Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Of High Regard?



OUR BIBLE study for this week of Christ the King Sunday comes from the Gospel According to Saint Luke. Herein we read of a revealing conversation that occurred between our Lord and the two thieves who had been crucified alongside him. The conversation revealed the character of those who attended the spectacle of enthronement…

And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments. 
 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!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" 
 There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews." 
 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." 
 And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
                                                                                                 (Luke 23:33-43)

A Crowd, Thieves and the Servant King
In this gospel Luke gives us the correct meaning of Golgotha (in the Aramaic) and also Calvary (in Latin). The place is described as "the Skull". It was correctly named. Golgotha was a barren place of death in which Jesus was “lifted up” in keeping with scriptural prophecy. He was lifted up high, but not to be simply an earthly king on an earthly throne as his followers thought. Instead, by the divine workings of God, Jesus placed himself upon the cross for the salvation of those who would believe in his redemptive work.
 Luke's account of the crucifixion reads differently from the other gospels. Mark and Matthew focused on men's hatred of Jesus. John presented Jesus as the divine personality of God, in whom men can find calm and certainty. Luke shows us, however, that Jesus was, and is... certainly God’s suffering servant. Luke’s telling showed his church communities the regal grace of Christ Jesus as he poured out his blood for sinners.
 As we study this lesson given to us by the Lukan churches, we read that even while Jesus been nailed to the cross.., he gracefully prayed for those who crucified him. He also prayed for those disciples who believed in him. We take due note here that there were also a goodly number of persons present who stood by and watched, as if the crucifixions were events of both justice and entertainment.
 I find that in Luke’s descriptive language these bystanders were spoken of with certain derision… as those harshly “seeing scoffing” (in the Greek, read as theron exemukterizon). These scoffers, standing back... were those who were likely instigated by religious fervor and political rush of the Sanhedrin. They remain as a particular and disdained target in Luke’s discourse. Through them Luke thus heaped this condemnation indirectly upon those in synagogue communities who were scoffing as Christians received Roman persecutions.

A King’s Work!
In the witness of Luke, therefore, we read of the two men also crucified beside Jesus on that horrid, yet blessed day. One thief taunted, and the other reproved the first man for his rants against Jesus. Confessing his debt, the second thief owned that they both deserved the pronounced legal sentence, but stated that he believed that the innocent Jesus was being wrongfully crucified. We duly note that this penitent thief thus made profound statement of Jesus’ innocence, even before any great signs of divinity were displayed. These subsequent events afterward startled scoffers, the unrepentant, and even the centurion. Was this Luke's warning to unbelievers? Indeed!
 The repentant man certainly was evidence by Luke as believing in life to come. In faith received, he was granted the ability to recognize the royal and divine nature of Jesus. The penitent thief humbly observed humility as he asked, “Lord, remember me in your kingdom…; referring to Jesus indeed as Christ the King. Luke remembered the man in a way that caused the church to cite the occasion some five decades later.
 Upon the throne of the cross, we need to remember the great act that Jesus accomplished was to obtain from the Father, the forgiveness of human sin. Reading that Jesus was crucified between two thieves; both sinners, is surely significant. One scoffed and one repented. By this textual illustration the author of Luke shows the stark difference. We note specifically Jesus’ reply to the penitent thief. This conversation is recorded only in Luke! The scribal pen thus offered to his congregations a witness to the undeserved grace provided by Jesus Christ. Faith was given, and faith expression was rewarded.
 Consequently, the pronouncement of Jesus, the Christ and King, in answer to faith spoken was a demonstration of powerful loved poured out.., grace that would seem little expected within that horrid context. The revelation to us is that the text completely negates the folly of doing works to earn our way to heaven.
 Unbelievers note with amazement that a thief forgiven obtained a seat at the table in the divine kingdom at the discretion of divine love. Though a scoffing crowd gathered and one malefactor denied and taunted, the one dying man truly spoke words of faith. Thus Luke showed his readers that the thief amid a hostile world was snatched as a branding iron from the burning fires of hell. His profession stood before Luke’s communities, cauterizing them as a monument of heavenly mercy.
 We see that Jesus had been placed in great struggle and agony over against the satanic Adversary who would condemn man. Christ the King possessed undeserved pity for the poor penitent… one of many for whom he had come. By this singular act of undeserved grace we ourselves are to understand that Jesus Christ died to open the kingdom of heaven to all who are penitent in faith. We are, thanks be to God, given the opportunity, in the here and now to become graceful recipients.
 Believers then have this instance in scripture that teaches what Luke would have us know. Even in the bold face of persecution from those who would scoff and persecute us, we are not to despair of divine grace! Let no one abandon hope. Here we read that a crowd scoffed, one unbelieving thief scorned, yet through a quiet and almost prayerful conversation… in almost imperceptible confession of faith occurred. A believer was given unto the keeping of the heavenly realm. A miracle was shown to him, though he was a sinner. He was saved, blessed, and received into Paradise… alongside God!


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