Text: Luke 23:27-43
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
A few weeks ago when we celebrated All Saints Day I asked you at the beginning of the sermon to look around you at all the people gathered here with you. We talked that day about how we are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. As we look around at others or at ourselves we might not see it, but that is what we are. Today I want you to look around again. Not so much at the people you see here today, but at the group as a whole. Do you see a kingdom when you look around you today?
We live in a country that is a kingdom, we have a Queen who rules over us. On a practical level she doesn’t do much other than smile and wave, but every law our government passes every term of Parliament that takes place in Ottawa is in her name. We live in a kingdom, what used to be called a dominion, under our Queen, Queen Elizabeth.
We see this worldly kingdom all around us, on postage stamps, on coins and bills, and in our flag and national anthem. This kingdom is easy to see. But there is another kingdom of which we are a part and that kingdom is much harder to see. That is the kingdom I’d like you to see today.
The first line of our epistle reading today talks about how God has delivered us from the domain or dominion of darkness and transferred us into a glorious new homeland, the kingdom of His beloved Son. Notice that the verbs here are all past tense, God has delivered us and has transferred us, it is done and completed. That means we live in the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son right now. We are still citizens of the nation/kingdom of Canada and subjects of Queen Elizabeth, but at the same time we are citizens in another kingdom and subjects of a different kind of royalty all together. We live in the Kingdom of God under Jesus, the Son of God, who is our glorious, eternal, everlasting King.
We heard in our gospel reading today about Jesus being crucified, the story we are used to hearing in full on Good Friday. It is not a pleasant picture, not one we would like to dwell on too long, but this is where we come to understand Jesus our King and understand what this Kingdom is like. As they crucify Jesus out there at the place called The Skull they place a sign over His head which said, “This is the King of the Jews,” and the soldiers and people walking by mock Jesus saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” They look at Jesus on the cross and see something that looks nothing like a king. They see a spindly, beaten up, half dead man breathing his final breaths. This is far from a kingly scene, there is no royal elegance here. But their taunts and their jeers were closer to the truth than they could have ever imagined. This beaten up, half dead, crucified, dying man was a king and is our King, He is not simply the King of the Jews, but the King of creation and as they nailed Him to that cross this King took His place on His throne and reigned in His Kingdom forever. On the cross Jesus is King.
So, as we hear the story of Jesus being crucified we come to understand what this Kingdom of God is and how we live in it. The Kingdom of God is you and me gathered around the cross and Jesus on the cross. It doesn’t look like a kingly royal scene, it doesn’t look like something to celebrate, but on the cross Jesus takes His place as King of all creation and makes us His people through His death.
On that cross we see what a glorious and other worldly thing the Kingdom of God is. Listen to the words that our King, Jesus, speaks from the cross to the people standing there and to us as we gather around His throne: He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” and “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
This is not how people talk in the kingdoms of the world. The government of Canada doesn’t talk about forgiveness. Worldly kingdoms exist to keep peace and order and in order for there to be peace and order and justice in this world there needs to be punishments for crimes, there needs to be rules and consequences for breaking rules. But Jesus our King speaks of forgiveness even as He gives up His life on the cross. There, ruling from on high, Jesus begs His Father to forgive the very people who have done this too Him. Jesus’ prayer is the same for You. He pleads for Your forgiveness and has accomplished that forgiveness. Before the throne of Jesus, at the foot of the cross, You don’t need to fear any punishment. Your King has forgiven you for all of your sins.
The kingdoms of the world don’t offer paradise either. For kingdoms in this world the perfection of paradise is always out of reach. Our King Jesus, however, does make that promise. Again, speaking to a thief on the cross beside Him, Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” We see the forgiveness of sins at work again here, this man is a thief, and he has been rightfully convicted in his crimes against other people. He knows he deserves this fate. But Jesus forgives and also promises more. To this sinner who is dying in his sin Jesus promises life everlasting: “today you will be with me.” There is nothing that can separate us from our King, not even death. He has opened paradise to us by His death on the cross so that on the day that we die we fall asleep to this world and wake up in the arms of our Saviour and wait with Him for the day when He will raise our bodies from the dead.
This is no ordinary King and no ordinary Kingdom. And we, through baptism and faith in Christ, are subjects in this Kingdom. We live in the Kingdom of God, we have been rescued from the domain of sin and darkness and have a new home in the Kingdom of God gathered around Christ and the cross celebrating the forgiveness of sins. But, at the same time Satan, our enemy, sneaks around trying to make us forget about all of this. He wants us to forget about what a marvelous thing the Kingdom of God is. He doesn’t want us to recognise what is happening right here. He does not want us to see the Kingdom of Christ right here in the midst of us.
The devil is more than happy to let you come to church on Sunday. Frankly, he does not care how you choose to spend that time on Sunday morning. What the devil does care about though, and what he fights against tooth and nail, is you hearing about the forgiveness of sins that Christ won for you on the cross. This good news robs Satan of any power over you. With the knowledge of Christ and what He has done for you the devil has no more leverage over you. He’s lost his edge. So he works day and night to take this knowledge away from you.
Satan wants you to look around and see just another social club, a nice group of people to hang out with, and some nice traditions. He doesn’t want you to see what is really going on. He doesn’t want you to know that right here right now as you hear God’s Word, Jesus your King is speaking His forgiveness to you just like He did on that cross. The devil doesn’t want you to know that right here when we receive the body and blood of Jesus in communion we are receiving the forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus won for us on the cross. The devil doesn’t want you to hear those words “Father forgive them” or “Today you will be with me in paradise,” but that is what Jesus says to you today.
When we look around here we might not think we see anything special. It all seems kind of ordinary actually. We don’t look much like a kingdom. But that should not be surprising, our King Jesus Christ didn’t look like much of a king on the cross either. But, despite all outward appearances, He is our crucified and risen King and we are a part of His Kingdom. This place, this church, is an outpost of the Kingdom of Christ. When we gather here it is like we are gathering at the foot of the cross, at the feet of our King, and hearing Him speak to us again. This is no small thing. This is the Kingdom of God. Let us listen to these words from our King and rejoice in the Kingdom: “Father forgive them” and “Today you will be with me.” In Jesus name. Amen.