Shackled and drawn

“Shackled and drawn”

Luke 23:33-43

Billy Graham said “If ever you should doubt the love of God, take a long, deep look at the cross, for in the cross you find the expression of God’s love.” The word expression stands for the manifestation or materialisation and in today’s Gospel God’s love is shown for what it is without need for in-depth theological debate or discussion as we see two criminals of equal offenses and receiving equal earthly justice on either side of the sinless Son of God. Two sinners both out of time to fix their wrongs and out of time to ask for a stay of their sentence that they start again and walk a better road and yet under the sure shadow of death, one is given life as he looks to Jesus next to him and in knowing who he is and what he stands for and in asking simply for Jesus to “Remember me when you come into your kingdom”, hears “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”.

A miracle performed. Not a miracle performed that Jesus brings forgiveness to one who has lived a life in all the wrong places, but the miracle that this criminal has come to see the truth of Jesus. The truth that in him that regardless of how far we have fallen, he offers forgiveness without question, and should we simply accept it in him alone we too “will be with him in paradise”.

When I was very, very young (about six years old) I remember thinking about the terrible pain Jesus must have suffered on the cross, but also remember that as horrific as it was, that if only I could know for sure like Jesus did that he was going to heaven, that if I knew for sure that I too would go to heaven it would be so life changing that I wouldn’t have to be sad or worry about things or to have to have toys like others, because why would I?

Unfortunately it took me another twenty years to kneel at the base of the cross and understand the grace of God like the forgiven criminal on his cross. Twenty years of nightclubs, pubs and all manner of ills and ways of clothing myself with shields to not think of just how lowly I stood before God only to find out what I had wished for right from the start, and that my road to Jesus is not one I wouldn’t necessarily recommend, it was the road that maybe I had to travel to understand the unconditional love and forgiveness of God and know his grace. That though I did not know it as I travelled through many dangers, toils and snares, it was the grace of God that brought me through it, and only in his grace can I reside as he leads me home.

Our journeys to know the grace of God like the criminal on the cross are different. That some have known the truth of His love early in life and some not so is of no consequence when we hear his words of grace in our lives. His grace that allows to live without need to fear or be anxious. His grace that allows us to really live and not need to keep up with the “jones’ or put up shields to protect ourselves from being hurt. His grace that brings freedom.

Unfortunately, I’m still learning and often these lyrics of Bruce Springsteen’s seem a little too close for comfort:

“Great morning light splits through the chain
another day older and closer to the grave
I’m closer to the grave and come the dawn
I woke this morning shackled and drawn

Pick up the rock, son, and carry it on
Trudging through the dark in a world gone wrong
Woke up this morning shackled and drawn”.

We are free in Christ to live today as His children. Living to love and serve Christ and His children. To show charity and hospitality to all who come before us and to strive daily to live as God would wish us. Yet still shackled and drawn by knowing what we are as though we try, we fail. Though we only need Christ, we seek more and though we don’t doubt the Lord’s love for us, we doubt our love for him.

We live feeling torn between knowing the truth of Christ and the truth of our fallen selves and that fight can be fierce as the same powers of darkness that placed Jesus on the cross look to take the truth of Christ from us.

The truth that like two criminals separated by Jesus on His cross, one to His left dying in His sin, and one to His right given eternal life in Christ we see ourselves. Jesus on His cross between us with our sin and death to His left, and His righteousness with us on His right that in Him, we too will most surely be with Him in paradise.

And though the powers of darkness may endeavor that we trudge through the dark in a world gone wrong shackled and drawn” as sung by Bruce in his songs opening lyrics, truth is those shackles have been released and like how he finishes the same song so to can we when he sings that:

I want everybody to stand up and be counted tonight
you know we got to pray together
I want everybody to stand up and be counted tonight

Because in kneeling at the cross of Jesus you are forgiven. And forgiven He lifts you up to stand free from death and sin, to be alive in His righteousness in this world and the world to come. Amen.

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