Last Sunday here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were thinking about “Tenacity, Time and Torn Down Temples.” Our sermon from the day can be found here. This coming Sunday marks the end of the liturgical year, marked by a Sunday known as “Christ the King Sunday” or for those nations uncomfortable with the idea of a monarchy, “Reign of Christ Sunday.”
Next week Advent begins and the countdown to Christmas. The liturgical year finishes on a very somber note, the suggested gospel reading being Luke 23:33-43, a passage that is all about the crucifixion of Jesus and the reactions of two men who are crucified with Him. Reflecting on this passage Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton writes;
“Luke’s story of the crucifixion is very spare and simple; “They crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on His left and one on His right.” That’s it. Very simple, very plain, and very clear to the people to whom Luke was writing. Luke was a Greek, his main audience was Greco-Roman in culture, not Jewish, and they knew exactly was Crucifixion was, they didn’t need to have it explained to them. It was very common throughout the empire; which was Luke’s point.
Jesus, the supposed Son of God, Lord of Lord and King of Kings, executed like a common criminal with a couple of petty criminals. Not very Kingly, is it? And then, more indignity, more shame; the soldiers kneel at His feet while He’s still alive. Not to worship, but to gamble for His clothes. And people laughed at Him, “He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the Messiah of God, His chosen One.” There it is, the crux of the matter for the people then, and if we’re honest for us now.
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 who will make us richer and prettier and more popular and help insure that all our plans work out for the best.”
If you watch any of the prosperity preachers on the TV religious channels you will realize that there is a huge market for a palatable God who grants whatever we ask, (just as long as we make a donation.) But that is not the God of Luke. Or Matthew, John, Mark, Paul, Peter or any other biblical writer.
The glory of God's Kingship is shown through the ability of Jesus to absorb all the pain, hatred and suffering that was heaped upon Him. Not only does He absorb it. He transforms it. This passage also contains an unmerited offer of grace. A criminal dying alongside Him, recognizes the true dignity and worth of Jesus. He simply declares “This man has done nothing wrong.” Jesus answers the criminal, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
What kind of Kingly judgment is this? What a scandal of grace! Just by recognizing who Jesus is, a person finds eternity within their grasp? But maybe that is the point that Luke is trying to make! This strangest of Kings can accomplish the most unbelievable works of forgiveness and acceptance towards any one of us. All He asks is that we recognize Him for who He is.
For some music and further reflection Matt Papa sings “His Mercy Is More.”
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.