YOU HAVE A MOTIVE

 

Week of April 9, 2006

 

Bible Passage:  Luke 23:32-47.

 

Biblical Truth:  People react differently to the story of Jesus’ death on the cross, but Jesus’ death provides salvation for those who believe in Him.

 

Forgiveness of the Past: 23:32-39.

 

[32] Two others also, who were criminals, were being led away to be put to death with Him. [33] When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. [34] But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. [35] And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” [36] The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, [37] and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” [38] Now there was also an inscription above Him, “This is the King of the Jews.” [39] One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”  [NASU]

 

[32]  Jesus is not executed alone. This passage recalls Isaiah 53:12 and Jesus’ prediction in Luke 22:37 that he is to be reckoned among the lawless. Luke’s basic point is that Jesus does not go to his death alone; he is slain as a lawbreaker, with criminals at his side.

 

[33] The three condemned men face execution just north and outside the city, in a place called “Golgotha” in Aramaic, meaning “Skull”. It was given this name because the hill protruded from the ground in the shape of a skull. Luke omits the name Golgotha probably because it would not be significant to his Greek readers. Like the other evangelists, Luke does not dwell on the manner in which the Savior was crucified. Crucifixion was the most agonizing and shameful form of execution ever devised. The Romans confined this form of punishment to slaves and criminals of the lowest type. And yet the physical agony which Jesus had to endure was but the faintest reflection of the spiritual suffering He had to undergo as the Bearer of the sin of lost mankind. For this reason the Gospels give practically no details of His physical suffering, so that the reader’s attention should not be concentrated upon outward things and thus overlook the deepest essence of His suffering.

 

[34] Jesus spoke as he suffered, asking God to forgive his enemies, since they did not know what they were doing. The ignorance that Jesus attributes to the nation is not a lack of knowledge, but an erroneous judgment about God’s activity, since the apostles will call the nation to repent for this ignorance as Jesus had warned them. Jesus thus intercedes for his enemies, portraying the very standard he sets for his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. In language that recalls Psalm 22:18, Luke notes how the soldiers gambled for Jesus’ garments by lot. Gambling for clothes is customary at crucifixion and is the final humiliation one suffers upon execution. Jesus is the model of righteous suffering at the hands of those who oppose God’s people.

 

[35] Luke divides those observing this historic moment into two groups: watchers and mockers. The term for watching comes from Psalm 22:7, the same “righteous sufferer” psalm cited in the previous verse. In the psalm the same people both watch and mock. They are hostile to the sufferer. Luke’s separation of watchers from mockers suggests that the people who watch are curious rather than neutral or mourning. They want to see the outcome of their demand for Jesus’ death. Their actions are not as severe as the leaders, but neither are they supportive of Jesus. But the call for repentance in Acts 2 shows that the crowd was not positive on crucifixion day, but neither did they directly rebuke Jesus. They merely observe what is taking place. The second group, the leaders, mock Jesus. The key verb mock (to turn up one’s nose, to sneer) alludes to Psalm 22:7. Jesus is again the righteous sufferer. The leaders mock Jesus’ ability to deliver others (i.e., perform miraculous works for them) and not himself. They derisively taunt him to save himself if he is the anointed of God. Through their spiritual blindness and earthly-mindedness the rulers could cherish no other view of the Messiah except that He must be one who acts with power and violence, vindicates Himself by force, destroys all opposition and triumphs over His enemies. The idea of a suffering Messiah, One who sacrifices Himself in complete self-surrender for the sake of saving sinners, was totally unfamiliar to them. The taunt is sarcastic: they think they have stopped Jesus, they are feeling good about having executed him. But God will answer their taunt in a surprising way in just a few days. Luke presents a fuller range of responses to the cross than either Matthew or Mark.

 

[36] The third group, the soldiers, also mock Jesus and offer him some sour wine. This was cheaper than regular wine and was used among the poor. Apparently the offer is made as a joke, since it is accompanied with a challenge that Jesus, if he is king, should save himself. The point is that neither Jew nor Gentile understand what they are doing in nailing Jesus to the cross.

 

[37] The soldiers’ mocking shows how the Romans viewed Jesus’ claim of being the Anointed One. They saw a regal claim in the term. The taunt is given because the belief is that Jesus cannot fulfill it. The remark about kingship recalls the examination of Pilate in 23:3 and is based on the note hung on the cross.

 

[39] Luke now returns to the two criminals. One of the condemned criminals speaks with sarcastic disrespect. His taunt recalls those by the leadership and the soldiers. The irony is great, and so is the blindness. The Righteous One dies while being taunted by the unrighteous. Everything is reversed from what one would expect. 

 

Assurance for the Future: 23:40-43.

 

[40] But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? [41] And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong,” [42] And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” [43] And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”  [NASU]

[40] The second criminal steps in to rebuke the first in simple terms: does he not fear God. The criminal offering the rebuke clearly sees the event as God’s just judgment on them, but he also sees the taunting of Jesus as an expression of intense hypocrisy for which the other criminal would pay. His remarks are really a commentary on all who taunt Jesus, but especially the one who is justly suffering for crimes committed. The criminal asks, “How can you taunt this innocent man when you are deservedly suffering the same sentence? What gives you the right and the nerve to put him down?”

[41] The second criminal makes a statement of recognition and repentance. He also testifies to Jesus. This speech is an expression of his faith and what he learned while facing death. Jesus is innocent. This is the sixth confession of Jesus’ innocence from a third source (Pilate and Herod also called Jesus innocent: Luke 23:4,14,15 [twice],22).

[42] The criminal moves past confessing his sin and his belief in Jesus to request that Jesus remember him. He is the only person to address Jesus simply by his name. The intimacy, setting, and sincerity are poignant. The criminal seems to anticipate that Jesus will one day have great power. When that happens, he wants to be there. The remark is a messianic confession and expresses the hope of being with Messiah and the righteous. Some saw Jesus raise the dead, and did not believe. The robber sees Him being put to death, and yet believes.

[43] Jesus’ response goes beyond the criminal’s request. The criminal’s petition expresses the hope that he will attain to life at the parousia; Jesus’ reply assures him of immediate entry into paradise. The solemnity of the reply is noted by the expression: Truly I say to you. Jesus can and does save, despite what the taunts suggest. The irony should not be missed. A call to Jesus yields immediate results.

 

Glory to God in the Present: 23:44-47.

 

[44] It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, [45] because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. [46] And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last. [47] Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent.”   [NASU]

 

[44] The most sacred and solemn hour of crisis in the history of mankind arrived when Jesus as the Lamb of God had to suffer and die on the cross, and above all to bear the wrath of the Holy and Almighty One against the sin of the world. It was a time of utter spiritual darkness that the Son of God had to pass through, as the Substitute for the guilty world. The crucifixion began at the third hour (9:00 a.m.); at about the sixth hour (midday), darkness fell over the entire land and lasted until the ninth hour (3:00 p.m.). The darkness recalls an eschatological motif from the judgment imagery of the day of the Lord from the Old Testament prophets (Joel 2:10, 30-32; Amos 8:9; Zeph. 1:15). Given this background, these heavenly portents signal the significance of the events surrounding Jesus’ death. An eschatologically significant time of judgment is present. God is watching and signaling his presence.

 

[45] This event is part of God’s working; the signs picture judgment, as well as the temporary prevailing of darkness. The heavenly testimony combines with the ripping of the temple curtain to give a twofold sign from creation that Jesus’ death is important in God’s plan. Luke portrays Jesus’ death as a public event that impressed a variety of people in a variety of ways. The tearing of the curtain signifies the end of the temple’s dominant role as a sacred symbol. Jesus’ death indicates that it is no longer necessary to worship God in the temple. God is pictured coming out of his temple to reach out to all, he cannot be contained within it, and so Jesus’ death represents the ultimate opening up of the way to God. The emphasis is on God’s access to people.

 

[46] The final word by Jesus from the Cross makes use of the phraseology of Psalm 31:5. It is beautiful because of what it retains of Psalm 31:5; what it adds; and what it omits. It retains I commit my spirit. This is significant for it indicates that the Savior died the only kind of death that was able to satisfy the justice of God and to save man. It had to be a voluntary sacrifice. The very fact that Jesus uttered this word with a loud voice also shows that he willingly, voluntarily laid down his life [John 10:11,15]. It adds the significant word Father, not found in the psalm. It omits the clause that immediately follows in the psalm, namely, You have ransomed me. In the case of Christ, the Sinless One, no such redemption was necessary nor even possible. The closing words, Having said this, He breathed His last, show the calm restfulness in the mind and heart of Jesus at the moment when his soul parted from this earth. This was a cry of voluntary surrender; a cry of confidence.

 

[47] Centurion describes the Roman soldier in charge of the crucifixion and indicates that he led a group of one hundred soldiers. Upon observing what has happened, the centurion utters the scene’s final remark, which functions as a judgment over the events. The remark is significant because it comes from a Gentile. This seventh confession of innocence is the ultimate commentary on these events [Luke 23:4,14,15 [twice], 22,41]. Jesus, not his executioners, stands before God without blame.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.   The rulers, soldiers, and first criminal talk about Christ and salvation several times in 23:35-39. What does their scoffing imply they believe about what it means to be the Christ and what salvation means? What do you see in this passage that shows they were totally wrong?

 

2.   Describe Jesus’ attitudes toward mockers and persecutors. Specifically how could you follow His example in your daily life?

 

3.   Meditate on the significance for you of: the darkening of the sun; the tearing of the temple curtain; and Jesus’ attitude in death. How do these events point out the uniqueness of Christ’s death?

 

References:

Luke, Darrell L. Bock, Baker.

Gospel of Luke, Norval Geldenhuys, Eerdmans.

Gospel According to Luke, William Hendriksen, Baker.

Luke, Walter L. Liefeld, EPC, Zondervan.