A message of hope for this Easter
I was heartbroken to see the images of Notre Dame burning this week, just prior to the Easter holidays. I can only imagine what the people of France and all over Europe must have thought to see such a vibrant, iconic part of their long historical heritage destroyed in a matter of hours.
An event this big and this tragic begs the question “What does this all mean?” For surely this was not for nothing and there must be a greater spiritual purpose. We are reminded in Ephesians 6:12 that things are not always as they appear. It reminds me of another tragic event that impacted world history on an even larger scale.
Imagine with me the following scene:
Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” A sign was fastened above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:32-43
If you were one of those standing near at that time, it is possible you could have been taught from your youth that the Messiah was coming in power! Reading through the four gospels we can see there was a prevalent belief that Messiah was coming as a glorious King who would physically march into Jerusalem, liberate the Jewish people, and establish a physical Kingdom – all of which is true – but during His SECOND coming, not His first one! Many Scribes and Pharisees back then failed to both recognize as well as separate the Messiah’s first coming (as a sacrificial lamb) from His second one (as the powerful Lion of Judah). Followers of this belief (that the Messiah’s first and only coming was in physical power) were called Zealots.
Knowing this as the scene unfolds makes it is easier to understand why there was doubt about Jesus being the Messiah, and the insults hurled at Him by the religious leaders and Roman Soldiers. Shouldn’t He then be marching through the land in great triumph rather than hanging on a cross about to die? In turn, this makes sense of His prayer to the Father asking for forgiveness on their behalf. He understood, even on the cross, they were not seeing through a clear lens. Things are not always as they seem.
The scene then shifts to the two thieves hanging on either side of Him. Both thieves committed moral crimes that the laws and people of their day and culture deemed worthy of punishment by death, in a similar way many of us today believe moral crimes are worthy of punishment.
One thief does not hesitate to judge according to what is seen on the surface and hurls similar insults as the religious leaders and soldiers. The other recognized Jesus had committed no crime. One did not care that his own crime was worthy of death. The other knew his punishment was justified. One major thing separated the two, and that is faith in God.
“But the other criminal protested, ‘Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.’”
I found his faith remarkable for a couple of reasons. First, his faith enabled his eyes to be opened to things that even the religious scholars of the day were not seeing, and that is a direct revelation of Messiah as an innocent lamb who was being sacrificed on behalf of sins we all have committed! He was able to recognize it was indeed God, Creator of the Universe, hanging on a cross. This was truly something to be feared!
The second revelation of this man’s faith I find so remarkable is that even while Jesus was hanging on a cross and about to physically die, which to everyone else around would have been proof He could not have been who He claimed, this thief’s faith that Jesus truly was the Messiah was all that he needed to be able to see beyond death to the resurrection, and to the establishment of the Kingdom they all longed and waited for!
What are perhaps some things we today may have been taught from our youth about Messiah or Christianity that we too might not be seeing through a clear lens, things that might not be as they appear? What is our current perception of His Kingdom? We all, like the two thieves, have committed sins against God and as a result are condemned to die a justified death in the end. But one of those thieves got to be with Jesus in paradise, and through his faith in Jesus Messiah, lives on to this day.
Satan and his forces of evil must have been laughing along with the religious leaders and soldiers, thinking “this is it, we finally got Him”! But I wonder if the dark forces of evil trembled when Jesus said to the thief “TODAY you will be with me in Paradise” (emphasis mine)?
Physically on earth only a short while after that moment, Jesus cried out with a loud voice “IT IS FINISHED”. We know from biblical and historical accounts as well as even with mathematical applications such as “Starry Night” that a few of the physical signs happening included a blood moon the day Jesus died, from noon until about 3pm the sun was also darkened in the sky, there was an earthquake strong enough to shake open surrounding graves; a heavy, thick veil hanging in the Holy of Holies was rend in two from the top to the bottom, and more. Things are not always as they seem. The religious leaders and soldiers got it wrong.
Back to the greater spiritual purpose behind what happened to Notre Dame this week, here is how I believe these two events are related: Jesus wants our heart, not the stone. Losing such a magnificent cathedral was, for all who physically saw it burning, such a great and significant tragedy. But just as in the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, there were some out there who were expressing happiness over it, believing this was a defeating blow to the Christian faith. No my friends, it is the opposite! This is a glorious reminder that Jesus does not live in temples made with stone. He lives in our hearts, in a place that no man can destroy.
I leave you with the following thought from the book of Acts, chapter 17, verses 24:31:
24“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.27“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone.30“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”