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Thursday, November 11, 2004

Christ the King - Lk 23:33-43 - Thoughts and Meditation

Meeting the King at Death's Door

This week's text for me has a number of points that are worthy of noting, and contemplating. The focus of the whole of chapter 23 is on Jesus, and his execution and burial. We have read how both Pilate and Herod did not want to sentence Jesus, because they did not find any guilt. We have read how despite Pilate's reservations, he turns from a just judge, into an unjust judge - an ironical twist on the parable Jesus told in Luke 18:1-8. We are about to read after this passage how Jesus dies, and is the reaction of the centurion. We have one of the Jewish leadership, who didn't agree with Jesus' execution, take Jesus to be buried. Everything is focused on Jesus, and death. In the midst of this is the account of the onlookers, and the criminals executed with Jesus. Luke, in comparison to the other synoptic gospels, describes in a repetitive fashion, how ruler, soldier, and criminal each tempt Jesus to SAVE Himself. The devil has returned in the form of the onlookers, who mock, insult, gloat, and stare at the dying King. The parallel to the wilderness account at the start of Luke is clear: "If you are the Son of God...".

Luke uses these verse to present the issue that everyone at that time, and still Jews today face. When the Messiah comes, at what point will he come to power? If Jesus was truly the Messiah, when would he ascend to the throne to which he was anointed? Jesus now hung on the cross, would he at the point of most weakness prove Himself to all, in a display of awesome power, and overthrow the powers that were? Or, would he die, and thus prove to all that he was not the Messiah, and that the insults hurled at Him, were justified?

This is the tension that would not have been lost on early readers of Luke, like it can be for us.

Another great feature of this account is the idea of justice. The whole of chapter 23 has numerous references to the fact that Jesus was innocent, and nothing could be brought against Him. Firstly Pilate in v4, then Herod, in v11, 15, Pilate again in v14, the centurion in v47, and Joseph of Arimathea (by implication) in v51. In this passage the criminal, who is no stranger to wrongdoing, pronounces Jesus innocence, while acknowledging his own guilt and worthiness of death. The parable of the unjust judge is inverted. Pilate who ironically wants to be the just judge, is coerced into injustice.

For all of the focus that can be placed on Jesus through this passage, there is another observation to be made. Most of the passage does not speak about Jesus. Look at it closely, and you will find that from verse 34b to 42 it is all about the people around the cross. Verse 35 - people/rulers, verse 36 soldiers, verse 39 the first criminal, verse 40 the other criminal. These verses are describing how the various parties understand Jesus. Luke provides us with a great contrast - those that fail to recognise Jesus as King, and the one who does. There is hate contrasted with respect and awe.

The two criminals are at the climax of the contrast. Both are in the same exact position - moments from death's door. Look closely and you will find that both want to live. Both look to Jesus for help. The first criminal for all his cursing says, "save yourself AND US." HE has no interest in the eternal, and his cursing at Jesus shows that he does not truly believe that Jesus is able to do what he is asking. There is not faith. The second criminal is different. He obviously defends Jesus, in proclaiming Him innocent, but he is truly repentent, in admitting his own guilt. He asks Jesus for life eternal, through a simple request, "remember me". By implication he also recognizes Jesus as King, "when you come into your kingdom."

What is it that seperates these two men? Why does one not recognise, and the other does? Faith. One will not put his faith on 'Jesus the man', the other puts his faith in 'Jesus the King eternal'. Jesus came to seek and to save what was lost (Luke 19:10), and both men were utterly so, but God also brings justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to Him (Luke 18:7). Well, this is not the place to start a discussion on predestination, but these verses line up for me.

Where are we at with Jesus? Are we like the first criminal - unwilling to put faith in a God who did not come in power to rule in this physical realm, who did not prove Himself irresistably to all as the King of the universe? Do we have our doubts about Him, that He never really intended unbridled faith and passion for Him. Or are we like the second criminal - completely destitute of hope in the physical, and utterly filled with hope from the only source who can give it. Are we filled with faith in a King who is coming in His Kingdom, and will REMEMBER us? We are at death's door, some are just more aware of it than others. Are you ready to turn to Jesus?

1. Structural Diagram
2. Surrounding Context
3. Key Cross References
4. Key Questions
5. Thoughts and Meditation

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