St. Matthew and St. Mark’s account of the crucifixion are almost identical. Jesus says the same words from the cross, you have the same cast of characters, they are almost but not quite word for word replicas of each other. Sts. Luke and John are different. While they follow the same general shape, they include details no one else does. We hear St. John on Friday. Today we hear St. Luke’s account. He is the only one to include Herod. And he is the one who includes the forgiveness of sins – both for those who crucified him, and for the second criminal. It’s not a surprise that Luke includes these extra words.
Luke begins with the sacrifice in the temple – Zechariah is offering the sacrifice when the angel comes to him and promises that he and Elizabeth with have a son, John the Baptist. Luke ends his Gospel with Jesus, explaining to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, how it was that Jesus had to fulfill the law of Moses – the system of sacrifices – by his own death. And that system of sacrifices exists for the forgiveness of the sins of the people of Israel. Luke writes his Gospel so that we would understand that Jesus is the one who gives forgiveness of sins, who makes us right with God, so that we can come into God’s presence without being destroyed. And so, when Jesus is crucified, he says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” These words are not just spoken about the Romans who did the nailing, or the Jews who made the false accusations. They are spoken to our Heavenly Father about all of us. Your sins put him there. But he went willingly to it because of is love for you.
Backing up a few verses, when he’s on the way to the place of the Skull, he sees some women weeping over him. He says “Do not weep for me, but for your children.” It’s not about Jesus as pathetic figure, so that we weep and wail about all he suffered. It’s about Jesus as redeeming us from our sins. If the presence of God among us makes so little an impression on humanity, so that they think the thing to do is kill God, what chance do we have for peace and godly living in the world? In those who crucify Jesus, we see a reflection of ourselves. That’s the truly frightening thing about Jesus words to the women. But it only makes the word of forgiveness a few verses later sweeter.
And how good is the forgiveness? How strong is the death of Christ to remit sins? Jesus forgives the criminal. Matthew and Mark both say that the criminals hurled insults at him. Apparently, one of them, as his own death drew near, recognized that the man next to him was not a criminal. Even at the end, even after hurling his own insults, he repented of his sin, and placed his faith in the crucified Christ. And Jesus forgave him his sins. This was a man who, by his own admission, deserved the death sentence. Not any death sentence, but the most shameful and vile death sentence imaginable. And yet, even his sin is forgiven.
Of course, we say with the Apostle Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” Which is to say, “The sins of the thief on the cross are as nothing compared to my sins.” For you know the great sacrifice of Christ on your behalf. You have the luxury of hearing over and over again the promise of salvation, of being baptized into the water, of receiving the body and blood each week. And yet the sins continue. How much greater is the sin, because you have been trained and catechized in the law of God.
And yet, no matter how great your sin, Jesus is still a greater Savior. Your sin can not go beyond his forgiveness. Your depravity can not be larger than his mercy. Your sin is overcome by his blood. The faith that trusts the promise grabs hold of Jesus, because there is so much Jesus to grab hold of. His death remakes the world, because his death kills death.
As Nathan said to David, “You sin is taken away, and your guilt atoned for.” The forgiveness of Jesus is enough, and more than enough, and even more than that. Your Savior is not “Your savior if only you do this or that.” He is your savior. He went to death willingly, forgiving all the way. And so, we say with the thief, “Remember me.” And just as Jesus ability to forgive is greater than your sin, so also Jesus ability to remember you is greater than your ability to forget him. He IS your salvation.