Close your eyes to see (November 24, 2019)

Close your eyes to see (November 24, 2019)

November 29, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Close your eyes to see

Luke 23:35-43

What Bible story do you think of when you hear the title, “Christ the King”? What account from Jesus’ life do you think would best demonstrate the fact that Jesus is Christ the King? I think a very fitting story would be Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It was then that people were excitedly praising him with shouts of Hosanna! Hosanna which means, “Rescue!” “Save!” or “Savior!” They thought that this was it. They thought that this was the moment when Jesus would take is rightful place as King of the Jews and overthrow the Romans, bringing back glory and honor to Israel! They waved palm branches of victory, laid their cloaks down as a carpet under his feet as he rode triumphantly in on a donkey. A donkey too, which although it seems like a lowly animal to us today, was actually a noble animal to ride. One of the judges, Jair, had thirty sons, who rode thirty donkeys, and controlled thirty towns in Gilead (Jdg 10:3-4). These were powerful people! Horses were for times of war, donkeys for times of peace.

But that’s not the account we are going to talk about today. Today we are going to talk about a text that most would say represents anything but a king. The crucifixion of Jesus is his lowest humility, not his greatest glory. But if you close your eyes, you might just be able to see it. If you close your eyes to the abhorrent image of Jesus hanging bloodied and battered on the cross, you can hear it. You can hear it in his words how deeply he cared for his people and how nobly he declared his authority. Close your eyes to see the most kingly a man has ever been.

Any king’s number one priority – any good king’s number one priority – ought to be his people. If the people are suffering, the kingdom suffers. If the people prosper, the kingdom prospers. I wonder how long it took for that thief on the cross to see the care and the concern that Jesus had for common, everyday people. Was he there when Jesus reached out to the sick and the suffering – not only meeting the immediate need of health and healing, but also showing compassion, common courtesies, and providing for their spiritual needs? Was he there when Jesus called a tax collector, named Matthew, to be a part of his inner circle? Did he curiously follow them to Matthew’s house where Jesus ate with and talked with other tax collectors and sinners? Did he overhear Jesus say to the Pharisees, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt 9:13). Was he there on that emotional day when Jesus arrived to comfort Mary and Martha after the death of their brother? Did he overhear Martha’s confession, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (Jn 11:24)? Did he hear Jesus’ response, “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25).

Or, did he only have his prayer for the soldiers to cling to? We aren’t told when this man believed. We aren’t told how long it took for him to finally see Jesus as a merciful and compassionate king – a king who cares about all people. But we do know, that as this criminal hung from his own cross, contemplating life and death, perhaps fearing the heavy weight of what comes next, the judge that he would have to meet – We do know that he heard Jesus’ merciful prayer for people who should have been his enemies, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34).

Were those the words that gave him hope? Were those the words that led him to desperately call out in faith to the only one who might care about him, the only one who might be merciful to a criminal like him? He knew his sin. He knew the punishment he suffered was just. He knew he was receiving what his deeds deserve. But he also knew a merciful Savior when he saw one. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). Understand, his plea of “Remember me,” was not just a sentimental, “Think of me,” kind of thing. This criminal was using a plea for mercy which had long been a part of the Israelite vocabulary. Perhaps Psalm 25 was running through his mind, “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust… Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love… Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good” (Ps 25:1,6-7).

Then, the King who cares, also showed that he was a king with credibility, and authority. Authority to give this man hope in his dying hour, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43). Who else can say something like that but God alone? Who else can make that judgment but the King of kings and Lord of lords? Truly this is the Son of God. Truly this is Christ the King!

You and I aren’t very different from that criminal on the cross. Actually, we could go around the cross and put ourselves in all those different shoes. At times I am the soldiers, resolutely, mindlessly following the orders of my sinful nature and crucifying Christ to please the master of sin I have chosen. At times I am the rulers, sneering at the verses in Scripture I read, asking the Word to prove himself to me rather than humbly struggling to understand the unfathomable wisdom of God. At times I am the one criminal, suffering the consequences of my own sin, that I foolishly ran straight into, only to writhe under the pain I’ve caused myself and arrogantly demand, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Lk 23:39). Save the honor of your name that I’ve dragged through the mud, and save me from my punishment.

Yet, of all the people gathered around the cross, may we eventually make our way around to seeing Jesus through the eyes of the repentant criminal – accepting the consequences of our own sins, yet seeing clearly the only one who can rescue us from the wrath for such sins. Interestingly, he’s the only one who calls Jesus that name. “Jesus, remember me” (Lk 23:42). Jesus means, “He saves.”

Close your eyes to what the world looks to for hope. Close your eyes to what your human perspective would make of this picture. And see your King clearly, doing exactly what a perfect king would do. He served his people. He wanted his people prosper and thrive. He wanted to save his people from the enslavement of their sins. So he did what needed to be done. He laid down his life for sinners and evildoers, for the stubborn and rebellious, for people like you and me. He laid down his life to forgive all sin. And because of that merciful sacrifice for you, he has the authority to say, “You will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43).

What that must have meant for a dying criminal. What those words must have meant to a sinner contemplating his judgment. Not only did Jesus give him a promise to cling to, “You will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43), but he also gave him a specific anchor of hope, “Today”. It won’t be long dear friend. I know you suffer. I know your pain. I know the torments of sin as it weighs heavy upon your own nail pieced body. It won’t be long. I will remember you. I will see you in paradise… Today.

Don’t miss this one last point in regards to Christ the King. He always has someone else on his mind. He’s always doing for, working for, serving someone else. As nails were hammered through his hands and feet, his attention wasn’t on the pulsating pain, but on ones who were causing it. “Father, forgive them.” And as he hung, bones out of joint and struggling for breath, his attention was on one hanging with him. “Today you will be with me.”

Life has its many pains. Life has struggles. Life has worries and doubts. But you know one who willingly takes all of these into his own capable hands. Jesus is willing to carry your burdens. Jesus is able to figure out your struggles. Jesus guides your future just as he has the past. And since you know this, since this is your anchor of encouragement no matter what you face, you can close your eyes to your own struggles, leaving them in the hands of the king, and open your eyes to the needs of others. Jesus saw opportunities for what they were. To the hungry, he filled their souls as he filled their bellies. To the sick and wounded, he healed their hearts as he healed their diseases. To those looked down upon and cursed, he removed their shame as he proclaimed them blessed.

Jesus saw an opportunity to speak of life to the man dying next to him. What opportunities is he giving you, each and every day.