Sermon: Remember Me

[This sermon was originally preached on Sunday, March 6, 2016]

I invite you to open your bibles with me this morning to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 23. Luke is in the New Testament — Matthew, Mark, and then Luke. If you see John, you’ve gone a little too far. Luke chapter 23, beginning in verse 42.

Throughout this season of Lent we are looking at the seven last statements, or “words”, of Jesus on the cross. Today we come to Jesus’ third statement, a response to a criminal hanging on a cross next to him as he dies. Before we hear it, let us come before God in a time of prayer.

Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ, our single concern. Amen.

Hear now the word of the Lord from Luke 23:42-43,

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Last week we heard Jesus say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Today, we hear a criminal on a cross say to him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus’ prayer is answered in a remarkable way. This man recognizes his sinfulness, and asks for the forgiveness Jesus readily gives. Jesus answers, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Remember me.

To us, this may seem a strange thing to say. Remember me. We might have thought the criminal on the cross would say, “Jesus, save me.” “Jesus, forgive me.” “Jesus, promise me I’ll go to heaven when I die.” “Jesus, help me.” Instead we hear him say, “Remember me.” Remember me. There is significance to these words. Memory is important. No one wants to be forgotten. We long to be remembered. We long to be remembered fondly.

We take pictures in order to capture memories. The wealthy put their names on buildings and built monuments, parents pour love into their children, and we invest in friendships. All in order to be remembered.

We put dates on the calendar, set reminders on our phones and computers, send out save-the-date cards — all so that we remember.

There is a part of memory that is bringing something to the forefront of our minds. It is pulling the event out of storage and bringing it to the front of our consciousness. That’s what we mean when we say we remember where we put the keys or that we remember that one time we took a family vacation. What was forgotten is now recalled. We remember.

But there is a different layer to memory. Some events, some memories shape who we are. Sometimes we recall events not simply because they were forgotten, but because they mean something more. Sometimes, memory is connected with the very core of our being, with the very promises that we cling.

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

In the Bible, ‘remember’ is a thick word. Because not only are God’s people called to remember, but God remembers. And when God remembers, he acts. When God remembers, something big is about to happen.

Throughout the Bible we read about God’s people asking them to be remembered, and about how God remembers them. For me, when I want to understand a scripture passage better, I find it extremely helpful to look at where else in the bible this shows up.

So, where else do we learn about remembering?

The very first instance of remembering in the bible comes from the story of Noah. If you have heard the story before, you might remember that Noah was to take two of every living creature onto a large boat — an ark. Then it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, and the earth was covered in water. All living creatures, except for those on the ark, died. Then we read this,

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded” (Genesis 8:1).

God remembered Noah… and the waters receded.

When the waters had come down, and Noah, his family, and all the animals came out of the ark, God spoke again with this promise,

Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” (Genesis 9:14-15)

In this story of Noah, we see that God’s remembering is connected with his saving Noah and the animals from the flood, and with his promise, his covenant, to never again send a flood to destroy all life.

Salvation and covenant.

In our disciple groups this year we are going through the first part of the Book of Exodus. For those of you in the groups you may remember another instance of remembering. God’s people, the Israelites, were slaves in Egypt. Pharaoh had ordered that all the newborn baby boys of Israel were to be killed. An Israelite baby boy named Moses, was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter, and brought up in Pharaoh’s household. When he had grown up he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite, one of Moses’ people. Angered by what he saw, he killed the Egyptian. When Pharaoh heard of what Moses had done, he tried to kill him, and Moses fled to the wilderness, where he lived for forty years.

We then read this…

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. (Exodus 2:23-24)

The Israelites cried out because of their slavery, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob, and was concerned for them.

Once again, remembering is tied with God’s covenant, his promise, with His people. God didn’t forget, his people had not ‘slipped his mind,’ but when God remembers, he acts to keep his promises, his covenant. God had made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants for all time — to be their God, to make Abraham the father of many nations, to give his descendants the whole land of Canaan. In return, Abraham and his descendants were to walk before God faithfully and be blameless (Genesis 17:1). I want you to keep that second part in mind as we’ll return to it.

Abraham’s descendants became many. Take a look some time at Exodus 1, and you will see over and over that, while in Egypt, the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them (Exodus 1:7).

God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. He remained their God, made the people multiply, and now he would bring them out of Egypt and give them their own land — the land of Canaan.

God remembered Noah.

God remembered Israel.

Remembering, covenant promises, salvation.

Let’s return now to Israel’s part of the covenant. God would be their God for all generations, would make them a great nation, and would give them the land of Canaan. In return, Israel was to walk before God faithfully and be blameless.

Spoiler alert: Israel did not hold up their end of the covenant. Over an over they would walk away from the one true God, and follow other gods. They were unfaithful. They were also just like us — sinners. They couldn’t walk before God blamelessly. God knew this. He knew they would fail.

God knew they would fall so far that He would have to exile them from the land He had given them. But he still promised to be faithful. We read in Leviticus 26,

“‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors—their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. For the land will be deserted by them and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them. They will pay for their sins because they rejected my laws and abhorred my decrees. Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the Lord their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God. I am the Lord.’” (Leviticus 26:40-45)

Was Israel deserving of God’s forgiveness and grace? No. But, still he gave it. Their salvation depended on God remembering his people. I will remember my covenant, God says.

Remembering, covenant promises, salvation.

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

I can continue to show you how God remembered his people — through Samson, Hannah, Hezekiah, Solomon, and many more.

But there’s one more thing I need to share.

Not only did God keep his part of the covenant despite Israel’s failings, but he promised something else to them as well. He promised that if Israel failed at holding their end of the covenant, He would take the punishment.

That brings us back to a hill outside Jerusalem, three crosses, with three men strung upon them. Two are convicted criminals, the third has done no wrong. He’s innocent.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The second criminal recognized Jesus for who He was. He remembered God’s covenant, and the promise God had made to take the punishment for our failures. This wasn’t an ordinary man on a cross. This was his God, taking on the sin of the world.

He confessed his sinfulness, and asked Jesus to remember him.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom is a cry for salvation. It is a cry for help. It is a man with no hope calling out to the only hope he can find. Jesus. Remember me. Remember your promise to save. Remember your promise to uphold sinners because of your love and faithfulness. Remember, and please, do as you promised you would do.

And Jesus does — Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise not because the thief was deserving, but because of God’s great love for us.

You see, this whole story I told you is our story too. We went through the flood. We were once slaves in Egypt. We were brought to the promised land. We failed. Over and over and over again. We were once exiles, lost and left to die.

Like the criminal on the cross, we are deserving of death.

But Jesus offers us hope. He offers us an undeserved life.

If, like the criminal we cry out to Jesus, we confess our sins, we ask to be remembered, we too will be with him in paradise. We will be with Jesus.

That is a promise that God remembers.

The prayer of thief and Jesus’ response is captured in the words of this untitled hymn

Weak and wounded sinner
Lost and left to die
O, raise your head for love is passing by
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus and live
Now your burden’s lifted
And carried far away
And precious blood
has washed away the stain
So sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus and live
And like a new born baby
Don’t be afraid to crawl
And remember when you walk
sometimes we fall
So fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus

Fall on Jesus and live

If you have never prayed the prayer of the thief, I invite you to do so today. If God is stirring in your heart to say, ‘I want to place my trust in Jesus.’ Then let today be the day. The thief in his final moments on the cross reminds us that it is never too late to turn to Christ. It is never too late, until it is. And if you know Christ, I still invite you to pray this prayer with me, that we all might call upon Jesus to remember us and save.

Lord Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. I know that I, like the thief on the cross, am owed nothing by you. I have sinned and do not deserve my very breath, let alone eternal life. Yet, I trust that you can save me, I trust that you loved me enough to die on the cross, I trust that you can make me clean, make me right, make me new. I trust that you can take my life and set me on the path of righteousness, that you can use even me to glorify your name. Jesus, remember me, save me, and lead me into eternal life. Amen. 

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