Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"The Kingdom" Sermon: Luke 23:35-45

“The Kingdom”
[Luke 23:35-45]
November 20, 2016 Second Reformed Church
            Today is Christ the King Sunday – that day when we especially consider the fact the Jesus – the Incarnate Son of God – is the King over all of Creation.  Jesus is Sovereign over everything in all of Creation.
            We turn to Good Friday – as Jesus hangs on the cross – to consider this theme.
            Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, believed that the priests and Pharisees were just jealous of Jesus, and he sought a way to free Jesus – as he proclaimed Him innocent, but the priests and the Pharisees turned the crowd against him and threaten to send word to Caesar Tiberius that he was a traitor.  In retaliation, we read:
            “So he delivered [Jesus] over to them to be crucified.
            “So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews,” but rather,” his man said, I am King of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written’” (John 19:16-22, ESV).
            It was not uncommon to put a sign over the head of the person being crucified to tell what their crime was.  In this case, the Jews had condemned Jesus for blasphemy and tried to convince Pilate to have Jesus killed for seeking to overthrow Caesar.  We have no reason to believe that Pilate believed in Jesus – certainly not at this point, but he so hated the Jews, and so much more so for forcing him to crucify Jesus, that Pilate ironically listed Jesus’ crime as the truth it was:  Jesus of Nazareth is the King of the Jews.  It was the priests and Pharisees who overthrew their own King – they were the criminals, but Jesus – their King – was the One being put to death.
            We are the criminals, but Jesus, our King, was the One put to death.
            As we turn to our text, we see, first, the King Rules His Kingdom.
            “And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’”
            The religious leaders and the soldiers around the cross where Jesus hanged, looked at the sign above His head, “Jesus of Nazareth – King of the Jews” – and they were angered and irritated. 
And so they mocked Jesus: “If You are the Christ – if You are the Chosen One of God – if You are the King of the Jews – if You have civil and divine power and authority from God Himself to fulfill God’s promise to the world of salvation – why are You being crucified?  Why don’t You come down from the cross?  Why don’t You do a sign to convince us of Your power and authority?”
The irony of their mockery is that Jesus is the Christ.  Jesus is the Chosen One of God.  Jesus is the King of the Jews.  Jesus does have civil and divine power and authority from God Himself to fulfill God’s promise to the world of salvation.  What they didn’t understand – what the devil didn’t understand – is that Jesus Christ was ruling over His Kingdom and carrying out the will of God for salvation in His being crucified!
The author of Hebrews tells us that we are to run the race towards holiness “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2, ESV).
Jesus, the Sovereign King – the ever-reigning King – hanged on the cross, endured the violence and betrayal carried out against Him and suffered the punishment for our sin in God’s Wrath against Him – but did so for the joy of what He accomplished as our Sovereign King and Savior and is now seated at the Right Hand of God – which means He has Sovereign Reign over all of Creation.
Though some were shaken to their core regarding Who Jesus is on the day of His crucifixion, everyone misunderstood what was happening on the cross – including the devil.
And that should be an encouragement to us:  when everything seems to be going the wrong way – when all the suffering we can imagine is coming down upon us – Jesus is ruling His Kingdom.  Jesus is in control.  Jesus is bringing everything in all of Creation – including us – to where it ought to be.
Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11, ESV).
And again, Paul reminds us, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:26-30, ESV).
No matter how things may look from moment to moment, the King is ruling over His Kingdom, everything is going according to plan, He loves us, He tells us to pray and ask – and we will receive everything that is according to His will, and He will bring all who believe into His Kingdom when He returns.
Second, King Jesus rules His Kingdom sinlessly.
            “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’”
            Jesus was crucified with two other men – criminals who hanged on either side of Him.  One of the men joined in the taunting – after all, if Jesus really was the Christ, couldn’t He have used His power to free them all?
            The second man realized that this approach was wrong.
            The second man asked if the first did not fear God.   They were criminals.  That had been caught and sentenced.  They had been crucified, and they were waiting to die.  And after death is the judgment.  If you know you are a sinner and you are not right with God, don’t you fear standing before Him?
            The first man well reflects the opinion of our day, where many people who believe in God think that they don’t need to get right with Him – when they die, they envision God will be like their buddies and slap them on the back and say, “Hey, I understand.  Tough times.  No biggy.”
            But that’s not the truth:  God is pure holiness – and He cannot allow any sin to be in His presence.  The author of Hebrews tells us that without holiness, no one will see God – if you and I and the guy on the street are not holy, God will banish us from His Kingdom and consign us to the outer darkness.
            Anyone who has anything close to a right understanding of God’s Character should tremble!  Either you have to become holy yourself – good luck – it won’t happen.  Or, Someone Else must take your place before God in holiness.
            The second man understood that.  Did he know Jesus before that day?  Had he heard Jesus preach?   We’re not told.  At the very minimum, God enlightened him in that moment so he did come to faith alone – we know that because of Jesus’ response to him – which we will see in a moment.
            The second man recognized he was a sinner – that he deserved to be put to death for his crimes.  He also understood that Jesus is innocent – He did not deserve to be put to death – He is sinless.
            What a difference between Jesus and the kings of earth!
            When the people of Israel got tired of following God alone and wanted to have a king so they would be just like all the other nations, God warned them about choosing a sinful, human king over them, rather than God alone: 
            “He said, ‘These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day’” (1 Samuel 8:11-18, ESV).
            Nothing has changed has it?  Our leaders require our children as servants and military officers, and they tax us …
            Sinful leaders will use their people and take from them.  Such it is.
            King Jesus reigns over us and blesses us beyond measure.  He has made us right with God by Himself, because He is sinless, and He already owns everything, and He is carrying out the Will of the Father, as we look forward to the restoration of the Creation and the fullness of the Kingdom.
            Third, King Jesus has authority over the boundaries of His Kingdom.
“And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”
            No one comes into Jesus’ Kingdom unless Jesus lets him in; Jesus has secured the boundaries of His Kingdom and no one comes in except through Him.
            And the second man makes a request of Jesus: “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
            The second man understands the Jesus is King.  The second man understands that Jesus has a kingdom.  The second man understands that it was coming sometime in the future.  And he asks to be “remembered” – something short of asking to be in His kingdom.
            This man had come to faith in Jesus Alone through faith alone – perhaps at the moment, right before he died – and he asked his King if he might just be remembered in the coming Kingdom.
            And Jesus looks at the man next to Him with love in His eyes and says, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
            Jesus tells the man, “No, I will not just remember you someday in the future when My Kingdom comes to earth.  You are one of Mine that the Father has given Me.  You will be with Me, today – this very day, in Paradise – in My Kingdom -- forever.”
            If the man hadn’t been attached to the cross, he probably would have floated away at hearing this news.
            And, beloved, the good news is that this is true of everyone who believes!  Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37, ESV).
            All we who believe have the sure and blessed hope that at the moment we die, our King will welcome us into His Kingdom to be with Him in Glory forever.
            This is the tension we live with in this life:  due to sin, the Creation – including humans – are broken, warped, marred – and humans sin, but God the King, in the person of Jesus His Incarnate Son – Who is and has always been totally and sovereignly in control over everything forever past and future – came to earth to save the people that God gave to Him.  It is done.  It is sure.  And we will be received into the Kingdom at the moment of our death and in the Kingdom’s fullness at the restoration of the Creation.
            But remember, between now and death – life is hard – life hurts.  The man talking to Jesus was hanging on a cross waiting to die, and King Jesus, making these wonderful promises to him – was hanging on a cross waiting to die.
            Still, Jesus is reigning over His Kingdom.
            Jesus is reigning in sinless perfection.
            And Jesus – by his Own Authority – will bring all we who believe into His Kingdom – in His presence.
            In response to this, I would like us to turn in our Bibles to Psalm 24, and I would like us to stand and read it together:

            The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof,
                        the world and those who dwell therein,
            for he has founded it upon the seas
                        and established it upon the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
                        And who shall stand in his holy place?
            He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
                        who does not lift up his soul to what is false
                        and does not swear deceitfully.
            He will receive blessing from the LORD
                        and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
            Such is the generation of those who seek him,
                        who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah
Lift up your heads, O gates!
                        And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
                        that the King of glory may come in.
            Who is this King of glory?
                        The LORD, strong and mighty,
                        the LORD, mighty in battle!
            Lift up your heads, O gates!
                        And lift them up, O ancient doors,
                        that the King of glory may come in.
            Who is this King of glory?
                        The LORD of hosts,
                        he is the King of glory! Selah
            (Psalm 24, ESV).

Let us pray:
            Almighty and Sovereign God, we come before You in hope, believing that Jesus is Sovereign over all of Creation, from forever past and forevermore.  We ask that You would strengthen us in the hard days, that You would keep us from sin, and lead us in striving after holiness, trusting that everything is going according to Your Plan, and King Jesus is waiting to receive us into His Presence in His Kingdom.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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