“This is the King of the Jews”
(Luke 23:38 ESV).
The season of Lent reveals Jesus to us as the promised messiah-King. Jesus established His everlasting kingdom by delivering us out of Satan’s kingdom of darkness and sin into His everlasting kingdom of light. Luke ends his Gospel by presenting to us “Christ the King!” The events of Palm Sunday revealed Jesus as a strange kind of king. Jesus entered Jerusalem meek and lowly, riding on a borrowed donkey. Jesus came as a king to die in the place of His subjects. So it is at the cross that we see the strange truth captured by the inscription on His cross, “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.”
Unbelievers laugh and mock at the idea of a crucified king. The people in Jerusalem had gathered to watch this Jesus die. Many had hoped that He was the Messiah, but they hoped that this King would establish an earthly kingdom. The cross was the end of their hopes. The people saw no King. The rulers and religious leaders of the Jews scoffed at the idea that this carpenter’s son was the Anointed One, the promised Messiah. They mocked Him saying, “This one (pointing up to the cross) claimed to save others. Look! He cannot even save Himself.” They challenged Jesus, “If He is the Christ (Messiah), let Him save Himself.” The religious leaders saw no King. The rough Roman legionnaires joined in the fun, mocking this ragamuffin Jew. These Roman soldiers had watched many criminals die. They offered Jesus cheap wine to ease His suffering. They also joined with the religious leaders in the mocking challenge, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” This was the kind of a joke of a king that the Jews deserved. The Roman legionnaires saw no king.
The inscription on the cross was also designed to ridicule the Jews and their King. Pilate, the Roman governor, had caved in to the demands of the Jews and sentenced an innocent man to death. Pilate now got his revenge. The inscription above Jesus’ head on the cross was written in four languages, “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.” It would be the only king they would ever have. The Jews understood, and asked Pilate to take down the sign, but Pilate would not. Pilate saw no king.
Even the two criminals crucified with Jesus, turned on Him. They mocked Jesus’ saying, “If you are the Messiah then save Yourself and save us also.” It is remarkable how even among criminals the weakest and the most pathetic becomes an object of ridicule and bullying. Even the condemned criminals saw no King.
The world still rejects the idea of a crucified king. People would rather have a king who gives them what they want. They are like Israel who did not want God to rule over them, but wanted a king like the other nations. People locked in their sins do not want Jesus to be their King. They do not want to follow Him. The world mocks the idea that Jesus could be the answer to their problems. We too by nature are like the two criminals who also mocked the idea of Jesus as a Savior-King and refuse to follow Him.
However, there will come a day when this crucified King returns in all His glory to judge the living and the dead. This will be a day of terror for those who mocked Jesus. John in Revelation describes what will happen on that great Day of Judgment. (Revelation 1:7) “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.”
However, there was one who confessed Jesus as His King and sought entrance into His everlasting kingdom. It was the most unlikely of that cast of characters on Good Friday. One of the two hardened criminals crucified with Jesus had a change of heart. After initially joining in the mockery of Jesus, he rebuked his fellow criminal. The Holy Spirit brought him to repentance as he acknowledged his sins, “We are punished justly.” The Holy Spirit also worked faith in this man’s heart. He confessed before the world that “this man has done nothing wrong.” This criminal saw Jesus as his King.
And then acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah-King promised by God to His people, the criminal asked in faith, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” These words are a cry for help and salvation and also a confession of faith. The Greek word for remember doesn’t mean to simply think about me again. It has the context of “turn to me again and again in grace and mercy.” We read in the Old Testament that God remembered Noah, Abraham, and His people in Israel. So this criminal prayed on his death bed that Jesus would again and again turn to him in grace and mercy and save him as Jesus had promised. By faith, this hardened criminal understood. He saw the promise of Jesus’ everlasting kingdom to come. He prayed, “Thy kingdom come” with all the trust of faith in the forgiveness of sins in spite of who he was and what he had done.
And Jesus answered him with words of grace and forgiveness, no strings attached, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” All of history is compacted into its final result. This world will be destroyed, but Jesus, the King, when He returns will raise all the dead. Then the believers will go with Jesus into that restored Paradise. Sin will be finished, The Devil will be conquered. Death will be swallowed up in victory. This thief would be with Jesus forever because of the free forgiveness of sins. He believed this even though he was dying a horrible death that he deserved.
Jesus gives us the same hope in our dying hour. He says to us, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Today we also confess that Jesus is our King and that He has made us part of His kingdom through the forgiveness of sins. So we look forward in anticipation to the second coming of our King. This crucified Jesus is our Savior-King.
A Blessed Lenten Season to You and Your Families,