The Thieves on the cross
November 25, 2007 Speaker: Guest Preacher
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 23:33–23:43
Christ the King Sunday
"The Thieves on the Cross"
Pastor Stephen DeMik
Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon the throne; hark how the heav'nly anthem sounds all music but its own. Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee, and hail Him as they matchless king through all eternity. Today [Sunday] is Christ the King Sunday-the last Sunday in the church year. True, we probably won't have a party to celebrate this occasion, as we usually leave that for a more traditional Christmas or New Year's Eve Party. But nevertheless, this is a time to rejoice. Our Lord came down to earth to die for us. Isn't this reason enough to celebrate?
Over the next month and a half, the concept of Jesus as our King will pop probably more than you think. If you listen at all to Christmas music on the radio or pop in a few Christmas CDs before December 25th, you'll be hard pressed to avoid it. Joy to the World, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King. -or- Hark! The herald angels sing "Glory to the newborn King." -or- (Angels We have heard on high) Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the Angels sing; come, adore on bended knee Christ the Lord the newborn King. Glo...ria in excelsis Deo. Jesus was born into this world for one reason only--to save us from our sins. Through his death on the cross, we have been set free from the bondage that sin had on us; in his resurrection, we too will be resurrected on the last day.
What does this mean-to be king? To most of us, it's a simple idea-a king is, quite simply, the law. What the king says goes. One of the great perks is the fact that you have complete control of your kingdom. There aren't even any of those silly democratic checks and balances to worry about! You'll have a number of loyal subjects who live to serve you, to do what you command. If you decree that Sunday would be "The day of football," it would be so. If you would so desire that everyone should watch the movie 'A Christmas Story' on December 25th, then it shall be so. What's to hold you back? Who wouldn't want to be in complete control? Who wouldn't want to be king?
You know, I was a king once. I was the king of the forest...in my third grade production of 'The Wizard of Oz.' Yes, I was cast as the lion. Fine, fine. I was the cowardly lion. Even with his rather wimpy name, it felt good to have such a prominent role in a play that the whole school would see for one of the famed 'Friday afternoon assemblies.' Every grade would be there. Even my family could come and watch. What a sight this would be to see...or so I thought. Have you ever seen the stage production of 'The Wizard of Oz'? Similar to every Broadway stage production turned Hollywood Film, the two aren't exactly alike. Early on, I was quite disappointed when I found out that the song 'If I were King of the Forest' wasn't one of the musical numbers. Instead of that great show-stopper, I half-heartedly had to sing: Life is sad, believe me Missy/When you're born to be a sissy/Without the vim and verve. But I could change my habits/Nevermore be scared of rabbits/If I only had the nerve. How was that fair! Not only was my big moment taken away, but I also quickly realized that the lion is in maybe half of the musical! The scarecrow and tin man had a lot more stage time. Here I was, the king, and I wasn't even getting a fair share!
Doesn't this happen often in our real lives? Here we think we're finally the king; we think that we're finally in charge of something, only to find out that it's not all it's cracked up to be. The college freshman, so excited to get out of his parents house and be on his own, soon realizes that being on his own also means cooking every day and doing laundry every other week. That's not cool! Or take moving into your first house. Sure, it may seem great at first...until you find out that every house, regardless of age and wear, will all have some hidden and mysterious issues. Being on your own means that you have to pay for that new water heater; that you're responsible when your pipes back up or when your walls are being consumed by termites. There's no one to bail you out when you're the king of your castle!
Whether we want to be king or not, we do enjoy being in control. In his Large Catechism for the common people, Martin Luther states that we are constantly battling sin and temptations in our lives. Temptation of the flesh-desires of evil lust that are aroused by companionship and example of others. Basically, we struggle to control our own bodies and desires day in and day out. Luther believes that a second temptation that attacks us is the devil himself-he who is constantly working to lead us to ignore and cast away God's Word and works, to tear us away from faith, and bring us to unbelief. These first two types of temptation force us to be mindful of the fact that our decisions can either be good, right and beneficial, or if instead they tear us from our faith in God.
The third type of temptation is quite clear-Luther explains it as the temptation of the world. This is the sin that drives us to anger and impatience, to hate and jealousy, violence and injustice, cursing, slander, pride and arrogance, and with a fondness for luxury, honor, fame and power-where no one wishes to be least, but everyone desires to sit at the head and be seen before all men. We wish to be in complete control, we wish to have the world under our own thumb-we wish to be King.
After all, when we're not in control, we panic. We end up fearing the unknown. This is the feeling that engulfed the first thief on the cross in our Gospel lesson today. Instead of accepting his punishment, of dying for his transgressions, he asked, no, he demanded that Christ should come down from the cross and save him. When push came to shove, he had no other place to turn to-he needed Jesus' protection, he needed Jesus' love.
When times get tough, it's easy to get frustrated. When situations around us seem to be impossible to figure out, we want to demand answers. If we're not in control, who is? We then have so many questions: Why did I just lose my job? Why did my spouse have a heart attack? Why am I constantly struggling with every little thing in my life? When do I get this so-called peace from God? Why did this happen to me?
Temptation engulfs us again and again-constantly snowballing on itself until it finally gets to a point where it seems as though we're completely and utterly packed in. Realizing that we're not in complete control of our lives isn't an easy conclusion to settle on. As soon as we open ourselves up to this, are we giving up? Do we need to worry about the day in and day out struggles anymore? What's the point of going on if I can't control anything?
The second thief at Jesus' side at Golgotha took a completely different approach-he accepted the punishment for his crime and asked for Christ's forgiveness. Instead of demanding for his earthly freedom, he simply asked, "Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom." He had accepted complete responsibility for his actions and was now asking for forgiveness. This common criminal had complete faith that Jesus was his Lord and Savior. I truly wish I could stand here today and say that I can fully relate to the second thief-that when put in the same situation, I'd ask that Jesus remember me. But I can't. I'm too strong-willed. I'm too angry to allow myself to fall at the feet of my maker and ask for forgiveness. I'm too proud to admit that I was unable to control the temptations in my life, and I've failed to live up even to the simplest of expectations-that I live as a faithful follower of Christ. We've failed to live as faithful servants of our God; our King.
Jesus didn't come to earth to Lord over us, advancing us when we do his will and judging us when we are at fault. God sent his Son into the world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil, to bring us to himself, and to rule us as a king of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death, and an evil conscience. To this end he also gave his Holy Spirit to deliver this to us through his holy Word and to enlighten and strengthen us in faith by his power. When we fall into sin, he is there to pick us up. When we struggle against the power of the devil, Jesus has promised to be our protector, to be our stronghold. Our burdens are his burdens. Our struggles are his struggles. Our tears are his tears. Jesus isn't a king who sits on a throne high above, out of reach to us. As our Psalm stated this morning, God is in the midst of the city-he is with us at all times.
As we live as Christians, we will continue to struggle each and every day. We must be armed for temptation and expect incessant attacks, for the devil is a foe that never wears out-when one temptation fades away, new ones develop before our eyes. In these times, our only help and comfort is to take refuge in God, asking for his constant protection from both our evil foes and ourselves.
God's ways are not our ways. We cannot fully understand his love for us, as we are sinful beings. Until Christ claimed us as His own, we were conceived and born sinful and were under the power of the devil. We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation. Through the waters of Holy Baptism, we have been made children of God, delivered from sin, death, and Satan, and have been invited to enter Christ's kingdom and live forever with him.
Today we put our faith in the promises of God, and he bestows upon us our eternal salvation in paradise. We can pray in confidence: Jesus-my Lord, my Savior, my King-remember me, when you come into your kingdom. Amen.