In this sermon for Christ the King Sunday, taken from Luke 23:33-43, I explore the crucifixion of Jesus. This is an odd place to look for our king, yet we realize that the ultimate display of his power is the acceptable of weakness.
You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
You can follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Have you ever had a time when you happened to be standing in just the right spot in a restaurant or a store…and from where you were standing you could see the back side of the counter? (pause) Admittedly, I’ve always been fascinated by little things like this…to see the things that most people aren’t supposed to see…in short…to see behind the scenes, or from the opposite perspective.
I was thinking about this very notion last Friday as I walked into the Presbyterian church up in Shelby in order to lead a funeral. I spent a moment just scoping things out, getting familiar with the layout, including the backside of the pulpit…and in my head it was just one of those moments in a restaurant, seeing what most people don’t see.
Now its worth noting that this was the 6 funeral I’ve led in the past couple of months…and if this rather regular schedule has done anything, its given me something of sense of routine…and while every single funeral is, of course, different…there are things that I can pretty count on happening.
One is actually the way I chose to open pretty much every funeral sermon…by acknowledging the hard reality of the day, and by commenting on how those who gather look to one another for support, recognizing in one instant we can offer support to another, and in the next the pain of the day catches us and we in turn need to be supported. (pause)
And that builds on the next thing that I expect to see…I’ve got a pretty unique perspective, either from a chair or standing in the pulpit…and I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the emotion catch people…sadness and pain…evidenced by tears and often gasps or sobs…but what isn’t routine, and what often surprises me, is who that individual actually is…the person who is overcome by painful emotion.
The first experience I have with something of this nature actually occurred in a completely different setting…my older brother’s wedding. I remember it is a similar fashion though, because as his best man I was standing right up next to him facing out towards the congregation, and so the perspective of my observation was pretty similar to how it is now as the pastor…Now about midway through the service, my late grandfather was overcome by emotion and he broke down crying. I honestly don’t know what prompted it…but it happened…and that moment seared itself into my memory.
Now my grandfather died just a couple of years later…and due to circumstances, I wasn’t able to get to his memorial service…and a couple more years went by…and finally I traveled to Arizona to visit my grandma, and one of the things we did was go see Grandpa’s grave…and I had a very unexpected reaction…I looked at his gravestone, and I lost it…the pain and sorrow that I’d been feeling for more than 5 years at that point came rushing out…and I learned in that moment, just as I have seen in many different situations as pastor…pain, sorrow, emotion, weakness, whatever you want to call….it demands our attention…it demands to be felt. (pause)
Now this notion of weakness…and pain…this is where we jump into our gospel today. Today is Christ the King Sunday…and strangely enough…as we have already heard, our gospel features the crucifixion of Jesus…a strange place to think about a king right? In the midst of torture and weakness?
Downstairs in the confirmation class we’ve been talking about the history of Israel…and in recent weeks we explored the establishment of the monarchy through their first three kings, Saul then David then Solomon…and how each of those these men managed to expand the kingdom, bringing more territory under their control…and we talked about just what that meant at the time…that as king, you could control as much area as you were strong enough to defend…and so the tougher you were, the more you had…but we’ve also seen the flip side…and that as soon as someone bigger and stronger comes in…you are out of luck…and if you happened to be the king of the conquered nation, chances are you’d end up dead…maybe even crucified at certain points in history. (pause)
And so, how strange is it to hear about the crucifixion of Jesus on the day when we celebrate him being king. Admittedly, it seems like total nonsense…like a total reversal of all logic…and yet that’s exactly where we find him.
Jesus is nailed to the cross…and he suffers…and throughout the entire time…he is continually mocked…and interestingly enough that mockery carries a theme…three different groups of people, all with a very similar message.
First the leaders…He saved others, let him save himself. (pause) But he doesn’t. (pause) Then the soldiers start in…If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself. (pause) But he doesn’t. (pause) And then finally, one of the fellow condemned…one of the guys hanging right next to him…suffering the same fate…this guy throws it at him too, along with a little personal venom…Are you not the messiah? Save yourself…and us. (pause)
In addition, his opponent keep dredging up the past…he has saved others…he has performed miracles…he has even brought the dead back to life…SURELY he is able to save himself….so why…won’t…he…prove it.
I think in the end, that’s what they’re all looking for. They don’t really believe the claims that Jesus is the Messiah, nor do they understand what it means…and so as far as they can tell, if he can’t save himself from the cross…then all that stuff they’ve heard is nothing more than rumors…there’s no truth to it at all…and perhaps as they mock him….they are thinking to themselves “he’s going to be dead soon…and all this, will be over.” (pause)
But that, right there, that raises a pretty important point today…when our passage end, Jesus is still alive…we don’t hear about his death today, even if we know that it happens shortly after this…when we leave off, Jesus is alive…and so as we consider Christ as King, our entire context…the entire story given to us to try and understand this idea involves Jesus ALIVE on the cross. (pause)
Christ the King is found in the midst of ultimate weakness…in the midst of pain…in the midst of sorrow and suffering…and this is a very Lutheran idea…we don’t look for our king in the same way that the world looks…we find true strength in the midst of that weakness…when we acknowledge the truth of it…when we acknowledge that it exists…and that we are equally broken. (pause)
This is the important and yet subtle truth of the gospel…and the cross…its not about death, but life. (pause) The gospel doesn’t work simply because Jesus died on the cross…but rather because Jesus lived on the cross…Jesus suffered on the cross…Jesus endured the cross in the midst of ultimate weakness…and all the while, HE…DIDN’T…HAVE TO.
If you are the Messiah, save yourself…and he could have. At any time, Jesus could have come down off that cross, healed his wounds, and passed through the people, ensuring his own safety…but Jesus wasn’t up there for himself…and his example opens our eyes to the truth…
Jesus was mocked for not saving himself…and in doing so we realize that we are not able to save ourselves…and so, just as the people stood by watching…we stand by as well, watching the one who lived on the cross…who lived in the pain…because we recognize that in our brokenness, pain and sorrow demands our attention…we cannot deny it, because it is our reality.
But the glory of the gospel, is that while we were sinners Christ died for us…we don’t have to clean all our junk out before it becomes true…its already true…its already done…Christ has already lived the pain of the cross…that penalty, that wage of sin, whatever you want to call it…has already been experienced for us. (pause) And by Jesus living on the cross, we are saved from it.
Here’s the thing…all too often we think of Christianity…or faith, or religion as the idea that I’m switching away from doing all the bad stuff to now only doing the good stuff…this isn’t some social club where we’ve got a list of moral attributes that we have to achieve…rather, living by faith is recognizing that Christ did all that in order to save us from that which causes our pain and suffering in the first place…broken relationship and the mental anguish that it causes us.
We are broken people, living a broken life, in a broken reality…one that is so broken that the good relationship…the good interaction that happened between God and Humanity way back in the garden can no longer occur…and yet in the midst of this, God does something about it.
That’s what the cross is all about…its God’s way of showing us “There is nothing I will not do to prove to you how much I love you, and to show you that I claim you as my own, even if the world refuses to acknowledge you.” (pause)
Luke’s account of the crucifixion is unique, as we hear about the one I’ve come to call the “good criminal.” At the mocking of the other man, he cries out “Do you not fear God, since we are under the same sentence? We deserve what we receive but not him.” With this first statement, the good criminal acknowledges the truth of his existence, that he is rightly condemned…sorta sounds like confession right? (pause) But then after that, he recognizes the Lordship of Jesus…Jesus, when you come into your kingdom, remember me.
This man sees the king in the midst of the pain…he sees the true display of Christ’s power in the midst of the weakness…and that power is on full display as Jesus answers. You ask me to remember you, I’m going one giant step farther…for today you’ll be with me in paradise. (pause)
Now paradise is an interesting word. We usually think of it as heaven…or eternal life…but remember that paradise is the word that was given to the garden, when Humanity was able to walk and talk with God directly…and so perhaps through all this, we see that the cross of Christ is not about death, but life…the good life with God that Jesus has made possible…and not just out there in some unknown future, but the hope we find in this truth…allows us to live in the joy of the kingdom today. (pause)
Jesus wasn’t dead when this story stopped today…because the kingdom isn’t about death, its about life…and the glory of God…the power of Christ…the Lordship of Jesus is something that we discover in the midst of our brokenness and pain, because it demands to be felt. It commands our attention and pulls us away from any false notion of strength that we posses, and turns our attention to the one who was powerful enough…NOT to act…He was strong enough to NOT…save himself…because in his weakness, he was too busy saving us. Amen.