Posted on Sun, Mar 24, 2013
Luke 23:1-49: “Whose King”
Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion
March 24, 2013
Luke 23:1-49: “Whose King”
Jesus before Pilate
Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. 2They began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.’ 3Then Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ He answered, ‘You say so.’ 4Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no basis for an accusation against this man.’ 5But they were insistent and said, ‘He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.’
Jesus before Herod
6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. 9He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. 12That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.
Jesus Sentenced to Death
13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16I will therefore have him flogged and release him.’ 18 Then they all shouted out together, ‘Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!’ 19(This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) 20Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; 21but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ 22A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.’ 23But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. 24So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. 25He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
The Crucifixion of Jesus
26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” 31For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’ (32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.) 33When 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. [34Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]* And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And 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!’ 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ 38There was also an inscription over him,* ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding* him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah?* Save yourself and us!’ 40But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into* your kingdom.’ 43He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
The Death of Jesus
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. 47When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’ 48And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
What can we do with this text? It is so powerful; what should we do with it? We can just leave it alone, and refrain from any commentary. Or, because it reaches into the very core of our heart and soul, we may have to respond with some kind of response; be it, visceral, spiritual or emotional. When you get home, read it fast, read it slow, but be sure to read it out loud.
But as you read it, look very carefully at each character in the story and put yourself in the role of each character. Luke wants us to know that every character mentioned, no matter what their role, good or bad, is essential to proclaiming to the world the way God chose to work out our forgiveness and salvation.
Ask yourself, “Who am I in the story?”
Along with two ‘criminals’ that were crucified along with Jesus, were not like simple burglars but more like insurrectionists. Along with Jesus these two insurrectionists were led out to a place called, “Golgotha” or “The Skull,” or as our church is named, “Calvary.” The “they” in the text refers to the religious leaders who saw Jesus as a threat to their way of life and society as they understood it. Jesus and his teachings were a threat to very livelihood. It also refers to the Roman soldiers far from home just doing their brutal duty… now it was their chance to take out their personal frustrations on this Jewish teacher who seemed to cause so many problems for everyone There were also the ‘disappointed people’ who expected Jesus to be the powerful military leader who would expel the Roman occupiers and bring back their strong military identity, like Kind David from so long ago. There were also the common onlookers or rubberneckers who just wanted to see something dramatic like a bloody public execution. Then there was this very small band of believers and followers who were in shock at the treatment their Lord was receiving at the hands of the Romans and were wailing with terror and sorrow. Luke is telling us that in this story all of humanity is represented.
It was a perfect representation of the people Jesus was about to save.
And the inscription, ‘This is the King of the Jews,’ which brought such consternation to the Jewish leaders and a wee bit of glee to the Roman leaders, stated the truth, but lacked one more line, ‘This is the King of the Jews’ and ‘the Savior to the Gentiles.’ This would have been too much, because it would have made it clear that this King, was truly the King of the Jews as well as to the Gentiles…
On his right and left, are the insurrectionists. Actually, we do not know their crimes, all we know is what Luke the Evangelist tells us, and that is that they have been found guilty of their crimes and they are receiving their ‘just’ punishment according to the law of land at that time.
One of the two just joins the screaming throng being encouraged by some of the religious leaders, and he begins to harass Jesus by saying, “Save yourself, AND US!” He is only interested in himself. Therefore, he is guilty and receiving his just reward.
The other, by design, or by raw fear, he seems to represent “Truth” or possibly unexplainable “Faith.” According to the law of the day, he is receiving a just punishment for his crimes. Therefore he says to the other criminal, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42Then he makes the greatest request, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into* your kingdom.’ Jesus’ response reveals the Truth of the mercy and justice of God; even in the moment they are being executed, Jesus proclaims to them that even though they suffer for their crimes, they will be redeemed and welcomed by God. What judgment do we witness by Jesus to these two suffering souls? There is none! In that lack of judgment, Luke is screaming to us that we who are so often lost, in doubt or pain, there is not judgment, only the promise of forgiveness and God’s presence!
How often did Jesus’ own disciples understand what Jesus was trying to teach them when he would prophesy to them clearly about what would happen after they entered the city of Jerusalem? We have no idea about this man’s history, but he identifies Jesus’ true identity right at the greatest moment of his suffering. He sees Jesus as his own Redeemer. “Remember me when you come into YOUR Kingdom.”
Where does he get this knowledge, this faith, and this wisdom? We have no idea. But it may be the best way for Luke to tell us the way God works; truly at the times when we are at our weakest, our Savior is never far, but actually right there beside us. The man understands he will soon be dead and Jesus says, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
What is going on at this moment in human history? This is the moment where God has absolutely exposed God’s heart to humankind. Where is the judgment? Where is the justice in the form of an ‘eye for an eye?’
God is the one being Betrayed, God is the one being injured, abused and humiliated, yet God who does not fight back with anger or retribution. God in Jesus Christ only continues obediently on the path to the cross for the redemption of the ones who have totally betrayed him. This is the God we worship. This is the God we serve. This is the God who has called us His own. This is the One True God who loves the world beyond our understanding.
The heart of God is found in God being faithful to God’s own heart and loving us over and over and over… even, or especially when it requires suffering and pain in order to fulfill God’s promise to save, forgive and redeem us.
When we gather in this holy place with the Cross of Christ hanging in our midst, no matter where we stand, we may on His right or left. Sometimes we are blind to the grace of God and cynicism creeps into our heart and we mock or blame Christ for our troubles. Then there are those other wonderful times when our heart and mind become humble to the point we are receptive to God’s Good News. But no matter what, our God as King looks upon us as God’s Children and the object of God’s love. This is our God, this is our King, and we will be, now and forever with Jesus in Paradise. Amen.
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