33 When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.
35 The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.”
36 The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
40 Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? 41 We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”
Thoughts on the passage:
Last week one of my central claims in my sermon was the importance of Christ as Lord. While sadly not deliberate, it makes an excellent segue to this Sunday, which is Christ the King Sunday. What is Christ the King Sunday? It is the last Sunday of the Christian year before we move around to the beginning with Advent. It is the Sunday we celebrate the reign of God and the promise that in the end, Christ will be triumphant.
Triumphant: what images come to mind? Hands raised in celebration? Sports teams celebrating? A victory parade? What about a man, beaten and bloody, about to be executed? Throughout history we have associated power with military might and strength. Kings were measured by the power they had to defend their kingdom. Even religions were judged by the might of those who followed them. Yet, the image we have of Christ is not one of battle and military victory, but of suffering and dying the death of criminal. This is our king.
It is probably safe to say that at the time no one understood what was happening. Some of the disciples, like Peter, were ready to fight to keep Jesus from arrest. The crowds would have seen this as a demonstration of the power of Rome, whether or not they liked it. Even Pilate, the Roman ruler, did not understand how Christ could be king and yet be about to die. If Christ is king, if Christ is God, why doesn’t he save himself?
To understand what it means to proclaim Christ as Lord and Christ as King I think we need to let go of a lot of our images of what it means to be powerful and triumphant. We cannot just see Christ as the strongest king in the world. Instead we have to remember that Christ’s real strength comes not from physical might but from spiritual might, from love. Christ is triumphant, not by conquering the world by force, but by conquering it with love. Christ’s victory comes when he dies on the cross for us, the greatest act of love.
Where does this all start, it starts with love. “For God so loved the world …” Christ is King because of a love so great it will suffer even the worst kind of death in order that we might be free from our sin. Hear those words from Paul, “love is patient and love is kind, it is not jealous or boastful it is not arrogant or rude … it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Do we let love rule our hearts? This is where it gets hard for me. It is easy to proclaim on Sunday that Christ is Lord or Christ is King. It flows readily from the tongue and it sounds good on the ears of all of us who call ourselves Christians or followers of Christ. The reality is however I often fail to proclaim day in and day out with my actions. I am not always the best at letting God be the center or my life or letting love rule my heart.
For me the Christian faith is one of aspiration. We are always aspiring to be the kind of followers we know we are supposed to be. We are always striving to be worthy of the love that God bestows on us and we never succeed. That is our reality. That is why each year we must remind ourselves that Christ is meant to be king of our hearts and lives. That is why each year after we proclaim Christ the King, we enter Advent and we begin to prepare ourselves for love to be born again.
Questions to Ponder:
What does it mean to you for Christ to be King?
Where do you struggle in your life to let God in?
Who is someone you know who exemplifies Christ’s love?
God, we give you thanks for your love that you have shown to us in Christ Jesus. We acknowledge that too often we fail to let you be Lord in our hearts and lives. Give us your grace that we might be faithful followers of you. Help us this week to better love you. Amen