Sunday, 1 May 2022

Promotion to the Kingdom

It is possible to be promoted from living in this world’s darkness to the Kingdom where Jesus rules – a kingdom of light, life and peace; a kingdom of faith, hope and love
When I worked in the health service there were many reorganizations. In the first one that I experienced I was stunned by the turmoil that it brought to our lives – people not sure whether their jobs were “safe”, people worried about the future, whole organisations disappearing and new ones starting, people applying for their own jobs, and even some in more favourable positions taking revenge on others who they didn’t like. What a mess! In the middle of all of this one person stood out to me. She was in a low management grade and in the space of 6 months managed to jump 4 levels to become a senior manager – achieved I think by managing to apply for the right job at the right time in all of the turmoil. In other words, she was rapidly promoted to great things …

I thought of this person after our Good Friday service recently, where we read Luke 23 (verse 33, 34 & 39-43) together. This is what we read:

“When they came to the place called “The Skull,” they crucified Jesus there, and the two criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Forgive them, Father! They don't know what they are doing” … One of the criminals hanging there, hurled insults at him: “Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The other one, however, rebuked him, saying, “Don't you fear God? You received the same sentence he did. Ours, however, is only right, because we are getting what we deserve for what we did; but he has done no wrong.” And he said to Jesus, “Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King!” Jesus said to him, “I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me.”

It’s the familiar story of the two “criminals” on the cross which I have thought of before and even heard preached on. This time though, I read the account and was amazed. Whether the first one raged at Jesus in fear, anger or torment I guess we will never know but look at the response of the other one. What revelation and insight this man had in his dying hours! It really reminded me of the story of Moses in the desert when the Israelites had again displeased the Lord. A plague of vipers had started to wipe them out and the Lord told Moses to make a bronze serpent that everyone who looked at it and believed could be saved.

In John 3:14-17 Jesus refers to the incident:
“As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its saviour”.
So here it was - on Good Friday Jesus being lifted up from the earth on a pole and the second “criminal” seeing and believing and receiving a revelation from the Lord – and also an answer from Jesus. “I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me.” Wow what a promotion! From a cross to Glory in a few hours. A team of us visit a local prison and we have heard so many life stories there. We do not know what life story this particular “criminal” had, nor what circumstances had brought him to the cross - but we do know that he will be forever grateful for being there at that hour and that time.

It wasn’t just the other criminal who was raging at Jesus – so was the whole world! The mob, the priests and religious leaders, the soldiers, the political authorities, every demon in hell. The disciples were in disarray, having fled from the garden of Gethsemane, Judas had betrayed Him, Peter had denied Him, Herod had mocked Him, Pilate had scorned Him. 

In the middle of it all – the shame, the pain, the humiliation, the perversity, the corruption, the weight of sin His Father turning His back - a criminal dying on a cross has the revelation that this is the spotless Lamb of God dying for the sins of the world. And Jesus gives him His undevoted attention to reassure him that, that mustard seed of faith is enough. Looking at the image of sin on the pole and believing in this God-given means of salvation is enough! It is enough not only for the dying criminal, not only the world of that day but to all who will believe in Him for as long as this world exists … 

The thief was in that moment promoted into a kingdom and acceptance that he had never known before – and soon after he was promoted to glory and Jesus kept His word. What a promotion – not by human efforts but by the offering that paid our sin-debt and set us free. That criminal that day was the first to be promoted by the offering of Jesus on the cross but many have followed in his path. It is possible to be promoted from living in this world’s darkness to the Kingdom where Jesus rules – a kingdom of light, life and peace; a kingdom of faith, hope and love.

However, whereas a big promotion in this world brings with it (maybe) a better standard of living, the ability to boss people around and more security in life, the promotion that Jesus offers does not bring that. The thief had to bear the pain and experience his life come to an end on the cross – Jesus did not deliver him from that fate. This is what Paul says about his experience of being promoted to God’s Kingdom, becoming one of the foremost New Testament writers and someone God used a lot:

11 … I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have more than enough. I have learned this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little. I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me (Philippians 4:11-13).

Promotion to the Kingdom where Jesus rules operates on different rules – Jesus said that he who wants to lead must become servant of all. We don’t gain rights and power in a worldly sense but we do “have the right to be called children of God”. We have access to understanding God’s purposes and character, we have access to partake of His divine nature the more that we allow Him to live through us. This promotion makes us slaves who have sold ourselves to Jesus – we live no longer for ourselves bur “for Him who loved us and gave Himself for us”. Here is what the promise of our promotion is (1 Corinthians 2):

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has the heart of man understood the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God … 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.

Author: Chris Pearson

May God bless and enrich your life

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