November 20, 2016

Pastor Mark F. Bartels

Old Testament Lesson; Jeremiah 23:2-6

Epistle Lesson; Colossians 1:13-20

Sermon Text; Luke 23:35-43

The text we will look at is taken from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 23, verses 35 through 43. Before I read this, I want to tell you we have now arrived at what is considered, “The Last Sunday of the Church Year”. The countdown has happened, and this is it.

Generally, the last Sunday of the Church Year accomplishes two things.

       -Number one, since it is the last Sunday, we think about the last times. We think about Judgment Day. We think about the end of the world.

       -Secondly, it is called, “Christ the King Sunday”, because on that last day the Bible tells us,

“Every knee will bow,

and every tongue will confess

Jesus is Lord”.

Jesus will reign in His Kingship.

Given that, once every three years, the Gospel reading for the last Sunday of the Church Year seems like it has nothing to do with the end of the world and nothing to do with Christ the King. It is a Good Friday text. We read from Luke, chapter 23, verses 35 through 43.

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 sour wine 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.”

These are Your words. Heavenly Father, lead us in the way of truth. Your Word is truth.


On Monday and Tuesday of this week, I happened to be up at Bethany Lutheran College, where I had attended college years ago. While I was there, I was reminded of an incident.

It was wintertime, right after Christmas Break. And, on that first day, after we all got back from Christmas Break, it was really cold, and snowy outside.

There were a couple of guys who lived together in the same dorm-room, and these two guys had already planned their Spring Break! They were going to go to Florida.

The window to their dorm was a big window that faced campus. So, if you walked across campus you could see right up into their window. On that day, if you looked up into their window, there was a big sign that said, “76 Days until Spring Break!”

The next day, the 76 was taken down. In its place it said, “75 Days until Spring Break!”

The next day, the 75 was taken down, replaced with, “74 Days until Spring Break!”

It was a countdown to Spring Break, and we all got a kick out of watching their countdown, as they anticipated going to Florida.

In our lives, whether we want to admit it or not, there is a countdown taking place. That countdown is for everybody. Each day, it is one day closer to the day when you will be judged for all eternity. It is either going to happen on the day you die, or it is going to happen on the day Jesus comes back, whichever comes first.

Yesterday, I went on the internet, and found there is actually a website where you can go and if you put down the date of your birth, your height, and weight (of all things), along with the country you live in, as well as your attitude toward life, in general, (whether you are pessimistic, optimistic, or neutral), and your alcohol consumption, (that is all you have to put it in), it calculates how many days you have left to live! It is based on statistics.

I sat at my computer, and thought, “Do I want to know?” I decided not to type in my information.

That is a pretty sobering thought to think, “It is coming”. The Bible tells us Jesus said,

“Keep watch,

because you do not know the day, or the hour,

when the Son of Man will return.”

So, while the rest of the world kind of likes to ignore this whole concept, “Someday, my last day is going to come,” thank God the Bible is very realistic. It takes a very realistic view of what is going to happen to each one of us.

I can almost guarantee this. It maybe won't be true for everyone, because somebody may go beyond life expectancy, but probably everyone reading this, within a hundred years, will have gotten down to “day zero” in the countdown.

You won't be down in Florida, on Spring Break. You will either be in the most fantastic place you can possibly imagine, which is Heaven. Or, you will be in the most miserable place you could ever imagine, the eternal agony of Hell. Scripture wants to prepare us for that last day, that countdown of “day zero” in our countdown of life.

So, today's scripture reading presents us with a man who has now arrived at the very last day of his life on this earth. We refer to him as, “The Thief on the Cross”. Sometimes, we refer to him as, “The Malefactor”. That means “a professional evil doer”. Sometimes, we refer to him as, “The Criminal on the Cross”. It is the man hanging next to Jesus. It is now “day zero”. The countdown has happened. He is about to die. He is about to face judgment, his own personal judgment, for the rest of eternity.

In just a few moments after our scripture reading for today, his legs are going to be broken, as he hangs on the cross. The soldiers are going to speed his death along. Once his legs are broken, he will not be able to bear the weight of his body on his legs anymore, and then he will suffocate to death, a very excruciating death.

The Gospel of Luke has this wonderful way of bringing us in, so we get to listen in on conversations people had, that Jesus had, with people on very significant, events in their life. So, we get to hear the conversation this man and Jesus had, as he is at “day zero” in his life. The time has come, and he is going to face judgment. This is intended by scripture to be very educational, and very comforting.

As we look at what was happening that particular day, it is important for us to realize that the man who was getting the primary attention on that day was not “The Thief on the Cross”. It was the Man who was hanging in between the two thieves. We know Him as Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. There was a reason He was on the cross. This has to do with why we call this, “Christ the King Sunday”. He was on the cross, because the people felt He had failed in His Kingship. That is why He was on the cross.

Why did they bring Him before Pilate? They said He claimed to be a king, and opposed payment of taxes to Caesar.

What did Pilate write above His head? Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

What did they put on His head? They put a crown of thorns on His head.

What did they put in His hand? They put a scepter in His hand, and beat Him on the head with that king's scepter.

They mocked Him, as a King who had failed.

What is the job description of a king? The job description of a king is to keep his people safe, and if they are not safe, to save them. Had Jesus kept His people safe from the Romans? Had He been able to deliver them from the oppressive government of the Romans? He had not done that. Had He been able to deliver them economically from economic oppression? He had not done that.

And so, hanging on this cross, they begin to mock Him as One who was totally incapable of carrying out any sort of kingship. He didn't save the people from the Romans. He didn't save them from any economic trouble. Why listen, He couldn't even save Himself, let alone the people. Listen to the accusations of everybody, as they were accusing Him. Listen to the mockery. Every one of the accusations has to do with saving somebody.

       -It says the rulers, the religious rulers, prompted Him saying, “He saved others. Let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ, the Chosen One”. (Christ means the Anointed One, the King.)

       -What did the soldiers say? They said, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” Save yourself. They were saying, “You can't even save yourself. You are stuck up there on a cross. You think you can save the Jews? You are no king.”

       -Even one of the thieves, or malefactors, who hung on the cross said, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Mocking Jesus! “Do you think you are a king? You can't even save yourself, let alone us. You are stuck up on a cross.”

This was the mockery that was going on. But, what nobody realized, nobody realized except Jesus, of course, was that the King was in His workplace. Talk about going to a person's place of work, where He accomplishes what needs to be accomplished! The King was at His place of work, on the cross. He was accomplishing what nobody could see what was happening.

       -He was accomplishing the salvation for the entire world.

       -He was going to defeat enemies greater than any foreign government. Foreign enemies are just a temporary thing. Or, any economic problem is just a temporary thing.

He was in the process, as He hung on the cross, at His work place, of        -defeating sin, which can condemn people for all eternity.

       -He was defeating death, which all of us fear in one way, or another.

       -And, He was defeating Hell.

How did He do that?

Good Friday is your Judgment Day.

Good Friday is your Judgment Day, when God took your sin, your sin. He put them on His Son. And, Jesus was judged for your sins. That is what was happening.

And when the wrath of God was poured out on Jesus, that was Judgment Day - God's anger, on His Son, for your sin.

Jesus even bore the weight of Hell, as He hung on the cross.

There on the cross, Jesus the King was defeating enemies that no one else could defeat. No one else.

Your sin.

Your condemnation.

Your death.

And, your suffering in Hell.

Now, nobody, nobody there that day recognized that except one other person. That one other person was “The Thief on the Cross”, who by the power of the Holy Spirit, as he hung on that cross, was brought to realize who was hanging next to him, and what was really happening.

He realized Jesus is the King,

the Savior of the world!

And so, that thief who hung on the cross, turned to Jesus. But first of all, he turned to the other thief. I want you to listen to what he did. He repented. He repented of his sin. What did he say to the other thief who was mocking Jesus?

“Do you not fear God?”

Don't you fear God? Then, he said, “This Man is being judged unjustly. He didn't do anything wrong, but we are getting what our deeds deserve. We are being judged justly.”

This man was acknowledging, “I fear God. Now that I am on “day zero”, and am about face eternity, I don't want to stand before God on the basis of what I have done. That would not be good. I would be in big trouble.”

He even says, “I am getting what I deserve. This is what I deserve.” There is no trying to hide, anymore. There is nothing he can hide behind. He knows he is not going to be able to stand before God, and come up with some excuses to why he did what he did. He is not going to be able to say, “God, you know, I came from a dysfunctional family, and that is why I ended up doing all of the bad stuff I did.”

There is no excuse, and he doesn't try to make any excuses. He said, “We are getting what we deserve.”

This man knows, “I am not going to be able to stand before God, and somehow try to redefine sin, so it is like God thinks I didn't do anything wrong. I am not going to be able to stand before God, and in the next moment, when I die say, 'God, you know some of the things I did, well, I was just taking from the rich. They didn't need it, anyway. I was just trying to get rid of an oppressive government.'”

He is not redefining anything. He is just saying, “I have done wrong. And now, God, I don't want to stand before you on the basis of what I have done. That would not be good.”

That is where he is. And, until you have reached that point, until you have personally reached that point in your life, you don't need Jesus. If you have not repented, then, when your “day zero” comes, and you stand before the Lord, you are going to stand before Him, not on the basis of what Jesus did, but on the basis of what you have done. I am going to tell you something, “You don't' want to be there. You do not want to be there.”

Well, this thief realized that. So, he repented of his sin. Then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he looks to Jesus. He knows, “There is my only hope. Jesus is my only hope. Jesus is right there on the cross, paying for my sin, right now. Jesus has taken away my guilt, my shame. He is earning my salvation, as He hangs on the cross. The salvation of the whole world.”

Somehow, the Holy Spirit revealed that to him.

-Whether it was because the man heard Jesus speak the words,


forgive them

for they know now what they do”.

-Or, maybe sometime earlier he heard Jesus say,

“Greater love has no man than this;

that he lay down his life for his friend.”

He saw this Man laying down His life for the world.

-Maybe he had heard Jesus say to the paralytic,

“Son, be of good cheer.

Your sins are forgiven.”

This was a Man who loved sinners, and forgave sinners.

-Maybe he heard Jesus say to the woman who had been caught in adultery,

“Neither do I condemn you.

Now, go and sin no more.”

But, he knew this Man hanging on the cross next to him is merciful, and loving. He was paying for his sins. So, he turned to Jesus, and cried out a prayer of faith. The prayer of faith was this.


remember me when you come into

Your Kingdom.”

There it is. He is laying it all in Jesus' lap. He knows, “That is my only hope. I don't want to stand before God on the basis of what I have done. I am going to stand before God on the basis of what Jesus has done. He is my judge. He is going to judge me for eternity.”

Maybe this man had a weak faith. Maybe he was just clinging to the hope that somehow, “Jesus would even forgive me, me for all I have done. Now, I am at “day zero”, and what a worthless life I have lived. But, maybe He will even be merciful to me.”

Maybe it was just a weak faith like that, but weak faith is saving faith. Whenever there is the hope that Jesus will forgive my sins, that is a recognition He is the Savior of the world. That is faith.

So, the man turns to Jesus in repentance and faith. Then, Jesus gives what I consider to be maybe the most comforting passage in all of scripture. He turns to the man, and says,

“Truly, I say to you, today (not tomorrow, not a thousand years from now. There is no place called Purgatory)...”

“Truly, I say to you,


you will be

with me

in Paradise.”

There it is. That was his judgment.

       -It was nothing but grace.

       -Nothing but mercy.

       -Nothing but good news.

       -Nothing but absolute comfort.

What is so profoundly comforting about this passage is: “I don't care who you are. I don't care what you have done. I don't care what sins you have committed. I don't care how they may be bothering your conscious.”

When you look at this passage, you see that “The Thief on the Cross” was not saved by what he did, not by his life, but he was saved only by the mercy of Jesus, and he knew it.

Faith in Christ saves.

No matter who you are. What mercy! That is the bottom-line message of scripture.

As the clock continues to click, if you have not, to this day, repented, and in your heart said, “God, I do not want to stand before you on Judgment Day, on the basis of my life”, if you have not repented, the Lord calls you today. He holds out His mercy to you, today. He tells you today,

“Your sins are forgiven for Christ's sake”.

The Holy Spirit is calling you to repent, and believe.

If you have repented, and you do believe in Jesus, as your Savior, thank God Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, has mercifully brought you to see, “I am a sinner. I have a Savior”.

When I was up at Bethany this past week, I was talking to the Chaplin. He teaches a class called, “Introduction to Christianity”. He was telling me there are students who come to Bethany who know nothing about Christianity, at all. He said there was a guy who came from Ethiopia, the country of Ethiopia, who was in the Chaplain's “Introduction to Christianity Class”, which is a Bible Basic's Class. One day in the class, the Chaplin was talking about how to be saved, and get to Heaven. After class, and after all of the students had left, this man from Ethiopia was still sitting in his chair. He looked up at the Chaplin, and asked, “Chaplin, do you mean it is that simple? Do you mean it is that simple to be saved, to just believe in Jesus, as my Savior? I have never heard that before.”

The Chaplin assured him from scripture it is that simple.

The man from Ethiopia looked at the Chaplin, and said, “Well, that changes everything. That changes everything, doesn't it, if you know that by grace you are a member of Christ's Kingdom?”

The King has purchased you.

He has forgiven you.

You are not guilty.

You are going to Heaven!

That causes us to have hearts that say, “I want to live a godly life, for my Savior.”

If there is anybody in the world who lives productive lives, here on this earth, they are people who have looked at their coming death. They know it is coming, but they are ready. They are ready because, “I have a Savior. I am ready, because I have been saved by grace.” That changes everything.

I want to read something out of our catechism. Maybe every day you pray The Lord's Prayer. There is a phrase in the prayer, a little petition in The Lord's Prayer that says, “Thy Kingdom come”. We pray that all of the time.

What does it mean? When you believe in Jesus, you are a member of His Kingdom. His Kingdom is in your heart. That changes lives. And, it is not just your “day zero” that is coming some day. The last day is going to come, some day, for the person sitting next to you. And so is it for the person who you work beside, the person you go to school with, your next door neighbor. Their last day is coming. When we pray, “Thy Kingdom come”, we are not just praying for ourselves. It is a mission prayer. It is a prayer that they would come into the Kingdom of Christ. I want to read a question from our Catechism.

“When do we pray this petition in a manner pleasing to God?”

I will ask that, again.

“When do we pray this petition,

'Thy Kingdom come',

in a manner pleasing to God?”

“We pray this petition in a manner pleasing to God, when we also accept the responsibility of extending the Kingdom of Grace to others.

I will read that, one more time.

“We pray this petition in a manner pleasing to God,

when we also accept the responsibility

of extending the Kingdom of Grace to others.”

“Thy Kingdom come.”

And so, look at our neighbors, look at our friends, look at our family members, and accept that responsibility.

       -Maybe, we invite them to church.

       -Maybe, it is through our offerings that we are enabling the Word to be spread.

       -Maybe, it is through our prayers for their souls.

       -Maybe, it is through personal conversations.

       -Maybe, it is through a heart to heart, “I love you very much, and I may say it in a bumbling way, but where you are headed is not healthy. I am calling you back to Jesus, your Savior.”

It is through conversations, invitations to church, reaching out so that many others may become members, and part of the Kingdom of Christ, for eternity.