YOUR KING IS THE CRUCIFIED.
In the name + of Jesus.
It was a strange request, at a strange time. It was made by a desperate, dying man to a man who looked even worse off. A condemned criminal hung on a cross, and he turned to another man who hung naked, bleeding and dying from his cross, and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) The people at the foot of the cross were already mocking Jesus, but this request must have produced quite a bit of laughter from them. Jesus hardly looked like a man who was ushering in a kingdom. The only thing about Jesus' appearance which even suggested “King” was the charge that was posted above his head, reading, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Luke 23:38) Perhaps he still had the crown of thorns, too. Still, everything else about Jesus looked utterly pathetic.
Dear Christians, this is your king. Your King is the Crucified. As Jesus hung from the cross, he appeared neither glorious nor glamorous. His body was bruised from all the punches he received, and lacerated from the scourging he endured. But do not be misled by appearances. This is how God has revealed his glory to you. The criminal recognized it, not by sight, but by faith. And he sought mercy from his King, the Crucified.
It is ironic how this criminal came to believe in Jesus. It was by the spiteful, sarcastic words spewed out by Jesus' enemies at the foot of the cross. The rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (Luke 23:35) The rulers did not make these things up. They repeated the claims that Jesus had made about himself. They retold the miracles that Jesus had done. “He saved others”? Yes, he had. He made the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk. He drove out demons and even raised the dead. “If he is the Christ of God”? Yes, that is exactly what Jesus had claimed. In fact, it is what the Sanhedrin condemned him for. Jesus' claim in this is no small matter. By confessing that he is the Christ, Jesus claimed that he is the fulfillment of all of God's promises. And he is. “If he is God's Chosen One”? In fact, God the Father had said exactly that when Jesus was baptized. The soldiers also mocked him ... saying, “If you are the King of the Jews.” (Luke 23:36-37) In fact, Jesus is the Son of David. His ancestry is well documented. He came not to take his place on a throne in Jerusalem, but on a heavenly throne to rule over all things for all eternity. Your King is the Crucified.
Granted, your King does not look very impressive as he was at the mercy of his merciless enemies. He did not look glorious as his life flowed out of his body, and as his body writhed in pain and torment. But this is where God has demonstrated his glory to you. For, this is the price which has been paid to save you from all of your sins.
The criminal who prayed to Jesus was also right in his assessment. He rebuked the hardened criminal, “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.” (Luke 23:40-41) It is not even that Jesus was innocent of anything that deserved crucifixion. The criminal declared that Jesus had done nothing out of place. Jesus' life had been pure and perfect.
We, on the other hand, share the confession of the criminal: “We indeed (are) justly (condemned), for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds.” (Luke 23:41) That's not to say you and I deserve to be executed. It is to say that we are guilty of breaking God's Commandments. We deserve to have God's wrath poured out on us. We not only fail to live up to the standard that God has set, we also mock God to his face when we come up with excuses why our sins are not so bad, why we are not as bad as others, or why God's word just does not apply to us the same as it does to others. Beware of such reasoning. For, if God's word does not apply to you regarding your sin, it surely cannot apply to you regarding salvation. If God is not to be believed regarding our sins, how can he be believed regarding our forgiveness? If we insist upon our innocence, what forgiveness can God give? If we are not condemned, what need is there for a Savior? If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:10) We are guilty. We are indeed justly condemned, which is the due reward for our wicked deeds and designs.
It is a good thing if you see yourself as desperate, dying people. Even though we are not nailed to a cross, we are all dying. No one escapes that. And it would be good to be desperate; for, if we have no hope, then we have to turn to someone else for our hope. And that is precisely what Jesus supplies. He is your only hope, for he alone saves. Your King is the Crucified.
The Lord reveals his glory at the cross through a bleeding, dying Savior. That is where God displays a love for sinners. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh who has taken our sin and guilt. He has put himself under judgment for our sins. God does take sins seriously. That is why Jesus died. But in the weakness of Jesus' sufferings and death, we see the depth of God's love for us. He has suffered the curse and endured the hellish torments so that we will never have to. And though he was laid in a grave, he did not stay. Jesus rose from the dead to enter his glory. He is victorious over sin and death and the grave. He has ascended to take his place on the throne in heaven to live and reign forever. But he lives and reigns for you. His curse means your forgiveness. His death means your life. His resurrection means you shall rise from the grave to receive eternal life. His ascension means that you will be taken to live and reign with him. That is where the glory will be seen. But that glory does not come apart from the death which is the atoning sacrifice for sinners. And that is why, even though Jesus is risen, your King is the Crucified.
The prayer of the penitent criminal is still the prayer of the Church today: “Jesus, remember me.” And just as Jesus promised to remember the criminal, so he remembers you. He remembers you because he has redeemed you. Even if you feel forsaken, forgotten, or alone, you are not. The Lord Jesus Christ remembers you. He remembers the covenant he made with you at your baptism. He remembers the payment he has made for you through his death. And when he summons you to the altar, saying, “Do this in remembrance of me,” he remembers and supplies the benefits of all his promises to you. If Jesus has done that much to save you, he will certainly remember you and bring you into his kingdom. Your King is the Crucified. He was crucified for you, and he lives and reigns for you.
Jesus did not look very impressive when he hung from the cross. Yet, he still extended the promise of salvation to the penitent criminal. Furthermore, he fulfilled it. Jesus has entered his kingdom, and he did remember the one he redeemed. You and I do not look very impressive as God's children. The Christian Church does not look very impressive as the kingdom of God in this world. But God's promises are not based on how grand or pathetic things look. It all rests on God's word, and all of God's promises are “Yes” in Jesus Christ. The Crucified is your King. He lives and reigns forever. He will remember you, and he will finally deliver you to his glorious, eternal kingdom.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.