nothing wrong.”  What do you think he saw?  “How could this Jesus suffer so silently?  How could this Jesus offer a prayer seeking the forgiveness of those who were tormenting him?” Regardless, he came to the conclusion: This Jesus was not a sinner who had lost his way.

Yet that cross is exactly where Jesus wanted to be.  Why? “We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).  The holy Son of God was guilty, so guilty that God even turned his back on him in anger, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”  It chills us as we hear such a horrible cry.  Jesus was guilty because the sins of the whole world were heaped upon him and hell was extracting its full dues from him.  Guilty because he who had never lost his way was paying for every wayward thought, every wayward deed, every wayward word of every sinner!

And we’re right there with that dying criminal, aren’t we?  No, we can’t climb up his cross, but we can consider how much like him we are.  We all were dying criminals, we all had coming at us just what our deeds deserved.  God doesn’t keep a sort of value scale of sins as if murders and muggings were at the top with lies and lust on the bottom. It’s not as if God frowns with holy terror at adultery and abortion and kind of winks at gossip and greed.  Sin is sin and each one has earned the sinner the horrors of hell.  Each time we push God away, each time we gossip about someone, each time we are greedy, each time we hate, hurt or hit back at our neighbor, because of all those things, we, like that criminal have fairly earned hell.  But the more we realize the depth of our sin and how lost we are the more we’ll appreciate the wondrous love that held the innocent one to that center cross.

But that criminal on the cross not only saw Jesus as innocent, he also saw with the eyes of faith Jesus as his only way to heaven.  We don’t know how he received faith.  Was he trained by Godly parents as a young child and then recalled what he learned as he was dying? Had Jesus’ word and actions preached a powerful Gospel sermon?  No matter what it was we know that the Holy Spirit worked faith in his heart.

So he prayed, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Do you see what he asked for?  A share in Christ’s kingdom.  Not the highest throne, just a thought of remembrance, a crumb of mercy, a drop of love.  “Just remember me,” He prayed, “don’t let my sins bar the door, but remember me in your mercy.”  Alone that thief must have dreaded the thought of soon standing before the judgment of a holy God.  But with Jesus remembering him, he could.  As he looked at Jesus on that center cross he saw the only way to heaven.

The sorrowful thief asked for heaven and what did Jesus give him?  “I tell you the truth” When Jesus who owns heaven and earth speaks, it will absolutely come true, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  3 or 4 more hours, that very day- not after years spent in a fictitious purgatory- that very day he would exchange his cross for the crown of life in heaven.  It’s kind of crazy to think about, but that criminal on the worst day of his life as he’s dying on the cross never felt better in his life!  You will be “with me” That’s heaven, isn’t it?  What more do we need to know about heaven other than we will be with Christ forever?  “In paradise” Jesus said.  What a crazy day for this guy!  That morning the thief had seen his prison cell and been led out to die.  That afternoon he saw death fast approaching and hells jaws yawning.  But that evening he’d be enjoying paradise with his Savior.  Sure he was in immense physical pain, but he had the peace that surpasses understanding, his sins, everyone were forgiven, he heard right from his Savior’s lips!  He probably couldn’t wait to end his suffering and be with his Savior.

And so it is the same with you and me.  You and I are the criminals hanging on the cross.  You and I are the ones who have committed horrible crime after horrible crime against our King.  But you and I are the ones that look at our Savior, our King with believing hearts and say, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And our King looks at us no longer like we are criminals who have lost our way but like we are his sons and daughters and says, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”  There are no conditions or strings attached.   We have to do nothing.  Our King has gone to battle for us.  And he has won!  There are no sweeter words that our Savior could speak to us.  We are his!  Paradise is ours!  From criminals to heirs of eternal life!  That’s our final destination, that’s the end of our journey, that’s where we’re headed.  Why?  All because of Jesus who is the way, the free way, the high way, no road construction, no orange barrels, no toll booths, with his death and resurrection, he’s paid and paved our way to our eternal home, he is the only way, what a wondrous name!  Amen.