St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

The Criminal Sees A King

Sermon on Luke 23:35-43

Text: The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: This is the king of the Jews.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Have you ever seen one of those pictures, where you have to stare at it and, eventually, you see a three-dimensional object appear? I will admit that I have great difficulty in seeing those objects. Some cannot understand how I cannot see them. To them, the objects are so obvious. Sometimes, however, if I stare at them long enough, I am able to see what the others can see. This morning, as we observe the events that took place on Good Friday, we see many different people watching what is going on. Some people did not understand what was going on. There was one, however, who saw exactly what was going on. THE CRIMINAL SEES A KING. 1. He Sees A King Whom The World Does Not See. 2. He Sees A King Who Will Take him To Paradise.

Jesus had been on the cross for a couple of hours by the time the events of our text take place. Crucifixion was a tortuous way to die. It involved tremendous pain and suffering. It was reserved for the worst of the worst. Yet, even though Jesus was suffering, that was not enough for the enemies of Jesus. The leaders of the Jews had seen to it that Jesus was falsely accused and condemned. Now, they stood there and added their insults. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”

The leaders began their insults by saying, “He saved others; let him save himself.” Obviously, they were not thinking of a spiritual salvation, because they did not believe the claims that Jesus made about himself. They were thinking more along these lines. Since Jesus was this great miracle worker and had saved many, that is had rescued them from their blindness, deafness, lameness, and hunger, surely he would be able to save himself. He should be able to rescue himself from the suffering that he was going through.

They also mocked Jesus’ claim that he was the Son of God, that he was the promised Christ. They were not asking Jesus to prove them wrong. They were not saying that they would believe Jesus’ claims about himself, if he were to come down from the cross. After all, he was suffering the punishment of God. He was dying. How could he save anyone else or give them eternal life? Jesus surely was not a king in the eyes of the Jewish leaders.

They were not alone in their thoughts about Jesus. The Roman soldiers, who had been given the task of nailing Jesus to the cross and making sure that the sentence was carried out, also mocked Jesus. They offered him wine vinegar. They offered him cheap wine, not so much to deaden the pain, but to make fun of him. ‘The king must have his wine,’ they thought. They also made fun of him by saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” Prove to us that you are the king of this people, whose land we are occupying. They were referencing the sign that Pontius Pilate had ordered be fastened over Jesus’ head. The sign read, “This is the king of the Jews.” By this sign, Pilate was saying, ‘Look, you Jews, if you want a king other than Caesar, here he is. This pathetic, dying man on the cross is the only king you Jews will ever have.’ The Roman soldiers and Pontius Pilate did not see a king when they looked at Jesus.

Even one of the criminals, who was being crucified beside Jesus, added his hate-filled words, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” ‘Come on, Jesus. You are the Christ, aren’t you? Well, if that’s true, get off the cross and take us with you!’ He didn’t believe that Jesus was the Christ, any more than the rest did. He didn’t see Jesus as any sort of king, either.

There are many in our world today who, also, do not see Jesus as King. Some doubt that he ever lived. Others will admit that Jesus was an actual human being in the history of the world. He lived a long time ago. He taught us about loving each other. He died before he reached his full potential. His teachings are on the same level as the other great teachers, such as Buddha and Mohammed. He was a great man, yes. However, that is as far as they are willing to go. He certainly is not the King of all creation.

Unfortunately, sometimes we forget that Jesus is our King, as well. We see him as the man who walked the dusty roads of Palestine, forgetting that he is the Son of God. At times, we try to limit Jesus’ reign in our lives. We are more than willing to let him be in charge of spiritual. We welcome him as the Ruler in heaven. However, there are places that we think are off limits to him. He can be the Ruler over our lives, just not those parts that we want to be able to do what we want to do. However, Jesus is not content to just rule parts of our lives or be King in name only. He is to be King of all of our lives. Anything less is rebellion against him. We do not deserve to be part of the kingdom of Jesus. We, rightfully, should be cast outside of his kingdom forever in the punishment of hell. Sometimes, we do not see Jesus as King, either.

There was one person there who did see Jesus for whom he was, and that was the other criminal who was being crucified with Jesus. When the first criminal mocked Jesus, this second criminal rebuked him. He said, “Don’t you fear God, 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.” What is interesting about this man’s comments is that when they were first nailed to the cross, the gospels tell us that he, also, mocked Jesus. Sometime, during these hours on the cross, he had been brought to believe that Jesus was the promised Christ. He said, “This man has done nothing wrong.” He knew that he deserved to be crucified. He had done wrong. Yet, he also knew that Jesus had done nothing wrong. He did not deserve to be on the cross. We also know that Jesus had done nothing wrong during his entire lifetime. He had always been obedient to those in authority. He was perfect, since you and I cannot be. He lived for us and, as we are reminded this morning, he died to pay our debt of sin to God.

After rebuking his fellow criminal, he turned to Jesus with the newborn faith and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He had just confessed that he had sinned. He knew that he would soon stand before the judgment seat of God. His sins troubled him, but did not drive him to despair. So, he turned to the only one who could save him. He said, “Remember me.” This is more than just thinking about someone that you haven’t thought of for a while. This is Jesus turning to him again in grace in mercy. He speaks about Jesus entering into his kingdom. Jesus certainly did not look like a king. He was being mocked. He was being put to death. Yet, he had been brought to believe in Jesus as the promised Christ. He did not know exactly when Jesus would display his glory and show the world that he truly was a king. He did know that there would come a time when Jesus would not be the suffering King he now saw. The criminal was praying that Jesus would show mercy to him on that day when all would see him for whom he was.

In reply, Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” It is so characteristic of God that he answers our prayers by giving us, not only what we ask for, but, often, so much more. Jesus wanted to give this man, in his dying hour, something that he could depend on, something that he could cling to. He said, in essence, ‘Not only will I show mercy to you at the end of time, when all will see me in all of my glory, I will show you mercy now. When you depart this life, you will immediately be with me in heaven.’ When the criminal saw Jesus on the cross, he did not just see him as someone suffering and dying. He saw Jesus as the King who would take him to heaven.

We rejoice that we see Jesus this way, as well. We marvel at the amazing love that Jesus showed to us in accomplishing our salvation. He truly is the King of kings and Lord of lords, by virtue of the fact that he is the Son of God. Yet, he wanted us to spend our eternity with him in his kingdom. Since it would have been impossible for us to do this on our own, our King, who deserved all of our praise and adoration, left his throne to be our Rescuer. Jesus said it this way in Matthew 20:28, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He deserved to be served, but he came to serve us by giving his life as the ransom price. Now we are free. We are free to serve our King with our lives. We want to thank him for all that he has done for us. We serve him now imperfectly. We will serve him perfectly when we are with our King in paradise forever. See this Jesus as the criminal saw Jesus. He is the one who is your King, both now and forever.

Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is a day that is set aside at the end of the Christian Church year for us to focus on the glory and majesty of Jesus Christ. It is also a day when we are reminded of what our King was willing to do so that we would be part of his kingdom forever. When we see this, we cannot help, but add our voices to the angels in the sky in praising Jesus, who is our King forever and ever. Amen.