“The Time to Profess our Faith is Now”
A Good Friday Sermon by lay preacher Jessica Moynihan
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
I’ll never forget my first Palm Sunday service. Those of you who know me, know I found my way into the church as an adult, just a few years ago. My faith was SO strong. I like to say it still is. But there’s just something different about that feeling when you first embrace the love of Jesus. You can’t forget that. In January that year, I was baptized, and it felt like Lent quickly came after. I chose to give up chocolate that first Lent. It felt so hard fighting that temptation of that sweet, rich goodness. It’s an addiction. But it always reminded me, “you think this was hard? What about real problems? What about what Jesus went through when he spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness? Be thankful for what Jesus did for us and for our salvation.”
Then, in the blink of an eye, it was Palm Sunday and I was hearing the Passion being read, out loud, in its entirety for the first time. There was a deep sadness that overcame me. I’ll never forget that heartrending feeling inside of me. I tried hiding the tears that were welling in my eyes. I kept telling myself “it’s okay. Jesus died for our salvation. He lives forever, in the Kingdom, at the right hand of the Father. It’s okay.” But it just made me feel so sad to think about our Lord and Savior being put on the cross the way he was. The inhumane way He was treated. The man who was Jesus Christ, who treated people with nothing but love, falsely accused and put to death by the people He was trying to save.
And then I reminded myself, it was intended by God, to happen long before it ever did. We see evidence in the Old Testament in the prophecies that foretold the coming of the Messiah. For example, Isaiah 53:5: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” Jesus was exactly where He should be. And what did He choose to do with his dying minutes? He encountered faith in one of those criminals when the man admitted that he deserved the punishment that he was receiving, but Jesus did not. In return, Jesus saved that man. “Truly I tell you, Today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus tells him that he is going to Heaven with Him after the man pointed out that Jesus had done nothing wrong.
I want to point something out about what Jesus says here that quite often gets overlooked when reading scripture. So many of us are so used to hearing Jesus say “Truly I tell you” in scripture. But what was he really saying there? He was saying, “Listen up! I have something very important to say that you need to take in and digest completely.” He was telling not only those men who hung next to Him, but the whole world both present and future what we all needed to know. We are going to Paradise, if we believe in Him. And what is Paradise? I believe that as much as we think about Paradise as a place, Paradise is simply being in His presence. Paradise is all wrapped up in Jesus. No matter our condition, or our mistakes, He will remember us. He remembered us in His dying so that we may be with Him in our living.
If you think about it, this moment where Jesus is dying on the cross and the one criminal shows his faith in Jesus, is an example of a deathbed confession. Jesus has proven that we can be saved on our deathbeds if we repent and we show our faith. But, how many of us get that chance to be laying on a deathbed, with time to confess our sins? We cannot predict the future and how we are going to die. Only God knows. So what is the lesson here that I’m trying to point out? We may not have the chance to say sorry later, so we should be repenting now. God is the almighty and everlasting, and our time to profess our faith is now.
I want to leave you all with one more thing that God brought to my attention. When reading and praying on this passage, a different Bible passage popped up to me that compared to the idea and act of having faith and not doubting that faith. That verse was James Chapter 1 verse 6. It reads: “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” I cannot speak on how anyone else has felt when they have questioned their faith, but for me, I felt like my entire mind and body were lost. Nothing made sense and I felt like I just didn’t belong in all meanings of the word. Those words “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” were very accurate in my experience. However, once I found my faith again, and opened myself up again to the love of Jesus, I felt an entire shift in my entire makeup. Emotionally, physically and spiritually. Without God, I am nothing. Without opening myself to receiving Jesus’ love, I feel like I am swimming against the current and that I am about to drown. I’m gasping for air. Until I release, and let the current take me to the river bank. It takes me to the love I need. His love. Jesus’s warm embrace.
For me, I always find myself being filled with faith and embracing Jesus’s love when I am in nature, admiring the world that God created for us. I feel so humbled by how small I am and the fact that God has made it possible for our entire planet of life to not only survive, but thrive because of what he has created all around us. The air we breath, the sun warming us and providing vitamin D, the vegetables we eat, the water we drink. It’s all perfectly made with each and every living being in mind. Those thoughts make me feel like Jesus’s light has encased my entire being. I find myself relaxing into a state of comfort with each breath of fresh air that I take. Therefore, I encourage you to walk in Jesus’s love, in nature. The days are getting warmer, the sun is shining longer on our part of the world. My fellow steppers have already been doing this, but I encourage every single one of you to do it also. Don’t just go for a walk. Make sure your phone is silenced, your face is turned to the sun, and you truly take in your surroundings.
Let us pray. O Lord, give us wise, self-controlled, patient, understanding, devout, faithful, and courageous hearts. Fill our souls with devotion to your service, and strength against all temptations; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.