Let us pray: Dear Savior, as the King of all creation You have infinite control over all things. Thank You, God! Thank You for controlling events in our lives for our betterment. Thank You for curbing the evil in this world so that it doesn’t overwhelm us. Thank You for exhibiting pure love in offering up Your life for ours on the cross. And Thank You for hearing this prayer, this very day! Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST THE KING!
TEXT: Luke 23: 35-43
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
What’s the greatest and most powerful of all human instincts? It is self-preservation, isn’t it? We’ll do almost anything to stay alive. You see the fruits of this fact played out in the sky-rocketing cost of medical insurance today. I’ve read that about 90% of a person’s total life-time medical expenses are incurred during the final 6 months of their lives. People who know inside that they are going to die are willing to prolong their lives no matter the pain, the indignity, or the cost. I believe the chief reason for this modern phenomenon ties into the shrinkage of Christianity in our culture. If you don’t believe in life after death or in salvation, if you’re unsure of what awaits you after you leave this mortal coil, you’ll do anything to stay alive—even for a moment. Let’s face it, no one apart from the Christian, welcomes death.
The crowd surrounding the cross of Christ was made up of Jews and some Roman soldiers. At best, they were pseudo-religious unbelievers; at worst, they were demonic. And their absence of understanding as to God’s supernatural reality and world outside this one is seen by the very words from their mouths. For them death is to be avoided at all costs. It is the end, period. Afterwards there is nothingness. And so, to paraphrase their question of Christ:
IF HE IS THE KING LET HIM SAVE HIMSELF!
To us, the whole concept of a king is foreign. But, it hasn’t always been so. Likewise, the concept that a king rules by divine right didn’t just occur in medieval times, no, it has its antecedents in ancient cultures. Think back on God choosing Saul to be king over Israel. The Jews before the cross knew how God had chosen Saul and put His weight behind his office. That’s why they mourned Saul’s death. Even David, whom Saul tried to kill, mourned his death. A king being put to death just seemed to them against nature.
If you examine both the OT and many other ancient cultures, you’ll discover something quite interesting about kings and the overthrow of empires. Seldom was a defeated king actually killed. Usually they were held for ransom, or as a slave to insure subjugation of the populace. Thus, when Abraham kills the kings of Sodom and the surrounding cities, or when Samuel puts to death the Amalekite king, it is a real statement as to who really has power and God’s stamp of approval! Likewise, kings never submitted to death willingly. Lord Acton was right when he said: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!” Yes, kings usually ended up believing in their own semi-omnipotence and people generally bought into it. They thought they were sacred.
Against this background the mindset of those before the cross is amazing. “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” Yes, they could not get their minds around a King willing to die. Additionally, their statement shows they knew about the coming Messiah, or Christ, and that He would be chosen by God. But, their words also show that they didn’t understand one wit about the essence of Christ’s work.
The soldiers got into the act, as well. They offered him wine vinegar, a foul-tasting anesthesia, and said: “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” And why not? After all, self-preservation is the greatest human instinct, isn’t it? Even one of the criminals executed with Jesus joined in this “fun.” “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Ah, from the mouth of an unbeliever finally comes truth! Christ was willing to die and did for exactly that purpose—to pay for the sins of all people. This King did what no other king would ever dream of doing.—He offered up His life to save His people. Self-preservation gave way to our eternal preservation. And in this we see true and Godly love in action.
If He is the King let him save Himself! That was their sneer. But in reality this King of kings was all about saving us at the expense of His very life! The other criminal, actually a terrorist, recognized this fact by God’s grace and the power of the Spirit. He had been converted, right there on the cross, by the gospel in the form of Christ’s words uttered from His cross. And now filled with the Spirit’s power this man rebuked the other. “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.”
That’s exactly the point, my friends. Jesus did nothing wrong. He never lied, or cheated, or stole, or denigrated another out of selfish ambition. He never took another’s life or let hatred reign in His heart. He never cheated on His taxes or took His parents for granted. He was perfect in every thought, word, and deed. This King went to the cross innocent and willingly. And His purpose in doing so was to save our souls, to make us right with God, by paying the penalty for our sinful terrorism against the Almighty.
But, even on the cross amid all this humiliation and earthly shame, Christ still retains His divine nature and power. We see that in His response to this second criminal after the man says: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” For right then Jesus gives perhaps the most glorious promise of fact found in the entire Bible. “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Right before this fellow’s eyes Jesus was earning paradise for him, for you, and for me. And through God-given faith that fact is made our reality.
Our paraphrase of this text: If He is the King let Him save Himself, is a paradoxical question. And it shows the profound love behind our King’s death. For in not saving Himself He saved us! And today, on Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate that fact and that blessing! Amen