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Luke 23:26-23:46
Key Verse: 23:34a

We have studied concerning Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olive, his arrest and trial. We will further to study about Jesus’ crucifixion and death. These are the series of the last approximately 12 hour of Jesus’ life on earth. We have seen that during his whole messianic ministry Jesus lived a life of serving, taking care of all those whom he met to bring them to God. His life of serving shines more at the time of his great agony and suffering in the last portion of his life. During even such a time, he did not take care of himself at all. On the Mount of Olives, he prayed to obey the will of God for the salvation of mankind, praying more earnestly in anguish to the point of sweat drops of blood falling to the ground. At the time of arrest, he tried hard to the end to help the betrayer Judas and the arresters speaking the truth in love to lead each one to God. At the time of trial, he delicately cared for Simon Peter, his top disciple yet failed one in complete denial of him to turn back to God. At the trial time he also tried to the last moment to help the high priest and the whole assembly of Sanhedrin and even Pilate by straightforwardly revealing who he truly is to them. In today’s passage on his way to the place of crucifixion and even on the cross right before his death, he did not care for himself but for others. Especially, he prayed for the forgiveness of sins so that God’s grace of forgiveness, which man needs most, might be bestowed upon mankind. May we delve into the crucifixion of Jesus.

First, Jesus on the way to the crucifixion site (23-31). Look at verse 26. “As they led him away…” At this point Jesus was taken from the judgment hall and set in the middle of the hollow square by four Roman soldiers. They laid upon his shoulders a heavy cross and led him to the place of execution by the longest possible route. Jesus had been suffering so much and was so roughly treated that he was exhausted. The Roman soldiers whipped him. Blood dripped from his back and from the whole body. Carrying the cross on his shoulder, Jesus sank beneath the weight of the cross.

Then they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind him.” Humanly speaking, that day was a very unlucky day for Simon of Cyrene, but in God’s providence it turned out to be a wonderful day to experience Jesus personally even by forcibly carrying the cross behind him (Mk 15:21; Ro 16:13; Ac 13:1).

Look at verses 27. “A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.” When Jesus was tried before Pilate, it was likely that the whole crowed rejected him, shouting with one voice, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Yet, here a large number of people followed him on his way to the crucifixion site. Particularly among them there were women who showed their sympathy for the bloody wounded Jesus, mourning and wailing for him. From human viewpoint they were nice and kind-hearted group of people quite different from the vicious merciless shouting crowd. Certainly Jesus did not ignore their mourning and wailing for him. He was responsive to their empathy for him. He cared for them although he had no strength to carry the cross. However, his response was not like this, saying, “Blessed are those who mourn for me.”

One’s tears of self-pity or sympathy for others can be deceptive. 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

Jesus truly and deeply cared for them. Look at verses 28 and 29. “Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, “Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that ever bore and the breasts that never nursed!”’” Jesus told them to weep for themselves and for their children, not for him. Why? For impending judgment was coming upon Jerusalem due to their sin of rejecting the Son of God. In Luke’s gospel Jesus repeatedly foretold God’s judgment upon Jerusalem. In chapter 13 he said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate” (13:34-35). Also, when Jesus had approached Jerusalem and saw the city, Jesus wept over it and said, “The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (19:43-44). In chapter 21 when Jesus told his disciples about the signs of the end of the age which included the destruction of Jerusalem, he said, “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles” (Lk 21:20-24). Now on his way to his execution place Jesus spoke again about the doom of Jerusalem. Jesus had been showing his deep shepherd heart for the people of Jerusalem. At such times of destruction human blessings like having children would be burdensome. Jesus wanted the daughters of Jerusalem to weep for them and for their children for the upcoming terrible judgment of God upon the city, surely pleading with God for his mercy upon them.

But Jesus spoke further. Look at verses 30 and 31. “Then ‘“they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”’” With variations this saying occurs three times in Scripture. It is found first of all in Hosea 10:8. So appalling would be the divine judgment against Samaria that in deathly agony people would yearn—but in vain—to be covered by toppling mountain and overturning hills. The people would say the same thing at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem to escape God’s dreadful judgment. Notably, the similar words are written in Revelation 6: “I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!” (Rev 6:16). So intense is their fear of God’s judgments that they temporarily seek even death—anything to flee from His manifest presence. Surely Jesus’ concern for the daughters of Jerusalem was more than just escaping God’s judgment upon Jerusalem, but from the much more dreadful final judgment of God. He continued to speak in 31, “For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Here green tree or green wood can refer to Jesus; dry tree or wood, to his impenitent opponents or those who reject him. If the innocent Son of God was treated in that way as God’s punishment upon him due to man’s sins, how much more severe God’s punishment upon those who reject God’s grace through his Son!

Many people seek for successes, good marriages and blessed life in the world. They become sorrowful and weep when they and their children cannot obtain such blessings in the world. Here we learn that Jesus wants us to weep for our salvation and unrepentant and unsaved family members and relatives and perishing souls in the campus. When our city and nation becomes more and more ungodly, rejecting God, the future destiny of our children and the following generations is to be very dark and fatal. Rejection of God eventually brings about God’s terrible judgment as history attests in the examples of Sodom and Gomorrah, Babylon, and Jerusalem, and Rome, etc. This nation cannot be exception. Furthermore, according to the Bible God’s final judgment is looming upon the whole unbelieving world. More personally, the final day of each one’s life is coming closer to face the evitable judgment of God. May we pray and weep for our salvation and for the salvation of our loved ones and be able to prepare for the coming generations to escape the impending judgment of God.

Second, Jesus’ prayer on the cross (32-34). Look at verse 32. “Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.” Luke specifically wrote, two “criminals”, which is a legal term, while Matthew and Mark, two “robbers,” and John, two “others” (Mt 27:38; Mk 15:27; Jn 19:18). And verse 33 says, “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.” In this way Jesus was crucified along with the two criminals, himself in between them, as he said at the Last Supper, “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’ and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” Although he was sinless before God and even before Pilate with no charge for the death penalty, he was treated as one of the criminals. It was according to the Scriptures, which means it was God’s plan. From human standpoint, that place was to be the place of Barabbas with the crime of insurrection and murder. However, from God’s perspective, that place was to be your place and my place as a criminal before the holy God. But Jesus became my substitute and your substitute. Jesus the Son of God was crucified in our place. Crucifixion was the cruelest and most painful way men ever invented to kill other fellow men. Jesus received such severe punishment in our place so that we might escape much more severe punishment of God, actually incomparable punishment of God.

How great the pain of crucifixion must have been! But surprisingly the author, actually all the gospel writers, did not record at all about Jesus’ excruciating pain in the suffering of crucifixion. Surely, no description of it meant Jesus bore all the pain of himself silently. However, in that silence he had to speak for others, although it seemed that he had no strength to speak a word hanging on the cross. Look at verse 34. “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’” Among seven words of Jesus on the cross, this is the first one. Verse 35 says, “And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” So apparently Jesus prayed on the cross for those who crucified him. Yet we can be assured that this prayer of Jesus on the cross also certainly includes the ones who determined Jesus’ death penalty and more than that comprises all those who were involved in his crucifixion directly or indirectly. When Apostle Peter delivered his message at Pentecost, he said, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Ac 2:36). And biblically speaking, Jesus was crucified because of our sins, so Jesus’ prayer on the cross encompasses all sinners, virtually all mankind. All men sin knowingly and unknowingly, especially they sin not knowing that their sin plunges them into the dreadful eternal punishment in hell.

On the cross Jesus prayed to God the Father for the forgiveness of mankind. Why? It is because all mankind need forgiveness of sin most urgently whoever they may be. Without this man’s life and destiny would be too pitiful and awful to imagine. Actually, Jesus’ death on the cross itself is his atoning death for our sin. So this prayer did not seem necessary. The other gospel writers did not write this prayer of Jesus on the cross, still indicating a clear message that Jesus died for our sins. At the Last Supper Jesus had said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” When he prayed on the Mount of Olives, he decided to drink the cup of death in obedience to God’s for the salvation of mankind through forgiveness of sin. So it seemed to be a needless prayer. However, Jesus had to pray on the cross with this prayer not because his atoning death was not enough for the forgiveness of man’s sin, but so that all those who hear this pray might be assured that his death was truly the atoning death for our sins and know how much he cares for us, and also know that all are in the urgent need of forgiveness of sins and so in the desperate need of God’s mercy. Before Jesus, in an absolute sense no could pray as Jesus did, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22). But Jesus could pray for the forgiveness of sins, because he would sacrifice himself as a sin offering, shedding his precious blood for our sins. This prayer of Jesus on the cross is really fitting.

There is no other way of salvation except through the forgiveness of sin. Our Saviour Jesus is the Saviour who was crucified shedding his blood and prayed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Each condemned sinner needs to come to this Jesus and repent and receive his grace of forgiveness of sins. Then the forgiven soul can be accepted into a family of God as his child. Also. when we think of this Jesus, we can come to him with our sins at each time so that no sin may have mastery over us. As we live in this world of temptation, we are so vulnerable to sinning. Also we have a sinful nature. Some treat sin light; some fall into self-condemnation. And in a hard life situation it is easy to blame others, or become bitter toward others, or hold grudge against someone, not being able to forgive that person. In any case sin shall not be our master (Ro 6:14). In light of his grace of forgiveness of sin, there should no hidden sin, no unsolved sin problem. Recognizing our sins, we can come to our Saviour and Lord Jesus who offered himself as an atoning sacrifice and prayed for us on the cross, who even now still intercedes for us sitting at the right hand of God (Ro 8:34). In doing so we can be deepened in realization of our sinfulness and knowing his grace of forgiveness of our sins. Recently I came to know one church whose just chorus member is 10,000. Usually I do not have a positive response on mega churches. But to my sense this church was different. The church members are like the army of God, honouring God as God. They worship God with tears, pray fervently, make offerings to God wholeheartedly, and sing with joy and full spirit. Particularly, the pastor is full of gospel spirit and deep shepherd for God’s flock of sheep. I could clearly see the work of God, not man’s work. Through this church, on one hand I was comforted that in this generation there is such a church that manifests the power of God and lifts up the grace of Jesus, and on the other hand I was ashamed of myself and recognized my sin of lack of clear gospel message, lack of fervent prayer and earnest shepherd heart, and not being filled with the Holy Spirit. That was the sinful state of my selfish and not being fully awakened heart. I asked God for the grace of forgiveness of my sins. I really need to pray for the filling of the Holy Spirit. May we all go deeper into the grace of forgiveness of our sis and live a life worthy of this grace that bestowed upon us through God’s Son Jesus sacrifice and prayer on the cross.

Third, responses to the cross of Jesus (35-43). At the crucifixion of Jesus and his prayer on the cross people’s responses varied. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” For the rulers, Jesus’ crucifixion and prayer had no effect at all. They were blind to see their true selves and their sins. It seemed that at the cross of Jesus they became more wicked. The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar as if they cared for him. Yet, they said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. On the ground of this crime title, they ridiculed and mocked Jesus in their saying. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” To these people Jesus’ pain and prayer on the cross meant nothing. In their saying they seemed to want a kind of powerful Saviour who would not die and could save them from any human circumstances and conditions, not mentioning sin problem. It was the devils last temptation for Jesus to save himself. Yet, Jesus stayed there on the cross to be our true Saviour. Now we see that still the world wants such a Saviour and Christ who is powerful to save regardless of mans sins. Anyhow, at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion most people refused the grace of Jesus and rejected him. The Son of God came and died for them and prayed for them to save them from their sins, but they were totally blind to see the love of God. As a result they had to face the dreadful eternal judgment of God.

However, amazingly Jesus’ pray on the cross directly and instantly affected one man, one of the two criminals. Look at verses 40 and 41. “But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘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.’” When we read this story in Matthew and Mark, both of the criminals hurled insult at Jesus. So most probably when this criminal heard the prayer of Jesus, a certain change transpired in him. Apparently Jesus did not pray for him but those who crucified him. At the prayer of Jesus the fear of God came into his heart. Then he could see that death is not the end of everything. After death he had to face the eternal judgment of God because of sin. When the fear of God came into his heart, he could have a right view of himself and others and of Jesus. He could see that both of them were wrong and quickly changed his mind, surely as the expression of his repentance. Then he could know what to do at that moment. He had to speak the truth to his fellow dying criminal so that he might also fear God and have a right eye to see innocent Jesus.

And with the fear of God his spiritual eyes were opened to see Jesus. So he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This man’s prayer is surely the reflection of faith in Jesus, and this prayer request is truly amazing. At that time the whole world was against Jesus and Jesus was failing, going to die in any minute with even no hint of his kingdom. The man himself was dying. He himself had no human hope at all. Yet, at this last moment of his life he courageously stood against the prevailing world, siding with Jesus. He had hope in dying Jesus and could see Jesus as the Christ, the Christ of God, the Chosen One and the king of the Jews, and see his coming kingdom. This criminal absolutely needed this mercy of this Jesus. So he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” His repentance and faith in Jesus was true. So Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” What a blessing! This answer of Jesus shows that this repentant criminal entered the kingdom of God only through faith in Jesus, nothing else. A tradition from the 4th Century is that this penitent thief was named "Dismas." Yet, the Bible did not mention his name. Any nameless person receive this grace of Jesus if that person is repentant.

The three crosses on the Skull, Calvary, can represent the world. The Saviour of the world is there in the middle, and there are two kinds of people, repentant people on the right, and unrepentant people on the left. The cross of Jesus saves people and at the same time it divides the people of the world as Jesus said in Luke 12:51, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth! No, I tell you, but division.” This is true in an individual. The cross of Jesus brings inner conflict in a person. Also the cross of Jesus brings division in a family, a society and a nation. And the cross of Jesus brings peace and true unity. In the cross of Jesus people can be united in one heart and mind and spirit. Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:22-24, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” God wants us to keep our faith in the cross of Jesus in this world. The world is hostile to Christ, particularly to the cross of Christ. And even among believers many live as enemies of the cross of Christ as Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:18. But the cross of Christ is the only way of salvation.

Last week Paulina attended law students conference in Kingston by the help of Nicole. Paulina received much grace now clearly seeing God’s leading hand that led her to study in a law school. Especially the story of one pastor, Majed el-Shafie, was so inspiring to her. He was a Muslim born in Egypt, but became a Christian and then a pastor. He received much persecution in Egypt because of his faith in Christ, and later on escaped to Israel. One torture he receives was that the torturers put his face in a hot water for several minutes and then in a cold water repeatedly. Through all the persecutions he kept his faith. Now he is a lawyer and pastor fighting for the freedom of Christians in China, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and many other countries. They say that now in the world every 10 minutes a Christian is killed. When I heard of this, I felt very sorry for that and it was a tragic story. But soon I realize that this is a heroic story, for there are so many such hidden heroic Christians who do not want to change their precious eternal salvation for a little longer life in this world. They are willing to be martyred to keep to the end of their lives their faith in Christ Jesus, who purchased such a salvation for them through his own sacrifice and prayer on the cross. We believe that God wants us to have such an attitude. May we be the people who keep the cross of Christ in our hearts and lives, having the spirit of prayer, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” until we breathe last in this world and enter the eternal kingdom of God.

In this study we thank and praise God for Jesus, who was crucified in our place and prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” May we keep and grow in this marvelous grace and stand for the cross of Jesus in this world, praying for the souls who are at the impending judgment of God and preaching the Christ crucified for young people in campus and in this generation.

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