Sermon preached on Luke 23 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Good Friday Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 3/25/2016 in Novato, CA.
“This is the King of the Jews”
On Sunday mornings we’ve been going through the book of 2 Samuel. We’ve seen there the promise to King David that from his line would come a king who would rule over an eternal kingdom. And so since that time, the people of God should have been looking for that king to come. And so on this Good Friday, I want us to have that perspective as we look at this passage. I say that, because that perspective is here in this passage. I think it is too easy for us to miss that, when we’ve not been going through a book like 2 Samuel recently. But there is a lot here in this chapter about the cross of Christ that has to do with this same theme from 2 Samuel. There is the anticipation of a coming king who will bring an amazing kingdom. Remember 2 Samuel 7 said this would be a king from the line of David. And he would bring a kingdom that would be established forever. It said that in this kingdom, God’s people would finally be settled down in a permanent and complete peace. And so God’s people were supposed to be looking for this coming king and this coming kingdom.
And so that’s our first point for today. Notice in this passage how there are people who are waiting for this messianic kingdom. I draw your attention to verse 51. There it talks about Joseph of Arimathea. He was a righteous man, part of the religious leaders among the Jews, but he was different than most of them. Most of the religious leaders had opposed Jesus. But not Joseph. It says instead that Joseph of Arimathea was someone who instead was waiting for the kingdom of God. It’s interesting that it puts it that way. He was waiting for the kingdom. Surely others were too. But it would imply that plenty of others were not actually waiting for the kingdom. Oh, yes, they probably would tell people they were waiting for the kingdom. But to say something, is different than it actually being true. It’s sad to think that there could have been people among the Jews, people who inherited that spiritual heritage that we’ve been studying about in 2 Samuel, people who weren’t actually waiting for the kingdom. Either they didn’t actually believe that the king from the line of David would actually come; or in practice that hope had become so far from their thinking, that for all intents and purposes they really weren’t waiting for the coming of the kingdom. But that was not the case for Joseph of Arimathea. He was waiting. He was eager. He was expectant. He believed. And he made the connection of that kingdom with Jesus!
But it wasn’t just Joseph who in this passage was waiting for the kingdom. We also see it with someone who probably looked about as completely opposite outwardly to Joseph. I draw your attention to verse 41. There is that criminal hanging on another cross next to Jesus. That criminal had just admitted he was a great sinner. But then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” That is the language of someone who had started to wait for the kingdom. Of course, right there also hung a criminal who was not evidently waiting for the kingdom.
How sad it is that there would be people back there not waiting for the kingdom of God. And how sad it is today when God’s promises continue to go forth, and there are people who won’t believe in them, won’t trust them, won’t put their hope in them. And I think a quick application for us in this is a reminder that even among the community of God’s people, we need to remember to keep God’s promises before us. To think how Jesus came here to his own, and how many were not waiting and ready for his coming. And so to us today in the new covenant church community, may we not be caught asleep when the Lord returns. And even in our life here and now, may we not be people who are not expecting the Lord to be at work. You see, the reason why Joseph here and this criminal could be waiting for the kingdom is because God promised a kingdom. And so for us as God’s people today, think about the sorts of things God has promised, and wait for this. What I mean is the things God has promised for this age, eagerly believe God will bring them, and then look for them to come. And of course for the things God has promised for the age to come, let us eagerly believe God will keep his word and bring that about too.
So then, returning to our passage, let’s turn now in our second point to see how so many of the people rejected the king when he finally did come. In other words, not only were there people not waiting for the kingdom to come, there was also plenty of people who when the king did finally come, missed him! They rejected the very king that they should have been waiting for. We see this at the start of our passage in verse 2. The religious leaders who were accusing Jesus specifically reference that Jesus called himself a king. It’s interesting from their perspective that we never see them doing any serious consideration if that is actually a valid claim. You know, if you are looking forward to a coming king, and someone comes along not only claiming to be it, but doing all the miracles Jesus was doing, don’t you think you should at least pause and consider if this is the one you’ve been waiting for?
And look at some of the other ways that Jesus was rejected here. They also bring their rejection in relationship to Jesus being a king. Look at the bystanders’ rejection of him in verse 35. They say, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.” Notice that they are talking about the Christ, and that’s language about the coming king. And as the people mock him, they make such a fundamental mistake. They don’t properly connect the dots. They point to how Jesus could save others, obviously referring to all his miracles. But then they think that Jesus is not able to save himself. They thus conclude he is a fraud, that he must not really be the Christ, the long-awaited king. But they missed the point. The fact that Jesus did save all those people miraculously proves that he had the power to save himself too. But the fact that he doesn’t use his power to save himself, shows that he is intentionally allowing himself to go through all this.
Another rejection of Jesus is by the soldiers. This is verses 36-37. They mock him and say, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.” Notice again the reference to Jesus as a king. If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself. In Mark’s gospel its recorded that the soldiers also dressed him in purple at this time, which was the color that kings would wear. And so the soldiers didn’t just mock Jesus. They mocked the claim that he was the promised king. It was a rejection of Jesus as the king promised to the line of David.
We see this one more time with that other criminal. He said in verse 39, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” The context would have us understand that this criminal did not actually believe Jesus was the Christ. He too was mocking Jesus. He too denied the he was the promised king, the Anointed One.
And so think of the shame here for all the people, particularly those who were the Israelites. You can expect this behavior from the pagan Roman soldiers. But for all those who were of the seed of Abraham, for them to reject Jesus like this, is so very sad. It’s like what John 1:11 says. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” And as this passage shows, it’s not just that they missed his true identity. No, by this point, people understood the claim. People understood that the claim was that he was the promised Messiah King. But they either weren’t actually waiting for such a king, or they outright denied that Jesus was that king. And so they worked together to put Jesus to death.
And yet this passage in different ways affirms to us that Jesus was indeed that promised Messianic King. That’s our third point then for this evening, to see how this passages identifies Jesus as the promised king. Of course, the sign that hung over Jesus’ cross affirmed it in three different languages for all to read. Verse 38, it read, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Regardless of the motivation for Pilate to have it say that, what it said spoke the truth. Jesus was the long-awaited king of the Jews, the lion of the tribe of Judah, the branch from the root of Jesse.
And of course, Jesus himself affirms this, at least twice very specifically in this passage. We see this especially in verse 3. Jesus is on trial. That’s a serious thing to speak and give testimony at a trial. And Pilate asks him point blank, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And Jesus replied, “It is as you say.” Another way we see it is in verse 42 when that repentant criminal Lord, says to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” The man’s question assumes that Jesus is the king of a coming kingdom. Notice how Jesus responds. He doesn’t correct the man, saying that he’s not such a king. No, his reply to the man affirms that he is such a king. And in fact his answer tells us something even more wonderful about how Jesus is such a king. Jesus tells him, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
In other words, Jesus not only affirms to that repentant criminal that he is the promised king, but he also tells him something about the coming of the kingdom. The criminal thought the kingdom was yet something for the future. He wants Jesus to remember him in the future when he brings his kingdom. But Jesus surprises him by saying that today would be the day that Jesus remembers him. Today, that very day, that man would be with Jesus in paradise.
I hope that helps to bring everything together in your mind. The people there that rejected Jesus’ kingship thought the cross signaled defeat. But I tell you, the morning of Good Friday, Jesus was not in paradise. When Jesus hung there on the cross, bearing the wrath of God for our sins, he was not in paradise. But that very day, after he died, it would not signal his defeat and failure as a king. It would signal his victory as a king. The party and celebration would begin that very day when Jesus and this criminal would go to paradise.
Let me say it another way. The kingdom that this man was waiting for, would in part come to him that very day. The same kingdom that Joseph of Arimathea was waiting for, in part would come that very day even to him. Because for Joseph and all who wait for the kingdom to come in Christ Jesus, the day of Jesus’ death was the day he struck the serpent. It was the day he dealt a definitive blow to death. It was a day that he made possible our salvation through the atonement of our sin. The cross of Jesus Christ was where Jesus bore all the guilt and shame for our sin. And so the coming of Jesus’ kingdom in a real way came that day when he died on the cross. His death wasn’t the end of a failed attempt to reign. It was rather the glorious beginning to establish his kingdom with a people that he purchased with his own blood.
And so this is how the cross and his kingship relate. He is a king over a people he redeemed by his very own sacrifice on the cross. If he had saved himself from the cross, he would have to be king over a kingdom with no one else in it! Because everyone else would have to be banished forever to the wrath of God in the eternal lake of fire. But in going to the cross, he saved a people for himself. These are the people who are in his kingdom. These are the people of whom he is their king. Even of us, if you have repented of your sins and put your faith and allegiance in him.
And so brothers and sisters, and citizens and subjects of King Jesus’ great kingdom, let us then live in allegiance to our King. Let us not take Jesus’ death for granted. Let us not take his grace too lightly. We commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice today for that very reason. Yes, his grace is freely given. But he calls us to respond in gratitude and in striving for new obedience. What that means is that if you acknowledge him as king, then treat him as king! To treat him as king is to mean that you submit to him as Lord of your life. And that means in everything. That means that he can tell you what to do. And he has. He has given us of his word that tells how those in his kingdom are to seek to live. Saints of God, let us live as such, even as we wait for the final coming of his kingdom in glory! Amen.
Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.