Summary: Jesus is no con but a great king who is worthy of our service.
Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto, has had a rough month. After repeatedly denying allegations that he used illegal drugs, the police announced that they were in possession of a video which showed the mayor smoking crack cocaine. Since then Ford has admitted to behavior that is not appropriate for anyone, much less for a mayor. But when asked to resign by city councilors, Ford refused claiming that he’s been good for Toronto. In fact he went as far as saying on national TV that he plans on running for prime minister! Would you vote for Rob Ford? Do you see him as a good leader? Many don’t. They think Ford is delusional and self-absorbed.
My point here isn’t to drag Rob Ford through the mud. We pray for him as we are to pray for all of our leaders. But the controversy surrounding Ford is not unlike the controversy that swirled around Jesus. “He hangs out with those criminal tax collectors!” crowed the Pharisees. “He just wants your attention and who knows what else!” claimed the Sadducees. It all came to a head quite literally at the cross, for above Jesus’ head hung a sign which read: “This is the King of the Jews.” “Oh don’t write that,” complained the chief priests to the Roman governor, Pilate. “Write that he claimed to be king of the Jews.” As far as they were concerned Jesus was a con, not a king. How do you see Jesus? Con or King? Your answer to that question will not only determine your eternal future, it will impact the way you face everyday challenges.
Our sermon text describes the scene on top of that hill called Calvary outside of Jerusalem. Jesus hung on his cross between two convicts. Crowds came out to gawk including the religious leaders who sneered: “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One” (Luke 23:35). Their attitude was no different from the crucified criminals who also hurled insults at Jesus. One said, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39) As far as these people were concerned, Jesus was no king. He was a con who had made all these claims about himself but was now unable to deliver.
I’m sad to admit that I often echo their scorn when I say things like “If you really cared about me Jesus, you would make me wealthier and healthier. If you’re such a great king, my life as a Christian wouldn’t be such a struggle.” I may not be bold enough to call Jesus a con, but I do treat him like a puppet king who ought to do my bidding when and where I want.
But aren’t you glad Jesus doesn’t always do what’s asked of him? “Come down from the cross!” his enemies shouted. But you know what would have happened had he complied, don’t you? He would have brought Judgment Day not just upon the unbelieving religious leaders, but also upon his disciples and on you and me. Had Jesus refused to give his life, our lives would have been given over to God’s eternal judgment. Think of how fruitless a running back’s efforts would be this afternoon in the Grey Cup if his offensive line refused to block for him. He would get pounded to the turf every time he touched the football. That’s the treatment that would await us if Jesus had refused to block God’s anger against our sin by remaining on the cross to death.
Jesus is no con; he’s a great king who gave his life to save a world full of sinners. And now we, who believe what Jesus did for us, are eager to serve him...right? The truth is my service is similar to what the soldiers gave Jesus at the cross. They offered Jesus something to drink as if he was their king whom they were eager to serve. Only what they offered was sour wine vinegar. Luke tells us that this was part of their game to make fun of Jesus’ claim to be king. Like those soldiers I offer Jesus wine vinegar when I’m asked to clean my room or help a sibling but do it but with much grumbling. I offer wine vinegar when I chip away at a church project upset more don’t follow my faithful example of service. But it was for sins like these that Jesus refused to come down from the cross. He gladly paid for them so that we don’t have to.
How can we be certain that Jesus really loves us even though we often treat him like a puppet king and serve him wine vinegar? Take a look at what he said to the repentant criminal on the cross. Although at first both criminals mocked Jesus (Matthew 27:44), the Holy Spirit worked repentance in the heart of one as he listened to the words of forgiveness Jesus spoke from the cross. This repentant believer then spoke up to silence the other criminal’s incessant mocking. He said: “Don’t you fear God, 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” (Luke 23:40-42).