Death of a King
November 20, 2022 |Death of a King | Luke 23:33-43
This is our last sermon in the gospel of Luke before the Advent season starts.
What an appropriate place to finish on the Sunday before Advent starts.
Advent is a season of the liturgical year (church year) observed as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for both the celebration of the Nativity of Christ at Christmas and the return of Christ at the Second Coming. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year in Western Christianity, and is part of the wider Christmas and holiday season.
The name was adopted from Latin adventus "coming; arrival", translating Greek parousia(pəˈro͞ozēə).
Thus, the season of Advent in the Christian calendar anticipates the "coming of Christ" from three different perspectives: the physical nativity in Bethlehem, the reception of Christ in the heart of the believer, and the eschatological Second Coming.
Today in our text, we see why this little baby, born in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger was born. Why God, robed himself in humanity, became in all ways like one of his creations in order to endure and defeat temptation, sin, death, and the grave.
Before we can truly understand and appreciate the wonder of his first coming and birth at Bethlehem, his arrival in the hearts of believers, and his impending second coming, we must better understand his death at Calvary.
How did we get here? What led to Jesus hanging on a cruel Roman cross?
With just a quick examination of the crucifixion scene in Luke, we find a common theme. It was referenced by religious leaders, by Roman soldiers, by the thieves being crucified beside him. It was the issue of his kingship. The question before us as it was before them is, was Jesus king of the Jews, God’s anointed, the promised one, or was he simply a pretender?
Of course the issue of his kingship has been the issue from the very moment Jesus’s birth was announced.
Luke 1:31-33 (ESV) 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (emphasis mine)
The proclamation to the shepherds
Luke 2:10-12 (ESV) “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” (emphasis mine)
Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom of God, exercising his authority over disease, nature, and even death.
This was the same issue that led him to be put on trial and ultimately to the cross.
Before the Sanhedrin
Luke 22:66-68 (ESV) 66 When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, 67 “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, 68 and if I ask you, you will not answer.
Luke 23:1-5 (ESV) 1 Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” 3 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” 5 But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”
Luke 23:11 (ESV) 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate.
Matthew 27:28-31 (ESV) 8 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
So begins Jesus’s agonizing suffering on this Roman cross over his kingship. It is to this scene we now turn our hearts and minds. We will examine it under three divisions, the ridicule of a king, the repentance of a thief, and the reassurance of a savior.
Let’s begin our reading in Luke 23, verse 33.
Luke 23:33-43 (ESV) 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.”
Let’s look more closely at what we are calling Ridicule of a King.
Ridicule of a King
Nowhere is it more clear of why Jesus is on this cross than in the inscription above his head.
This is a detail recorded for us in all four gospels, with slightly varying details.
Luke 23:38 (ESV) There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
In Matthew and Mark, we are given a key to understanding that this was the charge against him. This was what the Romans did, they would nail a copy of the charges over the head of the condemned recording his crimes, not only as public record but also as a warning to anyone who would commit the same offense.
We find out in John that it was Pilate who either wrote this or had it written because having found no reason to condemn him and in contempt of the Jewish religious leaders that had pushed for his death, he wrote ‘ Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews’ in Aramaic, Latin, and in Greek so that it could be read by all.
This is as much an ordained proclamation by God as it is anything else. Here we have on display for all to see, whether meant as an insult, a dig at the Jews, or a mocking of Jesus, God’s purposes were carried out. There is no mistake as to why Jesus is on the cross, he is God’s anointed one, his Christ, the promised Savior and King. Why could they not see it?
They misunderstood. They had missed the truth Christ had proclaimed about his being turned over, betrayed, and lifted up as fulfillment of his mission. They thought that the promised king would come and overthrow Rome, deliver them from their oppressors, and restore Israel to a nation that ruled over the gentiles. They saw the scriptures that referenced a conquering King but they missed the ones who depicted a suffering servant, and they failed to reconcile the two into one person. The king had been with them, among them, and was now being put to death for it, and because he was not what they expected or wanted, they had rejected him. They had nothing but contempt for him, which is easily seen in their ridicule of him.
Religious leaders- 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!”
(Reformed Expository Commentary (28 Vols.) - REC) These men thought that in order for someone to bring salvation, he would have to win a glorious triumph. “What sort of king gets killed?” they thought. “What sort of Christ gets crucified?” If Jesus could not save himself from this (publically shameful and disgraceful) death, they reasoned, how could he save anyone at all?
They so easily dismissed all that he had done. Don’t miss this.
They say ‘he saved others!’ The proof of that was overwhelming. He had healed the blind, opened the mouths of mutes, he had freed the possessed, he had fed the poor, he had even raised men and women from the dead. They did not deny any of this, but in their minds, if he could not save himself from this, he was no savior at all. If he is who he says he is, then there is no way he will die on this Roman cross. How wrong they were! How they missed his ministry as the sacrificial lamb to take away the sins of the world. So they mocked him.
Crowd- Luke says the crowd watched on, but in Mark we are told they joined in as well. Mark 15:29-30 (ESV) “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!”
Either taking their cues from the Pharisees, or in their own contempt, the crowd gathered took their shots at Jesus as well, not realizing that the very fulfillment of what he had said was happening before their eyes. What he had actually said is recorded in John 2:19-22 (ESV) “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Soldiers- Roman tradition assigned groups of 5 men to carry out crucifixions. We see they joined in as well. 6 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!” This mocking just carries on what began in his mock trial. Notice how it all revolves around his kingship.
Thieves- Surprisingly, even the other condemned joined in the mocking. Struggling for air themselves, they used their energy to hurl insults at Jesus as well. 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” We find out in Matthew and Mark both thieves joined in. And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way./Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.
The word railed at him is the same word for blaspheming him. They cursed him.
The common theme is, if you are the Christ, this King of the Jews, save yourself and in the case of the thieves, save us too. That is, ‘if you are king, get us off these crosses.’
The king of the world was ridiculed for allowing himself to be crucified in fulfillment of his mission and purpose. It’s quite the heartbreaking scene to behold. Even as he was being crucified, he asked that God would not hold this against them. But to them, he said nothing when he was reviled.
In all this Jesus offered no rebuttal, no argument, just as he had done before the Jewish council, Pilate’s questioning, and Herod’s mock trial.
Somewhere in between the beginning of the crucifixion and this moment towards the end, something happened to one of the thieves, that cause him to see Jesus differently, to change his attitude towards Jesus and having cried out to him, Jesus finally responded, not to ridicule and blasphemy, but to a repentant request from a dying man.
Repentance of a Thief
Where he started- We have already seen that he was one of those who ridiculed Jesus. We are not told what changed his mind. Perhaps it was the way Jesus surrendered to his crucifixion, perhaps it was the way he cried out to the Father to forgive the very ones who crucified him, maybe it was the way he left all their insults unanswered. I imagine him at some point going silent, the former words he had been saying all of a sudden left a bad taste in his mouth.
In talking to Brittany about this text, I said, what questions do you have about it? She said she wanted to know what changed the thief. I said, don’t we all!
But upon thinking about it more, the answer is God did. God drew him to himself by the power of the Spirit, God opened his eyes and his heart to the reality of who Jesus was, as he had done for the disciples among others in Jesus’ ministry. Indeed, the Bible says, no one can come to Christ unless the father draws them. Somewhere in the midst of the gory, agonizing, cruel crucifixion, the thief looked over at the man on the center cross and he no longer saw a fellow criminal, he no longer saw someone getting what he deserved, he saw Jesus in a new light, which led him to rebuke the other thief as he continued hurling insults at Jesus. Do you not fear God? Or better, do you not even fear God? Here at the end of your life, have you no thought to what is next, have you no thought to the things of God? And then he makes his own confessionary statement.
His confession. Four parts to this brief confession, modeling for us what it looks like to repent and turn to Jesus.
1. His own guilt- (ESV) 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds;
The man knew he had sin in him and he was receiving what was due him. He deserved no better.
2. Jesus’ innocence- (ESV) but this man has done nothing wrong.”
Jesus did not deserve to be on that cross, he had committed no wrong deserving of this death. It is doubtful that he understood that Jesus was sinless, but he understood enough to know that he did not deserve to die the death of a guilty criminal.
(Reformed Expository Commentary (28 Vols.) - REC) John Calvin famously said in the opening words of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” By that standard, the convert on the cross was in the possession of true wisdom, for he came to know both God and himself.
3. His plea for mercy- (ESV) “Jesus, remember me”
Here is the simplest and heartfelt cry for mercy. Not remember that my good outweigh my bad, not that I sided with you at the cross, not remember the way I stood up for you when no one else did. No, just remember me. This is a plea of mercy to the one he had recognized was no mere man, but the Messiah King.
4. Jesus’ kingship- (ESV) when you come into your kingdom.”
The thief believed that this man was the promised king and that he would come into his kingdom and that he had the right to welcome him into this kingdom if he so chose. His hope was in the grace of Christ.
Do not miss this one thing. Look up here. This was no risen Lord, robed in white, standing victorious over death. This was not the Jesus of our Sunday school lessons or the paintings we often see where he is beautiful surrounded by a halo of golden light.
This was a man beaten to the point of being unrecognizable, face swollen, back torn to shreds, beard matted and bloody, either with a crown of thorns on or the wounds from it still evident, naked and nailed to a Roman cross. Would you see a king?
This is a beautiful expression of faith that we so often overlook because we know the rest of the story, but in this moment, the thief had only hope…until he had so much more.
Transition: This led to Jesus’ only responsive statement on the cross, to which we turn now.
The Reassurance of a Savior
This was not the only thing Jesus said on the cross, we have recorded for us across the four gospels a collection of instances of Jesus speaking at his crucifixion, often referred to as the seven sayings of Jesus or the seven words of the cross.
Jesus’ final sayings
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. Woman, behold thy son! and Behold thy mother! My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me I thirst. It is finished. Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.
Truly- (Olive Tree Enhanced Strong's Dictionary) It was transliterated directly from the Hebrew into the Greek of the New Testament, then into Latin and into English and many other languages, so that it is practically a universal word. It is the word Amen.
We are used to using it after something is said, or offering a prayer. (Olive Tree Enhanced Strong's Dictionary) So it is, so be it, may it be fulfilled. It was a custom, which passed over from the synagogues to the Christian assemblies, that when he who had read or discoursed, had offered up solemn prayer to God, the others responded Amen, and thus made the substance of what was uttered their own.
But when used at the beginning of a statement it means what follows is trustworthy. Jesus says to this man, trust me when I say to you.
Today- literally, on this day, at the present time
You will be with me- you will be present with me
In paradise- this word has roots in the idea of a garden, like Eden. This is the place where the Jews believed they would one day dwell with God. This word is used a few times in the New Testament to refer to what we would call heaven.
This is the idea that God will ultimately redeem all of creation and restore man’s access to the beauty of that first garden when God walked with man and there was no sin.
In one short statement, Jesus assured the man that he would not only remember him, he would be with him. He would save him immediately, wholly, and personally. Although he deserved death on a cross by man’s law, and an eternal death by God’s law, he would be welcomed into everlasting life by none other than Jesus himself.
This is why Paul later declared, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. This is the assurance of every believer when they pass from this life to the next.
Too often this man’s conversion is held up as evidence for what we call death bed conversions. That it is never too late to turn to Jesus, and that is absolutely true, but that shouldn't be our takeaway. Our takeaway should be that we have an awesome, gracious, forgiving, wonderful savior who has made a way for us to experience everlasting life through grace by faith, no matter what our past sins are.
Notice that both thieves asked Jesus for something.
The one for immediate and temporary help, save me from the cross, the other for grace and mercy when he passed from this life. Jesus only answered one of them.
Transition: What made all the difference in the world for the thief was his admittance that Jesus was king, putting his faith in his ability to save him, and asking for mercy. This man was on the brink of death and heading for an eternity in hell apart from any goodness that he had taken for granted his whole life, but in a moment, in a blink of an eye, Jesus had promised him not only a change of destination, but of relationship with himself.
In just a few short verses we see Jesus crying out his last words and taking his final breath.
Just a short time later, the Roman guards would come and break the thieves legs so that they would be unable to lift themselves to breath and would asphyxiate.
When that happened, the one who placed his faith in Jesus was welcomed into everlasting peace, just as Jesus had promised him.
So what do we do with this now?
As many preachers have said before, “One alone was saved upon the Cross that none might despair; and only one, that none might presume.”
That is, the converted man shows us that there is none too far gone to be saved. It shows us clearly that salvation is by faith, because of grace, we are justified by faith alone.
The other, shows us that to be near Jesus is not enough. If we will not admit that he is king, bow our heads and hearts to him, and humbly ask him to save us, we will perish and never experience his kingdom.
The one thing that is undeniable is that the Bible teaches that one day everyone will acknowledge the kingship of Christ. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The only difference is that some will do it this side of eternity and experience salvation and others will be forced to admit what they so strongly rejected in this life, this Jesus, is the King of Kings and Lord or Lords.
Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed one, the King, sent by the Father to save mankind. Nowhere in scripture is the choice to reject that or accept that so clearly displayed as it is here in Luke 23 with these two men.