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 21, 2010

Last Sunday of the Church Year

Sunday of the Fulfillment (C – Proper 29)
November 21, 2010
Text: Luke 23:27-43

Behold, your King, enthroned upon the precious and holy cross. Here He reigns, in suffering and death. For here, He purchases you with His own blood. Here He redeems you, buys you back from your slavery to sin, death, the devil, and hell. Here He pays in full to God the debt of your sin. He does this that you may be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. He dies that you may live. For death will not be the end of the story for Him, either. He will rise from the dead. And so you also will rise. You will live. Because by Baptism you are united to His death and resurrection. But in the meantime, here He reigns on the throne of the cross. He is lifted up above the earth in solemn coronation. Behold, your King. He is executed with robbers, as a common criminal. He is naked and exposed as His executioners cast lots for His clothing. The soldiers and the bystanders mock Him and deride Him: “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (Luke 23:35; ESV). “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (v. 37). He who knew no sin has become sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). It is the great exchange: our sin for His righteousness, our death for His life. He suffers our punishment, our death. He becomes a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal. 3:13). And note this as of supreme importance. All of this He does willingly. Though He is King, He suffers for His subjects. For “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). This King rules from the bloody cross out of love for His people. Behold, your King.

But do not weep for Him. Weep for yourselves and for your children. Weep the bitter tears of repentance. For you crucified Him. You placed Him on the cross by your sins. He has not been your only god. You have not feared, loved, or trusted in Him alone as your highest good. You have doubted Him and looked to other things and other people for help and happiness and satisfaction. Your lips have neglected to call upon Him often, in every trouble, in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. Your mind and heart have neglected His Word and Sacrament and the gifts you receive in His house. You have joined in the mocking and the jeering, using His Name to curse and to swear deceitfully or in unimportant matters. Your anger and your malice toward your neighbor pierced His sacred flesh. Your disrespect and dishonesty pressed the thorned-crown into His brow. Your greed and covetousness and lust burned and bludgeoned His hallowed body. So there He hangs. For all of this He prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (v.34). His death is your absolution. He is not excusing you, as if your sin were a mere trifle. He is forgiving you. He is paying for your sin. And in the midst of the agony and bloody sweat, the curses and the derision, the blatant unbelief of the crowds and the desertion of the disciples, Pilate’s sign hangs as a witness: “This is the King of the Jews” (v. 38).

A similar sign appeared on most every cross. It was a notice of the charges against the condemned. Crucifixion served as a sober reminder to the populace not to cross the Roman government. The crucified served as examples to the people: Get out of line, and this could happen to you, too. But remember, Pilate couldn’t find anything worthy of death in Jesus at His trial. Jesus was innocent of all wrongdoing. And that verdict, by the way, is very important, because if Jesus were guilty of even the slightest indiscretion, the tiniest little sin, His death could not have counted for us sinners. He could only have died for Himself. But here we have the official proclamation of the Roman government. This Man is impeccable, sinless. He is guilty of nothing. There is nothing in Him deserving of death. The wages of sin is death. But Jesus has not earned those wages. So what sign to put on His cross? Only the truth. “This is the King of the Jews.” And it had to be that this King would reign in this way, through His innocent suffering and death. It was divinely necessary. It was the only way that a just God who loved His people could justly punish sin, yet spare His people the punishment they deserve. God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son. And now whosoever believes in that Son will not perish, but have eternal life.

So do not weep for Him. Weep for yourselves. Weep in repentance. Yet as you weep, rejoice. Rejoice in faith. For you have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred by your heavenly Father into the Kingdom of His beloved Son (Col. 1:13). In Christ our crucified King, you have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (v. 14). And now the whole situation has changed. We see this in the penitent thief on the cross. At first he joined the other condemned criminal in railing at Jesus. Matthew tells us that both robbers “reviled” Him (Matt. 27:44). But something happens in the heart of this criminal as he witnesses first hand Jesus’ sin-atoning death. He hears Jesus speak, and the Word Jesus speaks is the Word of eternal life. He witnesses Jesus’ willingness to receive this punishment for others, for you and me and all people, for the thief himself. Jesus does not respond to the taunting and cursing in kind. Instead, He blesses. He forgives. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And all this time, the Holy Spirit is working through the Word of life to bring the condemned thief to faith in his crucified Lord, His King. While the other thief continues to hurl insults, the penitent confesses his sins. “Dear brother thief, we are receiving the due reward for our transgressions. We’re getting what we deserve. The wages of sin is death. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Repentance always leads to the confession of sins. Repentance begins in contrition, sorrow over sin. But repentance is completed in faith, faith in the crucified King. And so the thief prays in faith: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). The prayer is at the same time a confession of faith that Jesus is, as Pilate’s sign declares: The King of the Jews. And this faith grasps and clings to the Savior’s promise: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 43).

So great is the love of this King for His people, that He does not leave them behind in sin and death. In His death, He opens the gates of paradise, and He promises His eternal and life-giving presence. You see, in this Kingdom, under the authority of this King, we need not fear death. For death is for the Christian simply the door to heaven. And so also, in this Kingdom, under the authority of this King, we need not fear the Day of Judgment. For on that Day, the King will return visibly to judge the living and the dead. The dead will be raised, the books will be opened, and all will have to give an account. But for us who are in Christ, who have loved the appearing of this King, who are united to Him by faith, this is a Day of great joy. For our sins will not be counted against us. They have already been judged in the crucifixion of Jesus. They have been blotted out by Jesus’ blood. They have been atoned for in His suffering and death. Only His perfect righteousness will be recorded in the book for us. That alone will be the evidence in our judgment. Thus knowing that this King is also our Judge, and that the verdict is already determined by His death, we approach the Last Day with confidence, even praying that it would come quickly, that we may be delivered from this fallen flesh and the fallen world and the crafts and assaults of the evil one.

And so also, we live each day of this earthly life with confidence. For this King continues to reign. He reigns over all things, even now. He is risen from the dead, and He has been exalted by God. He ascended into heaven where the Father has seated Him at His own right hand, which is not a physical place, but the seat of all divine power and authority. This Jesus, who loved you to death in His death on the cross, who was crucified for you, He rules everything. There is nothing and no one that is exempt from His authority. “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). He rules all things for the benefit of His people. He rules heaven and earth and everything in the whole universe. He even rules the devil and his demons. All must submit to Him in His Kingdom of Power. But He rules all this only with your benefit in mind. Only out of love for you. Only with an eye to your salvation. King Jesus rules all things for the benefit of His Church, the benefit of His redeemed and beloved saints. So what finally can harm us when we are under the power and authority of this King? If this King is for us, who can be against us? What can mortal man do to us? Not even death itself can harm us, for when we die, we have His sure promise: We will be with Him in paradise. And so we entrust each day, each moment of our lives, to this King, because He is almighty. He is almighty God Himself. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:19-20). The crucified One rules in love for us. And He reigns among us by the preaching of His cross. May this be our sure and certain comfort and confidence now in this earthly life, in the Day of Judgment, and for all eternity. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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