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Please turn your attention to our gospel lesson for today as we hear Jesus remind the repentant criminal on the cross next to him, and us, that we are a part of his glorious eternal kingdom.
Do you remember what happened when Samuel was sent by God to Jesse’s family to anoint the next king of Israel? Samuel saw Jesse’s oldest. He saw the big, strong, Eliab and thought that he looked like he could be a king. But God said no. The rest of Jesse’s sons passed before Samuel too, but as big and strong as they might have been, none of the sons of Jesse who were at the house was the one that God had chosen to be king. Samuel had to ask Jesse if he had any other sons. Well, there was the youngest. Everyone seemed to think that he would be too young to even be considered, so they had sent him off to watch the sheep. But he was the one God had chosen.
Do you notice how often God tends to do this, to choose a person or a thing that most would never suspect to do his work? In Bible History class at Trinity we just heard Gideon state that he was from the weakest clan of his tribe and he was the least in his family. How could he do what God was asking and lead an attack on the Midianites? But God did use him and gave his people an unexpected, unlikely victory.
Think about Moses. He was a fugitive from Egypt. He had to flee because he had killed an Egyptian task master. He complained that he wasn’t a very good speaker. How could he go back to Israel and tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go? But we all know what God did through him.
Think about the disciples. Fishermen from Galilee. Looked down on as uneducated men who spoke with an accent. Or what about the Saul who was actively persecuting Christians? Of all the Apostles he might have looked like the least likely choice and, by outward appearances, Judas might have had the most impressive resume of all of the Apostles. But look what God did through those who most might have considered the least in his kingdom.
Think about these things as you look at the cross. What do you see? The sign above his head says, “The King of the Jews.” But he sure didn’t look like a king. The clothes he had that were being divided up by the soldiers didn’t give any indication of royalty. There was no palace that would be bequeathed to relatives upon his death, not even a tiny house. There was no cavalry coming to rescue him and punish those who had so mistreated their king. His crown wasn’t gold and silver and covered with jewels, it was a bunch of twisted thorns covered with blood. It was obvious to all who saw him that the sign above his head was intended to be sarcasm, and a warning, to let anyone who thought Jesus might have been their king know what Rome will do to those who think they can rival Caesar. “Here’s the king of the Jews, weak, dying, helpless, defeated.”
Unfortunately, many still today see Jesus the same way. They see him as weak, helpless and defeated. They hear him say, “love your enemies, and turn the other cheek.” And they think, “I don’t want any part of that! If you love your enemies and turn the other cheek, your enemies will just run you over and take advantage of you. You will end up like Jesus did, bloody and defeated. They want to see anyone that they consider to be their king as powerful and victorious.
What do you see when you look at the cross? Do you see someone you are happy to acknowledge as your king?
One of the criminals who was being crucified with Jesus did. Despite the fact that Jesus looked to so many others to be weak, helpless, defeated and unworthy of being called a king, he called him king. He defended Jesus when the other criminal mocked him. He pointed out that Jesus had done nothing to deserve such terrible treatment. He turned to Jesus and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.” He saw Jesus through the eyes of faith. He saw past the weakness and the suffering. He saw the power of his love as he prayed for those who were responsible for his crucifixion – Father forgive them. He saw how unconcerned he was about himself despite his suffering; how he entrusted his mother to the care of John. He saw a king who was about to enter into a glorious kingdom through the gateway of death and since he too stood at the gateway of death, he wanted to enter with him.
When you look at Jesus on the cross, may the Holy Spirit enable you to see what this criminal saw. May he enable you to see past the blood, the suffering, the seeming weakness and defeat. May he enable you to see that Jesus has done nothing wrong. In fact, he is receiving the punishment we deserve. We should be the ones hanging on the cross. We should be the ones who cry out, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me. Like the criminal, we should be moved to admit that any trouble or suffering we experience on this earth is nothing compared to what we really deserve for our sins. But Jesus is getting what our sins deserve!
When you look at Jesus on the cross, may the Holy Spirit enable you to see your king who went to Hell and back for you. He did battle with Satan for you and he crushed the serpent’s head. His perfect life fulfilled God’s demand for perfection for you. His innocent death paid the price God required to set you free.
In one way we have it a lot better than the criminal crucified next to Jesus. We see a lot more than he did. He just saw Jesus on the cross. We see him risen from the dead! It’s a lot easier for us to hail him as our victorious king than it was for this criminal who didn’t live long enough to even hear about the resurrection. Yet he believed and confessed before all those who were mocking Jesus, that Jesus was his king and could welcome him into a wonderful and glorious kingdom at his death. And Jesus granted his prayer of faith saying, Amen I tell you: Today you will be with me in paradise.
The cross of Jesus– Paul says that the cross is a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Still today the cross of Jesus elicits one of two reactions. On the one hand, people still mock the idea that a man who was crucified 2000 years ago can have any affect on us or our world today. They join the one criminal who mocked, “If you really are such a great king, a messiah, then save us! Do something fantastic. Make this world a better place, especially for me.” They stumble at the cross because they see only weakness and defeat and shame.
On the other hand, by God’s grace, some see their sinfulness in contrast to Jesus’ perfection. By God’s grace, they see that Jesus is not weak and defeated. Just the opposite. They see him fighting the battle against sin and Satan for them. They hear him shout, it is finished! And they know what that means. His work as Messiah is finished. The payment for the sins of the world has been made in full. They see a king who is winning the victory and they want to be a part of his glorious, victorious kingdom. They say with the repentant criminal, be merciful to me, remember me, let me be a part of your glorious, eternal kingdom.
Think how often God chooses to do his work using the least likely person or thing. In the case of Gideon, he makes it clear why. He didn’t want Gideon or his army to be able to take credit for the victory. He wanted them to realize that God gave them the victory and to give him all the glory. Paul says that’s the way it is with Jesus and our salvation. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things– and the things that are not– to nullify the things that are, so that no-one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God– that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
What do you see when you look at the cross? May the Holy Spirit always enable you to see what the repentant criminal saw. May you see through the eyes of faith, your king who has by his death won the victory over sin, death and the devil for you. May you always say, especially at the hour of your death, Jesus, my King, my Savior, remember me and welcome me into paradise.