Sunday, November 21, 2010

November 21, 2010: Malachi 3:13-18, Psalm 46, Colossians 1:11-23, Luke 23:27-43

"And he said, 'Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.'" Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

Well, unlike other opinions that have currently been proposed, as this thief hung, condemned upon the cross, he found and was given a life and forgiveness that was not his own-and so received the Kingdom in which Christ Jesus was given to die and rise to give. For, as this thief's kingdom was slowly slipping away, all he could do was to deny himself and so fall into the Kingdom of the One in whom and for whom all things had been created.
For what else, this thief began to learn, could he truly do, now that his life was no longer his own and he was nailed securely to his own death? The kingdom he had tried to build could no longer be defended because he had met a force stronger than he. He had sought to live and rule autonomously-to live and rule as a law unto himself; to live and rule according to his own desires, wants and ways. But, as he suddenly realized on that Friday, no matter how much he so chose, his kingdom could last only until it was ruled upon by another.
And so, as he hung there, with his life slowly being taken away from him, he faced a dilemma. He could continue, like his compatriot on the other side of Jesus, to seek to hold onto his kingdom. But, as the nails bit through his flesh, it suddenly began to dawn on him that this was it-that there was nothing more he could do. And as the darkness began to draw across his eyes, he suddenly realized that he was powerless and everything he had worked for, fought for, adored over, had nothing really to offer.
However, as he heard and saw the mocking and derision of the crowd to this stranger beside him, he heard above it all Jesus' own words of absolution to his accusers, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do." One wonders if the words of Malachi entered his mind at that moment-recalling the promise of God to remember those who fear Him; who heeds His words and will over their own. For as the words of mercy flowed from Jesus' lips, this criminal, who knew he deserved his sentence of death to the world and condemnation to God, suddenly found for himself another Kingdom; a Kingdom not earned, but given to those who serve the Lord by faith alone.
Thus, as he stopped trying to defend himself, he found what he had forever been searching for. For as he walked away from his doomed kingdom, he was received into the Kingdom of God-the Kingdom in which Christ was dying so to give. That as he began to realize that this Jesus was indeed what the inscription said, so this criminal found his sins forgiven by this King of mercy. As he abandoned his attempt to justify himself, he found a justification given unto him by grace.
And this goes for each of you still today. For regardless of how much and hard you have fought for your will be done; for your kingdom to come-at the end you are in the same situation as these thieves that Christ hung between. That there is no amount of work, piety or love within your bones to overcome the fact that we are all sinners unto damnation-we are all alienated and hostile in mind, as Paul said today, doing evil deeds. And since, even in our best we earn our death, there is finally no hope for any of us or the advancement of our kingdoms.
But, as God reminds in Malachi and shows in Luke, those who fear Him, who forsake their own ambitions to trust in Christ alone, are not rejected and are His treasured possession unto eternal life. Because the distinction between the righteous and wicked isn't in what you can do, but in who you trust. For to fear God is to serve Him and not yourself-to give up your notions of right and wrong, of good and evil-to be done to your ideas and desires so to be filled with God's alone. And since God cannot reject Himself, so all those who abide in Him will receive the glories of the forgiveness of their sins, the promise of life from their death and the strength to overcome all temptations of the devil.
Because Christ's Kingdom, as Paul wrote to the Colossians, is the Kingdom of the forgiveness of sin-the return to paradise where sin and death are no more and the devil has nothing in which to convict us. That since He made peace through the blood of His cross, so the dominion of darkness is broken so to enlighten all who turn away from false kingdoms to the true Kingdom of heaven. That as in Him all the fullness of God so dwells, so now all who cling to Him alone for salvation is reconciled to the Father.
For Christ Jesus suffered under the penalty of your sin and died under the wrath of your death so to destroy your kingdoms to deliver you into His own-that He alone, the Psalmist says, is the One who makes your wars to cease. He is your only hope to be delivered from the sin and death that is destroying you both in this world and the next. And so you must learn, as Luther said, to let all other images that hold you captive-your thoughts, your dreams, your wants, your urges-to slip away from you to where they wish or care to go, so to now let Christ's image alone abide in you. For what more can be found in your heart and mind other as the One in whom paradise is found? Amen.


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