Luke 23:32-43 (Last Sunday in the Church Year/Proper 29—Series C)
“What Kind of King is This?”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
November 20, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is recorded in the Gospel reading for today in Luke 23:
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 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. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 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!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
When I say the word “king,” what images does this word bring into your minds? King. A man sitting on a fancy throne with a golden crown upon his head. A medieval monarch in a cold, drafty castle. A ruler with absolute power and authority over his subjects. King. Maybe this word makes you think of a specific king in history: George III, Louis XIV, Arthur of British legend. When you hear the word “king,” does Jesus ever come to mind?
In the days just before and recently following our nation’s presidential election, there were a lot of posts on Facebook looking to encourage people to the effect that, no matter who wins or has won the election, Jesus is still King. Jesus is still ruling over all creation with His almighty power. He is still ruling over His Church on earth through His Word and the Means of Grace and He is reigning over the Church in heaven in glory. So how well does Jesus fit into the image of “king” that you were thinking about a moment ago?
The American Revolution through off the yoke of kings from this country. Most kings in our lifetime are king in title only and don’t have any real power or authority like kings throughout history have exercised. So we have our historical and fictional images of kings that we work from when we are called upon by the Word of God to more faithfully trust that Jesus is King. And it’s pretty hard to make Jesus fit into our commonly held understanding of “king.”
The angel Gabriel announced to a Nazarene teenager that she would be with child by the power of the Holy Spirit and would be giving birth to God in human flesh. She would name Him Jesus and He would be called the Son of the Most High. The angel informed Mary that the Lord Yahweh would give to this Son “the throne of his father David” and that He would “reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). But as we keep reading the text, there is no palace. There is no throne. There is no royal birth celebration. Jesus, the Son of the Most High, God-made-flesh, comes into the world in utter obscurity. Jesus’ birth is so unknown and so un-royal that the Magi from the East go to where the newborn King of the Jews should be, the royal city of Jerusalem where the king’s palace was, and they have to ask for directions to find Him!
Fast-forwarding a little, we have Jesus the King with no permanent home, roving around the Palestinian countryside as a preacher and teacher. Trying to put that image of Jesus into my king image is like trying to put a round peg in a square hole. I can’t really make it fit. Kings live in palaces. They have nice beds. They have servants. Kings have cash. But Jesus doesn’t. And yet, He is a king who proclaims that God’s kingdom, which is His kingdom, is a present reality. The rule and reign of God has been brought into the midst of human beings because Jesus the King is here in the midst of human beings. But I look for what I know of kings and kingdoms and I have to ask where is it? Does it have boundaries, this kingdom of God? What does it look like? Yet Jesus said to the Pharisees, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20-21). This is round peg and square hole kinds of stuff. Jesus as king doesn’t fit into my normal way of thinking about kings and kingdoms.
And this doesn’t get any easier to think about either. Jesus the King predicts, not His ascension to the throne, not His coronation, but His suffering and death at the hands of evil people, and also His resurrection. What kind of king is this? What kind of a king looks to get arrested and killed? And what in the world is He talking about coming back to life after He is already dead? Dead kings are useless kings. And dead kings don’t come back to life. Jesus continues not to fit into our understanding of kings and kingdoms.
And yet, the Bible keeps going with this theme. Jesus the king rides into Jerusalem on a donkey and not on a warhorse. Crowds of people shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38). And true to His word, Jesus is arrested and put on trial for being king. He is sentenced to death by crucifixion because He is found guilty of being The King of the Jews, just as Pontius Pilate’s inscription said. And then to top it all off, a justly condemned criminal confesses Jesus’ kingship and kingdom as they bleed and suffer on their crosses, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” He wouldn’t have said that if he didn’t believe that Jesus really is a King.
What kind of king is Jesus? He is not the kind of king that fits neatly into my or your image of “king.” He is no earthly king. His is no earthly kingdom. Jesus said so to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). It is instead the round peg of the reign and rule of God in Jesus Christ breaking into the square hole of sinful humanity and our reality. By all reasonable accounts, it’s not possible. But we’re not dealing with reason. We’re working with the divine. We are seeing in the very Word of God the Lord Himself entering into our humanity, into our sin-filled reality, in order to act on our behalf and save us from eternal death and hell.
Jesus is the king who brings God to us. But God and sinners don’t mix. Sinners cannot stand in the presence of God’s awesome holiness. His holiness and wrath against our sin would simply consume and destroy us. Yet out of His gracious love and mercy, God the Son takes upon Himself human flesh. He becomes God-with-us, Emmanuel. He leaves His throne in heaven, which is hidden from our sight, and takes up residence among fallen humanity. He leaves behind the glories that belong to Him as God in order to live among people without a throne, without a home, and without the everyday things we so take for granted. Jesus came to preach the Good News that He has brought the reign and rule of God smack-dab into the devil’s domain with the intention of saving all people from Satan, sin, and death. Jesus came to turn this world inside out and upside down. He came as the stronger man to plunder Satan’s house. He came to rob the devil and bring you and me and all people back to God.
So Jesus the King serves us first. He gives us His very life into death on a cross, charged with being God’s King. But on that cross, He bore the sins of the world. He carried your sin and your guilt. He bled to make you holy, cleansing you from all your sins and from all your guilt. Jesus died on the cross as King to save you, and not Himself, from sin, death, and hell. What earthly king would die for you? I don’t know any who would. But Jesus is the King who died for you so that your sins now stand forever forgiven. And Jesus is the King who rose again from the dead! Jesus Christ shattered the realm of death with His own rising again. With your sins forgiven by the death of Jesus, you have the assurance of eternal life with Jesus. Not even death itself has power over you anymore. Christ is the Risen King who lives forevermore!
Now, one more time, we have that round peg being put into that square hole. What earthly king would ever let someone like you or me rule alongside them? Not a one! But Jesus the King does. At the end of this age, the Lord Christ, our King, will make a new heaven and a new earth. In that new creation, you and I will rule alongside Jesus Christ the King. In Revelation 3:21 Jesus the King says, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 3:21 ESV). “To the victor goes the crown and the right to sit on the Lord’s throne. While he was on earth, Jesus promised his disciples that they would sit on thrones when he had assumed his rightful place (Mt 19:28). In Revelation 4 John will see a fulfillment of the Lord’s promise as the twenty-four elders are sitting on thrones around the great throne of God. . . . The throne is another metaphor, like that of a crown, for reigning with Jesus Christ and the Father forever in the new age.”
What kind of king is Jesus? He is the King who brings God to us because He is God. Jesus is the King who came to save us from our sins by winning our forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus first served us with His perfect life, death, and resurrection so that we might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom. We will rule with Him in the new creation even as we serve Christ now in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. Amen.
 Louis A. Brighton, Concordia Commentary: Revelation (St. Louis: Concordia, 1999), 102.