I have no idea how many of you watched the TV series, “E.R.” when it was on. It was very popular and you can probably still watch re-runs of this show on one or more cable or satellite channels.
The show centered on the lives of the emergency room staff in a large urban hospital. The cases that came in through the door were all over the medical spectrum … gun-shot and knife wounds … heart attacks and strokes … infections … aches and pains in every part of the body … as well as patients who no longer had a grasp of reality. You never knew what would be next … and it seemed as if they were constantly overwhelming the capabilities of the hospital.
Someone recently posted a scene from E.R. on the Internet. The scene opens up on a cancer patient who is also a doctor. He is near the end of his life and he has a tremendous load of guilt. One of the hospital chaplains is trying to help him deal with the guilt.
You see this doctor had once been an executioner who administered lethal drugs to people who had been sentenced to death by lethal injection. He told the chaplain about injecting a young man and killing him and then learning about a month later that the young man was innocent. He was framed by a group of crooked cops. Ever since, this doctor had to live with the fact that he had killed an innocent man. Now … as this doctor faced his own death … the guilt terrified him. Soon he would stand before his creator. Soon, he would have to answer for killing this innocent man. He was terrified.
The chaplain who tried to help him was not a Christian. SHE tried to help this poor man to understand that it was not his fault … that he could search for peace within himself and prepare for his death. SHE did everything she could to build up this man’s self-esteem and achieve peace with his past life. Nothing worked. All HER efforts only made the poor patient angry.
Finally, the patient threw a temper tantrum. He cried out, “I NEED A REAL CHAPLAIN WHO BELIEVES IN A REAL GOD AND A REAL HELL. I NEED SOMEONE WHO CAN TELL ME HOW TO FIND SOME REAL FORGIVENESS!” Then he ordered the chaplain to get out of the treatment room.
Now, I was never a great fan of E.R., but this scene really frustrates me. Every one of you who paid attention to today’s Gospel knows the answer that man needed to hear. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:33–34)
This is exactly what the doctor needed. He was in the agony of guilt because he had executed an innocent. Here is Jesus calling down forgiveness on the people who crucified Him … the most innocent of all human beings … Himself. I wanted to scream at the T.V. “Lady! Just get a Bible and read Luke 23 to the guy. Explain to him that the very first people Jesus forgave were the people who executed the innocent … THIS MEANS YOU!”
This man wanted a real God and real hell? How many times did Jesus describe hell as the “outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth?” Jesus also described hell as the place ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:48) He also described it as “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41) Jesus described hell as a very real and a very painful place.
So we have everything this man wanted … a real God … a real hell … AND A REAL FORGIVENESS. All of this is there in Jesus hanging from that cross.
But Jesus is not finished. Two others were hanging there with Jesus. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. (Luke 23:33) We often refer to these men as thieves, but that isn’t right. Rome did not crucify ordinary thieves. If these men were companions of Barabbas, then they were terrorists. They had both killed many.
At first, these two criminals mocked Jesus, but then the Holy Spirit produced the miracle of faith in one of the criminals. One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “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.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:39–42)
Jesus had more than forgiveness for him. For with forgiveness comes life and salvation. [Jesus] said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) The forgiveness of Jesus produced paradise for this terrorist.
These examples of Jesus forgiving people from the cross teach us that Jesus has forgiveness for everyone. There is no sin that He cannot forgive.
So, what about you? What sin will terrify you when you face death and realize that you will soon stand before your creator to answer for the things you have done? What sin will threaten to drive you to despair? Jesus said, “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) Have you been unfaithful to your spouse by surfing porn sites on the Internet? The Bible says, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:15) Who have you murdered with your hate? Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44) How is that working out for you?
The simple fact is that each and every one of us has secrets that would destroy us if they became common knowledge. Each and every one of us knows that we really do deserve both temporal and eternal punishment. Each and every one of us knows that if we had to stand before holy and almighty God in nothing but our own worth, we would be doomed.
The words of Jesus from the cross give us confidence that no matter how bad our sins are, He has forgiveness for them … no matter what we have done, there is paradise for us. The sin that terrifies you the most has been taken up by Jesus to the cross along with all your other sins. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
Today’s Gospel reading is very serious. It deals with the death of Jesus who is both God and man. There is a way that His death saddens us. After all, His death reminds us of our sin. There is also a way that His death is very good. It proclaims that He has taken God’s punishment for our sins onto Himself. The proclamation of Jesus’ death is both law and gospel.
Jesus’ friends laid Him in a nearby tomb. The hour was late. The Sabbath approached quickly. There was nothing else that they could do. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Luke 23:56) Both Jesus rested and His friends rested for there was much to do on the first day of the very next week as Jesus left the tomb and proclaimed His victory, but that is the story for next Sunday.
Today’s Gospel teaches us that we can rest assured that all our sins … even our worst and most terrifying … have been forgiven by Jesus on the cross. Amen
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