Encounters with Jesus (Part 3)
Luke 23:32-49 and John 19:25-27 and 38-42
By Paul Robison

“Centuries ago on the South Coast of China, high up on a hill overlooking the harbor of Macao, Portuguese settlers built an enormous cathedral.  On the front wall, they placed a massive bronze cross that stood high into the sky.  Some years later, a typhoon destroyed most of the cathedral, but the front wall and cross still was standing.  Centuries later, there was a shipwreck beyond the harbor.  Some of the passengers died and some lived.  One hung on to some wreckage to survive, and he spotted the cross in the distance whenever the waves would push him up.  That survivor was Sir John Bowring, and he later penned these words: “In the cross of Christ I glory, Towering o'er the wrecks of time; all the light of sacred story gathers round its head sublime” (Osbeck in Swindoll, 127).  In the cross, we all have a reference point don't we?  Let's go back in our minds eye this morning to the old rugged cross.  Let's encounter Jesus with several other groups of people to see where we might have stood.
 
Let's look again at our text in Luke 23:32ff: “There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death.  And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right side and the other on the left.  Then Jesus said: 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.'  And they divided His garments and cast lots.  And the people stood looking on.  But even the rulers with them sneered, saying: 'He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”  In just these few verses, we already see three groups: the Roman soldiers, the Jewish people, and the religious rulers or leaders.  Let's think about each of these groups for a moment.  For the Roman soldiers, crucifying criminals and rebels was all in day's work.  Their unconcern and selfishness are apparent.  They didn't waste any time in nailing the three men to their crosses despite their tormented cries of anguish and the splattering of blood that always occurred.  Jesus prayed for their forgiveness.  Then notice what they did; they gambled for Jesus' clothing, and especially His seamless tunic.  It wasn't a pleasant job, but they took advantage of the stripped victim and at least got some clothing out of it.  What calloused attitudes!  It's like their consciences were seared, and their ears were closed to the screams, groans, and wails of those crucified.  Are we like these soldiers?  Do we place so much value on things that we lose sight of the value of people?  Do we ignore the cries of those who are suffering spiritually?  Have you seen people who had so many material objectives that they never could stay after worship services to visit or to encourage anyone else?  Do we sometimes put visiting the boats above attending the worship services?  You see, we can encounter Jesus much like the Roman soldiers did.  Or are we like the crowd?  Luke says that the Jewish people stood looking on.  They had asked for Jesus' death a little earlier after being encouraged by their religious leaders to demand His crucifixion.  Now that they see Him dying, there seems to be so little emotion shown.  They just indifferently stand watching.  But Luke doesn't end the story here.  After darkness came over the earth and the curtain in the temple was ripped into from top to bottom, notice verse 48: “And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breast and returned.”  Maybe it was the way Jesus died or maybe it was the unusual events in nature that were associated with His death that moved the crowd from apathy to grief.  Commentators are divided over what the gesture “beating their breasts” means: Did they just realize that a great injustice had been done?  Did they think that God was displeased with what was happening?  Did they feel some remorse over their part in Jesus' death?  Whatever the case, we see that indifference was changed into some kind of grief.  How indifferent are we to Jesus and to the work that He calls us to do?  So we also just look on from the sideline and let others carry the ball?  Have we shed any tears lately over Jesus' death?  Can our apathy be turned to grief as we stand at the foot of the cross this morning?  You see, we can encounter Jesus much like the Jewish people did.  Or are we like the religious leaders?  Luke says that they sneered at Jesus.  Matthew 27:41 states that they mocked him: “Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said: 'He saved others; Himself He cannot save.  If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.  He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, “I am the Son of God.”'”  Don't you know that mockery must have cut Jesus to the heart?  The way they word their statements is similar to the way Satan worded his temptations back in Matthew 4.  Jesus had the power to wipe out His persecutors, but He practices great self-control, even while He is in great anguish.  He does not take revenge or try to get even.  Some people still sneer, mock, revile, and ridicule Jesus.  Jesus doesn't allow us to straddle the fence for He says these words  in Matthew 12:30 and 33: “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with  Me scatters abroad. ... Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad.”  Jesus had told these religious leaders that they were hypocrites, vipers, and blinded.  Jesus wasn't trying to put them down, He was trying to get them to see how really wicked they were so that they might repent.  But they are too in love with their traditions, their popularity, and their high positions to make any changes.  Sound like anybody you know?  Are we straddling the fence?  Are we letting Satan control our lives so much that we don't even recognize it?  Are we living in so much darkness that Jesus' light makes us feel very uncomfortable?  You see, we can encounter Jesus much like the religious leaders. Now let's sing the first verse of “Were You There?”, and then we'll look at three more groups who were at the cross.
 
Let's look at our text again beginning in verse 39: “Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying: 'If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.'  But the other answering, rebuked him, saying: 'Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds, but this Man has done nothing wrong.'  Then he said to Jesus, 'Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.'  And Jesus said to him, 'Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.'”  Now drop down to verse 47: “So when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying: 'Certainly this was a righteous Man!'”  Now look at verse 49: “But all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”   We notice two more groups and an individual: the two thieves, the centurion, and the disciples.  Luke shows only thief reviling Jesus, but Matthew 27:44 shows that both thieves did earlier in the day.  One thief had a change of heart, however, and Luke records his repentance.  Jesus forgave the man and assured him that he would share Paradise with Him.  Someone has observed: “He started out condemned in the morning, received grace by noon, and was in glory  by nightfall” (Webster).  Even while dying, Jesus was an impressive Person.  We see that the penitent thief stood up for Jesus, confessed his sin, recognized Jesus' innocence, and begged for Jesus' mercy.  Many people like to use the thief as an example of one being saved without baptism.  But in doing so, they ignore the nine examples of conversion in Acts where baptism is found.  We should remember that the thief lived under the old covenant, and Jesus personally forgave several others under that law.  Today, we should obey the teachings of the apostles found in the new covenant, and those who heard the Gospel were very clearly instructed to be immersed so that their sins could be forgiven.  All conversions in Acts sustain this truth.  Do we have a penitent attitude as we stand at the foot of the cross?  Do we recognize Jesus as the one who should be our Lord and King?  Do we realize that Jesus has a spiritual kingdom, and we must be baptized into it?  Jesus once told a Jewish ruler: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).  The cross became the turning point in this thief's life!  Would you let it become the turning point for your life today?  Next we see a Roman centurion who recognizes that Jesus is Someone special.  Luke says that He called Jesus a righteous Man.  Matthew and Mark's accounts say that he called Him the Son of God (27:54; 15:39).  What a contrast—the religious leaders mock Jesus, but a thief and a Roman Gentile recognize His divine nature!  Matthew also reports that when an earthquake occurred and dead people came back to life from their graves, the centurion and the other soldiers with him were fearful.  That calloused Roman soldier appears to have been moved to some degree by the events that happened.  The text doesn't leave the impression though that the centurion became a Christian.  How many are like that in our audience today?  You have learned about Jesus.  You might even admit that He is a righteous Man or even God's Only Son, but you still hesitate to give your life to Him totally.  Why do you stubbornly refuse to be buried and raised with Jesus in order to live a new life under His control?  Jesus' death wasn't just another ordinary first-century execution.  He became the sacrificial Lamb of God so that He the all people's sins could be forgiven in God's eyes (John 1:29).  In the text from John that was read, notice again 19:34-35 where the apostle John writes: “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.  And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth [John is saying that he was a witness to Jesus' sacrifice and then he adds], so that you may believe.”  John wants you also to believe that Jesus was the slain Lamb of God who died to take away the sins of each person on this planet.  Don't just be awed at Jesus like this centurion, but appropriate His saving blood to cancel all our sins.  Like Paul was told in Acts 22:16: “And now why are you waiting?  Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”  Now let's look at a third group.  I called them the disciples.  Luke actually calls them His acquaintances and the women who followed Him.  It is interesting that only one of Jesus' 12 apostles stood by Him at the cross; all the rest had abandoned Him.  When the heat began to rise, it looks like Peter was not the only disciple to deny the Lord.  Do we realize that when Jesus appeared before His disciples after His resurrection, He had forgiven them all of their desertion?  But we notice some women who followed Jesus did not abandon Him.  They stood at a distance watching as their Master was dying.  How sorrowful and helpless they must have felt.  A woman's loyalty is amazing!  Remember the devotion of Rizpah in 2 Samuel 21:10 who kept critters off dead bodies for seven months?  This woman probably wished that they could have done more to help Jesus.  Maybe we better be taking advantage of the opportunities that God gives us before it’s too late.  Now let's sing the second verse of “Were Your There”, and then we'll look at three more groups.
 
Let's now look at the text in John again, 19:25: “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, 'Woman, behold your son!'  Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold your mother!'  And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.”  Now drop to verse 38: “After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission.  So he came and took the body of Jesus.  And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about one hundred pounds.  Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of Jews is to bury.”
Now we see two more groups and an individual: the three women named Mary, the apostle John, and Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  First, we notice the three Marys.  Like Peter, James, and John, these three Marys were close to Jesus too.  Perhaps the soldiers were more willing to let relatives and good friends come closer to the cross.  All these women were hurting deeply.  Old Simeon had warned Jesus' mother that she would experience great sorrow, but she may have never dreamed that this kind of death would have taken place.  And all these women knew that Jesus was innocent, and a great injustice had been done.  Most naturally, they probably asked over and over again: “Why God?  Why did He have to die like this?  Why did Pilate botch everything and not allow Him to go free?”  They must have felt bitterness, confusion, and great pain.  Sometimes we feel like that as well.  Certain tragedies in life happen so quickly that we too are often wondering and questioning God.  In the heat of the moment, it's hard to us to realize that God may be using something in our tragedy for a greater purpose or greater good.  After Jesus' resurrection, these women saw that God could bring about a colossal good out of a horrible evil!  We need to remember that truth as well.  “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, and to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).  The apostle John is called the disciple whom Jesus loved.  All the other apostles ran and scattered, but here was John standing with the three Marys at the foot of the cross.  Such loyalty did not go unnoticed by Jesus.  Jesus was probably the oldest son in the family, and He took over the carpentry business after Joseph's death.  On the cross, Jesus sort of willed His mother's care over to John.  John probably felt honored, mixed with his great sadness and grief!  Would you have been worthy of such an honor?  He too was probably thinking: “Why did Jesus' ministry and life have to end this way?”  He had probably forgotten all about Jesus' prophecies that He would have to die, be buried, and rise again.  John took Mary to live with him, but he probably did so with a very heavy heart.  After the news of His resurrection, John is one of the first ones to get to the tomb and to believe!  “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psa. 30:5)!  John went from despair to immense hope.  And when He saw Jesus, he was probably overjoyed!  Are you rejoicing in Jesus' resurrection?  Lastly, there are Joseph and Nicodemus.  They were secret disciples, but in the crisis, they reveal their true colors and are willing to make great sacrifices.  Joseph actually goes to Pilate, to the one who had just condemned Jesus to death not too many hours earlier.  Joseph was giving up his tomb to Jesus.  One hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes would have been a costly expenditure for one or both men.  These men loved Jesus so much that they wanted Him to have a proper burial.  Most victims of crucifixion were just laid side by side in a very shallow grave near their crosses.  Joseph and Nicodemus gave their money, time, and effort to give Jesus an honorable farewell.  Are we willing to be bold disciples?  Would we face dangers for our Lord?  Are we trying to bring honor to Him in all that we do?  Now let's sing the third verse of “Were You There” and then an invitation will be given.
 
There were lots of different people with lots of different motives and feelings who stood in the shadow of the cross.  Where do you stand?  Are you calloused like the Roman soldiers?  Are you changing some like the Jewish people?  Are you evil like the religious leaders?  Are you ready to ask for Jesus' mercy like the penitent thief and make the cross a turning point in your life?  Are ready to confess Christ as God's Son, and then go beyond the centurion and act upon that confession by being immersed into His name?  Are you helpless like those devoted women?  Do you feel heartbroken like those three Marys?  Do you feel sorrowful and joyful like the loyal apostle John?  Do you feel like sacrificing your all to bring honor to Jesus like Joseph and Nicodemus?  Are you dying in sin or will you die to sin?  Jesus died for sin so that each person can die to himself or herself and live for God in order to gain eternal life.  The last stanza of Bowring's hymn goes like this: “When the woes of life o'er take me, hopes deceive, and fears annoy; never shall the cross forsake me: Lo, it glows with peace and joy” (Ibid).  Where are you as you stand at the foot of the cross this morning?  Make Jesus your Lord and King as we stand and sing.  [We then sang the last two verse of “Were You There?”]