O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on Luke 23:27-43
Preached on November 24, 2019
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Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom. Remember me. Remember me. It’s the Last Sunday of the Church Year. The End. Judgment Day. And while we might expect some sort of parable – like the wise and foolish virgins, or the Shepherd separating the sheep from the goats – in a mystery - what gets held before our eyes is our Lord and King crowned and mounted on the throne of His cross surrounded by criminals – one on His right and one on His left.
And so you need to pay attention, perhaps in a way that you haven’t before, because if you look and listen closely, you’ll recognize that this moment when Jesus is judged is a picture, a kind of snapshot and pattern of what will happen on the Last Day. Jesus started to teach this last week when He spoke of the destruction of the Temple and the destruction of the world. But this morning He embodies it, carrying the rough wood of His own judgment through the streets of Jerusalem, to face His own destruction. He gathers it all into Himself, but it’s too much for some. A great multitude follows Him. They have to see what happens. Some of the women are weeping and wailing over Him. Broken at the sight of this prophet and holy man shamed and wasted like this. All they can see is His destruction.
But Jesus sees more. “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” His eyes look to the coming days when Jerusalem will be overrun by Roman armies and destroyed, times when it would be worst for pregnant women and women with infants, when people would say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.”
But that isn’t the worst of what He sees. “If they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” There’s no question. These End Times that start with His crucifixion and resurrection go from bad to worse to worst. They get drier and drier, closer and closer to the Last Day, the Final Judgment.
And so Jesus goes to the source for us, to the place of the Skull, the very place where people believed Adam’s Skull was buried. This is where He is crucified, where He hangs from a tree. Do you want to know good and evil Adam? Take a good look at the tree now. God, Creator, put to death by His own creatures in an effort to shield them from the judgment they deserve. Here you know good and evil. Here you see Christ taking the judgment for Adam, becoming the new head of humanity, crowned with the thorns of the curse, ready to bring together heaven and earth as Adam was supposed to do.
And so He prays – suspended there between heaven and earth – He prays “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” This is His place. This is His role. That’s not just His prayer for those who crucify Him, but for all of humanity in its collective insanity. For you. For me. Forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing. Forgive them. Judge them in Me. Pronounce them forgiven for My sake Father. Crush Me instead. Fill Your Judgment Day with mercy, by My blood. Jesus begs the Father to accept Him in our place, so that the whole world, especially us living in these latter days, when the “wood” seems dried up, might know the judgment. Forgiven.
Oh, but that just gets Him mocked. He is mocked by the religious, as He is mocked by Religion today. No religion of this world tolerates free grace, unconditional pardon, forgiveness of the sinner. Even we sometimes recoil at it. He is mocked by the Roman soldiers too, fake wine for a fake king, mixed with derision and sarcasm, “Save yourself, if you’re the King of the Jews.” Politics and Religion always mock Jesus, always crucify Him, always want nothing to do with Him.
But even here on the cross - especially here on the cross, Jesus is King of all kings, Lord of all lords, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Son of God, Savior of the nations. This is the last image the world gets of Jesus – bleeding, dying, persecuted, ridiculed, mocked. Five hundred would see Him risen from the dead, but not the general public. Eleven would see Him taken up in the clouds. But this spectacle – this cross – this judgment - is for the whole world to see. This is the King in His kingdom as it appears in this world. Freeze this image of Jesus on the cross in your mind, hanging there between two convicted criminals, mocked by church and state. Because that’s the last image the world gets until He appears in glory on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead.
And there’s a reason it’s the last image – because that image is also a picture of Judgment Day. The two thieves separated by Jesus are the sheep and the goats, the wise and foolish, the believing and the unbelieving. They too are a picture of what has come in Jesus and what will come on the Last Day. Two sinners, separated by the crucified Sinless One, one on his right, the other on his left.
Both men are guilty as charged. Believer or not, both criminals are equally guilty, deserving not only their death sentence, but also the condemnation of God. Guilty - as you and I stand guilty under God’s law, guilty of insurrection against God, guilty of wanting to be gods in place of God, guilty of willfully violating His law. Those who are saved and those who are condemned are equally guilty, as these two are. For there is no distinction. All have sinned, all fall short of the glory of God, all are condemned by the Law of God.
And isn’t that the picture? Two guilty men dying next to Jesus. One rails against Jesus in unbelief. “Aren’t you the Christ? What sort of Messiah are you, anyway? Save yourself, save us.” This one is the unbeliever, the old Adam who refuses the salvation that is next to Him, who mocks the only Savior that there is. Even in the despair of death he’s full of hatred and mockery and joins his voice with the scoffers at the foot of Jesus’ cross. His salvation is right there next to him, but he refuses to see it. In this Jesus - is pardon for his sins, acquittal before God, the promise of Paradise. But he would not have it. Instead, he mocks Jesus even in death. A life of rejection culminates in a death of rejection.
But the other one - believes. He is faithful. He bears witness to his fellow sinner. “Don’t you fear God? We’re under the same sentence. We’re damned as much as anyone. We are receiving the due reward for our deeds. We deserve this.” The wages of sin is death. There is no escaping this. Each of us is the guilty man dying next to Jesus.
“But this man, this Jesus, He has done nothing wrong.” Faith confesses Christ. That He is innocent. More than that. He is sinless. And yet in the mystery of God’s mercy, God made this innocent, sinless Jesus to be sin for us. Christ became the criminal, the terrorist, the murderer. He became our sin, the sin of the world. Every crime against humanity, every homicide and genocide and fratricide is focused upon Him. He becomes our Sin, so that in Him we might become His righteousness, the righteousness of God.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is the judgment of humanity. God has judged Sin in the death of His Sinless Son. “This man has done nothing wrong,” and yet this Man dies as one who has done everything wrong, forsaken by God, condemned, persecuted, mocked, ridiculed, damned. He gets what we deserve so that, in the end, we get what He deserves.
And then comes the prayer of faith. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Remember me. Remember me. This is how faith prays. He asks for nothing but to be remembered by Jesus. He doesn’t ask to be saved from the cross, to be spared his suffering, to be granted a last minute pardon, as the other one did. When death is unavoidable, faith embraces death and prays, “Jesus, remember me.” He who dies with these words on his lips, dies well.
“Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said, giving out His body and blood. “Do this for my remembrance.” Because remembrance works both ways. Faith remembers Him, His saving us and forgiving us. And He remembers us with His Body and Blood. He remembers you when you kneel here at He puts His death-bought eternal body and blood into your mouth. Now, you may say, of course, that the thief neither was baptized nor did he receive the Lord’s Supper. And that is true. Baptism had not yet been instituted. That comes after Jesus’ resurrection. The Supper had been given only to the Twelve, not yet to the world. That too would come soon enough. But this dying thief, both actually, had the ultimate Sacrament – dying Jesus on the cross next them. And from the lips of dying Jesus, the faithful criminal heard these saving words with Jesus’ own Amen: “Amen, I say to you, today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
The guilty one is pardoned before God. Justified for Jesus’ sake. Though the world has found him guilty and sentenced him to die for his deeds, and justly so, the Son of God has declared him righteous, fit for life in Paradise. Though he dies for his crimes, he is pardoned of his sins by the Sinless One who died next to him and is promised life. His death sentence becomes a life sentence, thanks to Jesus.
Jesus didn’t say anything to the other one, and we dare not say anything either. Jesus said that every blasphemy uttered against Him would be forgiven. Jesus prayed for those who mocked Him, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” Did this prayer also extend to the thief who mocked Him? Did His blood and His death atone for that one too? Yes, of course. And yet Jesus’ silence over the other thief offers no comfort, just as any refusal on our part of the gifts of salvation will not bring us comfort in our last day. He stands condemned by his own words. How is He to remember you in His kingdom if you refuse His Baptism, His word, His Body and Blood, the very means by which He remembers you?
Beloved, you are baptized into the death of Jesus. In Baptism, God declared you dead to sin and alive to Him in Christ. You have been judged in the death of Jesus. The One who comes at the Last Day to judge is the same One who came to the cross to be judged. The One who comes on the Last Day is the One who comes to you today with the gifts of His sacrifice. Yes, His Body and Blood. Jesus, remember me. That’s faith’s prayer. Do this in remembrance of Me. – Today He is with you. Soon you will be with Him in paradise. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr