Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Last Sunday in the Church Year

Last Sunday in the Church Year (C—Proper 29)
November 24, 2013
Text: Luke 23:27-43

            There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews’” (Luke 23:38; ESV).  Pilate, who famously quipped, “What is truth?” (John 18:38), here speaks the truth.  If you want to know what Christ as King looks like, behold Him here on His cross.  Here He is enthroned.  Here He rules.  Behold His thorny crown.  Behold Him lifted up on high.  Behold Him, arms outstretched to receive the sins of the whole world, your sins and mine, in tribute.  Behold Him, arms outstretched, to receive you as His own, purchased by His blood, to live under Him in His Kingdom, to shelter you and protect you under the branches of the tree.  Behold Him waging war against your enemies and former slave drivers, death and hell and their prince, the devil.  Our King’s feet are fixed, nailed to the spot.  He will not back down until it is finished.  And when it is, the spoils of war He pours out on all who belong to Him. 
            This may strike you as a strange reading for the Last Sunday in the Church Year, as our attention turns to the End Times and the Final Judgment.  Sometimes this Sunday is called “Christ the King,” in which case this reading is especially appropriate.  Jesus is our King precisely in His death on the cross.  But as it relates to the Final Judgment, there could not be a more important image than Christ crucified.  Because understand, here, on the cross, is your judgment.  All the wrath of God against your sin and the sin of the whole world is poured out here, on Christ.  When you stand before the judgment seat of Christ on the Last Day, and He declares you righteous and says to you, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34), this will not be because God is a nice guy and wants to give you a break, or because He’s pretending your sins never happened, shrugging His shoulders and saying “Oh, those kids,” or in any way excusing you.  That would make God an unjust judge.  No, He will say it because His wrath is already spent.  He will say it because your sins have already been dealt with, already punished in the Person of His Son.  A great exchange has taken place, and it happened in Jesus’ Baptism and in yours.  Your Lord Jesus took all your sins upon Himself.  In exchange He has given you all His righteousness.  For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).  In Christ, God has made you who were once dead in trespasses and sins, alive with the life of Christ, having forgiven you all your trespasses and, as St. Paul writes, “cancelling the record of debt” that stood against you with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:13-14).  So the verdict in the judgment is that you are innocent, debt free, righteous with the righteousness of Another, even Jesus Christ.  For your debt has been paid in full, not with silver or gold, but with the holy, precious blood of Jesus.  Well, who wouldn’t want to serve a King that does all that?  Of course, Jesus is coming again in glory to judge both the living and the dead, and the Christian ought to keep that in mind.  But you live and serve as those who already know the verdict because of what Jesus has done for you in His first coming.
            Not everyone receives Jesus as their King, however.  There are the people and the Jewish rulers who stand by watching and scoffing.  He saved others,” they cry, in devilish disdain; “let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (Luke 23:35).  They echo here the doubt introduced by Satan in the wilderness temptation: “If you are the Son of God…” (Matt. 4:3, 6).  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’” (Luke 23:36-37).  Pilate doubted Jesus’ kingship, too, and yet, again, there was the proclamation nailed to the cross with Jesus: “This is the King of the Jews” (v. 38).  What I have written I have written,” John records him as saying in answer to the Jews who questioned him (19:22).  We see in Pilate a caricature of the agnostic, one who is not sure there’s anything to all this Jesus stuff, but one who’s not sure there isn’t either.  If only such a one could come to know that Jesus is his King, too… that what is happening here on Golgotha is for his redemption, that he, too, may enjoy the riches of the Kingdom. 
            Then there are the criminals, one on Jesus’ right, and the other on His left, as He comes into His Kingdom (remember the request of John and James?  They didn’t know what they were asking).  One of the criminals rejects Jesus’ kingship outright.  He rails at Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39).  But then there is the other criminal.  He may have joined in the mockery at the beginning.  But hearing the gracious words of Jesus: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (v. 34), and beholding His Savior patiently enduring the Father’s wrath, hell itself, for the sins of the world, this hardened criminal’s heart is broken in repentance.  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,” he confesses; “but this man has done nothing wrong” (vv. 40-41).  The criminals eyes are opened by the Spirit, to see the reality behind the gruesome sight of this pitiful Potentate.  This Jesus is the Savior.  He is dying for me.  So the prayer of faith: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42).  Take me with you.  Let me be your subject.  Take possession of me now, in my hour of death.  And then the promise: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 43). 
            What accounts for the difference in these two criminals?  I don’t know.  Both were brazen sinners who deserved their condemnation.  Both heard the gracious words from the Savior’s parched lips.  Both saw Him in action for their salvation.  One, in the hardness of His heart, would not give heed, and so died in hopelessness.  The other heard and believed, and so died in the promise that though he died, yet he lived, because of Christ who died, but would not stay dead. 
            Beloved, do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And you, indeed, justly for such is the due reward for your sins.  If you don’t understand that, if you don’t believe it, then you are the first criminal who has no confession of sin and no prayer of faith, who does not believe Jesus is King and therefore mocks Him for His ignominious death, who therefore dies without forgiveness for a sin he will not acknowledge.  But if you do understand this, if you do believe it, if this is your confession, if you understand that you are dying and death in your trespasses and sins, there is a word of hope.  Jesus has come to be your King, to make you His own, to raise you to new life, and to bring you into His Kingdom to live with Him eternally, and to serve Him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  You have the same promise as the second criminal.  Jesus remembers you.  He remembered you on the cross.  He remembered you when He burst forth from the tomb.  He remembers you even now as He sits at the right hand of His Father, on His glorious throne, ruling all things for your benefit, and interceding for you, praying for you, that you persevere in the faith.  And on the day of your death, or Judgment Day, whichever comes first, you can be confident, you can rest secure, you can even rejoice in the knowledge that Jesus remembers you.  And He will speak the same words to you that He spoke to the criminal on the cross: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” 
            Do you see what God has done here in the crucifixion and death of Jesus?  He has delivered you from the domain of darkness and transferred you to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom you have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14).  Precisely in His death, Jesus is your King.  And that makes all the difference in the day of your death and on the Day of Judgment.  And let me close by saying this with regard to my announcement at the beginning.  That Jesus is our King makes all the difference in times of uncertainty, as well.  Because we know this by faith, even if not by sight, that Jesus is ruling all things for our good.  I don’t know what will happen here, and you don’t either.  But Jesus does.  And isn’t that the case with all things in life?  Our Lord is faithful.  He will take care of us.  He will.  And He will provide for the preaching of His Word and for His holy Sacraments no matter who bears the yoke of Office in this place.  Beloved, pray for us.  Pray for the Church.  Commend it all into the pierced hands of the King who remembers us.  His will be done.  It will.  And it will be good.  For our Lord Jesus lives and reigns with the Father and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.         


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