Christ the King Sunday / November 21, 2010 / Resurrection Lutheran Church
Text: Luke 23: 33-43 / Message by Rev. Carol Kniseley / Title: From Advent to Lent
If today’s Gospel lesson “sounds like” it should be read during the season of Lent you would be absolutely correct. Lent is a time when our focus is not on the birth of a baby, but instead the death of three men on a cross. Three men who found their lives irrevocably linked at the end…either by cruel fate, by pure accident, or dare we say…by the will of God. It is their last conversation, as recorded only by Luke,that we want to turn our attention to on this particular day.
Let me be the first to remind us…that this is Christ the King Sunday. Also known as the last Sunday of the church year. Which must also mean that next Sunday is the beginning of the Advent season. Matthew will become our Gospel of choice, leaving Luke this one last Sunday to be heard. And what Luke has to say comes straight out of Holy Week…the week of the Passion…and is normally heard on Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified.
Luke was a doctor by profession and known for having an eye for detail. What Luke recorded about those last few remaining moments, including the last words spoken by Jesus, has brought countless people much comfort and assurance in times of death. But before we go there, we need to establish the historical fact of the crucifixion. The church confesses each week that Jesus was indeed executed “as a criminal” among criminals when we profess: “Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried”.
Luke gives us the place: the Skull. He gives the method of death: by crucifixion on a cross. And he tells us who was there: the soldiers who mocked and taunted him saying (verse 37): “If you are the King of the Jews…save yourself!” The rulers of the Jews also mocked Jesus daring him to prove himself saying (verse 35): “He saved others; let him save himself…if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” And finally, the crowd of people…the ones who heard him teaching in the temple and hung on his every single word, they (according to Luke) just stood there…watching…and not saying a word. I wonder...if given the opportunity, would we have done the same?
I want to mention that today all of our Sunday School children will be learning about ‘the day Jesus died’…and how it made people feel. One thing is for sure: there were tears…lots of tears…both happy and sad. The two men who hung on the crosses beside him, one on his left…and one on his right…knew all about sad tears. According to Luke, one of the men…decided to challenge Jesus by saying: “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself…and while you’re at it…save us!”
Leaving the other criminal to not only rebuke the poor fellow…but to also remind him that they were receiving their just punishment for their crimes. He maintains that it’s as plain as the nose on ones face, no matter how one looks at it…Jesus is an innocent man. And then he turns…faces Jesus…and says, “Jesus…remember me when you come into your kingdom.” To which Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you…today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Of all the verses in the Bible, this is the one that hits home for me. If what Jesus says is true…then this life is not all there is. Our hope is that one day…we will be reunited with our loved ones who have gone before. We’ll all sit down to a wonderful Thanksgiving meal that will include everyone’s favorites. And after we’ve sampled every pie in sight, there will be hugs all around. Hugs to make up for the hugs we didn’t get to make. Oh what I wouldn’t give for a hug from my Father today. But because of what Jesus said…to the thief on the cross…I have hope that those words were never meant for just one pair of ears.
What we are talking about is what lies at the heart of Luke’s Gospel: Salvation: i.e. people being saved. As the angels said to the shepherds out standing in the field, “To you is born this day in the city of David…a Savior…who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). And as I look at our mantel and spy our newest editions: three wise men, one camel, two goats, and a German Shepherd.…I am reminded of what the wise men first implored: “Where is the one…who has been born King of the Jews?”
The point being: Jesus was already a king at his birth. Over time he would be tested as each and every one of us is tested…again and again and again. And each and every time he refused to call on the power of God for his own comfort and security. Instead he drew strength in knowing why he came to earth in the first place. He came to save others…knowing full well that in doing so, he cannot save himself. Which brings us full circle to the repentant thief who put his hope in Jesus…even when he was dying…and in doing so, was granted access to Paradise itself.
How all of this applies to us today may come in taking a good look at the man who was “saved”. Even when nailed to a cross…Jesus “saw” the man for who he was: broken in every way imaginable and in need of reconciliation. Every single one of us can probably relate. By putting his hope in Jesus…and affirming belief in his kingdom…the man discovered that no one was beyond God’s saving grace. And if there was hope for him…there is hope for everyone. With Jesus as our savior…who now sits at the right hand of God…there is nothing that you and I can’t face. As we head into the season of Advent…that’s a good thing to anticipate. For unto us a child is born…the savior of the world…Christ the King. Amen