Irony, 2 April 2017

Series: A Love That Never Dies
Luke 23:39-43

Series Big Idea:
Throughout Lent, we prepare for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return

Big Idea: Jesus’ death was filled with irony…and hope for all sinners.


The bald guy’s name is Curly.
The huge weightlifter is called Tiny.
The psychic’s presentation is cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.
The name
Judas means praise.

Irony involves a contrast between appearance and reality, between expectation and occurrence.

My name is Kirk and we’re in the middle of Lent, the season leading to our remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This series is entitled, “A Love That Never Dies” and to demonstrate a love that will never die, Jesus died. He died a gory, horrific death…because He loves you and me.

There are so many ironies in the crucifixion account. Dennis sang about many of them.

Why did a friend betray Jesus?
Why did he use a kiss?
Why did King Jesus have to wear a crown of thorns?
Why did the only perfect human die on a cross like a thief?

Here are some others:

The Romans usually nailed each criminal’s charges to his cross. They wanted everyone to know what they did…and the fate of those who try to do the same thing. Crucifixion was meant to be a deterrent. The message was, “If you steal, this will happen to you. If you murder, this will happen to you.”

Jesus’ charge? First, it was written in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Tri-lingual! Latin for the Romans, Greek for those in commerce. Hebrew for the Jews. And the charge said, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” The irony is the charge was true. He is the King of the Jews. He’s also the King of the Romans, King of the Gentiles, He’s the King of kings and Lord of lords. And the King of all hung dying for those who rebelled against his rule and that of His Father.

He wants to be king over you and me, too. He’s not an insecure ruler seeking power and control. Instead, He rules benevolently, with love and grace, mercy and forgiveness. He is a good King. The best King!

Our text today from Luke 23 begins at verse 39

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)

Yes, Jesus is the Messiah.
Yes, Jesus is the Savior.
Yes, at the very moment he was in the midst of saving every man, woman and child who would choose to follow him as LORD.

This passage reminds me again of the layers of suffering Jesus endured.

He wasn’t just stripped naked.
He wasn’t just beaten.
He wasn’t just pierced with nails.
He wasn’t just betrayed by one of his closest friends.
He wasn’t just tired from a night of prayer while his disciples were sleeping.

He gets insulted by a criminal hanging beside him. I can only imagine the tone. Most of communication is non-verbal.

“Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

On the other side of Jesus was a criminal with a completely different attitude.

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.” (Luke 23:40-41)

Do you feel the irony? The criminals were punished justly, but Jesus had done nothing wrong. Obviously this criminal had faith. He feared God. We don’t know exactly what he did to deserve execution, but people have faith have been known to make mistakes…and even commit crimes.

Some of the most vibrant followers of Jesus live behind bars. Their sins, like those of the criminals on Calvary, are known. They are branded—child abuser, thief, drug dealer. They don’t have the option of putting on a fancy suit and parading around on Sunday mornings pretending to have the perfect life, the perfect spouse, the perfect kids. They are humble. They are broken. They are desperate for redemption.

Oh how I wish that were the posture of every Christian. We all need a Savior, a Redeemer, a King. Just because my sins haven’t put me on death row doesn’t mean I don’t need Jesus. Just because many of my sins are “acceptable” sins like worry and anger doesn’t mean I don’t need Jesus. Just because my sins are not always visible like pride, judgmentalism, jealousy, and impatience doesn’t mean I don’t need Jesus.

Jesus was without sin so He could pay for the sins of the world.

God became a human so He could pay for the sins of humanity.

Both criminals heard Jesus’ first words on the cross, a prayer for the very ones who nailed Him there:

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:34)

They should’ve been the ones seeking forgiveness. They knew what they were doing—obeying Pilate’s orders and securing the empire against insurrection and rebellion. They were executing a blasphemer, a troublemaker, a radical.

But only Jesus truly knew what he was doing: providing a path of forgiveness and salvation for anyone who would repent and surrender their lives to him, to the King.

The faith-filled criminal beside Jesus realized forgiveness was possible for those who nailed him to the cross. That gave him hope, despite his own sins. He said

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)

What a request. What faith!

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

If Jesus could forgive this criminal—this person who probably never went to church, read the Bible, gave money to the poor, or went on a mission trip—he can forgive you and me. If Jesus wanted those who pounded the nails to be forgiven, you and I have hope.

Another irony comes from the crowds who taunted and shouted

“You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. (Matthew 27:40-42)

The religious people got involved. Jesus didn’t just die for criminals. He died for the self-righteous, for the proud. They said, “If you are the Son of God.” That’s what Satan hurled at Jesus when he was tempted in the wilderness.

…“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (Matthew 4:3)

“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: 
“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:6)

The so-called people of God were mouthing Satan’s temptations!

They urged Jesus to save himself at the very moment he was dying to save them!

To save us, Jesus could not save himself. In a love that could not die, Jesus died. His love kept him on the cross. Love for you. Love for me.

So What?

Some of you see yourself like the criminal, paralyzed by guilt and shame. You blew it this week. You lashed out at your kids. You indulged in porn. You drank yourself silly. You lied to your boss.

You need forgiveness. You need grace—unmerited favor. You need Jesus.

Some of you are on the opposite extreme. You’re religious, self-righteous, and a really good person. Your reputation is so stellar you think you’re almost perfect. You’re here every Sunday, always put money in the offering plate, and have even memorized parts of the Bible.

You need forgiveness. You need grace—unmerited favor. You need Jesus.

I’m a recovering Pharisee. Pride is arguably the worst of all sins, the root of them all. It’s subtle because it’s usually unseen…and rarely punished. But it kills relationships. It separates us from others…and God. I need Jesus.

Perhaps the greatest irony of the crucifixion is God’s love for sinners. As we recently saw

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

He didn’t die because we were good.
He died because we were bad. We were sinners. We are sinners.

I believe some of you still struggle with God’s ability to forgive you and truly love you. I struggle to fully comprehend God’s grace. But whether you believe it or not does not make it true or false. I have discovered the Bible can be trusted. It has been tested. It works.

The good news, the gospel, the message of our faith is Jesus is LORD. He is our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King. His love never fails. His arms are reaching out to embrace you…but He won’t force Himself upon you. He simply invites you to follow Him. I accepted the invitation decades ago and I’ve never regretted it for a second.

Credits: Some ideas from Rev. Steven H. Albers, CTA.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Is It I, LORD? 26 March 2017

    Is It I, LORD?
    Series: A Love That Never Dies
    Matthew 26:21-25

    Series Big Idea:
    Throughout Lent, we prepare for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return

    Big Idea: Lent reminds us of our need for forgiveness…and its availability.

    Betrayal. Have you ever experienced it? Have you ever had a friend turn against you? That’s not what friends are supposed to do!

    My name is Kirk and we’re continuing our Lent sermon series, “A Love That Never Dies.” Every day should be a day to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus, but this season leading up to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday is an especially good time to focus on Holy Week, including the cross and empty tomb. We contemplate our sins which caused Jesus to endure a horrific death…and remember the love of God can never die.

    Death. It’s the one subject most USAmericans hate to discuss. It makes us uncomfortable, even fearful. Sure, many Christians say they’re ready to die, but that doesn’t remove the uncertainty of when…or how.

    For some of us it will be soon. But we don’t know.

    For some of us it will be quick and easy, while others will agonize for years.

    Are you uncomfortable yet?

    There are so many unbelievable aspects of Jesus’ death. We’re all aware of the physical anguish of being beaten, wearing a crown of thorns, carrying a cross, and the nails. Those three spikes.

    Most of us pay less attention to the emotional and mental anguish Jesus endured…because he loved us so.

    First, Jesus spent thousands of years preparing to die. He knew before the foundation of the world we would exist…and need a Savior (Ephesians 1:4). That means before he spoke the universe into existence, he knew about the plan to enter our world and die.

    Have you ever anticipated pain? It can be worse than the pain itself! At this very moment I’m anticipating the pain of the vaccinations I need to travel to Africa this summer to train pastors (I’ll share more about that soon). I don’t like shots. I’m dreading the needle. If you just randomly walked up to me and gave me the shot, I wouldn’t have any anxiety (though I’d be startled and momentarily quite upset with you!).

    Imagine anticipating pain…forever. Imagine spending 33 years on this planet knowing you would willingly die. We’re all going to die—the odds are 100%—but Jesus died intentionally. He died to demonstrate his love for us…not because we’re good, but because we’re desperate. We saw two weeks ago…

    But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

    In today’s text, Jesus is celebrating Passover, the pinnacle of Jewish festivals. Thirteen men gather around food and drink to commemorate the exodus from Egypt of their ancestors. It was a huge deal.

    And then Jesus drops a bomb.

    And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” (Matthew 26:21)

    What? That’s not party talk! Betrayal? How did Jesus know? Can he predict the future?
    Who would possibly betray a friend, much less Jesus? And why?!?!?!

    They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22)

    “Is it I, LORD?”

    In case you need a definition, one dictionary described betrayal as

    1: to give over to an enemy by treason or treachery
    2: to be unfaithful
    3: to tell in violation of a trust

    Is it possible to “accidentally” betray someone? The betrayer knew. So did Jesus.

    Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:23-24)

    That’s an understatement, though it was all part of God’s plan.

    Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” 

    Jesus answered,
    “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:25)

    “Is it I, LORD?”

    “Yes, Judas.”


    Is there any emotional pain greater than betrayal? It takes years to establish trust, to develop a deep friendship…and an instant to lose it.

    Judas betrayed Jesus shortly thereafter…with a kiss. That simple gesture we reserve for loved ones became the signal that would begin the series of events leading to the gory execution of the only perfect human in history. Judas sold his soul for thirty pieces of silver, about four months’ wages for a common laborer.

    What was Judas thinking?!

    What must he have been thinking when the mob cried out, “Crucify him!”? (Matthew 27:23)

    When they said to Pilate, “His blood is on us and on our children,” he knew the blood of Jesus was on his hands. (Matthew 27:25)

    Imagine how Jesus’ words must have echoed in the mind of Judas.

    But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24)

    We all want to make a difference in this world. You want your life to matter, right? Imagine hearing God—not an ignorant fool, but GOD—saying your life was wasted.

    Is it any wonder Judas committed suicide?

    I don’t think Judas was a lost cause. Jesus’ words reflected his own sorrow and pain more than a personal statement toward his friend, Judas.

    Jesus loved Judas. Jesus’ love never dies. He says to Judas and to me and to you

    “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
    Jesus would have forgiven Judas, just as he forgave Peter when he denied Christ three times. And he forgives you and me.

    In the book of Romans, we read

    Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
    As it is written: 

    “For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  (Romans 8:35-36)

    No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

    I want to close with one simple verse I love to quote.

    If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

    So What?

    I want to give you an opportunity to respond today. We’ve all sinned. We’ve all offended God. We’ve all disobeyed. Maybe you have not denied Christ or betrayed him—or maybe you have—but Jesus died to forgive you of your sins—past, present, and future. It says, “If we confess.”

    The altar is open every Sunday, but occasionally we draw particular attention to it. To close today, I simply want to invite you to come forward and offer personal prayers of confession. You can do so in your seat, if desired. You are also free to quietly exit the sanctuary. Just know if you are a follower of Jesus, you are forgiven. That’s why Jesus died. That’s what Lent is all about. That’s why we possess and share good news. Hallelujah!

    Questions for individual or group reflection

    1. What examples of betrayal can you cite from recent movies, books, or current events What makes betrayal such a disgusting, shameful act in almost every era, every culture?
    2. Why do you believe Jesus chose Judas to be one of the disciples?
    3. The name Judas means “praised one.” How does this add to the irony of Judas’s life story?
    4. Compare John 13:18 with Psalm 41:9. Based on these verses, what do you deduce about the meaning of eating together in the culture of both Old and New Testament times?
    5. Who initiated Judas’s act of betrayal? We can only guess, but what motives might have been behind this? (See Matthew 26:14–16 and John 12:4–6.)
    6. Compare Matthew 27:1–8 and Acts 1:18–20. What do you think lay behind Judas’s suicide?
    7. Together with everyone in your group, brainstorm these two questions:
    8. - In what ways were Peter’s denial (Matthew 26:69–75) and Judas’s betrayal alike?
    9. - In what ways were they different?
    10. Consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:48–50 and his warning in Mark 3:29. Would Jesus have forgiven Judas as he later forgave Peter? How does this make Judas’s death even more tragic?
    11. Where in the events we have been considering do you see Jesus’ love, a love that never dies?
    12. Based on all this, what would you say to someone who might say to you, “I’m so ashamed. What I’ve done is unforgivable”?
    13. What one key point will you carry away when you leave today? Explain.
    14. What will you ask Jesus to do in and through you in response to what you’ve heard?
    Credits: Questions and some sermon ideas from Rev. Steven H. Albers, CTA.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Sin Knows No Strangers, 12 March 2017

    Sin Knows No Strangers
    Series: A Love That Never Dies
    Romans 5:6-11

    Series Big Idea:
    Throughout Lent, we prepare for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return

    Big Idea: Because of Jesus, we can be friends of God rather than enemies.

    I believe the two most important questions in life are

    Who am I?
    - Who is God?

    Our text today addresses some powerful issues of identity we must all ponder carefully in order to answer those two questions.

    What words describe you?
    What words describe God?

    A Love That Never Dies. Ever so briefly yet dramatically, these words describe our Lord’s love for us, and they serve as our overarching theme in these weeks leading up to Easter. God’s love for us is a love that never dies, and that’s a good thing! For “sin knows no strangers.” Sin is pervasive, powerful, and persuasive. In both its global and most intimate forms, sin seeks to draw us away God.
    Listen for those truths in today’s text:

    Paul, once known as Saul of Tarsus, is in the midst of writing to the first Christians in Rome. He offers them rich insight into their identity.

    You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)

    For whom did Christ die? The ungodly.

    When did Christ die? When we were still powerless.

    Why did Paul mention “we” and then “ungodly?” You’re a good person, right? You’re in church. Most of you haven’t murdered anyone or robbed a bank. Jesus died on the cross because we’re good people, we are loveable, and he loves us.

    I think most people think they’ll go to heaven when they die because they’re good people. They pay their taxes. They vote. They brush their teeth!

    Jesus died for the ungodly. That’s me!

    Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. (Romans 5:7)

    Let that sink in for a moment. Would you die for someone? Your child? Your best friend? Your spouse? What about LeBron James? President Trump? Putin?

    But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

    This is stunning. I’ve heard it 100 times, but it is truly remarkable.

    Jesus died for the powerless and feeble (v. 6)
    Jesus died for the ungodly (v. 6)
    Jesus died for sinners (v. 8)
    Jesus died for his enemies (as we will see in verse 10)
    Jesus died for you and me.

    Drop the mic! That’s incredible!

    You don’t have to hope God loves you.
    You don’t have to wonder if God loves you.
    God loves you. He demonstrated it. He proved it. His actions speak as loud as his words.

    He loved you and me while we were unrepentant sinners.

    Isn’t this good news? Isn’t this great news?

    We celebrate the death of Jesus last Sunday. It’s called Good Friday because Jesus dying for us—hopeless, helpless sinners—provided a pathway for forgiveness, reconciliation with our Heavenly Father, peace, joy, and hope.

    But it gets better…and worse.

    God’s Wrath

    When you mentioned words to describe God, how many said, “Wrath?”

    God is love.
    God is kind.
    God is forgiving and gracious and merciful.

    Yes. But God is also just. And justice includes wrath.

    Does God hate people? Absolutely not…but He hates sin. He hates sin! And we are sinners. You know this. Earlier in chapter three, Paul states the obvious:

    …for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)

    That’s one of the most depressing verses in the Bible.

    Have you ever felt short?

    God is perfect. 100% pure. He has a zero tolerance policy for sin. Zero! So when we sin—and we all sin—where does that leave us? Separated from God.

    That’s the bad news. But the good news is Jesus’ death covered all of our sin.

    Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:9-11)

    We have been justified. That means God approves of us because of Jesus, an acquittal that sets of free from the penalty of our sin. Justification happens now. On judgment day we will be saved from God’s wrath. It will be awe-inspiring to see and be spared of God’s wrath.

    Because God is just, He must judge. He must be fair. We will all get what we deserve…unless we follow Jesus and receive grace—unmerited, undeserved favor.

    Have you ever thought of yourself as an enemy of God? Paul says that’s what we were, enemies of God.

    You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

    But Paul says we’re reconciled. That’s becoming one of my favorite words. We don’t hear it often because it doesn’t happen often. It’s easier to remain bitter, angry, or even silent. Reconcile means

    - Restore friendly relations between
    - Cause to coexist in harmony; make or show to be compatible or consistent
    - To compose or settle (a quarrel, dispute)

    It’s as if we wore white t-shirts, our sin stained them with dirt, and Jesus wraps a white robe around us, allowing us to stand before God perfect and pure. Jesus does the heavy lifting. We just open our arms and say yes.


    To summarize…

    Sin has made us enemies of God.

    God’s grace, mercy, and never-ending love have rescued us.

    Through Jesus, we can be friends of God.

    I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)

    And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”  and he was called God’s friend. (James 2:23)

    This is a truly amazing reality. We weren’t always friends of God. We were enemies, yet through Jesus we can be reconciled. We can know God…not just about God, but truly know God.

    Are you a friend of God?


    Some ideas from Rev. Steven H. Albers, CTA.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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