We Americans evidently can’t get enough of royalty. The British royals--the queen, William and Kate and their kids, Harry, Prince Charles and wife Camilla--can be seen on magazine covers whenever you’re checking out at the grocery story, for example. The Crown is the latest Netflix sensation. Recent popular movies include The Queen and The King’s Speech. We seem to love royalty, even though the royals are little more than government-subsidized celebrities, walking photo-ops who, like Kim Kardashian, are only famous for being famous.
We even apply our love for royalty to our politics. Every four years, we elect presidents who, voters hope, will act like imperious kings or queens, waving their magic wands and veto pens to enact everything we want from them. We want kings and queens...as long as they give us exactly what we want and tell us exactly what we want to hear.
And if a king isn’t willing to be that sort of king, choosing instead to provide people with what they need rather than what they want, we human beings can be brutal to kings who disappoint us.
That, friends, is why we killed the King of kings, God in human flesh, Jesus.
In Jesus’ dying, portrayed in today’s Gospel lesson, we see that while Jesus isn’t the the king the human race wants, He is precisely the King we need.
He is our daily bread, our living water, the way, the truth, and the life, all that we need.
Jesus didn’t come into the world to make promises like those of Pedro when he ran for class president in Napoleon Dynamite.
Jesus instead, came to save us from ourselves. He came to give forgiveness and new life and a reason for living to those daring enough to confess their sin and their need of a Savior.
Our Gospel lesson for this Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church Year, finds Jesus processing on the first Good Friday to the only throne this world has yet offered Him: the cross. Yet even there on the cross, the eyes of faith see that Christ is our King!
Look at our lesson, Luke 23:27-43, please. “A large number of people followed [Jesus as He bore His cross to the place of crucifixion], including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then [quoting prophecy from Hosea 10:8, Jesus said:] ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”and to the hills, “Cover us!’”
“Look,” Jesus is saying, “My cross is all part of the plan. I came into the world to go to the cross, to erase the power of sin and death over those who repent and believe in Me, offering Myself as the sinless sacrifice for your sins. I’ve warned you of the fate that awaits those who reject Me. They will stand naked in their sin and be condemned to life without God when judgment day comes. They’ll wish they were never born. They’ll wish they'd never had children as they, following their parents’ lead, also turn from Me and turn from life, and experience eternal destruction.
"Those who endure in following Me live eternally with God, have God’s loving presence in their lives here. So, don’t cry for Me; I’m doing My Father’s will and will be with Him eternally.
"Cry for yourselves and your hardness of heart, your stubborn desire to be like God, your stubborn insistence on having God only be the King you want.
"Cry for yourselves because your rebellion and indifference toward God are the way of death!”
Jesus' words to the grieving, weeping women are remarkably fearless and loving, especially coming from a man marching to His execution to say. As always, Jesus thoughts were not for Himself, but for us. That can’t be said of any other king, president, emperor, or prime minister in the history of the world, no matter how good they may have been by earthly standards.
Verse 32: “Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”
In Jesus, everything is turned upside down. We honor our earthly kings. We give them parades and honor guards, parades and limousines. But Jesus is subjected to humiliation in many ways.
In the original Greek in which Luke wrote his gospel, the word translated as criminals is κακοῦργοι, (kakourgoi) literally, evil workers. These two guys are notorious public enemies and Jesus, treated with contempt despite doing no wrong, is crucified between them!
Yet Jesus responds differently than what the world would expect. In those days, it was routine for people about to be executed to invoke curses on their enemies. But Jesus invokes no curse. Instead, He prays that His Father will forgive them--will forgive us--for ignorantly rejecting Him.
I confess, folks, that there are many times during my quiet times that God speaks to me through His Word and I realize a sin that I’ve been perpetrating ignorantly and habitually. Knowing that Jesus prayed this prayer for ignorant sinners like me allows me to offer my repentance in His name with greater confidence in God’s grace than I would otherwise have.
Jesus is no vengeful royal. He never once said, "Off with their heads." Jesus is a servant King Who loves us enough to confront us for our sins and then give us grace when we honestly own our sins and take Him as our King each day.
Luke 23:35: “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar [this was the drink of poor people, not of kings] and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the Jews. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’”
“If Jesus were really a king,” the people, the rulers, and one of the criminals were saying, “He would save Himself. He’d have the ego, panache, presence, guts, and power to look out for number one.”
Their taunts echo the temptations the devil put before Jesus in the wilderness at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread,” the devil told Jesus [Luke 4:3]. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from [the pinnacle of temple],” the devil told Jesus [Luke 4:9].
But, listen: Jesus didn’t come into this world to save Himself; He came to save us.
And He had no reason to prove Himself; He knew precisely Who He was: the great I AM, "God in flesh appearing"; He didn’t and doesn’t need to prove Himself to anyone.
And folks, when we belong to this God we meet in Jesus, we have nothing to prove either. When we’re tempted to sin or when we’re tested by life, we can say with confidence, “I belong to the King of kings! No temptation is too great that God won’t bear it for me. No sin is so egregious that God won’t destroy its power over me with His grace. No situation is so horrible, no grief so hard, that Christ, the King Who died on the cross, can’t help me bear and overcome. Bad, inexplicable things may come to us in this life; but the Savior Who bore all of the world’s bad and inexplicable things on the cross has given me victory, life, peace, and hope."
God has already proven the Christian’s eternal value on the cross and at the empty tomb.
And He keeps proving our eternal value at the baptismal font, in His Word, and in the bread and wine--the body and blood--He gives to all repent and believe in Him.
Jesus is a King Who doesn’t care about His standing in the polls; He loves us and does the right thing by us always, whatever we may think. As our African-American Christian sisters and brothers have taught us to say, “God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good.” In Jesus, we belong to that good, loving, relentlessly gracious God!
If on that first Good Friday, the disciples and the whole world had given up on Jesus being King, one man knew by faith that Jesus was and always would be King. Verse 40: “But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”
The second criminal came to be a citizen and subject of Christ’s kingdom in the way all of us must. He acknowledged that He was a sinner in need of saving and by faith in Christ, appealed for forgiveness and new life.
This second criminal saw that Jesus was sinless, wasn’t acting on His own behalf, that He bore the pain and humiliation of this execution, not with bitterness or recrimination, but with love for world that scorned Him.
And so this criminal, enlightened by the good news of God’s love for unworthy humanity and filled with the Holy Spirit, asks Jesus to let him be in His Kingdom.
Jesus doesn’t hesitate in His response. He doesn’t give the man a set of religious rules to accept. He doesn’t lay down conditions. He doesn’t say that eventually the man might be able to earn his way into Christ’s kingdom.
Jesus says, “Today you will be with me.” Today!
And that’s Christ’s promise to us right now as well.
We don’t have to wait to die in order to enjoy the presence and help of Christ the King in our lives.
He can forgive us today.
He can give us new life today.
He can get us through life’s hardest times and be our good shepherd today.
He can make us part of His kingdom today and always.
When we recognize our sin and Christ’s sinlessness...when we see our need and Christ’s ability to be all that we need, Christ is our King.
Jesus won’t make our wildest dreams come true. He will give us new dreams--dreams of forgiven sin, fellowship with God, purposeful living, resurrected life with God and all the saints--and make every one of them come true!
Psalm 37:4 promises: “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” May our only delight come from worshiping, serving, and living under the rule of the only Royal worthy of praise, glory, honor, applause, worship, or a place on the covers of all those grocery store magazines: Christ the King! Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was the message shared during both worship services there this morning.]