Last Sunday of the Church Year “The One True Story”
November 20, 2022 Luke 23:27-43
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
This is the last Sunday of the church calendar year; the ‘Sunday of fulfillment’, or sometimes referred to as ‘Christ the king’ Sunday. Our attention is turned to the fulfillment of the last things, when Jesus comes in His glory, returning for the Day of Judgment. Christians look forward to that Day! We’re told that all the dead will be resurrected, bringing body & soul together again; believers have the promise of the new heaven & new earth. Sin & Satan will be dispatched forever.
This message of victory IS even present in our Gospel reading, as we hear about the awful events of the cross on Good Friday. Glory is there, but it’s hidden from sight; it can only be perceived by faith. On that day, the appointed Savior of the world pays the price of our redemption. At that moment, even Jesus only sees darkness, suffering & death; but He is trusting His Father to not abandon Him to the grave. When ‘it is finished’, Jesus becomes the firstborn from the dead =the source of all resurrection. Our assurance is this: by baptismal faith, YOU are part of God’s treasured possession; He has entered your name into God’s Book of Remembrance. YOU are trusting that He will not abandon you.
This morning, let’s call this ‘The One True Story.’ The world is full of stories; but none of them are like this one, where the Father sends His innocent Son to pay the deadly guilt-price of undeserving sinners, & gives us paradise. It’s an unseen promise, but it is proven true even as Jesus is crucified, when He turns to the repentant criminal and freely gives him a full share in the heavenly kingdom. That’s pure grace; & that forgiven criminal dies in hope & peace.
This One True Story silences all mockery & doubt of God’s salvation plan; with His crucified & risen Savior Jesus, our faith is secured in the same hope & peace.
In the 1970s there was a TV series called Columbo, a homicide detective. The twist of the stories was that the viewer knew from the start who committed the crime. The suspense was watching Columbo come on the scene & figure out who it was, & how to catch the criminal. Everyone knew that -in the end- justice would be victorious. So, likewise, knowing the end of our life-story doesn’t ruin the story, or even the suspense.
There is a victorious end to Life’s True Story. God’s promises must be fulfilled, and we will live with him. We believe this, not because we have actually ‘seen’ it ahead of time, but because the One whose coming again, /has been here already, /He lived the promise, /He caused it to be written down, /His own Holy Spirit has helped us believe Him. This is faith.
So this hope we have been given is not yet visible; & yet faith holds firm. The fact that what is promised is not yet seen causes a bit of conflict in our Life’s Story. Unbelief scoffs of our faith; it mocks our hope. Because unbelief can only hold on to what is seen =which is death.
So, some say: “how can you believe a fairytale? It’s been 2,000 years, Jesus is not coming back.” Just as Jesus was mocked on Good Friday, so this is mockery against our faith.
Unbelief looks at what is seen & says, “This life is all there is; nobody knows what’s coming next; probably nothing. So, enjoy things now, because this is it.” Those words don’t even need to be said. A person can mock faith by just living like there’s no future, and that they will never have to answer to God. Even Christians can get frustrated with this struggle between what is seen & what is unseen; our faith can become lazy when we become immersed in the world, and we kind-of forget about what’s-to-come. Apathy is a mockery against a thoughtful, daily, & prepared faith.
Death itself seems to scoff at faith. What’s the message of death? Death stares back at us, as if to say: ‘that’s it; I’m the end; there’s no hope’. The body stops breathing; the heart stops beating; the bones turn to dust. We fight against death with medicine & science & our earnest prayers, but death doesn’t stop. Death stares back at us, and mocks us & says: you lose!
Unbelief & death mocked Jesus the worst because of who He claimed to be. The women mourned & wailed, thinking it’s the end. The crowd ridiculed Jesus for not being the strong king they wanted. The leaders mocked Him, telling this ‘chosen one’ to prove himself by coming down from the cross. The soldiers sneered at Him, knowing that dead criminals don’t need clothes anymore. The criminal hanging beside Him insulted Him in anger & sarcasm: ‘you helped others and now you can’t help yourself? What kind of superman-messiah are you?’
But this suffering, mockery, crucifixion & death were all foretold, so that when it happened, faith would see the invisible and believe. So, faith hears The One True Story and can see the unseen; faith sees a reversal in the conflict between life and death.
In the light of God’s mercy, the one criminal sees the unseen & receives paradise; and so do ALL who listen to Jesus. This criminal is broken & beaten. He now sees himself as the lost & condemned sinner that Scripture says he truly is.
This honest repentance leaves him with only one hope. Next to him he sees a bloody & dying Jesus-from-Nazareth, but his faith sees the Messiah. To his plain eyes, it wouldn’t make any sense. But with faith, this Savior is the only solution to his present & eternal problem. Jesus had taught earlier, in John 14, ‘trust in God; trust also in Me. In my father’s house are many rooms. I go there to prepare a place for you.’
By His words & deeds, Jesus was the innocent Lamb of God who takes away the sin of sinners, and opens paradise for all who trust in Him. The criminal confesses Jesus as the true King who’s kingdom is not of this world; and he wants to live in it. And Jesus assures Him ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’ Death does not get the last word = God does!
Jesus doesn’t look like a king yet, but He will. He doesn’t look like The One by whom all things were created, & in whom all things hold together. But, first things first. First, the price of our sin must be paid for, just as the Scripture said. Then He must show that the power of death has been broken by Him rolling back the stone from the tomb, and stepping out healthy & whole again. And when the Final Day comes, He will show the whole world that death mocks Him in vain. He will raise all the dead; and to those who believe in Him, they will be remembered, and they will rise to new, eternal life.
The One who came & lived, who beat death, who is the firstborn from the dead, is making the Good Friday promise of life to you & to me. Our life-story is that we are criminals who broke God’s laws of holy life. The world mocks us as hypocrites & sinners who don’t deserve God’s message of good news. While that’s true, we don’t claim that we are holy; but we only claim that we have a Savior, whose cross forgives us.
Because of Jesus’ promise, we can ignore the scoffing of unbelief, and we can stare right back at death without fear. We are holding tight to The One True Story: Jesus has proven to us His promise of resurrection victory and His kingdom of paradise. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
That story, His story, enables us to see the ending, that Final Day. But knowing the ending ahead of time doesn’t ruin the good news. That’s what gives us hope to endure.
In that hope, each day, our faith begins at the cross, and in repentance & trust we pray, ‘Lord, remember me in your kingdom.’ Our Lord Jesus will always answer us with His promise of paradise. His promise was washed upon us at the Baptismal font; His promise is present in His Meal of bread & wine – by which He gives to us His own Good Friday body & blood for our additional comfort & strength.
When we gather here each week, we humbly admit that we’re still a criminal; we’re not trying to be, but the charges are true. Yet, we are drawn here to the cross, because there‘s something else that’s true. It’s true that the Day is coming when the One who has promised us forgiveness & life in His kingdom will return, so that every eye will see Him and every tongue will have to confess that He is Lord. On that day, on the day that He will make up His treasured possession, we believe that He will have good news for us: you are mine. All those who looked to the Son of God will be remembered.
On that Day, all mockery & death will be silenced, and our faith will finally SEE all that He has planned for those who have trusted in him. A thousand years before Jesus went to the cross, Job had an excellent way of confessing this hope when he was mocked, & his faith was severely tested. He said, “oh, that my words were written, … and engraved in rock forever. I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the End he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; with my own eyes I will see him. How my heart yearns within me.” (Job19)
This is the Christian’s faith. Lord Jesus, remember US when You come into Your kingdom. Amen.