Summary: Jesus is God and King, and we see that on Good Friday.
Luke 23:35-43: Give Me the Heart of a Thief.
Is the United States paradise? In my travels, I’ve learned to love the United States. Compared to a lot of other countries, it is paradise. When you look at some other countries, especially the ones that have been on the news lately, you realize what a blessing it is to live in the United States. But is it paradise? No. Planes crash, sometimes because of terrorism, and sometimes, we don’t know why. The weather can suddenly destroy homes and lives. Loved ones suddenly become sick, for no apparent reason, and pass away. The United States is a nice place to live, but it’s not paradise.
There’s no such thing as paradise. Even the most beautiful, the most peaceful place on earth, the perfect vacation spot – it’s good, but not paradise. There’s always something. And all good vacations eventually must come to an end.
This morning, Jesus tells us that there is such a place as paradise – a place of peace, a place of beauty, a place of joy and contentment and love – a place where you can go and never have to leave. There is such a place as paradise, and this morning, Jesus extends to you an invitation to think about this place. Today is Christ the King Sunday. Today we focus on the truth that Jesus Christ is King, King of our world, King of our lives, and the King of Paradise. May God bless you as you listen, as you imagine, as you lay hold of the promises of God this day.
This morning, we find Jesus on the cross. It’s Good Friday, that terrible, yet good day, when Jesus Christ died on the cross to take away our sins. In this section, Jesus is called Christ and King more than once, but not in a worshipful way. Look at the words that Luke uses to describe how people were talking about Jesus – verse 35: sneering. Verse 36: mocking. Verse 39: insulting. People were ridiculing him: Save yourself, if you are the King, if you are the Christ. Even the sign above Jesus’ head was a form of mockery.
What was the problem? During his life, Jesus made it very clear that he was more than just a teacher of the golden rule. “I am your God,” he told the people. “I am your King.” He backed up what he said with his perfect life, and with his miracles. I am your King, he told the people – but they didn’t want to accept that. He was not the God, the King, that they wanted to see. He was too humble. And they were too proud. And so they sneered and mocked and insulted.
How does the world view Jesus Christ today? Is the world neutral, or is the world like the people we see in our text for today? The world is neutral, as long as you portray Jesus as just another teacher. There’s Mohammed, there’s Buddha, and there’s Jesus – take your pick, they’re all the same. If that’s how Jesus is presented, the world is neutral. But Jesus doesn’t allow himself to be presented that way. He calls himself God. He calls himself the King of the Universe. He labels all religions as false, except for the one religion that follows him. That’s not very politically correct. But that’s how Jesus describes himself in the Bible.
And when Jesus is presented that way, there is a great deal of mockery, sneering, insulting – reminiscent of the atmosphere that surrounded Jesus on the cross. People reject the idea that Jesus is God and God is Jesus. “He is King, and there is no other? How can that be,” most people say. Jesus is too humble, and the world is too proud.
Are you affected by the world? One of those thieves on the cross was. When he saw how everyone was mocking Christ, he joined in. It’s hard not to be affected by the world around us. There is a great temptation for every Christian, to minimize the significance of Jesus Christ. It is OK to talk about God, but we hesitate to talk about Jesus. God bless America, we say loudly. But we whisper the name of Jesus, even though Jesus is God and God is Jesus. Jesus bless America. We are tempted to hide our true faith, to minimize the significance of Jesus Christ, because it is politically correct. And when we do this, it is a silent mockery of Christ, which makes us no better than those who mocked Jesus outwardly at the cross.
But remember, Jesus is the King of Grace, of Mercy – the King of Forgiveness. We see his grace in the way he treated that second thief on the cross. He converted him. We don’t know how, but somehow, the Holy Spirit converted that second thief. An act of mercy on the part of Jesus Christ, to send his Spirit into that man’s heart. Listen to what that man said to the thief who was mocking Christ: “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.” Those are the words of a man who has been humbled in his heart. And then he said to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” Remember me. These are words of faith. He was ignoring the mockery of the world. He was looking past the blood and the bruises of Christ. With his eyes of faith, he saw a king, and he prayed a wonderful prayer to that King who was dying for his sins at that very moment. “Remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”