Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sermon -- 4th Sunday of End Times: Christ the King (November 20, 2016)

LUKE 23:35-43


In the name + of Jesus.

      One of the emphases of the Lutheran faith is that we are saved by faith alone.  Usually, faith is put in contrast to works.  No one can do the works which God demands because all are sinners.  Therefore, it is faith in God's promises which saves us.  However, our Gospel lesson highlights that faith also stands in contrast to knowledge.  People know the difference between right and wrong, but that does not save them.  Many know the stories about Jesus, but merely knowing that Jesus walked on water or was crucified does not save them.  Some have already cracked out the Christmas music, listening to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, and Silent Night.  But even if you know the lyrics and sing along, that does not save you.  The most popular part of Handel's Messiah is the Hallelujah chorus in which people belt out the confession of Jesus, “King of kings and Lord of lords.”  And while many people know that is the Christian confession of Jesus, many do not believe it.  We are not saved by knowledge.  The devil knows his Bible, but he is not saved.  We are saved by faith.
     We confess that Jesus is the King of heaven and earth, but for many people, Jesus is an underwhelming king.  We expect more from kings or rulers or presidents.  Kings demonstrate their authority by making laws and enforcing them.  Those who will not obey the king's decrees are arrested and imprisoned.  In harsher regimes, lawbreakers are executed.  Kings do not put up with dissenters.  Kings impose taxes.  Kings enjoy luxury and wealth at the expense of their subjects.  When kings want to show off their muscle, they have a military parade to demonstrate their strength to the world, to their country, and to themselves.  If the king deems it necessary, he will even order those soldiers to go into battle and die for him.
     But your King, Jesus Christ, does not live or act to demonstrate how powerful or how fearful he is.  Your King reigns for you.  Jesus came in humility to serve you and to seek your good.  He did not come to tax you or to confiscate things from you.  He has come to pour out his goods and gifts to you.  He has not come to declare new and harsher laws upon you so that you will behave better under the constant threat of death or revenge.  Instead, he delivers you from the curse of the Law which had stood over you.  And your King did not command you to go forth and die for him.  Instead, your King came to die for you.  He reigns for you.
     Now, this all seems backwards.  In fact, the people at the foot of the cross thought that it was all worthy of mockery.  They despised Jesus and laughed at him for being such a King.  The religious authorities scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (Luke 23:35)  Then the military powers also mocked him as king.  Their job was to show the world what happens to anyone who dares to claim authority over a worldly power like Caesar.  The soldiers also mocked him … saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Luke 23:36,37)  Even a convicted felon joined in: “Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)  Now the irony in all of their mockery is this: Everything they said about Jesus was true.  They knew that Jesus had healed, cleansed, and saved others.  They knew that he had claimed to be the Christ.  Who knows?  They may have even heard the testimony that God the Father himself had declared, “This is my Son, my Chosen One.” (Luke 9:35)  They knew it, but they did not believe it.  Even though Jesus had also come for them, they rejected him.  Sadly, they perished apart from Jesus, apart from his forgiveness, his salvation, and his mercy—not because Jesus is a cruel King, but because they were stubborn, faithless rebels.
     But there was one who not only knew the facts about Jesus, he also believed them.  There was a criminal dying next to Jesus.  He did not pretend to be anything more than what he was.  He confessed his sin and acknowledged that he deserved to be put to death for his crimes.  He did not offer excuses, only confession.  He also knew that Jesus was not guilty of anything.  His words are much stronger than saying, “He is no felon.”  He stated that “this man has done nothing 'out of place.'” (Luke 23:41)  
     The repentant criminal was not offended by Jesus' humble appearance.  He was not even deceived by Jesus' bruised, bleeding, and dying body.  He knew that Jesus is the King who establishes an everlasting kingdom of glory.  And his prayer to Jesus was simple.  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)  Remember your mercy.  Remember that you have come to die not for sins of your own, but for sinners.  And the King promised he would remember his beloved subject: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)  
     You and I are not different from that criminal.  We, too, are lawbreakers.  We have not kept the Lord's Commandments.  And just as knowledge cannot save us, neither has it helped us in being obedient to God's Commandments.  We know what God declares to be good and what God declares to be evil.  God has not kept that a secret.  We even have our Catechism Class memorize the Commandments, and you do well to review them often..  But that does not mean we keep them.  We are guilty.  We have broken God's law.  We offer no excuses.  We are worthy of God's wrath.  We deserve death.  We can only make confession and plead for mercy from our King.
     The King is most merciful.  He does not destroy us because we have broken the law.  Rather, he has taken our place in the judgment.  Jesus Christ went to the cross to die as a lawbreaker on behalf of all lawbreakers.  In that humble, beaten, and bleeding body, Jesus bore the curse for all your sins.  Jesus was pleased to be counted among the lawbreakers to pay for your sins so that you would be counted among the innocent.  But his sufferings and death for you, Jesus pardons you of all guilt and drops all the charges.  His royal decree is forgiveness of your sins.  Your King reigns for you.
     And the King who has gone into death for you has also conquered death for you.  The body that was pierced to the cross, that bled, died, and was buried—that body is risen from the grave.  Jesus lives and reigns forever.  Therefore, his royal decree of salvation overrules every accusation against you and nullifies even the rule of the grave over you.  And he who set you free from your sins also sets you free from death and the grave.  He will raise up your body to live and reign with him forever.  For, Jesus remembers you.  He put his name on you when you were baptized, and he remembers that you are his.  He gives you the body and blood which were given into death for you and which conquered death for you, and as he feeds you he remembers you.  He strengthens your faith and forgives your sins.  And even when death should come to you, Jesus remembers you.  He assures you that not even death can sever you from his love.
     Your King reigns for you, and his promise stands: “You will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)  Paradise is a word which means garden.  Think of the Garden of Eden where all things were right—where there were no struggles or sorrows, no illness or pain, no rivalries or jealousies, no wars, and not even weeds.  Your King has done all things to make right all that went wrong with sin.  He has rescued you from your sins, and he will deliver you from a sinful world to a perfect Paradise in which Jesus will reign for your good.
     You are saved not by knowledge, but by faith.  Knowledge tells you that the King reigns.  Faith tells you that the King reigns for you.  Faith believes the promises, that Jesus is the King of glory, that he will give you all his gifts, and that he will make you partakers of his glory.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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