by Sean Foster on November 24, 2013

Luke 23: 33-43

When 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. [[Then Jesus said, Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 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! The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself! There was also an inscription over him, This is the King of the Jews.

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us! But the other rebuked him, saying, Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong. Then he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. He replied, Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

In this reading from Luke’s Gospel, it is one of the most powerful images in the history of Christianity: Jesus dying on the cross. Flanked on either side of him are two criminals.

Now, you may be wondering why would we be reading an Easter text so close to Christmas? Well, in actuality, this is a very special day in the Church year. Today is Christ the King Sunday, and it marks that last Sunday in the Church year. Next Sunday, we begin a new Church year. Next Sunday we enter into the season of Advent and our journey to Bethlehem begins; but today is the last day of the Church year. And we crown it Christ the King Sunday, affirming again that Jesus in the only King!

Today brings to conclusion all that has been revealed and celebrated in the Gospel story. And of course, it began with the season of Advent one year ago. A season of hope and expectation. And today it is concluded with a proclamation about who Jesus is. He is the Christ. He is the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords. Today we proclaim what is most important: that Jesus is Lord of our lives, and He is the only one who can redeem our world.

Over the last few weeks since we ended our series on the Five Solas, we have been looking at stories from Luke’s Gospel. And Luke has shared with us stories of how the educated, the powerful, the rejected, the sick, and even the wealthy. People from all different backgrounds coming to Jesus Christ. And even though they have nothing to offer to Jesus, they all come asking for so much.
• A new birth.
• A second chance.
• A fresh start.
• A clean conscience.
And without exception, Luke tells us over and over and over again that their requests, the requests that are made of Jesus – they are honored.

And so, on this last day of the Church year, we read together one more account from the life of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. And once again, we find someone making a request of Jesus.

One of the criminals in our reading today. He comes before the King. And his request is for a few crumbs, but just like the others, he will receive a whole loaf of bread.

Over and over again, Luke Gospel shares wonderful stories of God’s abundance through Jesus life. I am reminded of:
• The story of the man with leprosy. (Luke 5: 12-16)
• The story of the Roman centurion. (Luke 7: 1-10)
• The story of the widow’s son. (Luke 7: 11-17)
• The story of the ten men with leprosy. (Luke 17: 11-17)
• Or the story of Zaccheaus. (Luke 19: 1-10) That we read just a couple of weeks ago.

Within each story someone comes asking and making a request – and in each story, Jesus gives and the person asking receives in abundance.

Well, I invite you this morning to picture in your mind that scene from Luke’s Gospel today. Luke’s gospel is the only Gospel that records this conversation between Jesus and the criminal who is crucified along beside him. And it is no accident – Luke includes this story because he wants to show us – his readers, as he has from the very beginning of his Gospel, and now again at the end his Gospel. One more time Luke wants to show how Jesus identifies with sinners – even in death.

The other thing that Luke does so brilliantly throughout his gospel. I mean, not only does Luke show how Jesus, the Son of the Living God identifies with sinners, but over and over again; Luke describes Jesus as compassionate, gracious, loving and forgiving.

Let me give you a couple of examples from our text this morning.

I mean, let’s remember that prior to being nailed to a cross, Jesus had been mocked, insulted, ridiculed and beaten to within an inch of his life. Then we come to verse 33 where Luke takes us to the place where Jesus was crucified. It was called the place of the Skull. Somehow, and it is absolutely incredible as I reflect on it, somehow, as Jesus is crucified, somehow he is able to offer a prayer for those who execute him. He prays: Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing. I mean, it’s incredible isn’t it?
• But that’s grace!
• That’s compassion!
• Love!
• Forgiveness!
• That’s Jesus!
All throughout Luke’s Gospel, this is the Jesus we encounter.

Father forgive them. There he is, hanging on the cross. Down below him the soldiers gamble for his last belongings. And Jesus decides to pray for their forgiveness.

It’s difficult to comprehend how anyone could do this in that face of such adversity. In the face of such injustice. In the face of being completely abandoned. I mean, when someone hurts you, even over simple things, it’s sometimes difficult to offer forgiveness. But Jesus, all throughout Luke’s Gospel is described as loving, kind, gracious, and a forgiving God.

But perhaps even more interesting is this conversation that Jesus has with the two criminals, who hang on either side of him.

The criminal on the one side only heckles and ridicules Jesus. If you are the Messiah, then save yourself and us, he taunts.

And of course Jesus could have. Jesus could have saved himself, but then the sacrifice for sin would have been incomplete.
• Jesus was the sacrifice being offered by God.
• For our redemption.
• Jesus died for sin once and for all.

But the criminal on the other side say’s something that we might not have expected to hear from a criminal. He challenges the other criminal who taunts and insults Jesus, and say’s to him, Do you not fear God? I mean, this is something else that amazed me about this text. Isn’t that the epitomy of irony: a criminal defending the Son of the Living God? No one else comes to Jesus aid, but here a criminal comes to Jesus defence. This criminal actually speaks on God’s behalf and defends Him.

Everyone, in particular, those closest to Jesus have abandoned him, and all of a sudden, a thief, a crook, a convicted criminal is placing himself between Jesus and his accusers.

In fact he even rebukes the other criminal. He say’s, don’t you fear God? You and I we deserve to be here. But Jesus, he has done nothing wrong. And then he makes his request. One more time in Luke’s Gospel a request is made of Jesus. This criminal. This no good, un-deserving crook. He ask’s, Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.

And once again, Jesus offers peace, love, forgiveness, and reconciliation with God. Before sighing his last breath, Jesus brings one more straggling sheep into his fold.

And really, that’s the image that is being described here by Luke. We see this criminal stumbling and finding safety in Jesus Christ. Just before the gate is closed, one more gets in.

But I want to highlight a couple of things that I believe we all need to recognize in our coming to Christ. And we find them in this brief conversation between Jesus and the criminal. It is in verse 41 of our text this morning. The criminal say’s, we are getting just what we deserve. But this man Jesus, has done nothing wrong. Do you hear what he is saying? He is saying:
• We are guilty, but Jesus is innocent.
• We are wrong, but Jesus is right.

Jesus was not on the cross for his own sins. He was on the cross for ours. And somehow, that criminal, understood. He recognized his sinfulness and then sought out forgiveness. He makes his request, Remember me, when you come into your kingdom.

It is a desperate plea for help. Remember me Jesus.

And it is at this point that we experience the greatest miracle that one can ever know by God’s grace.
• It is the greatest miracle that Jesus performed.
• It’s the miracle of the cross.
• It is the same miracle that every professing and confessing Christian has experienced.

Jesus performs the miracle of forgiveness.

Here we see and hear about a convicted criminal, guilty of sin, being received by a the Savior. And that’s the greatest miracle that anyone can receive or experience. Because with it – we have eternal life. With the forgiveness that Jesus offers, we have reconciliation with God.

Jesus said to him, Today you will be with me in Paradise. Such grace! Did the criminal deserve it?

Do we?

But that’s Grace! That is the love of God in Jesus Christ.

This is the most important message that we could ever hear or proclaim. Christ crucified and risen from the dead. The good news, is that in Christ we find grace, forgiveness, and assurance of eternal life. Through Christ’s death and resurrection we receive forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

And I love the way that Max Lucado speaks about this text. In fact he paints a picture with his words and he describes this criminal nervously squeezing his hat, and standing before the castle door of the King. He stands there asking the King for a few crumbs, but what he receives is the whole pantry. Such is the definition of grace. We receive abundantly more that what we ask for or deserve. (I am indebted to the thoughts and reflections of Max Lucado in his book Six Hours One Friday pp. 123 – 128, for helping me to articulate a message of grace, love, forgiveness, and hope in Christ the King.)

But this is the promise that Christ makes. If you ask, I will give. If you seek, you will find. And if you knock at the door of his castle, the door will be opened to you. Jesus said, anyone who comes to me, I will never drive away.

Jesus offers love, grace, mercy, peace, forgiveness and eternal life. And all we have to do is ask. That’s the good news!

It is indeed appropriate that the Church year ends proclaiming Christ as King. For indeed his is King.
• King of this world.
• King of our lives.
• King of our hearts.

Thank you Jesus – You are the King!


Previous post:

Next post: