Reverend Dr. Stephen R. Caine
23:33When 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. 35 And 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, 37 and 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.” (Luke 23:33-43, NRSV)
Let us pray: Holy God, our refuge and strength, you rescue us from our difficulties, that we may serve you without fear. Strengthen us, that we may share in the inheritance of grace, love and mercy in your kingdom of light. Amen.
Today is kind of like the New Year’s Eve in the liturgical year. This is the end of the church year. I know, you probably did not wake up all excited like you might on New Year Eve’s. You probably aren’t going to stay up until midnight to welcome in the new year. But here in worship we are celebrating the end of the year and we are doing it in style by crowning Jesus, Lord of lords and king of kings. Today is Christ the King Sunday, the day we reflect on what it means that Christ is king. You might think we would have read a story of one of Jesus’ magnificent healings or the miraculous feeding of the five thousand or even the amazing turning water into wine story. But not today. No, today we stand at the foot of the cross and we acknowledge that this is our king.
Notice that the sign the guards place over his head was put there as a joke, to mock Jesus and anyone who believed his teachings. The inscription read “This is the king of the Jews.” As he is dying on the cross, helpless, in pain, seemingly abandoned, the sign mocks him. The King we meet in our text — Jesus, is a king who is crucified. He is a king who forgives the very people who yelled to have him put to death. He is a king who, while hanging on the cross, the very instrument of his death, offers salvation to the criminal dying on the cross next to him. I believe that we can all agree that this is no king that is recognizable in our world today. This is no leader recognizable in our world today. This is no candidate we would have voted for.
Jesus, the supposed Son of God, Lord of Lord, King of Kings — was executed like a common criminal on a cross in between two petty criminals. Not very kingly, was it? And then, to add more indignity, more shame, the soldiers knelt at his feet while he was still alive — not to worship but to gamble for his clothes.
And they mocked him: “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one.” It amused them to see this carpenter, this teacher and preacher from the backwater town of Bethlehem, claiming to be the king of the Jews, the rightful king, the representative of God on earth. The crowd knew what a real king looked like, and this was not it. A real king had power and arrogance and a hint of cruelty, and Jesus had none of that.
Obviously, this is not the kind of king we want or the kind of leader that we would vote for. “What kind of king do you want?” Jesus asks them. And they reply that they want a different king, one who is powerful, one who can save himself and others, one who can take vengeance on their enemies and make them great.
There it is, the heart of the message for people way back then, and if we’re honest, it is no different for us today. We don’t want a suffering and dying God. We want a strong and powerful one. We want a Savior who can not only forgive our sins but make us richer and prettier and more popular and help ensure that all our plans work out for the best. Yes, we want a powerful savior, a helpful God, a conquering messiah, a king who conquers. But that is the beauty of Scripture, it points us to a man who is not anything like what we expect or value in a King or in a leader. We admire strength, power and charisma. Not a selfless, forgiving and suffering man who dies to save others.
Delmer Chilton, a Lutheran Pastor, I follow his podcasts, tells the story of a chaplain in Vietnam. One night the chaplain was in his tent when a young private came to see him. The private had just arrived from the States and he was scared, very scared, as a matter of fact he was scared to death. The next day, the private was going out on patrol for the first time. And he was afraid that he was going to die. The private cried, he moaned, he cursed, he prayed. He begged the chaplain to give him a saint’s medal, a New Testament, some charm or some trinket that would keep him safe. He wanted the chaplain to tell him a prayer to pray, a good deed to do, anything that would keep him from dying. Finally, the chaplain said, “Look soldier, there’s nothing I can do to prevent you from getting killed on patrol tomorrow; there is no way I can promise you it won’t happen. There’s only one thing I can do. I’ll go with you.”
The next morning, the chaplain walked into the jungle unarmed and unprotected and walked with the scared private on patrol into his fear-filled world. That’s what Christ did for us, he left the kingdom of heaven to become one of us, to live with us in the kingdom of this world — unarmed and unprotected, sharing with us in our trials and temptations, our dangers and defeats. That’s what we mean when we say the Nicene Creed. To remind us that “for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven.”
We are called to follow our king into places of service and suffering. We are called to live each day in two worlds, two realities, two kingdoms — the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. We are called by God to struggle with the world we see all around us. We are called by God to be active participants in making this world a better place for everyone. Yes, we live in two worlds, and the struggle is to not become so enamored with the ways and means of this world that we lose sight of the other. With Christ, the King as our guide, we are called to see the hand of God at work in our midst, pointing and gently nudging us in the direction of doing right, holding us back from danger and harm, filling the ordinary with mystery, so that like the thief upon the cross next to Jesus we too may hold onto hope during anxious times!
So, if we are honest with ourselves, we might think we need the strong, powerful, and mighty King, but God sends God’s only son because it is what we need in a King, who will plummet the depths of humanity for all of us and go with all of us wherever life takes us to show us that love wins.
Let us pray:
Reverend Dr. Delmer Chilton, Lectionary blog: Christ the King, November 14, 2016, www.livinglutheran.org/2016/11/lectionary-blog-christ-king/