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Reign of Christ — Christ the King — Sunday is on November 20, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 23:33-43

23:33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

23:34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.

23:35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”

23:36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,

23:37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”

23:38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

23:39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

23:40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?

23:41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”

23:42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

23:43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Apologies in advance for another long post, but what our commentators have to say will open our eyes to the true depth of this reading.

John MacArthur says that the story of the penitent thief is found only in Luke’s Gospel:

The story of the penitent thief is not in Matthew, Mark or John.  It is only in Luke.  This is all we have.  And in a sense, as we look at verses 39 to 43 and consider this miraculous conversion of a thief hanging on a cross next to Jesus, we might conclude that this is a rather cryptic account Perhaps we would wish that Matthew had given us another look at it or Mark or both or John, but this is all we have …

we come to the conversion at Calvary, the story of the salvation of a crucified thief.  And as I said, as you first look at it, it seems a bit brief and perhaps not very revealing, but you will find by the time we’re done that it is anything but that.

MacArthur explains that our Lord’s crucifixion was set up to play out as a comedy for both Romans and Jews:

I understand that’s a stunning notion, that this is a comedy, but it is precisely that which was intended by the crucifiers.  To them, Jesus was an object of absolute ridicule.  As a king, he was laughable.  This whole thing was intended to be a mockery of the fact that he was a king.  He had no army.  He had no sovereignty over anything or any place.  He had meager and minimal followers.  He had conquered no one and nothing and delivered no one.  There was nothing about him that looked as if he was a massive power, but rather he was increasingly weaker and weaker and weaker And so the whole thing was so comedic they turned it into a kind of burlesque.  Here, those that are gathered around the cross are mocking, sneering and hurling abuse at Jesus with sarcasm.  They’re endeavoring to treat the Son of God with as much dishonor as they can muster, with as much disrespect and disdain and shame as they can possibly generate. 

Along with Judas’s betrayal a few days beforehand, this is one of history’s greatest sins. Both show how horrible spiritual blindness truly is:

Here is sin at its apex.  Here is sin at its ultimate.  Here is blasphemy at its pinnacle.  Mocking deity, sneering at the incarnate God, and with glib satisfaction piling sarcastic scorn on the Creator and the Redeemer – the true King; the true Messiah.  Sinners cannot to worse than this.  Nothing that sinners can do could more offend God than this.  Blasphemy can’t be worse than this.  We might ask that in light of the heinousness of this, maybe this is time for God to act.  We should be expecting a holy, righteous God to react to this kind of ultimate blasphemy by pouring out wrath and vengeance and fury on those who are perpetrating this on him …

Judgment will come 40 years after this in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.  Many, if not most of these people, gather today who are still alive 40 years later will perish in that judgment.  Many will die before that ever comes.  But doesn’t this seem like an undue patience?  Just how tolerant is holiness?  Just how patient is righteousness?  Just how enduring is divine mercy and grace?  If ever there seemed to be a time when God’s wrath would be justified if it came swiftly, this would be it.

Well, in a strange irony, His judgment did come swiftly at the cross, but it didn’t come on the crowd, it came on Jesus on behalf of those who blasphemed him.  The Old Testament is clear about blasphemy.  It says this in Leviticus 24:16, “Anybody who blasphemes my name shall die.”  It is a capital crime to blaspheme the name of God.  They are blasphemers.  They know that.  They’re content to blaspheme Him, to pronounce curses on Him, to heap abuse on Him.  That is exactly what they are doing.  In a perverted twist, however, they accuse him of being the blasphemer.  When earlier in his ministry Jesus demonstrated the power to forgive sin, Matthew 9, they said this man blasphemes.  You come to the end of Matthew – or toward the end of Matthew in chapter 26, Jesus says, “You’ve said it yourself, nevertheless I tell you that you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.  And the high priest tore at his robes saying, “He has blasphemed.  What further need do we have of witnesses.  Behold, you have heard the blasphemy.  He is deserving of death.”  And they spit in his face and beat him with their fists and slapped him.

They are the blasphemers, but in a perverted twist, they make him into the blasphemer and they are the ones who think they’re upholding righteousness

MacArthur reminds us of God’s infinite patience:

When you run out of patience, God does not.  When you look, at something and think the patience of God must be exhausted because my patience would have been long ago exhausted, God’s is not.  And the answer is that God is far beyond us, infinitely beyond us, in how He thinks and how He acts.  The uniqueness of God is this: when He is massively offended and when He is relentlessly offended, He still comes to the offenders, and warning them of the judgment to come offers them forgiveness and mercy and grace and compassion and makes them His children and takes them to His holy heaven forever.  It is that God who is hanging on the cross.  That God whose patience is far beyond ours because His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts.  The stunning contrast at Calvary is the contrast between the merciless insults of the crowd and the merciful intersession of the Christ, and those are the two points I want you to look at.  The merciless insults of the crowd, verse 35.  We’re going to look at the merciless insults of the crowd.  The crowd is made up of four groups.  There’s the people, the leaders, the soldiers and the thieves and they all have the same response to Jesus.  They’re literally without sympathy.  They are heartless, cruel, brutal.

When the Romans — ‘they’ — came to the place that is called The Skull, or Golgotha, they crucified Jesus with the two criminals, one on His right and one on His left (verse 33).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

he was crucified at a place called Calvary, Kranion, the Greek name for Golgotha—the place of a skull: an ignominious place, to add to the reproach of his sufferings, but significant, for there he triumphed over death as it were upon his own dunghill. He was crucified. His hands and feet were nailed to the cross as it lay upon the ground, and it was then lifted up, and fastened into the earth, or into some socket made to receive it. This was a painful and shameful death above any other.

Our Lord’s place in the middle of the two men was significant:

he was crucified in the midst between two thieves, as if he had been the worst of the three. Thus he was not only treated as a transgressor, but numbered with them, the worst of them.

Jesus interceded to His Father asking Him to forgive them because they didn’t know what they were doing; the soldiers cast lots to divide His clothing (verse 34).

MacArthur says that casting lots for a criminal’s belongings was normal:

That’s standard procedure, by the way.  The executioners were given the right to keep the possessions, the final possessions of clothing and things of the people who were executed.  That was sort of a small job benefit, I guess, a perk.  Now there’s a little more detail on this back in John because John gives us some insight into exactly what the soldiers did.  In 19 John 23, “The soldiers, therefore, when they crucified Jesus, took his outer garments and made four parts.”  There would be four parts.  There would be four garments that a man would wear in that day.  There would be an outer cloak that you kept warm with, like a jacket, and you slept on and used as a blanket.  There would be shoes or sandals.  There would be a headpiece.  There would be a sash or a belt.  Four pieces. 

Psalm 22 prophesied this would happen:

We know that there were four Roman soldiers assigned to a crucifixion.  If you look in 12 Acts 4, you read about a squad of Romans.  It’s a quaternion made up of four In fact a full one was four units of four, so it’s very likely that there were four soldiers in a death squad That’s why the four garments could be divided one to each of the four, but there was also a tunic which would have been his regular garment and the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece, so they said let’s not tear it.  Let’s cast lots for it to decide whose it shall be.  That the scripture might be fulfilled they divided my outer garments among them and for my clothing they cast lots.  That, too, in Psalm 22. 

Out of the four groups of people there that MacArthur wants us to look at, we see the soldiers first:

We might expect cruelty out of Roman soldiers because they did this all the time. 

The people stood by watching, and the leaders scoffed at Jesus, saying that if He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the Messiah of God, His Chosen One (verse 35).

Here Luke shows us the crowd and the leaders.

Remember that every Jew possible was in Jerusalem for the Passover, so it was a huge crowd.

Of them, MacArthur gives us something to think about:

these are the people, probably, who had been healed by Jesus of certain diseases.  These might be people who had had experiences of other miracles that Jesus had performed in the area of Judea and Jerusalem, and there were lots of them from, of all places, Galilee in the north.  There may have been, and surely were, people in the crowd who were fed among the 5,000 when Jesus made the food.  There were certainly people who knew well those who had been healed, maybe been given their hearing or their sight, or raised up to walk from a state of paralysis.  I mean wouldn’t we expect to find something sympathetic out of them and didn’t they hear Jesus teaching, and didn’t they experience the meekness and gentleness of Christ and the love of Christ that was so manifest in the beauty and magnificence of what he taught? 

But even the crowd is merciless.  You say, “Wait a minute.  All it says in that verse is the people stood by looking on.”  Well, that’s not all that can be said about the merciless crowd, I’m sorry to say.  This is a large crowd.  They’ve come from everywhere.  It’s Passover.  The city has swelled by hundreds of thousands of people and the crowd moving toward Calvary from the public trial early in the morning is growing and growing and growing, because Jesus is the most popular person in the country by far and he’s drawing a massive crowd that are now collected around the cross.  These are people who were there to hail him as the potential king on Monday when he came into the city.  They were the same people who were there to scream, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!” earlier in the day, and now they sort of appear to be exhausted, I guess, sort of blank stares from what Luke tells us.  But Matthew and Mark tell us more.  Matthew and Mark tell us what we need to know.  Matthew 27:39, “And those passing by, the milling crowd, were hurling abuse at him, wagging their heads, a gesture of taunting, and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself.  If you are the son of God, come down from the cross in the same way,” the priests, etc.

MacArthur thinks the leaders influenced the crowd:

Mark 15 verse 29, “And those passing by the milling crowd were hurling abuse at him saying, “Ha!” Wagging their heads, “You are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.  Save yourself and come down from the cross.”  Again, in the same way which sorts out the rulers from the passing, milling crowd.  The crowd were in it.  They had been orchestrated by the leaders.  They’re easily seduced by their evil hearts of unbelief, easily seduced by the manipulation of their leaders.  They’d picked up the comedic game and they pour out the venomous sarcasm on Jesus.  They never do the right thing, this crowd.  They haven’t done the right thing all week.  Here they’re just vicious, merciless, to the merciful son of God.  It’s amazing.  It’s amazing.  This is the worst possible conduct by the people of Israel.  So the merciless crowd, then the merciless rulers – back to Luke 23:35, “And even the rulers were sneering at him.”  Of course they had orchestrated all of it, “Saying he has saved others, let him save himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.”  Then they use to Messianic terms, The Christ of God, the Anointed; the word Messiah, and His Chosen One a Messianic title taken from Daniel chapter 9 The Old Testament expressions related to the Messiah are in reference – in general reference when they use the term the Christ of God.  The specific words, “His Chosen One” comes from Daniel 9 and definitely is a Messianic title. 

The soldiers joined in the mocking, offering him sour wine (verse 36) in His moment of greatest thirst and taunting Him, saying that if He were the King of the Jews, He should save Himself (verse 37).

Of the sour wine, Henry says it was a taunting invitation to drink with them:

They mocked him (v. 36, 37); they made sport with him, and made a jest of his sufferings; and when they were drinking sharp sour wine themselves, such as was generally allotted them, they triumphantly asked him if he would pledge them, or drink with them.

MacArthur discusses the Greek word for ‘taunt’ and the sour wine:

The actual Greek word empaiz is to taunt.  Inflicting even more pain on him to his face as he hangs in agony.  And in a mock act of obeisance and service to him as if he were a king, they offer him sour wine Now there are a couple of occasions that are clearly identified when Christ was crucified in which he was offered something to drink.  The first one was when they got him to the place to be crucified, you remember they offered him a drink that had a sedative in it, that would probably be used to sedate the person a little bit so it would be easier to nail him to the cross and he wouldn’t fight And Jesus refused that, remember? 

And then when he comes to the very end of his dying, six hours later, at the very end, at 3:00 in the afternoon when he’s about to die, he says, “I’m thirsty,” and they lift up to him a drink on a sponge on the end of a stick.  This seems to me to be something different from both of those.  This seems to me to be part of the game they were playing.  This is certainly not their giving him the wine in response to his asking.  This does not appear to be the sedative because he’s already there and the mockery is already full scale.  It seems to me that they are offering him sour wine and saying at the same time, if you’re the King of the Jews, save yourself.  It’s a pretend act of obeisance, as if they were bringing royal wine to the king.  The mockery just reaches ultimate proportions.  Roman soldiers drank a cheap form of wine.  They offered it to him, mimicking the rulers, mimicking the people, spewing out the same taunts.

MacArthur looks at Matthew’s account and prophecies from the Old Testament:

According to Matthew’s account, Matthew 27:42, “He saved others, he can’t save himself.  He is the King of Israel.  Let him now come down from the cross and we’ll all believe him.  He trusts in God, let Him deliver him now if he is taking pleasure in him, for he said, “I am the son of God.”  You know, they say these things and they just have no idea what they’re saying.  Listen to this.  Psalm 22 looks at the cross of Christ.  It’s prophecy.  It starts out this way.  Here’s the beginning of 22 Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Does that sound familiar?  The very words of Jesus on the cross. But go down to verse seven, 22nd Psalm 7, “A reproach of men despised by the people, all who see me sneer at me.  They separate with the lip.  They wag the head.”  That’s exactly what they did.  “Saying commit yourself to the Lord.  Let Him deliver him. Let Him rescue him because he delights in him.”  All that sarcasm was predicted in the Psalm.  They fulfilled it to the letter. 

They knew about the title of the Chosen One, because Jesus had applied it to Himself during His ministry:

… you can go back to the ninth chapter of Luke and in verses 20 and 35 you will see that Jesus did take the title The Christ of God and he did take the title His Chosen One.  They knew he claimed it.

Paul said that the Jews would find Jesus to be a stumbling block and the Gentiles would find Him foolish, things that are still true today. MacArthur addresses that and dying on a tree, the ultimate curse for a Jew:

Remember, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 that a crucified Messiah is to a Jew a stumbling block, and of course to the gentile, foolishnessThey thought of someone hanging on a tree according to 21 Deuteronomy 23 as cursed by God and Jesus was cursed by God, and so they heap on him all the scorn of this notion that he is the true Messiah and King that they’ve been waiting for.  How could that possibly be true?  It’s absurd.  The leaders orchestrate this and egg on the mindless crowd.  Little did they know, as I said, that he was being cursed by God That was true.  Further, 53 Isaiah 4 says, “He was smitten by God and afflicted,” and verse 10 says, “The Lord was pleased to crush him, putting him to death.”  Paul looks back on that and said he was made a curse for us But it was all nonsense to the people. 

Henry says this mocking of Jesus was a moment of unity between Roman and Jew:

… they said, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself; for, as the Jews prosecuted him under the notion of a pretended Messiah, so the Romans under the notion of a pretended king.

There was an inscription over Jesus: ‘This is the King of the Jews’ (verse 38).

Although Luke doesn’t say so, it was written in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Our commentators place great emphasis on it being in those three languages.

Henry says that it was part of God’s plan to spread the Gospel:

That the superscription over his head, setting forth his crime, was, This is the King of the Jews, v. 38. He is put to death for pretending to be the king of the Jews; so they meant it; but God intended it to be a declaration of what he really was, notwithstanding his present disgrace: he is the king of the Jews, the king of the church, and his cross is the way to his crown. This was written in those that were called the three learned languages, Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, for those are best learned that have learned Christ. It was written in these three languages that it might be known and read of all men; but God designed by it to signify that the gospel of Christ should be preached to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem, and be read in all languages. The Gentile philosophy made the Greek tongue famous, the Roman laws and government made the Latin tongue so, and the Hebrew excelled them all for the sake of the Old Testament. In these three languages is Jesus Christ proclaimed king. Young scholars, that are taking pains at school to make themselves masters of these three languages, should aim at this, that in the use of them they may increase their acquaintance with Christ.

MacArthur explains why Pontius Pilate wanted the inscription to read just that:

We know historically that when people were crucified, their crime was posted and since Jesus committed no crime there could be no crime posted over him So Pilate decided what was going to go on the sign Pilate, 19 John 19, Pilate wrote an inscription and put it on the cross.  This was Pilate’s thing and this is what it said, “Jesus, the Nazarene” or Jesus of Nazareth, “The King of the Jews.”  If you combine Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, it actually says, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews.”  It was all placarded there.  Well, therefore this inscription many of the Jews read for the place Jesus was crucified was near the city, again reason for the huge crowd.  It was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.  Pilate wanted everybody to know it and so the chief priests and the Jews were saying to Pilate, “Do not write the King of the Jews, but that he said, “I am King of the Jews.”  Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”  Pilate wouldn’t change it because this is Pilate’s way to mock them.  They had mocked him.  They had backed him into the proverbial corner and blackmailed him into a executing a man he knew was innocent.  Even his wife said wash your hands of this innocent man.  Pilate said multiple times, “I find no fault in him.”  Herod found no crime.  And Pilate had been made to look like a fool and he wasn’t going to leave it at that, so he wanted to turn the tables and make them look like fools.  It was Pilate’s little joke.  This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.  They said take that down and put up he said he’s the King of the Jews and he said what I have written I have written.  So you have the people mocking Jesus and Pilate mocking the people.

Then we meet the last group, the two criminals on crosses next to Jesus.

One of them also joined in the mocking, saying Jesus that, if He were the Messiah, He should save Himself — and them (verse 39).

MacArthur tells us that in Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts, both thieves had been mocking our Lord:

One of the thieves, only one is quoted by Luke, but Matthew and Mark tell us the rest of the story.  Here’s what Matthew says, 27 Matthew 44, “The robbers were also insulting him with the same words,” both of them; plural.  15 Mark 32, “Those who were crucified with him were also insulting him.”  They both joined in; the whole crowd, all the rulers, all the soldiers, both thieves.  All Luke does is record for us what one of the two said, but they were both involved.  “Are you not the Christ?” again with scorn and sarcasm, “Save yourself and us.” 

The silent thief rebuked the other, asking him if he did not fear God, for both were under the same sentence of condemnation (verse 40).

The penitent thief told his companion that both of them were justly condemned but that ‘this man’ — Jesus — had done nothing wrong (verse 41).

Henry points to divine grace in the spiritual transformation of the penitent thief:

2. He owns that he deserves what was done to him: We indeed justly. It is probable that they both suffered for one and the same crime, and therefore he spoke with the more assurance, We received the due reward of our deeds. This magnifies divine grace, as acting in a distinguishing way. These two have been comrades in sin and suffering, and yet one is saved and the other perishes; two that had gone together all along hitherto, and yet now one taken and the other left. He does not say, Thou indeed justly, but We. Note, True penitents acknowledge the justice of God in all the punishments of their sin. God has done right, but we have done wickedly. 3. He believes Christ to have suffered wrongfully. Though he was condemned in two courts, and run upon as if he had been the worst of malefactors, yet this penitent thief is convinced, by his conduct in his sufferings, that he has done nothing amiss, ouden atoponnothing absurd, or unbecoming his character. The chief priests would have him crucified between the malefactors, as one of them; but this thief has more sense than they, and owns he is not one of them. Whether he had before heard of Christ and of his wonderous works does not appear, but the Spirit of grace enlightened him with this knowledge, and enabled him to say, This man has done nothing amiss.

MacArthur describes what happened to the penitent thief physically and spiritually:

As the hours passed on the cross, one of the two most thoroughly degenerate people on the mountain, at the scene, a man devoted to violent robbery, a wicked criminal, has a massive transformation.  It is shocking; 180 degrees.  His taunting goes silent and while his body is in horrible trauma and agony, the unparalleled suffering of crucifixion, his mind might be assumed to go foggy as he tries to deal with the pain.  And as some kind of shock would set in, just to protect him from agonies that would be totally unbearable, and we know the body has the capacity to send us into shock in order to mitigate those kinds of excruciating experiences, but in the moment of the worst imaginable kind of agony, his mind becomes crystal clear with a clarity and perception of reality and truth that he’d never experienced in his life.  With a clarity and a perception of truth and reality that he hadn’t experienced a moment before.  Something has happened.  All of a sudden, he turns to his friend and rebukes him for doing what he had just been doing.  What has happened?

I’ll tell you what has happened.  A divine, sovereign miracle has happened.  There is no other explanation.  You want a parallel to this?  Paul on the Damascus Road.  That’s the best parallel.  His thoughts of Jesus are thoughts of hate.  His thoughts toward those who confess the name of Jesus are thoughts of persecution and execution.  Paul has papers.  He’s on his way to Damascus to persecute and execute those who named the name of Christ.  And while he’s on his way with his papers in his hand, God invades his life, slams him to the dirt, blinds him and saves him That’s how salvation works, folks.  It is a sovereign miracle.  Not always that dramatic, but sometimes that dramatic

The penitent thief is a form of the Prodigal Son:

If you want to connect this with somebody else, this man would be the prodigal This is a wicked man, but all of a sudden in the moment he is dramatically transformed and it becomes immediately evident what has happened.  He goes from blaspheming Jesus to being horrified at the other criminal blaspheming Jesus.  His whole perception of how you treat Jesus is completely changed and that’s where the story begins The other criminal has had no such change, hanging there hurling abuse at Jesus with the same mocking sarcasm, “Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us.”  It must have shocked him to hear from the other side of Jesus, his friend, verse 40, who answered and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God since you’re under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we, indeed, justly for we’re receiving what we deserve for our deeds.  But this man has done nothing wrong.”  This must have been a shock to the other thief who was hurling the abuse.  What happened to you?  What happened to you since you were nailed up there?  The transformed man finds the taunts coming out of the mouth of his companion criminal repulsive to him and frightening to him and they had just come out of his mouth.  What this man says is the evidence of his changed heart. Salvation is a divine miracle and it manifests itself There’s a lot more here than you might think. 

First of all, he becomes very, very aware of God and the fear of God Then he openly acknowledges his own sin Then he confesses the sinlessness of Christ and affirms his messiah-ship and his savior-hood It’s an amazing thing.  And all of these are responses to the miraculous sovereign work of the spirit of God on his dark heart.  This is the light of the glorious gospel of Christ shining in the midst of the darkness and dispelling it.  I want to sort of unpack those elements that are the manifest evidences that God has done the work of transformation.  The other sinner, no fear of God, no fear of judgment, no sense of sinfulness, no sense of justice, no sense of guilt, no desire for forgiveness, no longing for righteousness, no desire for reconciliation.  And the thief who has been transformed confronts that tragic condition, which moments before had been his own condition.  He can’t understand it any more.  In a moment of time he went from being a part of it to not being able to comprehend it.  How can you act like that?  How can you talk like that?  Don’t you fear God?  Don’t you know you’re getting what you deserve?  Don’t you know this man is righteous?  What a transformation.  Let’s look a little more closely at it.

While the one criminal is hurling abuse at Jesus, the other answered and rebuking him said – rebuking is a very strong word Epitima He said, “Do you not even fear God?”  Let me tell you the first evidence that God is doing the work of conversion:  the fear of God.  The fear of God.  If someone is converted to Christ, if someone is regenerate and someone is born again, made new, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 he becomes a new creature, old things pass away and all things become new.  Boy, do we see that here.  And the first thing you see in a real conversion is a heightened awareness that God is a threat.  To be afraid of God, literally to fear God.  He really is not seeking someone to get him off the cross.  He’s not trying to find someone who can save him from physical death.  He wants to make sure he is saved from divine judgment.  His problem is not really what’s happening to him on the earth, it’s what’s going to happen to him when he comes to the throne of God.  He’s a Jew, no doubt, raised to know the laws of God, to understand God – God’s holiness, God’s law, obedience to God’s law.  He is a violator of God’s law.  He is an open violator of God’s law.  He is a known violator of God’s law.  He is a tried and proven violator of God’s law and he’s dying a death that is just and he says it.  And the law of men was a reflection of the law of God, certainly in Israel, and so he knows that if this is what men to do him for breaking the law of God, what in the world is God going to do to me?  All of a sudden he has clarity on what he had learned about the law and guilt and sin and judgment.  He knew he was a violator.  He was internally convicted by the work of the Holy Spirit, to be aware that what he was getting from a human judge was only a small sampling of what he was going to get from a divine judge.  And to add to his guilt, which put him on the cross, you can add that he had been blaspheming the Messiah and he now knows it, producing an even greater guilt From this place of clarity he can’t even imagine that he did that, that he said what he said to Jesus and he can’t understand how his friend can say that.  He says in verse 40, “Do you not even fear God since you’re under the same sentence of condemnation?”  They’re two of a kind.  Look, we’re getting exactly what we deserve.  Don’t you have a fear of what’s going to happen when we wind up before God?  As Jesus said in Luke 12:4-5, “I don’t fear those who destroy the body, but fear him who destroys both soul and body in hell.”  I will tell you this, and you need to remember this, Romans 3:18 says this when it defines the inherent nature of fallen man and his sinfulness, “there’s none righteous, no not one, there’s none that understand, none that is good,” etc.  That text from verse 10 of Romans 3 to verse 18, ends in verse 18 with this statement:  “There is no fear of God in their eyes.”  It is characteristic of the unregenerate not to fear God.  This is a typical unregenerate comment, “I’ve lived a pretty good life.  Certainly God will take me to heaven.”  Like the Jews in Romans 10 who didn’t understand the righteousness of God.  The sinner does not live under the fear of God.  He must be brought under the fear of God by the convicting power of God.  This thief who is still hurling abuse at Jesus has no fear of God like all other sinners.  But the sinner who comes to salvation has been brought by the power of the Spirit of God to a deadly fear of divine judgment And friends, as we communicate the gospel with sinners, you can’t hold back that reality.  The gospel is not telling sinners that Jesus will make them happy or Jesus will give them a better life or Jesus will fix up the pain and bring fulfillment and all of that.  The message of salvation is you are a violator of God’s law and you are headed for eternal punishment under the wrath of God. You’d better fear God.  That’s the message.  And when you see a real conversion, you see this and it’s reminiscent, isn’t it, of Luke 18.  What is the public doing as he pours his head down and looks at the ground and pounds his breast saying, “Lord, be” – what – “merciful to me, a sinner.”  Don’t give me justice.  Don’t give me judgment … 

… All of a sudden, he had crystal clarity in his mind on the fact that he was going to stand before God as a sinner with nothing that could rescue him.  That’s the first evidence of a work of salvation in the heart.  The second one is a sense of one’s sinfulness.  They go together.  The fear of God coupled with a sense of one’s guilt.  Verse 41, we indeed, justly, we’re receiving what we deserve for our deeds.  He says I’m a lawbreaker.  I know that.  It’s a true assessment of his condition.  Like the prodigal, who in getting down with the pigs and trying to eat and be on the brink of death, he says – and Jesus told the story in Luke 15 – he came to his senses That’s where true repentance begins, when you come to your senses.  He’s guilty, he’s aware of his sinfulness, he’s in a sense saying I am a sinner.  I know I am a sinner.  I am receiving what I deserve for my deeds.  This is the attitude of a true repenter.  He understands that if justice is operating in his life, then he is going to get exactly what he’s getting.  No excuses.  He’s not saying I was led astray and there were evil influences in my life.  I was molested when I was four or whatever it might be.  He’s saying look, we’re receiving exactly what we deserve for our deeds.  Justice is operating and it will operate not only in the human world, in the world of men, but it will operate in God’s realm as well.  Spiritual reality makes clear that in spite of the system of Judaism teaching salvation by works, salvation by self effort, salvation by ceremony, etc., the true convert pleads nothing but confesses his utter guilt and absolute bankruptcy.  He has nothing to offer God; nothing to commend himself.  Like the prodigal he comes back stinking and dying.  He needs mercy, he needs grace and he knows it He’s an unworthy sinner.  These are the evidences of a saving work of God He needs mercy and it’s never been this clear.  By the way, sin never becomes as clear to the sinner as when he’s in the presence of righteousness.  Like Isaiah, who in the presence of God, who was holy, holy, holy, said, “damn me, for I am a man of unclean lips.”  He had a clear perception of the judgment of God which he was deserving and a clear perception of his great guilt. 

There’s a third element that becomes in evidence for us of the work of God in his heart and that is that he believed in Christ.  He believed in Christ.  We talk about two things that make up a real conversion repentance under the fear of divine wrath and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and we see that.  The things that he says about Christ, though brief, are really quite stunning.  The end of verse 41 he does what the sinner must do.  He compares himself with the perfection of Christ.  “We’re getting exactly what we deserve for our deeds.  But this man has done nothing wrong.”  Here the story moves from an assessment of his own condition to an assessment of Jesus Christ That’s what happens in a true conversion.  And he goes beyond saying Jesus isn’t guilty of the crime for which he’s being crucified to saying something far broader than that.  He has done nothing wrong.  I don’t know how much he knew about all the attempts to try and find a crime for which they could legitimately crucify Christ and they never could find one.  I don’t know what exposure he had to Christ.  I don’t know what he heard other people say about the perfections of Jesus Christ, but our Lord had been on display for three years with all of his perfections and no one had ever been able to lay any legitimate charge against him.  He is given, by the power of the Spirit of God, clarity to understand that he is hanging on a cross as a sinner who is getting what he deserves next to someone who is righteous and is getting what he doesn’t deserve.  He believes, then, in the righteousness of Christ. 

The repentant thief asks Jesus — by name — to remember him when He comes into his kingdom (verse 42).

It’s a highly humble request.

Henry also says the request showed that the man believed in the righteousness of Christ:

1. Observe his faith in this prayerChrist was now in the depth of disgrace, deserted by his own disciples, reviled by his own nation, suffering as a pretender, and not delivered by his Father He made this profession before those prodigies happened which put honour upon his sufferings, and which startled the centurion; yet verily we have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. He believed another life after this, and desired to be happy in that life, not as the other thief, to be saved from the cross, but to be well provided for when the cross had done its worst. 2. Observe his humility in this prayer. All his request is, Lord, remember me. He does not pray, Lord, prefer me (as they did, Matt 20 21), though, having the honour as none of the disciples had to drink of Christ’s cup and to be baptized with his baptism either on his right hand or on his left in his sufferings when his own disciples had deserted him he might have had some colour to ask as they did to sit on his right hand and on his left in his kingdom. Acquaintance in sufferings has sometimes gained such a point, Jer 52 31, 32. But he is far from the thought of it. All he begs is, Lord, remember me, referring himself to Christ in what way to remember him. It is a request like that of Joseph to the chief butler, Think on me (Gen 40 14), and it sped better; the chief butler forgot Joseph, but Christ remembered this thief. 3. There is an air of importunity and fervency in this prayer. He does, as it were, breathe out his soul in it: Lord, remember me, and I have enough; I desire no more; into thy hands I commit my case.” Note, To be remembered by Christ, now that he is in his kingdom, is what we should earnestly desire and pray for, and it will be enough to secure our welfare living and dying. Christ is in his kingdom, interceding. “Lord, remember me, and intercede for me.” He is there ruling. “Lord, remember me, and rule in me by thy Spirit.” He is there preparing places for those that are his. “Lord, remember me, and prepare a place for me; remember me at death, remember me in the resurrection. See Job 14 13.

MacArthur looks at the thief’s calling Jesus by name:

“Jesus, yeshua.”  What does that mean?  Jehovah saves.  “We shall call him Jesus for he will save his people from their sins,” Matthew 1:21.  Yeshua.  He recognizes Jesus as righteous.  He recognizes Jesus as a source of forgiveness and grace and mercy.  He recognizes that Jesus is so merciful and gracious that he’s not even holding the sin of these people against them, but rather desirous of their forgiveness.  And he sees, I think, all of this with clarity given only by the spirit of God who drew, perhaps out of his background, perhaps out of conversations – who knows where it came from – to focus the clarity because he had to know the truth about Christ.  Then when he says, “Jesus,” there’s a lot in that word.  He recognizes Jesus as the Savior.  How do you know that?  Why would he then ask him to remember him when he comes into his kingdom unless he thought he was the one who could save him?  He doesn’t say to him, “Dear sir, could you find somebody that could save me.”  He doesn’t say, “Could you connect with whoever’s in charge of saving people like me?”  He says, “Jesus.  Yeshua.”  Save me.  Remember.  More than a thought.  We think about remember, it’s a hazy, foggy kind of thing.  That’s not what he’s talking about.  Much, much more than that.  It’s a plea of a broken penitent, an unworthy sinner, for grace and forgiveness.  And what he’s really saying is save me from the judgment of God.  Save me from what I deserve.  Forgive me.  You’ve prayed it.  Can I be one of those that’s in answer to your prayer? 

And then I love this.  Boy, he’s got a pretty comprehensive Christology because he says, “Remember me when you come in your kingdom.”  He’s got the Old Testament eschatology.  What did the Old Testament teach?  That the Messiah would come in the end of the age, gloriously, and establish a kingdom, right, fulfilling all the promises to Abraham, all the promises to David and fulfilling all the reiterated promises of the Old Testament that are rehearsed again and again by the prophets, including the new covenant salvation to Israel, and that there would be a kingdom established on earth that’s defined and described in great detail in the Old Testament …  Nobody survived crucifixion, so he also believed that Jesus would die and what, rise again and bring his kingdom.  That’s pretty good Christology.  That’s exactly what he was saying.  Remember me when you come in your kingdom.  He is saying this isn’t the end of you. Like the Centurion, remember, who says surely this is the son of God He’s convinced.

Jesus replied, beginning with ‘Truly I tell you’ — meaning emphatically and sincerely — that the repentant thief would be that day, with Him, in Paradise (verse 43).

Paradise was the third of the heavens referred to in that era. It meant the highest heaven.

MacArthur discusses our Lord’s reply and promise:

Did he have a right to be with Christ?  Are you kidding me?  With me?  Today.  What had he done to earn it?  Nothing.  He’d be dead before he could do anything.  This is grace, isn’t it?  This is the father kissing the son.  This is full reconciliation; instantaneous.  Today.  Paradise, paradeisos, an old Persian word for garden.  It’s a synonym for heaven.  In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul says in verse two, “I was called up to the third heaven.”  And in verse four he says he was called up to paradise.  Same thing.  Third heaven, first heaven, atmospheric, second heaven, celestial, third heaven the abode of God.  That’s paradise.  Or in relation to seven, Jesus says, “To him who overcomes I will grant the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.”  If you turn to Revelation 21 and 22, the tree of life is in heaven.  So he’s not saying anything but you’re going to be with me in heaven today.  There’s no waiting place.  There’s no transitional place.  Absent from the body, present with the Lord, to depart and be with Christ.  If that is not the great illustration of grace I don’t know what is.  This is a man whose whole life qualified him for hell.  And in one moment a sovereign God swept down, gave him complete clarity on himself and on Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit rescued him from divine judgment and that same day met him in heaven and fellowshipped with him

Henry has this analysis:

1. Christ here lets us know that he was going to paradise himself, to hades—the invisible world. His human soul was removing to the place of separate souls; not to the place of the damned, but to paradise, the place of the blessed. By this he assures us that his satisfaction was accepted, and the Father was well pleased in him, else he had not gone to paradise; that was the beginning of the joy set before him, with the prospect of which he comforted himself. He went by the cross to the crown, and we must not think of going any other way, or of being perfected but by sufferings. 2. He lets all penitent believers know that when they die they shall go to be with him there. He was now, as a priest, purchasing this happiness for them, and is ready, as a king, to confer it upon them when they are prepared and made ready for it. See here how the happiness of heaven is set forth to us. (1.) It is paradise, a garden of pleasure, the paradise of God (Rev 2 7), alluding to the garden of Eden, in which our first parents were placed when they were innocent. In the second Adam we are restored to all we lost in the first Adam, and more, to a heavenly paradise instead of an earthly one. (2.) It is being with Christ there. That is the happiness of heaven, to see Christ, and sit with him, and share in his glory, John 17 24. (3.) It is immediate upon death: This day shalt thou be with me, to-night, before to-morrow. Thou souls of the faithful, after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, immediately are in joy and felicity; the spirits of just men are immediately made perfect. Lazarus departs, and is immediately comforted; Paul departs, and is immediately with Christ, Phil 1 23.

What an amazing illustration of forgiveness, divine grace and salvation.

MacArthur has an interesting observation on the Jews’ misunderstanding of Passover during that era. This ties in with the Crucifixion:

There’s another irony, that the Jews want him dead so they can get on with the celebration of the Passover that points to his death.  The Jews want to get on with the slaying of the lambs that can never take away sin while rejecting the one, true lamb of God how alone can take away the sin of the world While they are busy killing the lambs who had no power, God was by their hands, killing the lamb to whom all salvation power belongs.  The Jews looked at Passover as God rescuing them from Pharaoh.  That really wasn’t what the Passover was.  They looked at the Passover as God rescuing them from the power of Pharaoh in Egypt.  It was really far more than that.  While there was a deliverance from Egypt, there was a far greater deliverance in the Passover.  Do you remember what the Passover was?  The word came from God that he was going to come in sweeping judgment on both Egyptians and Jews, and the only people who would be protected from that judgment would be those who put the blood of the lamb on the door post and the lintel.  Otherwise, the judgment of God would hit that house and take the life of the first born.  And God did not discriminate between the Jews and the Egyptians.  He would take the life of any first born.  He would bring wrath and judgment on any household that was not covered by the blood of the Passover lamb.  The night of the Passover, then, was not truly a deliverance from the power of the Pharaoh and the wrath of Pharaoh, it was a deliverance from the wrath of God.  Somehow they had skewed that thinking that they were delivered from the wrath and power of Pharaoh.  They celebrated that part of it and they forgot that the real Passover was a deliverance from the wrath of God And all sinners are always deserving of wrath unless they’re covered by the blood, and the blood of bulls and goats can’t take away sin and can’t really cover the sinner.  So they had no idea what as going on at their cross of Calvary when the true Passover lamb was dying so that his blood might become the protection of all who believe in him.

So in not saving himself, Jesus was able to save others, exactly opposite their assumption that he couldn’t save anybody because he couldn’t even save himself.  How twisted their perception.  How wrong.  And the whole scene was feeding this twisted perception.  There was no clarity anywhere.  The leaders didn’t have clarity.  The people didn’t have clarity.  The Romans didn’t have clarity.  The high priests didn’t have clarity.  The chief priests didn’t have it.  Nobody had it.  Everybody had a twisted and perverted understanding of what was happening and in the midst of all of this, one man gets clarity.  In spite of everything that’s going on around him in which he’s been a participant, the light dawns.  Life comes out of death.  Knowledge comes out of ignorance.  Light dispels the darkness.  And that’s the story of this man that we call the penitent thief.  It’s a personal story. It’s a very personal story.  It’s about one man.  It’s a personal story of salvation, but it’s also the pattern of the story of all people’s salvation  

MacArthur sums up these verses as follows for what to remember about the Crucifixion and what happened at the first Pentecost:

Without argument what is being spewed out of these evil hearts and evil mouths right at the son of God is the supreme blasphemy, the ultimate desecration of holiness, the lowest sin every committed, wickedness at its lowest, and it is deserving of divine cursing, divine threatening, divine vengeance, divine judgment, divine damnation.  This is injustice without parallel, transgression without equal.  This is heresy above heresy, irreverence above irreverence, profanity above profanity, sacrilege beyond comprehension.  We would expect Jesus to pour out furious denunciations on all of them, to judge them, to make them pay for their outrageous, extreme iniquity immediately on the spot, but he doesn’t.

Contrary to that he says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they’re doing.”  He asks God to provide forgiveness for them.  Now Jesus spoke seven things from the cross He spoke to one of the thieves and said, “Today you’ll be with me in paradise.”  Then he spoke to his mother and John and said, “Behold your mother, behold your son,” and gave the care of his mother to the apostle John who were standing far, far away.  And then for three hours the whole earth was dark and he spoke not at all.  And after the darkness he spoke to God and he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And then he spoke to the soldiers and said, “I’m thirsty,” and they gave him the sponge And then he spoke to himself and said, “It is finished.”  And then he spoke to God and said, “It’s at thy hands I commit my spirit.”  But the first thing he said, before any of those was, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  His first words were words seeking divine forgiveness for the world’s most wretched sinners Certainly this is Jesus, the Father, running to embrace the stinking prodigal, isn’t it?  This is not surprising.  Jesus even said that the more someone is forgiven the more they love, so he set himself up to forgive great sinners so that he might experience from them great love. 

Peter says that when he was reviled he was reviled not again and that when he was being abused he did not cry out for vengeance, 1 Peter 2:23 and 24 Stephen picked up on this and when Stephen saw life was being crushed out by the bloody stones, Stephen, following his Lord said, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”  This is a general prayer.  To understand what he meant by this, it is a general prayer for all the world to know that there’s no sin against the son of God that is so severe it cannot be forgiven if one will repent That’s the message.  If there is forgiveness for these people, there is forgiveness for anyone.  You can’t get beyond this.  But it’s more than just a general prayer, it’s a specific prayer.  When he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they’re doing,” he knew who the “them” were because on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 Jews in Jerusalem were converted to Christ and baptized and the church was begun Within a few weeks another 5,000 men and more and more and it moves into tens of thousands of people in Jerusalem who embrace the faith of Jesus Christ, and there must have been many of those who came to Christ in those weeks after the resurrection who were there in that crowd, so that it is a general prayer telling the whole world that the sinner who repents and comes to Christ can be forgiven of the worst crime ever committed.  But it is also a specific prayer that God knows in His mind from before the foundation of the world, who in that crowd He will truly forgive A church was born out of these people who stood at the foot of Calvary and mocked the son of God.  They became the first church.  Not only that, there was a soldier among the soldiers.  One of them came to salvation.  23 Luke 47 when the Centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God saying, “Certainly this man was innocent.”  And Matthew says he said something besides that, he said, “This was the son of God.”  And by the way, don’t think it was just that Centurion Listen to 27 Matthew 54, “Now the Centurion and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus said, “Truly, this was the son of God.”  The prayer was answered on the spot.  Some in the crowd formed the first church.  Some among the soldiers affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ, and a Roman Centurion praising the true God of Israel and affirming the reality of His son and others with him?  By the way, some of the leaders also were saying it.  In 6 Acts 7, “The word of God kept on spreading.  The number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem.”  Listen to this:  “And a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”  And by the way, there was one of the two thieves who said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and to him Jesus said today, “I’ll meet you in paradise.”

In one sense it’s a general prayer that throws open the forgiveness of God for all who have rejected Christ no matter how great the crimes committed against him, but on another level this is a very specific prayer that was immediately answered among the crowd, among the soldiers, among the thieves and even among the priests.  The great irony of Calvary is that while all this scorn was being heaped on Christ, he was bearing the curse of God far worse than anything they could put on him You think it’s bad to be cursed by men, he was being cursed by God.  But in taking both the curses from men and the curse from God, he provided the very atonement which makes the forgiveness he prayed for possible

Christ the King: truly He is, now and forever.

This is the last Sunday in the 2021-2022 Church year. Next Sunday, a new Church year begins with the season of Advent, and a new set of Lectionary readings from Year A.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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Reign of Christ, or Christ the King, Sunday is November 21, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine below):

John 18:33-37

18:33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

18:34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

18:35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”

18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

18:37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

In the early hours of Friday morning, Pontius Pilate had been conferring with the chief priests just outside of the hall of judgement, or Praetorium. Praetor means governor or procurator. The chief priests did not enter the hall because they considered it Gentile territory, therefore, it was unclean. If they had entered, they would have been defiled and unable to partake of the Passover feast. That belief came about through rabbinical tradition and is not in Scripture.

Pilate then re-entered the hall of judgement, summoned Jesus and asked whether He was the King of the Jews (verse 33).

Both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur say that Pilate’s question was scornful and contemptuous.

Henry says:

… he was far from imagining that really he was so, or making a question of that. Some think Pilate asked this with an air of scorn and contempt: “What! art thou a king, who makest so mean a figure? Art thou the king of the Jews, by whom thou art thus hated and persecuted? Art thou king de jure–of right, while the emperor is only king de facto–in fact?”

MacArthur looks at the Greek text:

In fact, in the original language it’s like this: “You? Are You the King of the Jews, as if – this is absurd, this is ridicule, this is ridiculous. You’re the one everybody’s so worked up about?” He probably remembered back to the original day when He came into the city with all the hail hosannas. “You’re the one? It’s You? You’re no threat.” This is ridicule.

Jesus responded by asking Pilate whether he came up with that question on his own or if others — the Jews — had told him to ask it (verse 34).

MacArthur interprets our Lord’s response:

Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative or did others tell you about Me? Is this your charge, Pilate? I’m in your court. Are you actually charging Me with something? Is this your idea that I’m an insurrectionist, that I’m a threat to Caesar, that I’m a revolutionary, that I’m leading an attempt to overthrow Rome? Is this your idea or are you just an errand boy for those Jews?

If Jesus had brought about a temporal kingdom of Israel, the chief priests would have defended Him against Pilate. Henry explains:

If others tell it thee of me, to incense thee against me, thou oughtest to consider who they are, and upon what principles they go, and whether those who represent me as an enemy to Cæsar are not really such themselves, and therefore use this only as a pretence to cover their malice, for, if so, the matter ought to be well weighed by a judge that would do justice.” Nay, if Pilate had been as inquisitive as he ought to have been in this matter, he would have found that the true reason why the chief priests were outrageous against Jesus was because he did not set up a temporal kingdom in opposition to the Roman power; if he would have done this, and would have wrought miracles to bring the Jews out of the Roman bondage, as Moses did to bring them out of the Egyptian, they would have been so far from siding with the Romans against him that they would have made him their king, and have fought under him against the Romans; but, not answering this expectation of theirs, they charged that upon him of which they were themselves most notoriously guilty-disaffection to and design against the present government; and was such an information as this fit to be countenanced?

Pilate feigned ignorance, saying that he himself was not a Jew, that the chief priests handed Jesus over to him; he asked what Jesus had done (verse 36).

It is worth noting that Pilate and the Jews did not get on well. In fact, they had sent a few negative reports back to the emperor in Rome about him. Pilate knew Jesus was innocent but wanted to keep his job.

MacArthur says:

In chapter 19 … verse 12, the Jews said to Pilate, “If you release this man you’re no friend of Caesar. We’re going to tell him again.” Why does Pilate even release Jesus when he knows He’s innocent? Blackmail, blackmail. His previous mistakes and misjudgments made it impossible for him to defy the Jews and keep his job. He lost it anyway in 35 A.D., and historians tell us not long after that he killed himself. I guess he wanted to do the right thing as a judge in one sense, but he had no courage because he killed Jesus to keep his job. That was Pilate.

MacArthur tells us:

Pilate’s answer is, “I’m not a Jew, am I?” verse 35. “Are You kidding? I don’t carry their agenda. Your own nation and the chief priests to me; what have You done?”

Again, the culpability of the leaders of Israel for the execution of Jesus Christ is patently obvious: “I have nothing to do with You; You have nothing to do with me. Rome has nothing to do with You; You have nothing to do with Rome. You’re no threat. This isn’t an issue with Rome. You, You are some kind of a king? I don’t know anything about that, it’s Your own nation and Your own chief priests who delivered You to me. And once again, what have You done?”

There is no crime; he can’t find any; he can’t identify any. This is some kind of Jewish issue that has nothing to do with the military or politics. Pilate knew this for sure, that the Jews would welcome a real king who could gather an army to overthrow Rome; they would welcome that. He also knew that they wanted Jesus dead for envy, jealousy, so he says, “What have You done? There’s no accusation at all.”

Jesus says that His kingdom is not of this world and acknowledges that if it were, the Jews would be fighting to protect Him; He then repeats that His kingdom is not an earthly one (verse 36).

Pilate turns the question of kingship back on Jesus, who replies that it is he who says so; as for Himself, He came to this world to testify to the truth and that everyone who belongs to the truth listens to His voice (verse 37).

MacArthur elaborates on the meaning of that verse:

He came to testify to the truth. What truth? The truth of His kingdom, the truth of His nature, the truth of God, the truth of man, the truth of sin, the truth of salvation, the truth of heaven and hell; gospel truth, saving truth, to tell men the truth about God, about themselves, about life, about death, about eternity, about forgiveness.

The days of guessing are over. The days of half truths and lies, over. He said, “I am the truth.” John says, “If you obey Him, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Free from what? Free from the search for the truth.

He is the truth, and that statement at the end of verse 37 is so important. “Everyone, everyone – ” this is an exclusive statement. “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” There isn’t a person on the planet, and never has been, who knows the truth who rejects Christ. If you reject Christ you do not know the truth. He is the truth.

We live in an era when people’s idea of truth is extremely subjective and erroneous. However, believers can be assured that the truth they know endures forever:

If you’re not hearing the voice of Christ revealed on the pages of Holy Scripture you do not know the truth. I don’t know what you know, but you don’t know the truth. You may know the truth about certain temporal things, but you don’t know the truth that matters, and that’s the truth about eternal things. “Everyone, everyone, everyone who is of the truth hears My voice,” and when you begin to hear His voice, that’s the end of the search, you’ve been set free from the search.

It’s really wonderful to live in a cynical post-modern world where people have decided there is no truth, and to step up and say, “Yeah, there is, and we know the truth, we know the truth.” The truth is the Son of God living in incarnate, the Word of God inspired and inerrant, that’s the truth.

This Sunday closes the Church year.

Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. Readings for Year C will commence as we enter a new Church year.

Reign of Christ Sunday — November 22, 2020 — is the final Sunday in the Church year.

This is traditionally known as Christ the King Sunday.

Advent — and a new Church year — begin on November 29, 2020.

These readings are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

There are two options for the Psalm.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading and Psalm — Option One

Ezekiel 34 contains the Lord’s reproof of the elders of Israel — both religious and secular — in their lack of leadership. The Lord also took issue with the spiritually stronger laymen who neglected their weaker brethren. These verses say that the Lord will look after His people. So, too, does Christ, the root and offspring of David, look after His flock.

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

34:11 For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.

34:12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

34:13 I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land.

34:14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.

34:15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.

34:16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

34:20 Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.

34:21 Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide,

34:22 I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

34:23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.

34:24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.

This Psalm is a marvellous song of praise and thanksgiving. These verses will be very familiar.

Psalm 100

100:1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.

100:2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.

100:3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

100:4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.

100:5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm — Option Two

This Psalm of David’s expresses his joy in and praise of the Lord. These verses will also be familiar to many.

Psalm 95:1-7a

95:1 O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

95:2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

95:3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

95:4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.

95:5 The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

95:6 O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

95:7a For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

Epistle

These verses of Paul’s to the believers in Ephesus are ideal for Christ the King Sunday.

Ephesians 1:15-23

1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason

1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,

1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,

1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

1:21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Gospel

This is the continuation and conclusion of Matthew 25, which Jesus preached in the days before the Crucifixion. Here He describes His Second Coming.

Matthew 25:31-46

25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.

25:32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,

25:33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

25:34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

25:35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

25:36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

25:37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?

25:38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?

25:39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

25:40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

25:41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

25:42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

25:44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’

25:45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

I pray that all of us reading this are among the sheep.

November 24, 2019 is the final Sunday of the Church year.

December 1 is the First Sunday of Advent and the beginning of a new Church year. It is also the beginning of a new Lectionary year.

The final Sunday of the Church calendar used to be known traditionally as Christ the King Sunday. It is now called Reign of Christ Sunday. The emphasis is on Christ the King, as prophesied in the Old Testament and manifested in New Testament writings.

These are for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

There are alternate readings, including a Gospel reading used as a Psalm substitute, as per the Vanderbilt Lectionary Library home page:

  • First reading and Psalm
    • Jeremiah 23:1-6
    • Luke 1:68-79
  • Alternate First reading and Psalm
    • Jeremiah 23:1-6
    • Psalm 46
  • Second reading
    • Colossians 1:11-20
  • Gospel
    • Luke 23:33-43

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Jeremiah did not prophesy as much about the Messiah as did Isaiah, however, this is clearly one of those prophecies. Verses 5 and 6 are highly significant, as Jeremiah prophesied at a time when a new branch of David’s family seemed unlikely. Note also that He would come from the tribe of Judah, which was not the tribe from which the Jewish priests came.

Jeremiah 23:1-6

23:1 Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD.

23:2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD.

23:3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.

23:4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD.

23:5 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

23:6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

Psalm substitute

This passage from Luke’s Gospel shows us the imminent fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prophecy. Zacharias, John the Baptist’s father, being filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke these words after his son’s birth. He spoke first of Jesus, who was stirring in Mary’s womb at the time. Then he spoke of his newborn son John, who would prepare the people for Jesus.

Luke 1:68-79

1:68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

1:69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,

1:70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

1:71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

1:72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant,

1:73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us

1:74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear,

1:75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

1:76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

1:77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.

1:78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,

1:79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Psalm

It is thought that David wrote this Psalm in praise of God after his victorious battles with neighbouring nations. Matthew Henry says that Martin Luther, when discouraged, sang this Psalm. ‘Selah’ means ‘heed these words’.

Psalm 46

46:1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

46:2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

46:3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

46:4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.

46:5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.

46:6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.

46:7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

46:8 Come, behold the works of the LORD; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.

46:9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”

46:11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Epistle

Paul concisely, yet beautifully, summarises the everlasting majesty and mercy of Jesus Christ.

This perfect distillation of doctrine is what all Christians must believe.

Colossians 1:11-20

1:11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully

1:12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.

1:13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,

1:14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;

1:16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him.

1:17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

1:18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.

1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

1:20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Gospel

Luke’s account of the Crucifixion is harrowing. It ends with the comforting promise of Jesus to the repentant thief.

Luke 23:33-43

23:33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

23:34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.

23:35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”

23:36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,

23:37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”

23:38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

23:39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

23:40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?

23:41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”

23:42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

23:43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

What a powerful set of readings to consider during the week ahead.

Christ our King lives and reigns now and forevermore.

November 25, 2018 is Reign of Christ Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church year.

I know this particular day as Christ the King Sunday, but it seems that ‘king’ is a triggering word among left-wing churchgoers, including feminist clergy, so the name had to be changed.

The following readings are for Year B. Next Sunday, the first in Advent — the start of the Church year — readings from Year C begin.

Once again, there are two choices for First Reading and Psalm. I have highlighted the second choice in blue.

As one would expect, the emphasis is on Christ the King, as prophesied in the Old Testament and manifested in New Testament writings.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

In this last testament of King David, we are reminded of Jesus’s earthly lineage in Jesse’s family line. These verses can also be read as an anticipation of Christ Jesus.

2 Samuel 23:1-7

23:1 Now these are the last words of David: The oracle of David, son of Jesse, the oracle of the man whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israel:

23:2 The spirit of the LORD speaks through me, his word is upon my tongue.

23:3 The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me: One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God,

23:4 is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.

23:5 Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire?

23:6 But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away; for they cannot be picked up with the hand;

23:7 to touch them one uses an iron bar or the shaft of a spear. And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.

Psalm

It is likely that these are Solomon’s words at the time of the dedication of the first temple. They also suggest the coming of Christ — from the House of David. St Peter said that David understood that, in the fullness of time, Jesus would be his everlasting successor (Acts 2:30).

Psalm 132:1-12, (13-18)

132:1 O LORD, remember in David’s favor all the hardships he endured;

132:2 how he swore to the LORD and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,

132:3 “I will not enter my house or get into my bed;

132:4 I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids,

132:5 until I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”

132:6 We heard of it in Ephrathah; we found it in the fields of Jaar.

132:7 “Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool.”

132:8 Rise up, O LORD, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might.

132:9 Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let your faithful shout for joy.

132:10 For your servant David’s sake do not turn away the face of your anointed one.

132:11 The LORD swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: “One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne.

132:12 If your sons keep my covenant and my decrees that I shall teach them, their sons also, forevermore, shall sit on your throne.”

132:13 For the LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his habitation:

132:14 “This is my resting place forever; here I will reside, for I have desired it.

132:15 I will abundantly bless its provisions; I will satisfy its poor with bread.

132:16 Its priests I will clothe with salvation, and its faithful will shout for joy.

132:17 There I will cause a horn to sprout up for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed one.

132:18 His enemies I will clothe with disgrace, but on him, his crown will gleam.”

First reading

The passage from Daniel is a clear prophecy of the second coming of Christ and ensuing judgement. The Lectionary editors omitted the meatier verses (11 and 12) about judgement.

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

7:9 As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire.

7:10 A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.

7:13 As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him.

7:14 To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.

Psalm

The Psalm complements the verses from Daniel beautifully with the themes of majesty and awe.

Psalm 93

93:1 The LORD is king, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he is girded with strength. He has established the world; it shall never be moved;

93:2 your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.

93:3 The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.

93:4 More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the LORD!

93:5 Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore.

Epistle

The powerful Epistle from Revelation points to Christ, the King of Kings, who reigns and lives forevermore — and will one day return.

Revelation 1:4b-8

1:4b Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,

1:5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood,

1:6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1:7 Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.

1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Gospel

John recorded the exchange about kingship between Jesus and Pontius Pilate at His mock trial.

John 18:33-37

18:33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

18:34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

18:35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”

18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

18:37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

What a powerful set of readings for a powerfully thought-provoking Sunday. I hope the ensuing sermons are just as stirring.

Jesus Light of the World 616Christ the King Sunday — also known as the Feast of Christ the King and Stir up Sunday — was on November 26, 2017.

This feast day is the last Sunday of the Church year.

December 2, 2017, is the first Sunday in Advent. From then through the week following the next Christ the King Sunday, readings will come from Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Christ the King Sunday

Pope Pius XI created this feast day in 1925 to combat secularism imposed by dictatorships around the world at that time. Until 1960, the feast day was the last Sunday in October. With Vatican II, it was moved to the end of November.

As Protestant denominations began using the Lectionary in the 1970s, more of them gradually adopted the feast. Wikipedia tells us (bold emphases in the original, the one in purple mine):

Those churches that use the Revised Common Lectionary observe Christ the King Sunday as the final Sunday of their liturgical years.[12] These churches include most major Anglican and mainline Protestant groups, including the Church of England, Episcopal Church, Anglican Church in North America, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other Lutheran groups, United Methodist Church and other Methodist groups, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ, and the Moravian Church. Some, such as the Uniting Church in Australia refer to it in non-gendered terms as feast of The Reign of Christ.

In the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Sweden, this day is referred to as the Sunday of Doom, previously highlighting the final judgement, though after the Lectionary of 1983 the theme of the day was amended to the Return of Christ. In the Church in Wales, part of the Anglican Communion, the 4 Sundays before Advent are called the “Sundays of the Kingdom” and Christ the King is observed as a season and not a single festal day.

The United Methodist Church website has details on the impact the feast had in Mexico in the 1920s (emphases mine below):

It was first added in 1925 by the Roman Catholic Church in response to increasing secularization movements worldwide, but in particular to the plight of Mexican Christians who were being told by their government that only their government was due ultimate allegiance. The Church in Mexico remained faithful, holding public parades throughout the land (with significant governmental pushback!) proclaiming “Cristo Rey!,” “Christ is King!” Pope Pius XI made that declaration the basis of a Holy Day to be observed throughout the entire Roman Catholic Church, “Christ, The King of the Universe.”

In Britain, the feast is popularly known as Stir up Sunday, the time when women start making their Christmas cakes, which need the ensuing weeks in order to achieve maximum flavour and texture. The name comes from the traditional Collect:

Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people, that they bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be richly rewarded: through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen

Of course, in our postmodern era, some Christians object to the use of gender-oriented language, such as the word ‘king’. Therefore, some churches refer to it as Reign of Christ Sunday.

The aforementioned United Methodist Church article has a social justice tone to it regarding this particular feast day:

Here’s the part we may not like as well, but must pay attention to.

This shepherd takes sides.

This is also the shepherd who will choose to ignore or even destroy the sheep who have prospered at the expense of those who have been injured and scattered, those who have pushed or shoved the others out of the way to get all the choicest pasture for themselves, those who made themselves strong on the backs of those who were weaker and whom they made weaker still. This shepherd has no interest in their preservation. They are like a cancer, taking and consuming resources for themselves and their own purposes that were intended to be made available for the good of the whole body. If they will survive at all, it will be without the help of this shepherd.

This shepherd sides with the weak, the outcast, the damaged, the diseased, the abandoned, the marginalized.

That is what the Year A readings say, certainly, but there are different readings for the other two Lectionary years.

ChurchYear.Net understands our Saviour, the King of Kings, more broadly:

The earliest Christians identified Jesus with the predicted Messiah of the Jews. The Jewish word “messiah,” and the Greek word “Christ,” both mean “anointed one,” and came to refer to the expected king who would deliver Israel from the hands of the Romans. Christians believe that Jesus is this expected Messiah. Unlike the messiah most Jews expected, Jesus came to free all people, Jew and Gentile, and he did not come to free them from the Romans, but from sin and death. Thus the king of the Jews, and of the cosmos, does not rule over a kingdom of this world.

ChurchYear.Net explains Pius XI’s original objectives for establishing this feast day:

Pius hoped the institution of the feast would have various effects. They were:

1. That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state (Quas Primas, 32).
2. That leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ (Quas Primas, 31).
3. That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies (Quas Primas, 33).

Today, the same distrust of authority exists, although the problem has gotten worse. Individualism has been embraced to such an extreme, that for many, the only authority is the individual self. The idea of Christ as ruler is rejected in such a strongly individualistic system. Also, many balk at the idea of kings and queens, believing them to be antiquated and possibly oppressive. Some even reject the titles of “lord” and “king” for Christ because they believe that such titles are borrowed from oppressive systems of government. However true these statements might be (some kings have been oppressive), these individuals miss the point: Christ’s kingship is one of humility and service.

The site also has a separate page of prayers and hymns for Christ the King Sunday.

The readings for 2017 — Year A — are on the Vanderbilt University Lectionary site. The respective Epistle and Gospel follow:

Ephesians 1:15-23

1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason

1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,

1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,

1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

1:21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

——————————–

Matthew 25:31-46

25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.

25:32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,

25:33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

25:34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

25:35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

25:36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

25:37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?

25:38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?

25:39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

25:40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

25:41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

25:42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

25:44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’

25:45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

First Sunday of Advent

The Epistle and Gospel readings for the First Sunday of Advent — Lectionary Year B — continue a similar theme, about being prepared for the Final Judgement.

Note that Paul’s letter to the Corinthians mentions thankfulness, spiritual strength and spiritual gifts — all coming from God — and being called into the fellowship of Christ Jesus:

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus,

1:5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind–

1:6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you–

1:7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

In Mark’s Gospel, we read Jesus’s warning about not knowing when the time will come, therefore, be prepared — ‘keep alert’, ‘keep awake’:

Mark 13:24-37

13:24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,

13:25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

13:26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.

13:27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

13:28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.

13:29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

13:30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.

13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

13:32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

13:33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

13:34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.

13:35 Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,

13:36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.

13:37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Most Christians observe Advent as a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas. I will feature Advent posts and resources in the coming weeks.

Until then, readers might find Vanderbilt’s Advent resources and this page of Sunday readings useful.

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