Enough is Enough
The title of the sermon is "Enough is Enough" and so you think it's about the 6th Word of the Cross, "It is finished." Nope. It's about the 2nd. "Today you will be with Me in Paradise." Enough already. Enough being told "tomorrow, tomorrow." Tomorrow will be better than today; tomorrow the numbers be that new Covid cases, deaths, recoveries will tell us this or that. "Tomorrow, tomorrow", Annie may be able to sing with upbeat enthusiasm, but to me that's the looming that is the gloaming. I can't live in tomorrow. Even Annie got that much right. Tomorrow is "always a day away." And I'm in today. Here and now. Neither yesterday nor tomorrow.
The penitent thief, we know he was penitent because Matthew (27:44) and Mark (15:32) say both thieves reproached Jesus, reviled Him. But by God's grace this thief sees his sin "We are punished justly," he says. And he sees Jesus' total innocence. "But this Man has done nothing wrong." Literally, He's done nothing "out of place", "untoward". And he believes Jesus is a king. And whenever He comes into that kingdom the thief asks to be remembered. So, like us today in Christ, this thief is living on tomorrow, and he's literally dying for tomorrow. We just feel like it. But what does Jesus say? "Today."
Don't hear this as, "I tell you the truth today." No, Jesus repeatedly used the phrase, "Truly I say to you," and never, "Truly I say to you today." No, today' is a timestamp on the promise of when this dying thief will be in Paradise. For the Jews, sunset marked the beginning of the day. Jesus is promising this thief whose dying could go on as much as 5 days, a death within hours. The thief had asked Jesus to be remembered not in the relatively indefinite "when" He comes as king, but the totally indefinite "whenever You should come." But Jesus answers better than he and we pray, "Today." Today is the end of your fears, your worries, your cares, your uncertainty about tomorrow. Because today is the end of Sin, of Death, and the Devil too. Jesus told us from the get-go of His ministry "Take no thought about tomorrow." And that "sufficient evil has each day." So, today is always the issue, always the problem, always where Sin, Death, and Devil have to be dealt with, are dealt with by Jesus.
Today, Sin was dealt with by God making Jesus to be Sin and then nailing Him to the cross. This took the sting away from Death because the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the Law. When the Holy Jesus dies never having broken any law, the law's penalties and judgments against sinners are satisfied. So, the Devil can't club you with broken laws that show your sins and drive you towards a fearful death. Nope, today, the Devil is disarmed. Today you are free. Today you're in Paradise.
Enough is enough. Enough loneliness. Even in the first Paradise the Lord declared it wasn't good for perfect man to be alone. Your sins make you feel super lonely, particularly if you have a secret one that shames you, blames you, frames you like the scarlet letter did Hester. Hawthorn says of this mark and of her sin of adultery: That she had been marked so potently and disastrously "that no human sympathy could reach her, save it were sinful like herself" (Scarlet Letter, 89). What stokes our fears of illness, of economic failure, or the end of the world as we know it, is our sins and sinfulness. The Devil's goal is to isolate you in your sins, with your fears, so that you will despair as did Judas or turn from Jesus as Peter did.
Today, enough with loneliness. Jesus says to us, "Today you shall be with Me." And this Me is emphatic. With Me and no one else. With Me your Shepherd, Physician, Friend, and Savior. With Me God of God, Man of Man. With Me forever and ever. Everyone dies alone. A sort of wall goes up between the living and them. They are with them in the room, but somehow they are all alone. And like the Roman generals having their Triumphs or like Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings, the Devil, World, and our Flesh are there whispering their lies and what's worse the truths of God's Law. No ordinary mortal can help you then. No words of men can penetrate that awful loneliness. If you try, you're like Jerry Seinfeld who goes to the hospital to cheer his dying friend. His words do nothing till the end when they apparently kill him.
Jesus' Words are stronger than sin, dying, and Death itself. Jesus says that He wants you to be with Him. With this cross He us weds. That's right. In the incarnation He joins us in the womb in our flesh and blood; and with the cross He joins us in the tomb. In 2005 a train derailed in Los Angeles. Trapped in the debris, with death looming, a husband and father wrote in his own blood "I love Leslie." "I love my kids." See this blood red and see a heart rather than the word "love." A headline was "Crash survivor's message makes deep impression" (.spokesman.com/stories/2005/feb/04/ ). Enough loneliness. On the cross Jesus writes in His own holy, precious blood, "I love you." "I want you with Me." That deep enough to reach you today?
And He is with you not just in the Body and Blood of Communion. He's with you today in your Baptism. What do we sing in "God's Own Child I Gladly Say It"? We call Baptism "a dear forgiving flood, sprinkling me with Jesus' blood." Do you think that's just poetic license? Both Hebrews (12:24) and 1 Peter (1:2) speak of being sprinkled with Jesus' blood. Both of these books speak of Baptism saving us and giving us a clean conscience. And the Jesus who promised, "Behold I am with you always" didn't limit that to only when you're eating and drinking His Body and Blood. If he had, what of our children who don't partake for years; what of the sick, dying, or mentally afflicted who can't be given them? Jesus is with them In Absolution. The Absolver stands in the stead of the flesh and blood Jesus and distributes what He is dying today to give to you always. Forgiveness of sins that is valid and certain before God in heaven.
Enough tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow; enough loneliness today, and enough indefiniteness. I said that's how the dying, yet believing thief spoke, "Jesus whenever You should come remember me." Fallen men can only speak in uncertainties about what they or other men will do. In fact, Scripture tells us to speak that way, "If the Lord wills we shall do this or that" (Jam. 4:14). However, when your world lives and breathes uncertainties always pointing you to tomorrow as when you will know or might know or should know, that is frustrating, maddening, and leads to despairing. Jesus speaks definitely and definitively. And to us dying thieves and worse, Jesus says, "Today" not you will have some indefinite experience of something pleasurable, but, "Today you will be Me in the Paradise." The definite article is there. Jesus speaks of a particular place you will be not tomorrow, not all by yourself, but today, with Him: the Paradise.
Let's let the written Word of God tell us what the Incarnate Word of God means by "the Paradise." Let's not go by what rabbis, Babylonians, Egyptians, or you and I think. Let's go by Scripture. In Genesis 2:8, the Greek translation of the OT uses this word for Eden. Since childhood we have a touchable, sensible, physical understanding of the Garden of Eden. Today that's ours. Paul in 2 Cor. 12:4 calls the Third Heaven, Paradise. He says he was caught up here "where he heard things that can't be expressed in words, things that humans cannot put into words." Ah, this is the OT truth that Paul carries into the NT. "'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love Him'" (1 Cor. 2:9). And in Rev. 2:7 Jesus uses the exact Greek phrase used here "en tow paradeiso". There He promises the Ephesian church: "To the one who overcomes, I will give to him to eat of the Tree of Life, which is in the Paradise of God." When you think Paradise; think garden, think Eden.
Do you see what Jesus does for us dying sinners in the straits of uncertainty, in pain, strain, and looking for a tomorrow that never comes? The crucified Christ takes us to the Paradise of God, today. Here flows the water of everlasting life which run into the Baptismal Font you were Baptized in. Here garments are washed white by the Blood of the Lamb applied to your sin and sinfulness by His Word of Absolution. Here is the marriage feast of the Lamb, and wherever the Lamb is by His Word there also are angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. Do you think you are any more remote or alone than Jacob was when pursued by his fears, uncertainties, and enemies, he dropped dead tired at Bethel? There where he lie the angels of God were ascending and descending. How about 20 years later when he's going to meet the murderous brother he fled from earlier not knowing what sort of reception awaited him? Again, Gen. 32:1 says, "The angels of God met him."
I'm telling you. No, I'm promising you that you have the ministry of angels today in the Paradise of God no matter where you are. I make this promise based on Jesus' words in John 1:51 that the angels of God ascend and descend on Him. Not only in Communion do you partake of Jesus but in Baptism you are clothed by Him. In Absolution, His shed blood covers your sins. Where Jesus is there His angels are. A church building is not a portal, not a wormhole, not a special door to heaven. No, Jesus is the Door. Where Jesus is there is Paradise, today.
For a long time, the Church had no sperate days for recalling Jesus' death and resurrection. Redemption was grounded in Jesus' death and resurrection as Rom. 4:25 says, "He was delivered for our offenses" that's Good Friday. And the passage goes on to Easter, "and was raised again for our justification." Good Friday and Easter were 2 sides of the same coin and were celebrated together (Church from Age to Age, 128). That would be strange for us. This Good Friday-Easter are strange for us, but they're still celebrations. Jesus doesn't give us tomorrow's. He gives us today. He doesn't say, "Go it alone", but "come with Me", and He isn't indefinite about where you're going today with Him. It's into the Paradise He bought for you. Enough delay. Go already. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Good Friday (20200410); The Second Word, Luke 23: 39-43