November 20, 2022 Christ The King The text is Luke 23:33-43.
33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 ⟦Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”⟧ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 3 5And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 3 7and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
How in the world could someone who is proclaimed to be a king, be hung upon a cross to die? How could a sovereign be subjected to such a cruel, torturous death? How could a monarch be so severely mocked? How could a ruler be ruthlessly ridiculed? Well, this could only happen if those who tortured, executed, mocked, and ridiculed him either didn’t know he was a king; or, they did know, and refused to acknowledge him. As Christ The King Sunday, today marks the last day of the liturgical year. Next Sunday is the beginning of Year A in the church calendar, and we begin anew the telling of the story of God’s promises, the Good News, and the ministry and mission of Jesus. All that is to come.
But first we must acknowledge the event that happens this morning, the crucifixion of Jesus on the hill outside Jerusalem. And, we must come to terms with the fact that Christ The King was put to death; who were the players involved, and what does it mean for us that our King was publicly humiliated, sentenced to an agonizing, shameful execution?
Jesus’ first words as he hung there on the cross were, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”. Just who is this “them” for whom Jesus requests God’s forgiveness? First, there were the Jerusalem religious authorities who felt Jesus was a threat to them and their power; they were the ones who Luke tells us “scoffed” at Jesus. What about the soldiers who divided up his clothes among themselves? They were the ones who “mocked” him. One of the criminals condemned to die alongside Jesus “derided” him. The Roman authorities were obviously the ones who most needed God’s forgiveness, for they were ultimately responsible for his death.
While each of these people and groups was in dire need of God’s forgiveness for their part in this king’s death, I’m not convinced that it wasn’t the crowd who stood by and watched this travesty who were most responsible. Perhaps they are the ones who should be pleading for the mercy of God. For, it’s a good bet that more than a few of them did know Jesus’ true nature, and they would have been aware that this king was being unjustly put to death.
How ironic it is that beneath the taunting, derision, and mocking, that those ridiculing Jesus are, in fact speaking the truth. By cynically calling him the “Messiah of God”, “God’s chosen One”, and noting that “he saved others”, these people treating Jesus with scorn were ironically confirming that he was Christ The King. The scornful sign placed above his head, noting, “This is the King of the Jews”, while intended to be a stark warning to anyone else who might be considering a challenge to Rome’s power, this was, in fact the true proclamation of Jesus as king. Not just of the Jewish people, but as the Savior of the world. How in the world could a king, a savior be hung upon a cross to die?
How, indeed could this happen? Well, if we examine the words and actions of the people and groups involved in this morning’s gospel, things start to become clear.
For the Roman authorities and the temple leaders, well, they were motivated by fear; fear that they might lose their power and prestige if this man Jesus was to be accepted by the people as their Hebrew king. The mocking soldiers; their actions may simply have been born of ignorance, of a lack of understanding the truth. The deriding criminal crucified beside Jesus; his sarcastic acknowledgement that if Jesus had the power to save himself, that he should do the same for this condemned man. Dripping with sarcasm, his comment wasn’t intended as an acknowledgement of Jesus’ kingship. The mocking sign placed by the Romans; again, this was meant to reinforce their power over the oppressed people of Israel. Lastly, what of the crowd that stood by and watch all this take place? What was their motivation, or more, accurately, their lack of action? Again, in spite of the fact that a great number of them had heard Jesus preach, teach, and heal, it’s obvious that they too were motivated by fear; albeit from a different perspective than that of Rome or the temple leaders. How in the world could a king be hung upon a cross to die?
It seems that this could happen quite easily, if people are motivated by the desire of those in power to maintain their authority; for others, it’s fear, ignorance of the truth; and perhaps just as importantly, if those who know better allow themselves to be reduced to inaction by their own fear. How in the world could a king be hung upon a cross to die? For all these reasons, and perhaps many more. Just pick any human sin and you’ll find lurking within it a reason that some could find to condemn a king to the cross.
So, why do we celebrate today as Christ The King Sunday, if our gospel reading, and the church year ends with Jesus’ demise? Well, the good news is that while it may be the end of the liturgical year, it’s not the end of the story. The only thing that’s necessary for resurrection is death; Jesus’ death isn’t what makes him king, it’s his rising! How in the world could a king be hung upon a cross to die? So that his death makes possible his miraculous rebirth. God proclaims the risen Jesus as Christ The King; he has raised him from the dead and only by this is his work completed. The cross was not the end of Jesus’ ministry, it was only the beginning of his mission. And his rising to kingship is no better way celebrated than in his words to the other criminal, hanging beside him on the hill in Jerusalem.
This man does know the truth of Jesus as the Messiah, the chosen One of God, the King of the Jews. He asks that Jesus would remember him when he comes into his kingdom; and who else would have a kingdom, but a king? This acknowledgement, this confirmation of Christ’s kingship is rewarded with Jesus’ promise that this man, condemned by the world, will enter Paradise, will be welcomed into Jesus’ realm, the Kingdom of Heaven. And this promise is the one that we cling to, the promise that we too are invited into God’s kingdom, the one that is ruled by Christ The King.
Will you pray with me? Let us be comforted by the words of the psalmist this morning, as we find assurance in God’s promise of the sovereignty to be found in the kingdom. Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am. Be still and know. Be still. Be.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Amen.