Summary: As with us, so first with Him: no cross, no crown.
THE KING UPON THE CROSS
I. Amongst the Jewish people, the prevalent understanding of the coming of Messiah was coloured by their relatively recent historical experience under the Maccabbees. Surely the expected deliverer would come to break the yoke of Rome, just as Judas of old had delivered the people of his age from the bondage of the unjust government of Antiochus?
This expectation was even seen later amongst Jesus’ disappointed disciples on the Emmaus road: ‘But we were hoping that it should have been He who is about to redeem Israel’ (Luke 24:21).
Jesus’ reply to this was: ‘Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things, and then (only then) to enter into His glory?’ (Luke 24:26). The King had to go down, in order to go up: ‘obedient unto death, even the death of the cross’ (Philippians 2:8). As with us, so first with Him: no cross, no crown.
II. Pilate had asked Jesus, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ (John 18:33).
Jesus had answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ (John 18:36).
Pilate declared to the crowd, ‘Behold your King!’ (John 19:14).
The crowd had replied, ‘We have no king but Caesar’ (John 19:15).
III. In our present text, the leaders derided Jesus (Luke 23:35).
The soldiers taunted: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself” (Luke 23:37).
One of the “evil-workers” (as Luke would have it) “blasphemed Him” (Luke 23:39).
Pilate’s judgment on this issue was published for all to see, written in three languages upon the Cross: “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38).
IV. Yet the testimony that stands out above all is that of the other condemned criminal.
Even before conversion, this man was already beginning to be an evangelist, showing concern for his similarly condemned fellow-conspirator. This was, perhaps, an early indication of God’s work in his heart (Luke 23:40).
Whatever else this second “evil-worker” saw, he at least recognised the justice of his condemnation - unlike that of Jesus (Luke 23:41).
The prayer of this man was necessarily short, but to the point: “Remember me, Lord, when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).
It is as if he had said: ‘Remember not the deeds that brought me to this deserved demise, but remember me in accordance with your mercy’:
‘My sins and faults of youth
do thou, O Lord forget:
After thy mercy think on me,
and for thy goodness great’ (Psalm 25:7).
Furthermore, he had faith to believe that Jesus still had a kingdom to inherit (Luke 23:42). The man believed in the power of a crucified Christ to save him, and to usher him into that kingdom.
Something in that moment had enlightened this man to the reality of Jesus’ claims, and laid open to him the way of salvation even in the midst of that very darkest of all hours. And in that moment he was saved.