The Very Happy Executioner

Luke 23:26-49


Is it OK for the AFL to put games on Good Friday, and for you to watch them on TV? Was my mum in tune with God’s feelings about this day when she refused to wash the clothes, or, in line with the title Dale chose for today’s Gospel reading should we speak of, “Very Happy Friday”?

Since God the Father doesn’t have opinions about the death of his Son it is imperative that we pay close attention to the inspired record of Christ’s death in scripture. In going through Luke we have seen how society’s outcasts, a Gentile soldier, a sinful woman, a Samaritan leper, a blind beggar, and a tax collector all found hope and healing in Christ. This is exactly what happens as Jesus is dying on the cross, those with status mock him but outsiders turn to him as the source of salvation.


The devout women lamenting over Jesus’ fate must have been shocked by his turning and (vv26-31) exhorting them to lament for themselves and their children.

The extreme language of people calling on mountains and hills to collapse on them to end their misery portrays a coming divine judgement without apparent limit[1]See Biblical References Hos 10:8 ESV; Rev 6:16 ESV.

Jesus knows his innocent death will fulfil God’s salvation plan, but that within a generation Jerusalem which has rejected him will be flattened, its inhabitants slaughtered or enslaved (Luke 23:34-35 ESV).

The next time Jesus’ speaks he is praying from the cross. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.(Luke 23:34 ESV) Under the most extreme circumstances Jesus is practising what he has preached; “ vs.27 Love your enemies… vs.28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you….” ”[2]See Biblical References Matt 5:44-45 ESV; Luke 6:27-28 ESV. Forgiving your murderers is a rare and remarkable thing; but even more potent is the fact that unconditional forgiveness solely for the sake of those harming us makes Jesus unique in the whole history of religious and moral teaching.

The Bible is painfully realistic about the corrupt state of the human heart when the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers hear Christ’s praying for them their mockery only intensifies.

His Jewish slanderers know a suffering dying man can’t possibly be God’s Chosen favourite, the Messiah, and since his Roman attackers know how a real King behaves, this fellow on the cross must be an impostor.

To them, it is categorically obvious that if Jesus can’t save himself he cannot be the Saviour of the world. Then at a level that makes no sense to ordinary thinking the power of God starts to operate through the suffering powerless Jesus to save.

vs.39 One of the criminals who were hanged hurled insults at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!vs.40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? vs.41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.vs.42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.vs.43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”” (Luke 23: 39-43 ESV)

The criminal who hurled insults at Jesus, “Save yourself and us!” has brought Jesus down to his own selfish level. In looking solely to benefit himself in his interaction with Jesus he cannot be saved. He cannot understand that God’s Son will be delivered not out of death through death.  

This is how the saving power of God works. In Romans Paul helps us understand how the cross works by saying we Christians must face “trouble…hardship…persecution…famine…nakedness…danger or sword” then concludes with “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him (Christ) who loved us” (Rom 8:35, 37 ESV).

If Christ doesn’t always pull us out of troubles the power of his love enables us to live above them. The video starts Let me share what happened to a clinically depressed alcoholic friend of mine, I’ll never forget finding her unconscious from a suicide attempt dragging her out of her house and getting an ambulance.

Sometime later she fell and broke her back. When I visited her in hospital, they had her laid out motionless on a special bed in the form of a cross. The symbolism was unmistakeable so guess what I spoke to her about?

When she cast herself unreservedly on the mercy of Jesus it was only some time before she was living in forgiveness and freed from anxiety, depression and addiction. She’s in a wheelchair, but through her physical brokenness, she shines as more than a conqueror through Christ’s love.

The other criminal in our story rebukes his blaspheming companion

“Do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” ” This man accepts his sin and its wages (Rom 3:23 ESV) and his testimony to Christ’s blamelessness shows the power of God working in his heart.

Anyone who humbly let’s go of self-righteousness and looks to Jesus will enter heaven. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Unlike the mockers he addresses Jesus by his personal name and in so doing calls on the unique name of Saviour of the world[3]See Biblical References cf. 17:13; 18:38; his plea “remember me” stirs echoes God’s promises to deliver his covenant people when they call on his name[4]See Biblical References Judges 16:28 ESV; 1 Sam 1:11, 19 ESV; Ps 115:12 ESV.

This dying criminal is the first person in the Gospel to recognise that the sufferings of Jesus do not exclude but fulfil his Messianic kingly calling to save the world. He understands Christ’s voluntary suffering love is the triumphant power of God to save us, sinners.

Jesus answers him with words that must have filled him with inexpressible hope and comfort, “ “today you will be with me in paradise.” ”.

Today” means he doesn’t have to wait until the End of the world to be saved, salvation is close at hand[5]See Biblical References 4:21 ESV; 19:9 ESV, for as Messiah Jesus possesses the kingly right to open the doors of paradise to all who come to him.

As a Jew this man knew “Paradise” as the home of only one type of person, the dutifully righteous whose blameless lives pleased God.

Now Jesus opens heaven to the very sort of person who the religious teachers of the day taught could never be saved.

Jesus is saving people – even as he hangs on the cross. We must all pay the closest attention to exactly what Jesus is promising the condemned man, “today, you will be with me in Paradise”.

Not with all your loved ones, as in popular Western imagination, not with virgin wives as in the Koran, not with pure impersonal bliss as in Buddhism but “with me”. Eternal fellowship with Jesus is heaven.

Everyone who turns to Christ as Saviour can have a sure knowledge of eternal life. 

The father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther struggled long over whether his life could ever be worthy enough to earn God’s favour.

Then he understood that the good news of the gospel is that righteousness is offered as a free gift to be received by faith in Christ alone. “Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise…whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love….”

In his grace, God now sends two supernatural omens concerning the murder of his Son. The darkness covering the earth for three hours is supernatural because an eclipse at the Passover time of full moon is impossible.

This is the prophetic darkness of “last days” judgement[6]See Biblical References Joel 2:30-31 ESV; Amos 8:9 ESV; Zeph 1:15 ESV and a sign of the fate of those who ultimately reject Christ[7]See Biblical References Matt 8:12 ESV; Matt 22:13 ESV; Matt 25:30 ESV.

Such signs are meant to prepare hearts for the gospel. In a few weeks’ time, many of this crucifixion crowd were in fact converted by the preaching of the gospel on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:22-23, 36 ESV). In our time the Lord can still warn from heaven today and we should pray for him to do so.

This is a true story.

A new professor at UWA (who I did meet once) was invited by the Christian Union there to speak on Creation and Evolution. When he entered the hall he was intimidated by the size of the crowd and especially by the number of hostile senior academics present.

Fearfully approaching the podium he was praying about how to start when suddenly there was a tremendous clap of thunder and all the lights in the place went out, all but one, the one illuminating the podium. So he said, “Now you know what you are up against”.

The second supernatural sign as Jesus died was the tearing of the curtain temple in two from top to bottom by the hand of God who was saying that law-based system of temple and sacrifice that had segregated Jew and Gentile, priest and lay, male and female was ended.

In Jesus, unrestricted access to God’s presence had been opened. In uttering his final words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” Jesus dies peacefully full of the assurance that God is a Righteous Father who will raise him from the dead[8]See Biblical References John 17:25 ESV; Rom 6:4 ESV.

Then, climactically, the Roman centurion unable to contain what was going in his heart “glorified God” for by grace he sensed God was fulfilling his great saving plan[9]See Biblical References 2:20 ESV; 5:25-26 ESV; 7:16 ESV; 13:13 ESV; 17:15 ESV; 18:43 ESV, his response was to the glory manifested in the sufferings of Jesus.  In testifying, “ ‘Surely this was a righteous man.’ ”[10]See Biblical References Pss 22 ESV; 31 ESV cf. Acts 3:13-14 ESV; Isa 52:13-53:12 ESV he acknowledges Jesus’ supreme status before God the Judge as a blameless person.

Finally, the crowd go away “beating their breasts” They know something terribly unjust has happened but with Jesus departed they as yet have nowhere to turn for forgiveness. Meanwhile Jesus’ disciples, weak as always, “stood at a distance” (Ps 38:11 ESV)


The Good Friday story of the death of Jesus reveals an all-forgiving Father.

This Father is forgiving in his justice and just in his forgiving because his Justice and Forgiveness are not abstract concepts but real in Christ who prayed for the forgiveness of us all and who was heard because he is the One Righteous (Acts 3:14 ESV) Son of God suffering for us.

The criminal who called on the name of Jesus, and the centurion, were very happy men not because they thought they’d got away with, literally for both of them, murder, and we’re going to a “happy place” but because they had literally face to face come, with the goodness of God as Father and as Saviour in Jesus and were totally overcome.

If God can do that for them, he can do the same for us. Like them we need to turn to the Lord today, Jesus is the door into Paradise (John 10:9 ESV) and his is the name in which we are saved, (Acts 4:12 ESV).

For anyone who trusts in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross Good Friday is a Very Happy day indeed. Let us pray.

MESSAGE, DELIVERED: Date 19th April 2019 Location: St Marks, Good Friday

Author: Dr. John Yates

YouTube or PODCAST:

Date 19th April, 2019.


1 See Biblical References Hos 10:8 ESV; Rev 6:16 ESV
2 See Biblical References Matt 5:44-45 ESV; Luke 6:27-28 ESV
3 See Biblical References cf. 17:13; 18:38
4 See Biblical References Judges 16:28 ESV; 1 Sam 1:11, 19 ESV; Ps 115:12 ESV
5 See Biblical References 4:21 ESV; 19:9 ESV
6 See Biblical References Joel 2:30-31 ESV; Amos 8:9 ESV; Zeph 1:15 ESV
7 See Biblical References Matt 8:12 ESV; Matt 22:13 ESV; Matt 25:30 ESV
8 See Biblical References John 17:25 ESV; Rom 6:4 ESV
9 See Biblical References 2:20 ESV; 5:25-26 ESV; 7:16 ESV; 13:13 ESV; 17:15 ESV; 18:43 ESV
10 See Biblical References Pss 22 ESV; 31 ESV cf. Acts 3:13-14 ESV; Isa 52:13-53:12 ESV

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