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Sermon for November 20, 2022 – Proper 29, Reign of Christ

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life Script 4052 | A King Worth Celebrating
Greg Williams

We only have six more weeks to the end of another calendar year. Amazing how time flies. You may already be thinking back on all this year has held. Unfortunately, in hindsight, this year has already recorded much destruction and desolation.

But if you are keeping up with the Christian calendar, you don’t have to wait six more weeks to close out the year. Today is the last day on the liturgical calendar which is called “Christ the King Sunday”.  This name indicates what the day is all about – the sovereignty of Christ who is Lord of all lords and King of all kings. It is not surprising that we hear bad news frequently. We live in a broken world, yet we daily pray “Thy Kingdom Come”.  Remembering, just as we will in the next few weeks throughout Advent, that we are awaiting Christ’s ultimate return where all will be set right, where all brokenness will be restored.

Instead of focusing on all that has taken place in our world over the past year, today gives us the opportunity to recount the life and work of Jesus who takes care of all that has taken place, all that is happening today, and all that will happen. Who invites us to join in with him in restoring the destruction we see in the world around us.

We might be surprised to read in Psalm 46 that some of the works of Jesus are to bring desolation to the earth. Yes, Jesus is a king who destroys, but let’s read the middle of this Psalm to see what he destroys.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations;
I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Psalm 46:8-11 (NRSV)

Jesus is not like the rulers of our day who tend to repeatedly lead us into more and more destruction. He comes to destroy that which destroys. He destroys destruction.

Now that is something to celebrate! This King lays desolate the great enemy of death. His Kingdom will not follow a calendar marked by war. Rather, he delivers us into his Kingdom of Peace.

And that is why Psalm 46 begins with such good news:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling… The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Psalm 46:1-3, 7 (NRSV)

We may not know exactly how this year will end, but we do know who will reign in the end. Our Lord Jesus is a refuge to us in times of trouble, and is working to bring restoration to our lives and this world. That’s why we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. He is a King worth celebrating.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 46:1-11 • Jeremiah 23:1-6 • Colossians 1:11-20 • Luke 23:33-43

This week’s theme is a king who saves. The call to worship Psalm praises God for being our refuge and strength in times of trouble. The Old Testament reading from Jeremiah records God’s promise to Israel to raise up responsible leaders and to ultimately provide a wise and just king from the line of David. The epistolary text in Colossians offers a praise of Christ as the creator and reconciler of the entire cosmos in one of the most outstanding Christological hymns in the New Testament. In the Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy are displayed as he is crucified between two criminals while having the inscription over his head, “This is the King of the Jews.”

This is the King of the Jews

Luke 23:33-43 (NRSVUE)

Today marks the last day of the Christian calendar before we start over with Advent. For a while now we have been journeying through the season known as “Ordinary Time” or simply “The Season after Pentecost.” Today, that season comes to an end with a special day called Reign of Christ Sunday or Christ the King Sunday. Our passage for the day will take up that theme. Our whole journey from Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and everything in between arrives at today’s crowning conclusion. Jesus is King!

Celebrating Christ the King Sunday may raise our expectations to hear a message from a text that deals with regal themes of royalty and triumph. Perhaps we are assuming we will visit a passage displaying the magnificent glory of God’s kingdom. We want a royal celebration with fine wine, a crown of jewels, and cheering crowds. However, today we have a passage in Luke that recounts the crucifixion of Jesus. We must temper our expectations and brace for sour wine, a crown of thorns, and mocking crowds. How can this be? Surely a mistake has been made by the selection of such a text on this triumphant day of celebration. How do we close out the year on such a down note and transition into the hopeful expectation of Advent?

The answer is we celebrate this special day in the same way we have celebrated all the others: With our eyes on Christ! After all, we were not called here today to hear the blast of trumpets and to celebrate crowns and thrones. We were called to gather today to hear the word of God and to celebrate the one who is crowned and the rightful King who sits on the throne—Jesus. This King is the same King who wore the crown of thorns and hung on a cross. This is the same King who faced the mocking soldiers offering sour wine. Jesus was no less a king on the cross as he is on the throne.

All that we must witness today falls under the inscription “This is the King of the Jews.” And that is how we will carry forth. As we look at Luke’s account of the crucifixion, we will do so with our eye on the inscription nailed over him. The inscription was meant to be the charge against him deserving of death. But in reality, it is a proclamation of who he is as the King that brings life. So, that inscription will remind us that all we see Jesus doing on the cross is a window into the very heart and nature of the King we come to celebrate today. We will see that this King is indeed a king worth following. And that will lift our eyes to follow him once again into a new year.

Let us begin!

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. (Luke 23:33 NRSVUE)

Instead of identifying the place of Jesus’ crucifixion by the formal name of Golgotha, Luke chooses to use the nickname of “The Skull,” which was probably given because of the physical appearance of the location. We too must come to places in our life that have the appearance of “The Skull” – places of pain, suffering, and death. What does this passage tell us about our King when we come to such places? We see that this King goes with us. Whatever pain, suffering, and death we come to in our journey on this planet, Jesus goes with us – all of us.

In the passage we read that Jesus went there with criminals on his left and right. Sometimes the “Skulls” in our life find us as innocent victims but other times we have arrived by our own doing. Ultimately, we must all identify with the criminals who are deserving of death. But even there in that place of shame and guilt we find our King present, right in the middle of our sin and guilt.

Jesus is clearly not a ruler we see in our daily lives. The “kings” in our present world, and in most of history, are not so inclined to associate with those who find themselves in places called “The Skull.” We can look around and see that most of our “kings” prefer to retain their elite status and put as much distance between themselves and anyone who may threaten their reputation. But not Jesus. Not this King! He chooses to identify with the lowly, the criminal, the sinner. He identifies with us and takes his place among us. Not because he deserves to be there or because he lost his status. He is there because of who he is as the King of the cosmos. He is a King full of mercy, compassion, and as we will see, forgiveness.

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by watching, but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah 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.” (Luke 23:34-38 NRSVUE)

What amazing grace we see in all that takes place under the inscription, “This is the King of the Jews!” In all the agony, it is the voice of this King who speaks first. We should be amazed, shocked even, at the words that come from his lips. As an innocent, sinless King, undeserving of suffering the price of sin, we may expect to hear words of blame and anger. After all, haven’t we been taught by the “kings” in our world that one must curse those who curse you? “Tit for tat” goes the rule in our kingly circles. But not this King. Under the excruciating pain and the humiliating ordeal of crucifixion, this King uses what little strength remains to audibly pray to his Father to forgive us.

Don’t miss the order of the story. There is not a single apology offered to Jesus before his prayer. No remorse, no regret, and certainly no repentance. The sinful rejection of this King continues until the end. In fact, as the account goes, people are standing by watching. The leaders however are not silent; they are doing what we expect worldly leaders to do when in a position of dominance. They scoff! With no fear of retaliation, they boldly challenge Jesus’ identity as God’s chosen Messiah. The soldiers who implemented the torturous event now mockingly offer him a pain killer of sour wine. How kind of them! Both the leaders and the soldiers mock Jesus with the challenge to save himself. What pride pours forth in their challenge. Their thinking is that a true king would be able to save himself, just as they undoubtedly thought they just did by crucifying Jesus. They assumed they had saved themselves from the threat of Jesus being crowned King.

Little did they understand that Jesus never came to save himself. He came to save the people, the leaders, the soldiers, the criminals, and all the other sinners like you and me. We resist him! We reject him! We mock and scoff him! Yes, we — you and me — along with all those present at the place called The Skull. We killed him to save ourselves from his rule. Yet, Jesus’ prayer has already been offered for us all. He has already forgiven us. Does this not tell us the heart of this King who now sits on the throne? The ruling Word that goes forth is a Word of grace. Forgiveness for our sins has already been given before we even ask.

The forgiveness from this King has already been given so we as sinners can gratefully receive. We don’t have to work for it or prove we are deserving of it. It’s there for the taking. Repentance follows forgiveness. Not the other way around. Have you ever seen such a king? Not likely in our world, where everything has its price. Contracts reign! But look up and see the one who has chosen to save us and not himself. Hear the one who offers forgiveness under the inscription, “This is the King of the Jews.” How shall we respond?

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? 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 have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43 NRSVUE)

Our text concludes with the only thing left to do in light of salvation offered by this King of the Jews. Respond. Luke lets us hear the dialogue that takes place between the two criminals who are hanging alongside Jesus. In this dialogue, we are given to see only two responses left to us by the gracious gift of forgiveness and salvation given to us in Jesus. Rejection or reception.

There is no other option available for us now that this King reigns. As the inscription has proclaimed to us, “This is the King of the Jews.” And to be sure, this King of the Jews is the promised Messiah, the King who would rule over all nations forever and ever. That means he is our King too. There is no other authority we respond to for salvation. So, we must respond! Like the two criminals, we can either reject this King and his gift of salvation and forgiveness that is already offered, or we can receive what the Lord freely gives us, a life in paradise with him.

Left Behind? w/ Stephen Morrison W3

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November 20 – Proper 29
Luke 23:33-43 “Father, Forgive Them”

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Program Transcript

Left Behind? w/ Stephen Morrison W3

Anthony: Let’s transition on to our next pericope, which is Luke 23:33 – 43. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 29, which is on November the 20th.

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.”

Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing. I think it’s impossible to comprehend the magnitude of this statement. All we can do is try to apprehend it. So, I want to give you an opportunity to help us apprehend the reality contained within. What say you?

Stephen: It’s certainly one of the most beautiful and challenging statements in the New Testament, in terms of how it just really hits home. It hits us right in our heart.

And I think when I hear this, I typically think of how Barth understood the doctrine of sin and what even sin is. And I think he got it right when he said that we don’t even know the depth of our sin without first knowing the depth of Christ reconciliation, and that we have to begin with Christ.

And so, what sin is, what it is that we even need forgiven from, we don’t truly know it until we know it in the light of reconciliation. And so, I think Barth uses that to create this beautiful concept — he starts off with the humiliation of the Son of God, that God became humble and became a human being so that the human beings who try to become God see what it is to truly be human and all of these different things.

But I think that just helps us think about this in a different way where we truly don’t know sin. I think we’re very quick to label things in all of this, but I think we don’t know it in the sense where we don’t know the depth of how much it hurts, not only us, how much it hurts our society and the people we love. But how much it grieves God, most of all.

And so not knowing what we’re doing when we do these things is just what it is to be human. But I think we have a sense not only of what those things are, but more importantly, we know them truly as we are forgiven of them. And that’s the beauty of the gospel is that even the things that we don’t know that we’ve done, the sin that we are scarred by is healed and is reconciled in the power of Christ and of his death and resurrection and his life lived on our behalf.

It’s such a mystery as well. I don’t want to ever try to remove the mystery from scripture or from the beauty of what Christ has done for us. Because there is still mystery in this and there is still a sense of awe that we should always have for this.

And I think that’s the first impression that I have, and I would want to impress on everyone listening, is that this is a beautiful phrase, but it’s a terrifying and awe-inspiring phrase. And that we are forgiven in spite of not knowing what we do and the person on the cross with them received this promise of being with them today in paradise and how paradoxical that even feels.

But it really strikes to the core for me of what it is to reconcile to God. It’s not something that we do. It’s purely a gift of grace and how wonderful that is. It just really gets to the heart of how beautiful the gospel can be and how inspiring it is for us. And how challenging as well it can be for us.

Anthony: Yeah. You spoke of the mystery of this beauty. Let’s press in there a little bit more because the criminal asked Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. It just strikes me, isn’t this really the cry for all of humanity, whether we know it or not? And so, where is the hope for that criminal and all the rest of us criminals out here trying to do this thing called life.

Stephen: Yeah, that really hits it on the head. That is all of us. That’s our cry as human beings, that’s what we cry out.

The cross is such a – not only in this passage, in all the other words of Christ and the cross and the witness to that in scripture – is such a beautiful account of this sense of people crying out and having this, “my God, you forsaken me” for example, being one. And that sense of trust, “into your hands, I commend my spirit.”

All of these, I think have a reflection in what it is to be human. And I think it just is such a beautiful portrait of not only who we are, but really the depths of how far Christ went into our humanity and into the darkness of our fallenness and really met us in our rawness, in our in our ignorance and in our sin and in our evil and met us really at the depths of that.

Calvin has a great phrase where “he became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.” He truly met us where we are. And yeah, certainly a cry that is mimicked and echoed within humanity.

And I think the remembrance of God is the hope that we have that Christ does hold us in the remembrance. And I think there’s something really beautiful that I was reading recently about how in the Hebrew scriptures, the act of remembrance is such an important priority. Today, we overlook that. We just think, oh, just memory, it’s just something you have. It’s almost an object.

But, for them, remembering an event that took place was almost an act of remixing it and reliving it. And the remembrance of what God had done — particularly like in the Exodus or in other events of God’s acts in history with Israel — remembering it was almost as important as the actual event itself. The beginning of the 10 commandments states that, “I’m the Lord, your God who liberated you from the Egyptian captivity.” And then the commandments come.

And so, there’s this sense where remembrance has more of a power to it than just, oh remember me, remember that I exist factually, remember who I am. But it’s actually this sense of remember me and being revived and being in that remembrance.

And I think there’s a lot more to this than typically gets understood of just oh, remember me in your book, check me off on the list or whatever. The remembrance is this act of recalling and almost to some extent, more vital than just the factual checking of the box for us.

It’s a big source, a great source of hope for us that we will be remembered in Christ and that he not only has our name, one among billions, but that truly remembers who we are and that remembrance brings us back to back to him. And it foreshadows and points to the resurrection that’s the great remembrance that in Christ we are raised again to new life.

And the kingdom that is to come is that kingdom of new life. And yeah, it’s a very pregnant phrase for sure.

Anthony: Yes. Pregnant, indeed. The word even, remember – there’s so much you can unpack there with the resurrection and the way that Jesus and his Father. Remember us in the triune life. What a beautiful thing.

Now you mentioned the statement that Jesus made, why have you forsaken me? And I’d like to scratch that itch just a little bit more, if I may. Anything that you want to say about some of the atonement theories out there?

Just to let you in on some insight on the way I think. Things like punitive theories, like penal substitution, substitutionary atonement, has done a lot of damage in terms of the way that we see the relationship, the triune relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit, revealed at the cross.

Anything that you want to say about that?

Stephen: Yeah. I have a lot of thoughts on this. I think we could derail the whole full show.

But I definitely agree. I think penal substitution to is one of those things that for me, an early joy in discovery for theology was just the reality that’s not the only way of looking at the cross.

And I think tearing down some of those presuppositions that come with it, the idea of God being this angry father and then Jesus just being the nice guy that steps in takes the blow, the whole narrative of that. And so yeah, there’s a lot of ways where that divides the Trinity itself. Like you said, that’s extremely problematic.

I’ll throw a little plug in. I did do a long video series on penal substitution on my YouTube channel. That’s a good, I think, primer into some of these questions and how they can be addressed.

But yeah, I do think, like you said, the [statement] “my God, why you forsaken me?” I think the first way that I understand it is really it proclaims the depth of how far Christ went into our fallen mind, into our fallen situation. And that he truly touched the depths of what it is to feel forsaken.

Now did the father actually forsake the son? I don’t think that’s possible. The father and the Son are one. Even Jesus said a few verses before that everyone else will abandon me, but my father will be with me. And I think that’s confirmed with the word that “into your spirit or into your hands, I commend my spirit,” at the conclusion of that. And yeah, there’s a lot there.

Reflecting back on how it ties back into Psalms 22 – which is what Christ is actually quoting with this phrase – the end of that Psalm, ends in this triumphant realization that God did not abandon, did not forsake his servant; and so, there’s that aspect as well. Taking just that verse by itself without recognizing the context to it, and the fact that he was declaring something that had a very profound meaning to the listeners who would’ve known instantly, oh, I know that song. I know the way that ends and it’s not this hopeless, pitiful situation.

But it truly is one where even in that depth of feeling so god-forsaken, God has entered into that god-forsakenness and made it his own. And in that sense, redeemed it and found us even in that depth where even if I make my bed in hell, you were there.

And so that’s a beautiful insight too. Where even in the most pitiful in the depth of despair that we can find ourselves in, Christ has even penetrated into that depth and met us there and comforted us in that moment and brought us to a new life as a result.

Anthony: Hallelujah. Praise God.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Considering the Speaking of Life video, discuss how closing out the year with Christ the King Sunday can be different than the typical ways our society closes out the year.
  • What are some things the Lord destroys that we can celebrate?
  • Is there anything in the past year that the Lord brought to desolation in your life that you would like to share? How have you seen Jesus as Christ the King in the past year?

From the Sermon

  • What was your initial reaction to celebrating Christ the King Sunday with a text on the crucifixion?
  • How did reading the story of the crucifixion with the reminder that everything took place under the inscription “This is the King of the Jews” affect how you see Jesus as King? Discuss!
  • What contrast can you make between Jesus as King as brought out in the sermon and what we are accustomed to with our current leaders and rulers?
  • Discuss the claim from the sermon, “Repentance follows forgiveness!”
  • What did you observe from the text that helped you see a little more of Jesus’ heart and character? How does this shape your response to him as your King?
  • Compare the responses you see from the two criminals crucified with Jesus. How do you see your own responses to Jesus reflected in theirs?

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