A Devotion for 1 October 2020 Anno domini, the Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide
39 ¶ And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. 40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. 42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. 44 And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. 45 And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. Luke 23:39-45
Springtime in the Holy Land is usually distinguished by sunny and placid weather. Though the terrain is somewhat arid, wild flowers deck the mountain slopes in answer to the early spring rains. If we travel back in the time-machines of our imaginations, we can get an almost physical portrait of an event that occurred on Mt. Moriah (the Temple Mount) two thousand years ago, and event that divided time and eternity into to parts – Before Christ (B.C.) and After the Dominion of Christ (A.D.) The event was so singular as to cause all modern calendars to be calculated from the date of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. That date is acknowledged on every continent around the world.
The day that our Lord bore His cross to Mt. Calvary (outside the gates of Jerusalem) was likely a crisp, sunlit day. The date was Nisan 14 (the day in which Passover would begin at sundown. The Passover Lamb of Goshen in Egypt was sacrificed precise the same moment as our Lord. “3 ¶ Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house: 4 And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: 6 And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.” Exodus 12:3-6 It is worth noting, again, that Christ was sacrificed on 14 Nisan – the same date, and even the same hour, as the Passover lambs being sacrificed in the Temple.
There was a great multitude that demanded His crucifixion comprised of the same weak and faithless people who only five days earlier had heralded the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem: “And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way. And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.” Luke n19:36-38 How fickle and changeable are the hearts and minds of men! These scoundrels preferred the crucifixion of a fully righteous man over that of a hardened criminal named Barabbas. Please do not judge Barabbas too harshly for he represents the lot and destiny of each one of us before we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.
The High Priest of Israel, Caiaphas, had even unwittingly uttered a prophecy of the purpose of our Lord’s coming Passion. We are told in the Gospel of St. John: “49 And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, 50 Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. 51 And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; 52 And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” John 11:49-52
There happened to be two other malefactors who had been sentenced to die during the same crucifixion of our Lord. They were thieves and men of no repute in Israel. These two thieves would be crucified on either side of our Lord. These two men represent the totality of the human race – the first part either saved, or the second part condemned. These are the only two kinds of families on earth – the lost and the redeemed.
These three hung upon the cross from the 3rd hour (9 AM) until the 9th hour (3PM). They endured an appalling torture there. The pain of the cross of our Lord is fully described in the 22nd Psalm – a Messianic Psalm.
The two thieves had ample time to consider the reasons for their impending death, yet one continued in the same rebellious spirit as that which led to the cross he suffered. The other, however, was touched in his spirit by the Spirit that is Holy and convinced of his meanness and justifiable punishment. He could have cursed God for his predicament, but he could not do so under the call and draw of the Holy Ghost on his heart. He had heard every word that Jesus had spoken on the cross. He knew , just as the Centurion would later proclaim, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” He recognized Christ as Lord not only by the physical witness of His suffering, but also by the internal operation of the Holy Spirit.
Note the response of the soon-to-be-redeemed sinner: First of all, he recognized Jesus as Lord: “And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?” Please remember that we, too, stand in the same condemnation as the thief if we have rejected the Lord.
Secondly, the thief confesses his own guilt and unworthiness: “And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds.” This thief recognized that he deserved the punishment of death apart from Christ for we all dead (even while living) in trespasses and sin until quickened (made alive) by the calling of the Holy Ghost.
Thirdly, the thief recognizes the righteousness of our Lord: “. . . . but this man hath done nothing amiss.”
Fourthly, the thief utters a prayer of hope and salvation: “And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” Though Jesus was treated as a blasphemer and punished by a cruel crucifixion, the thief saw through all the false claims to the heart of Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is my hope and prayer that no one reading this devotion will require such an extreme test to recognize his need of a Savior. The thief recognized, as well, that the Kingdom of Heaven was separate and apart from worldly kingdoms.
See with what magnanimity our Lord, even while suffering on the cross, responds to sinners: “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Wherever our Lord abides, there is the Paradise of God. It will not happen years, months, or weeks later, but the very moment one is chosen and elected in Christ. The Christian Paradise does not depend upon outward forces, but rather the inner power of the Spirit abiding in the heart.
At the conclusion of this exchange between Christ and the thief, there was darkness over all the earth from the 6th to the 9th hour (12 noon to 3 PM – the time of the sacrificing of the Passover lambs, and the moment of Christ giving up the Ghost).
“And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.” Christ has said, “The night cometh when no man can work.” The last soul saved ere Christ completed His sacrifice was a hardened thief (there is hope for me!). What significance has the renting of the Temple Veil at the moment of the death of our Lord and Savior? The Temple Veil separated the Holy place from the Holy of Holies. Behind that Veil was the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments among other artifices. It represented the constraints of the Law and its implication of the failure of man to keep that Law. Only the High Priest was allowed in the Holy of Holies. Above the Ark was the Mercy Seat (representing Christ our Lord). When Christ had paid the price of redemption, the Temple Veil was rent to open the access to God of all who knew Jesus Christ as the true High Priest and the only Intercessor with the Father. We now may come boldly to the Throne of Grace (Mercy Seat) without the intercession of some human high priest. “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” Whosoever lays claim to the title of under-priest must subordinate every word of his teaching to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Remember: “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16
You can have no other High Priest than our Lord Jesus Christ! Even from the cross, we gain our entry to Paradise.