Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Last Sunday of the Church Year/Sunday of the Fulfillment

Last Sunday of the Church Year/Sunday of the Fulfillment (C)
November 25, 2007
Text: Luke 23:27-43

When our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was crucified at the place called Golgotha, the Skull, the charge for which He was being executed was hung over His head: “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38; ESV). This sign caused no small amount of consternation on the part of the Jewish rulers: “the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews,” but rather, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written’” (John 19:21). Now it is doubtful that Pilate believed Jesus was any sort of king, much less the King of kings, and we can only speculate as to why he wrote what he did. But perhaps in spite of himself, Pontius Pilate was confessing the great truth upon which all of history hinges. Jesus is the Anointed King of the Jews, the promised Messiah, enthroned on the cross.

At first glance, this may seem to be a strange text for the Last Sunday of the Church Year as we meditate on the last things and the second coming of our Lord in judgment. But the cross is the decisive event determining our Lord’s verdict on Judgment Day. It is the decisive event determining whether you are pronounced guilty or innocent as you stand before His throne of judgment. Were it not for the cross, neither you, nor any man, woman, or child who has ever lived could stand in His presence. You have sinned, and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Were it not for the cross, Jesus would say in His just judgment, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). For “neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). But on account of our Lord’s holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death on the cross, and on account of your baptism into that death, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v. 11). On account of the cross, the verdict handed down for you is innocent… more than that, righteous with the righteousness of Christ. Because of the cross of Jesus Christ you do not have to fear the Day of Judgment. The verdict has already been pronounced. The gavel has already sounded. You are pardoned. You are free. Jesus has won your freedom. Jesus has won your forgiveness. Jesus has won your salvation.

But beloved, your salvation is hidden under the cross. It is the mystery of mysteries that our Lord’s victory over sin, death, and the devil, and His coronation as our King takes place in His sacrificial death. Jesus is the King of the Jews, and He is our King, precisely on the cross. It is against all human reason. It is incomprehensible for us. It is a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness for Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:23). But our salvation and Jesus’ Kingship is revealed to us on the cross.

Few in the Gospel lesson recognized this fact. The daughters of Jerusalem did not recognize it. They did not recognize their King going forth to war to win their salvation. They mourned and lamented the travesty of injustice that Jesus was being put to death as a criminal. Yet Jesus bids them weep not for Him, but for themselves. Jesus is finishing the journey for which He was sent. He is reaching the goal of the cross. And though all the suffering of hell awaits Him, Jesus knows that He will be vindicated in the resurrection. Therefore the daughters of Jerusalem should save their tears for those who will be caught up in the destruction of Jerusalem we heard about last week, and the unrepentant and unbelieving who will be caught up in the fiery judgment of God’s wrath. Weep for them, because their judgment is so unnecessary. Jesus has taken their judgment upon Himself in His suffering on the cross.

The Roman executioners did not recognize Jesus’ Kingship, either. Nor did the bystanders, or the Jewish rulers. While Jesus prays for them, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), they scoff at Him, saying “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (v. 35). “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (v. 37). Here we see just how true St. Paul’s statement is, that the cross is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. It was a foreign concept to both Jewish and Roman thought that God would win His victory over the powers of hell by submitting to a humiliating death. If Jesus was who He said He was, He should be able to save Himself. Surely He would not allow Himself to undergo such torture and disgrace. So they mocked Him. The claims Jesus made for Himself, claims of divinity and sovereignty, were inconsistent, so they thought, with the cross, suffering, and death.

So also one of the criminals crucified with Jesus mocked and reproached Him. “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (v. 39). But it is here, at this point in the narrative, that one man does recognize the true identity of Jesus. He is no theologian. He is not one of the chief priests or scribes. He is not even one of the Apostles, who by this time were cowering in fear and would not recognize the significance of these events until well after the resurrection. No, it is the last person we expect to recognize Jesus’ salvation and Kingship. It is the other criminal crucified with Jesus. It is a sinner, who deserves his fate. He rebukes the mocker. “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (vv. 40-41). But it was not just Jesus’ innocence the thief recognized. He had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion. He had heard Jesus absolve His enemies. He had heard the Word and watched the Word as He was nailed to a cross, the sins of the whole world heaped upon His shoulders. He beheld Jesus pour out His blood for the life of the world. And the Holy Spirit brought him to faith. The thief looked to Jesus, the author and perfecter of his faith (Heb. 12:2), and beheld his King enthroned on the cross for his salvation. He brought no merit or worthiness of his own into the equation. He was a condemned criminal. But repenting of his own life, he looked to the life and death of Jesus for redemption. He trusted in Jesus for salvation. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42). Jesus offers no rebuke. He does not remind the criminal of his sins. He does not demand satisfaction. Looking with compassion on the malefactor, Jesus speaks words of grace and absolution and life: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43).

While all the other figures in our Gospel lesson demanded Jesus on their own terms, and would permit Him to reign only if He met their own conditions, the thief simply believed, trusted. Where there is conditional faith, there is no faith at all.[1] If you want Jesus and His salvation, behold the cross. The only true God is the crucified God. He wins His victory in death. He wins your salvation in death. What appears to be His defeat is really His triumph. On the cross, King Jesus reigns.

The world does not recognize Jesus as their King or their Savior. But you recognize Him. You recognize that things are not what they appear. Your salvation is hidden under the cross and the death of the Son of God. And it is because of this cross, the death of the Son of God, that you have no need to fear His verdict on the last day. For Christ is risen. Death could not hold Him. He defeated death by submitting to it, invading its camps with His life, and putting death to death. He defeated sin by paying its cruel price. He defeated the devil by storming the depths of hell. And God has raised this Jesus from the dead. You are baptized into Him, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). His death is your death. His life is your life. His righteousness is your righteousness. For He made your sin His sin on the cross. Therefore His resurrection is your resurrection.

Jesus has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. He rules in His Kingdom. He is coming again to judge the living and the dead. But be not afraid. Your King remembers you. He remembers what He has done for you. He remembers His cross. And by inviting you to His Table this morning, He says to you, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” For the Supper of His body and blood is nothing less than a foretaste of the eternal feast to come, when our Lord returns in glory, and restores all things. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Thanks to my friend and colleague, the Rev. Mark Love, for this insight.

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