Eyes on Easter- 2 Thieves, Part 1


On Dec. 15, 2011—after 62 years on earth, the clock finally hit zero! The combination of Stage 4 cancer and pneumonia were too much to overcome as news started to leak out all over the country and world that Christopher Hitchens was dead! The New York Times bestselling author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and leader of the New Atheist Movement was suddenly no more. Naturally, his death prompted responses from the secular, scientific, and scholarly world who lauded his intellect, prose and brilliance. More surprising however, was the outpouring from the religious world: Rick Warren tweeted, “My friend Christopher Hitchens has died. I loved & prayed for him constantly & grieve his loss. He knows the Truth now.” Lee Strobel- atheist turned Christian author shared, “I was among many who shared Christ with him; so sad he rejected the Gospel.” Until the very end people were holding out hope that on his deathbed, Hitchens would turn from for atheist to ally.

From Luke 23:39-46, we are able to turn our gaze towards Eater, seeing through the Eyes of the two thieves on the cross, one on the right and the other on the left, as the earthly life of Christ ticked down to zero!

The first thief on the cross uses his final breaths to verbally condemn Jesus. Luke 23:39- One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The thief like Hitchens, until the very end, used his strength to join in the mocking of the King of the Jews. The thief wanted power as seen through performance, rather than power display through restraint. The thief’s words resemble those of Satan’s in the desert during the 40 days Jesus faced temptation. “If you are the Son of God”–the angels will “lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” The irony, is that the one whom angels would protect, would be a stumbling block to those who mocked the Son of man. Proverbs 4:19 reminds us of the confusion outside of Christ, “But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.” The thief mocked the only one who had the power to save him.

In the book Reading for Preaching, Cornelius Plantinga Jr. tells the story of Seth MacFarlane. Many of you may recognize the name from the popular animated cartoon comedy “The Family Guy.” During an NPR interview host Terry Gross asked MacFarlane about 9/11. “It seems that on that day of national tragedy MacFarlane had been booked on American Airlines Flight 11, Boston to LA, but he had arrived late at Logan airport and missed it.” Later in the morning Flight 11 was flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At 29 years old his life should have been over, the clock clicked down suddenly and violently in fire, smoke, and national sadness. Yet stunningly he was alive and well, free to live on! Asked later in the interview: “After that narrow escape, do you think of the rest of your life as a gift?”

“No,” said MacFarlane. “That experience didn’t change me at all. It made no difference in the way I live my life. It made no difference in the way I look at things. It was just a coincidence.”

To be so close to a life-changing moment of transformation, like a marathoner who can finally see the finish line, only to miss it all together. The heartbreaking truth is that for millions of people outside of the church, they experience life like MacFarlane, like the first thief, being so close to the presence of Christ, nearly seeing who is his, and what he has come to do, only to miss it completely! Yet inside the church we are far from off the hook on missing the chances for transformation. When we spot a homeless person at the stop sign we are approaching we become uncontrollable interested in the inner-working of the radio we start fiddling with or we chalk up the kids who walk to school without a coat simply to lousy parenting. The appeal of not-knowing, the safety of ignorance, the comfort of cloudiness is far often the status quo.

Instead of living in this way, we have the opportunity to come into the light of righteousness—to drive away paralysis of darkness. What will you take away from the cross this Easter? Will you be like the first thief who ended the day spiritually as dead as his crucified body, with hardness of heart, living and dying with the status quo, the mocking muse, and the impatient demands or will you embrace the King of Kings? Reaching out, Christ came to die in our place on the cross, so that by touching the face of God himself our futures are seal in the splendor of divine love to reveal the greatest truth of all: Grace Wins!



Radical Assurance


If you have been following along in the series, we have looked at the servant’s heart, the need for radical conversion, and finally the result for Christians to find radical assurance. Paul’s words in Romans 8:16-17 apply directly to the radically converted. They apply to the life of a man who went from trying to crush the church, to one who was willingly to be crushed (stoned, shipwrecked, beaten, etc) in order for the church to be sustained. 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

The Spirit testifies to the spirit of man, giving peace in place of pain, power in place of ride, and progress in place of the pit of despair. Yet, so often we confuse the power of the Gospel for weak alternatives. Christian singer Matt Maher captures the alternatives in his song, “Hold Us Together” singing (about the Good News) it “won’t buy you a home in Beverly Hills/ won’t fix your life in five easy steps/ it ain’t the law of the land or the government/ But it’s all you need!”  The Gospel is all we need because it is through the act of sacrifice that Christ allowed himself to become man in every way so that when God judges man, we are seen in the light of his righteousness instead of clearly through the shards of our brokenness. The result is nothing short of miraculous—just as the Son of God was resurrected by the Holy Spirit–we see the Gospel resurrect our lives, resurrect our hearts, resurrect our dying churches, resurrect of splintered families, resurrects the ultimately mission. More fully, the Gospel is a picture of total restoration.

When my wife and I lived in a river city, sometimes we would go down by the Mississippi River and people watch. One warm summer night as some walked, ran, biked, or roller skated, a father and his young son (probably 6) slowly strode by enjoying the night. Suddenly about 10 feet ahead of the bench we were sitting on the son looked up at the father and said, “I love you daddy!” and the father pulling the boy into his arms, embraced him saying, “I love you too son!” It was a Kodak moment if there was ever one. Yet for a moment consider their relationship. Before the man picked up the boy and said anything, he was legally, biologically, and relationally the father’s son. Yet it was when the father stopped and picked him up that the son was absolutely sure of the father’s love!

Romans 5:8–shows us the same radical assurance through our heavenly Father, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us! There is no more radical assurance than God sending Christ into the world to save you! There is nothing more that could be done. Now all that is left is putting on the crown! Remember though, it is a crown of service, not pride; a crown of sacrifice, not self-service, and it is a crown of life through sonship, rather than of death through sinfulness! It fits just right!

Radical Conversion


Earlier this week, we looked at the necessity for radical repentance, which allows us to harness the power of the Holy Spirit, not just possess the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit isn’t like sports memorabilia that we hang on the wall it is the very power that raised Christ living inside of us. While radical repentance helps us turn away from the sin which Paul makes clear will kill us, we need something to turn towards- a new direction or destination.

Mark Burnett the producer of Son of God said recently something to the effect that, “I use to think that the Bible was just a book of laws, but after reading it I found out it was a book of love.” Paul lays out the love of God in Romans 8:13b-15  …but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. 14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.”

The History Channel’s recent mini-series the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s,  didn’t surprise anyone with the blowout conflict over a pig, Civil War sentiments, rights to land, and intermarriage, but the ending sure did. Instead of ending with a blowout  battle between the two forces it ended with a baptism. “Devil” Anse Hatfield at 71 years old, weary from over 15 lives lost in the prolonged conflict, gave his life to Christ during a revival meeting. His family attested to the fact that for the last 10 years of his life he had experienced a Radical Conversion. “Devil” became a servant to the one even the angels bow down in reference to, Jesus Christ. Anse went from Ring-leader to reborn, from self-focused to selfless sacrifice. Matthew 10:39 from the Message helps clarify the process:

“If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.”

It is when we convert to following Christ, which we become less, so he can become more. In so doing we find who we were always meant to be through Him. Instead of leaving the warriors in our spiritual warfare to die of their  wounds, through radical repentance and through radically converting to Christ, not once, but each day–we find that God can restore the most broken into the beautiful witness of his victory on the cross!

A Servant’s Heart

ImageA servant’s heart is a precious and rare commodity! So often we find valuable kingdom workers left wounded, ravished, and devoured by sin.  Think about the biggest stories which captivate viewers from John Edward’s love child, to Bill Clinton’s sexual misgivings while in the White House, to numerous ministries crumbling to the ground and to a halt as a result of sin. Paul’s words in Romans gives each person tarnished by sin the path back towards restoration:

11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[e] his Spirit who lives in you. 12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. 14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

From these handful of verses we see the radical process of Christianity. First, Radical Repentance–turning away from sin. All the time I have heard people talk about Christianity as a list of rules. Mark Burnett, producer of Son of God, captured the spirit of the Bible, “I use to think it was a book of law, but what I have found is that it is a book of love!” When we are called towards repentance, we aren’t calling people to simply follow laws, but instead to be loved by God.

What is the impact of doing nothing? When the Romans were in a specifically bitter battle, they would take the living captives and tie them to the dead corpses forcing them to endure the stench until the contagion of death carried on. Simply put, doing nothing, achieves nothing! With sin like a corpse tied to our bodies, we find that Christ untied the baggage from our life.  Repentance is not the end of the story. I will continue later in the week, but repentance is the beginning of the process of bringing Christ’s sacrifice into perspective.