Luke 23:27-43 (Last Sunday)           

St. John, Galveston 11/20/2022

Rev. Alan Taylor

 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

From the Gospel of St. Luke, “Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ 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.””

 

God takes on human flesh and visits His creation. Who would have ever thought it would turn out this way, God bleeding and dying on a cross, that is, besides God Himself? The contrast between Genesis 1, where we read about God’s creation of the heavens and the earth, and the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, couldn’t be more starkly different. In the first, God brought order out of nothingness. In the second, confusion and disorder seemed to engulf the whole world.  

 

In the Garden, God walked with His creation in the cool of the day.  Adam and Eve rejoiced in His presence. Sorrow and suffering were foreign concepts to them. They had fellowship with God, communion, that is, in a way that you and I long for in the world to come. John, in writing the Book of Revelation, describes the day that awaits us. “And I saw the holy city (he says), New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

 

Frankly, the images painted for us by Moses in Genesis 1 and by John in Revelation 21 are what you would expect when God visits His people, images of peace and harmony, of joy and gladness. Instead, God came to His people, and, in doing so, He was beaten and battered. As John says in his Gospel, “He came unto His own and His own received Him not.” He walked the lonely road, the Via Delorosa, the way of sorrows.  On His head was a crown made of thorns. It was pushed down on His head to make the thorns pierce His scalp. He was dressed in a purple robe. The color was perfect for Him since it designated royalty. It was, however, placed on Him in a ritual of mockery. In the end, the soldiers who saw to His crucifixion, valued that purple robe, that piece of cloth, more than they did their creator and Lord. 

 

Jesus said we must all deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him. As He made His way to the place of the Skull, He had already broken beneath the weight of the cross that was placed on His shoulders. Simon of Cyrene followed closely behind Him. He depicted very graphically the life of a follower of Jesus, because, “if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”  That is, if they treat the “Son of God” this way, how will they act when He has ascended to the hand of God?

 

When they arrived at the place called “The Skull” they laid the cross down on the ground, put Jesus on it and nailed His hands and feet to it.  Then they hoisted it up and dropped its base down into the hole that had been dug. The people looked at Him and rather than weep and mourn, they ridiculed and mocked Him. The soldiers offered Him sour wine to drink. They took a piece of wood and wrote on it the charge against Him. In Latin, Greek and Hebrew, it said, “The King of the Jews.” They wanted it say, “He SAID He was the King of the Jews,” but, Pilate would not allow the change.

 

Who would have ever thought it would go this way when God came to visit His creation? Again, God did!! And yet, He came anyway!! His coming in meekness, and facing death, the ultimate wage of sin, was necessary that He might be the second Adam, the One who lived for YOU before God in holiness and righteousness. 

 

Having come to the last Sunday of the Church Year we are ever more mindful that God will visit His creation yet again. He will come, however, not in meekness and humility, but in strength and in power. Those days might seem daunting, especially as they are described by Jesus Himself. “Behold (He says), the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?

 

The question is, how shall we stand before Him on that day? How shall we receive God? The thief on the cross, the one who was repentant, recognized at some point, that he was being crucified next to God, that he was in the presence of God! Now, think about that for a moment. This thief was dying along side of the One who created Him and who would judge his life! And yet, he didn’t cower in fear and trembling. Rather, he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  

 

Jesus, of course, replied, “Truly, I say to you, you will be with Me in Paradise.” On what basis though, would that be true? I mean, as the thief said himself, “we are receiving the due reward of our deeds.” In other words, this thief, was getting what he deserved! 

 

But, that’s the essence of the Gospel, isn’t it? We receive many things in this life that we may or may not deserve. But as we stand before God at His visitation, at His coming, we receive precisely what we do not deserve, namely His warm and loving embrace, His welcome into paradise, the paradise of the blest. 

 

And even as we wait for that day, we are comforted by God’s forgiveness and mercy, because the One who was crowned with thorns, who has been crowned with glory and honor, comes to visit us, even now, in His Word, in the water of Baptism, and here at this altar week after week. We kneel and lay before Him our sleepy apathy and indifference, as the days and years for His return go by. We confess that we’ve often struggled to keep Him first in our lives. And in our confession, we are ever mindful of the fact that God, who endured the ridicule and the scorn of His own creation, plead to His Father in His dying breath on our behalf. “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do.” 

 

And so, as we await His coming, ours is a song of joyous expectation, 

 

“Crown Him with many crowns,

The Lamb upon His throne,

Hark how the heavenly anthem drowns

All music but its own,

Awake, my soul, and sing

Of Him who died for thee,

And hail Him as thy matchless king

Through all eternity.” 

 

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

    

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

 

+ Soli Deo Gloria +