Sermon, Maundy Thursday, April 18, 2019

Seven Words from the Cross – “Today you will be with me in Paradise”

John 13:4-14, Mark 10:17-27

After viewing The Rich Young Ruler

Pastor Adrian Kitson

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel round his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped round him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’

Jesus replied, ‘You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’

‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’

Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’

‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!’

10 Jesus answered, ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.’ 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. 13 ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord”, and rightly so, for that is what I am.

Can you feel his burning anger? Why is this young man so upset? He is looking at that thief on the next cross from Jesus, and he is white hot as he hears these words that pour out gifts of God on a person who has been trying to steel them from others! “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’, says the dying Jesus (Luke 23:43)

This has happened before…..

Remember? (Mark 10:17-27)

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

18 ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good – except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.”[a]

20 ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’

He has it all but feels like he missing it all. Why so?

This young man is wealthy in two ways.

  1. He has great moral wealth. He is an honest man who has integrity. He is a good guy: probably a loving husband, good young father, who works hard and is fair in business.
  2. He has great financial wealth. In his day and even in ours, this moral wealth goes together with financial wealth. Obviously he is rewarded by God for his moral wealth. He is obviously blessed because of his good life. Wealth is an obvious sign that he is good. This guy is the ideal person to whom any religious leader would point as The Guy we all should aspire to be.

So good is he that he is even willing to concede that he is still missing something. He asks the Rabbi, “What do I lack?  What else do I need to do to be very good and get it all, Jesus? Whatever it is I will do it. Just tell me what I need to DO”.

With a moved spirit, Jesus says he is like a camel trying to get through the eye of a tiny needle.

Like so many who meet Jesus, he is confronted with the reality that even his best is not good enough – or even more – his goodness, or the thief’s badness, is not the thing that determines getting into Paradise with The Almighty.

This is most annoying for the hard-working good people who strive so hard to be so together in life, and absolute paradise for the unravelled thieving person.

How about you? Which one are you? Annoyed at God or singing his praises?

Jesus smashes this person’s two basic beliefs about life in God. This young man is looking for this final thing HE needs to DO; this final rung to climb that will get him through to the pearly gates based on two wrong assumptions;

Christianity is something he can add. This man thinks that life in Jesus depends on adding God in to YOUR life (as if it is your life alone). The theory goes that if you add in enough God-stuff, do enough holy stuff, then you get the God-reward.

He finds out that life with Jesus has nothing to do with simply adding in something God into your life. The thief was not successful at adding in much God-stuff and was given paradise with God!

Life with Jesus is not something add into YOUR life. Christianity is His life in yours. Jesus explodes inside of you and makes you altogether new, despite your goodness or your badness; whether       you are a self-sufficient, well liked achiever or a nobody with nothing and non-one – like that thief in his dying hours.

Jesus GIVES you life as pure gift. Jesus gives this thief what he could never steal! Jesus offers what this ‘together young man’ could never earn by being ‘together’ enough. Life is Jesus’ to give, not anyone’s to take.

You cannot steal Jesus’ life by being very, very good on your own terms or the world’s terms, or by being very, very bad and shunning the world and all its terms.

You think that there is one more thing you can do to get it all, one more rung, one more sacrifice, one more step. No way. Christianity adds you! Jesus includes you. You are not in Paradise already with Jesus because you were good enough for it but because he has given it as he did to that thief.

Christianity is something he can do. “What good thing should I do?”, he asks. “There is only One who is truly good”, says Jesus.

 Jesus asks him to do something totally impossible: give away everything he has. Why? To make it clear to all that “You have not, will not and actually cannot ‘do’ Christianity”.

That is the point of the impossible request made of a person who thinks they have done it all. You cannot ‘do’ your relationship with the Son of God because it is a relationship in which he ‘does’ you; he resurrects you.

This life in Christ is not a transaction, a sale, a step to achieve for your own life on your own terms. It is total resurrection to a whole new life of forgiveness and love in him.

Friends, I am not sure where you are at this Maundy Thursday – angry at God for not rewarding you enough for all your hard work; grieved the news that you will never be good enough to get it all or standing accused of being a nobody and a nothing by others or yourself.

You might feel like you could not have bled a drop of goodness that you have not had to steel from God, so stingy has he been to you.

You may feel like God is calling you a thief as you have been trying to earn; trying to steel all his blessing for your happy life.

You may feel like a freeloader who is just not able to get it all done and earn what you need.

You may feel like you have been ripped off working for God all these years only to see all these new people; these strangers, these people with different faces, values, different names, different shapes, be let into the kingdom with you!

However you feel, you have a moment to decide as the Teacher comes close: will you be Peter who protests against this offensive foot washing, or will you welcome it fully with head hands and feet as Peter eventually did?

Will you hold your ground and continue the lie that you can make your life better; fuller; more useful and meaningful and just ‘add in’ the church stuff to keep it all in place or will you simply throw your lot in with this very bad man on the next cross and say, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”?

Whether you speak that prayer from the heart or whether you maintain your stand, there is hope.

The young wealthy man goes away grieved, and he is angry at the grace of Jesus, but he can still return at any time. You can return now.

It is so hard for a self-sufficient, “together” kind of person to receive him. It is like a camel trying to go through that tiny eye in the needle.

Who would you rather be tonight; the thief with nothing to give and everything to receive or the self-sufficient man with everything to lose?

‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”.

‘Jesus, wash not only my feet but my hands and my head as well!’