'Christ the King' Luke 23:33-43
Luke 23: 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals - one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One." 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself." 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." 42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. " 43 Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
There are two different sermons on this pagePlay X factor music display logo.
My ten year old daughter Chloe watches the X Factor every week.
Now have finalists, reduced by one every week dependent upon votes. Concludes with eviction of the one who has least votes. Like Strictly Come Dancing, and Masterchef... Thankfully Chloe has not thought of ringing in and spending 35 pence each week to vote!
Last Sunday celebrated Christ the King. A King on a cross, not a throne, where you would expect a King to be. Show Picture.
As I read through this passage we can ask the question "Who will vote for Jesus?". Perhaps you can hear the dramatic music in the background like on TV.
At first, there was no one.
The people, some of whom may have cheered him into Jersualem and followed him earlier, were silent. Perhaps some had voted fror Barabbas
The rulers sneered at him and his apparent impotence.
The soldiers too mocked him and his kingship.
The first criminal derided Jesus, too, sarcastically suggesting that, as the Christ Jesus could save them from crucifixion.
Finally, we have someone who will vote for Jesus. The second criminal. He rebukes the other criminal, realises his own guilt, the justice of his own punishment and Jesus' innocence. He acknowledges that Jesus in King, because he asks to be admitted to his kingdom. He relies upon the mercy of Jesus. The same forgiveness shown to the soldiers who nailed him to the cross.
He believed that Jesus would be live and rule, despite being on a cross.
Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
Immediately that man's many sins were removed as he relied upon Jesus. The King. Dying on a cross. He could look forward to eternity in paradise with God, a promise guaranteed by the resurrection.
Will you vote for Jesus? It will cost you more than 35 pence and your standard network charge! It will cost you a life committed to him. In return we can know the forgiveness of sins, a right relationship with God, love, joy, peace, and the promise.
We need to vote for Jesus. Not just once. Not every Saturday for a few weeks of the year, but every day. To commit ourselves to him. For he really has the X factor.
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What image do we have of a King ? James the second of England ruled from 1685-88. He was 51 when he succeeded his brother, Charles the second. Unlike Charles he was intolerant, he wanted to increase the power of the crown and was determined to promote the Roman Catholic faith that he had converted to in 1669
Within months of his accession, James had to crush a rebellion of Protestants who rallied around his nephew James, Duke of Monmouth and son of Charles II. The Protestants were easily defeated, and James exhibited little leniency: Monmouth was captured and beheaded. James appointed Judge Jeffries to preside over the "Bloody Assizes" which executed, tortured, or sent into slavery the Protestant rebels.
A captive was once brought before King James II. The King chided the prisoner: "You know that it is in my power to pardon you?" The scared, shaking prisoner replied, "Yes, I know it is in your power to pardon me, but it is not in your nature."
This Sunday celebrates 'Christ the King'. But we need to revise our picture of what it means to be a King if this is founded on our history lessons rather than our Religious Education ! James II is probably typical of our picture of an earthly King, someone who was powerful, dictatorial, with little compassion and fundamentally flawed.
In today's gospel we have a difference between the expectations of an earthly King and King Jesus. These can be illustrated by the different reactions to Jesus, especially those of the two criminals who were crucified with Him.
The written notice mentioned in verse 38 indicated the crime for which a person was executed. It was usual to write the charge on a wooden board that was carried before the victim as he walked to the place of execution, and then the board was affixed to the cross above his head. This was Pilate's way of mocking the Jewish leaders as well as announcing what Jesus had been accused of.
King Jesus was crucified. This was a Roman means of execution in which the victim was nailed to a cross. Heavy, wrought-iron nails were driven through the wrists and the heel bones. If the life of the victim lingered too long, death was hastened by breaking his legs (see Jn 19:33). Only slaves, the lowliest of criminals, and offenders who were not Roman citizens were executed in this manner. Crucifixions were held close to a main road to expose the victims to contempt, and to dissuade others from imitating them. First-century authors vividly describe the agony and disgrace of being crucified. It was so barbaric that it was stopped by the Romans about three hundred years later.
I mentioned earlier that James II won his victory at the Battle Of Sedgemoor in 1685. He did this by inflicting pain, suffering and death on other people, the usual way for a King to triumph. Within three years he was no longer King.
Jesus won his victory by receiving injustice, derision, alienation, pain, suffering and death on a cross. His victory is still transforming people's lives today. What was his response to those who hammered long nails into his limbs and dropped the cross into the ground, jarring his body and opening the wounds further ? 34 Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." I am sure the soldiers were used to being cursed and spat at as they hammered the nails into the bodies of those who had had their backs opened by repeated flogging with strips of barbed leather. This time their victim was calm, assured even, offering forgiveness.
The cross of Jesus symbolizes forgiveness. The word translated 'forgive' means to loose or send away. Jesus is asking his heavenly Father to loose them from the consequences of their sin of ignorance. To the soldiers this may have been just another one of hundreds of men they crucified.
As well as receiving an unjust sentence to a cruel, painful death, Jesus was unjustly punished for the sin of the world that he voluntarily took upon himself. This issue of injustice was picked up by the second criminal, whereas the first was too interested in himself.
2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
He who never did any wrong died for everything that we have ever done wrong. The innocent became guilty, so the guilty may go free. Who Jesus is, and what he has done are inseparably linked. This perfect King of kings, God and man paid the price needed to put us back into a right relationship with God. He freed us the slavery of sin and death into his kingdom, living under his reign. It is only because Jesus was perfect that he was able to offer himself as a perfect sacrifice for he sins of the world. It is only through his death on the cross that anyone can be forgiven and restored to a right relationship with God.
His offer of forgiveness has to be deliberately and consciously relied upon. We were talking about this in the 'Alpha Group' recently and I said that about a third of Christians can look to a specific occasion when they accepted the forgiveness that Jesus offers. The remaining two-thirds came to Christ over a period of time, perhaps being increasingly aware of who he is and what he has done. However we have come to Christ we need to turn to Jesus again and again in repentance and faith, confessing our sins, receiving his forgiveness and relying on his power to help us to live for God.
Dividing up his clothes. It was the accepted right of the executioner's squad to claim the minor possessions of the victim. Jesus' clothing probably consisted of an under and an outer garment, a belt, sandals and possibly a head covering. Unwittingly the soldiers were fulfilling the words of Ps 22:18 They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
In this whole episode God is in control, carrying out the plan he made before time began to save the human race.
Yet those spectating thought that Jesus was the one who needed saving. They had a picture of an earthly King who exercises his reign through power by spectacular feats rather than by humble self-sacrifice. Jesus summarized his mission in Mark 10:45, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
This way of sacrificial service has been imitated by the followers of Jesus for two thousand years. For over twenty years Mother Teresa taught the wealthiest children in Calcutta, India. Everyday she overlooked the impoverished slums and the people living in the streets that surrounded the well-to-do neighbourhood in which she worked. She was perfectly content with her life. One night she was walking home and heard a woman crying out for help. Realising the seriousness of the woman's condition, Mother Teresa rushed her to the nearest hospital. At the hospital she was told to sit and wait. She knew the woman would die without immediate medical attention so she took the woman to another hospital. Again medical treatment was denied because the woman belonged to the wrong social caste. In desperation, Mother Teresa took the woman to her home. Later that night, the woman died in the comfort of Mother Teresa's loving arms.
That night Mother Teresa resolved that this would never happen again to anyone within her reach. She decided that she would devote her life to easing the pain of those who suffered around her. Whether they lived or died, they would do so with dignity. She would personally do everything in her power to see that they would be treated better than they had ever been treated in their entire lives, with the love and respect that all people deserve. She is probably the most admired person of this generation.
In contrast Jesus was derided...
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One." 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself."
wine vinegar was a sour drink carried by the soldiers for the day. Jesus refused a sedative drink (Mt 27:34; Mk 15:23) but later was given the vinegar drink when he cried out in thirst (Jn 19:28-30). Luke shows that it was offered in mockery.
People sometimes say to me that, when they die, they would like to go as quickly and as painlessly as possible. The idea of a long, painful death is difficult and people are fearful about how they might react of appear when in great pain. One reaction to pain is the desire to hit out.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" Mark 15:27 records that the two criminals were 'robbers' but according to Roman law robbery was not a capital offense. Mark's term probably refers to men guilty of insurrection, crucified for treason.
Today people are encouraged to share their feelings more. This can be helpful in some circumstances, although some people feel that this gives them permission to vent their feelings upon others. We see examples of this in 'road rage' incidents and, recently, a disgruntled employee gunning down former colleagues in the United States.
This is not the way of God. Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
In contrast to the first criminal the second is more reflective.
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." 42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
There is a sense in which this criminal symbolizes all Christians. He acknowledges that he has done wrong and deserves punishment. He realizes that Jesus is unjustly punished, and he asks Jesus to save him. Although he may not have seen his conversion in quite the way we may, you might say that this man was the first ever Christian. The first to be saved by Jesus' death.
43 Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
Paradise actually means a walled garden. It looked forward to a coming age of the Messiah where man and God would be together, like the garden of Eden before the fall. The Jews thought that the righteous would go there after death, as shown by the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19ff.
We should not get too worried about the time aspect, today you will be with me in paradise, if we remember that God is outside time. So we should see paradise and heaven as the same, a dwelling of humankind and God, free from the constraints of time, sin, and death.
This is the kingdom, or reign of God that we can look forward to. We are called to live under his reign, now and into eternity.
In 1887, young Ernest Shurtleff graduated from Andover Theological Seminary. The choir sang a powerful song for the occasion. It was a brand new song written by a member of the choir - Ernest Shurtleff himself. It had come to him one day, he said, in the strangest of ways. He was sitting in a class, listening to a lecture on the book of Revelation and the vision captured his imagination. He heard a marching tune written a few years before and the words sort of flashed themselves across the screen of his mind. The choir sang well that day. Everyone knew it, but none sang more fervently than young Ernest. He had caught the vision in seminary and he entered the ministry with this theme on his lips:
Lead on, O King eternal,
The day of march has come;
Henceforth in fields of conquest
Thy tents shall be our home:
Thro' days of preparation
Thy grace has made us strong,
And now, O King Eternal,
We lift our battle song.
Lead on, O King Eternal,
Till sin's fierce war shall cease,
And holiness shall whisper
The sweet amen of peace;
For not with swords' loud clashing,
Or roll of stirring drums;
With deeds of love and mercy
The heav'nly kingdom comes.
Lead on, O King eternal,
We follow not with fears;
For gladness breaks like morning
Where'er Thy face appears;
Thy cross is lifted o'er us;
We journey in its light:
The crown awaits the conquest;
Lead on, O God of might.
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