I imagine that as John was leading in the Scripture reading, some of you may have been thinking: “Did Laura forget what season we’re in? We’re headed toward Christmas, not Easter! November isn’t a time to focus on the crucifixion. We do that in the Spring during Lent as a lead-up to Easter.” True enough! But, no. Though I confess I was surprised by the choice of this Gospel reading from the lectionary, as I thought about it further, it actually made a lot of sense for the lectionary seeks to take us through the seasons in the life of Jesus, from his birth—to his death—to his resurrection—to his ascension into heaven where he is now reigning at the Father’s right hand.
But additionally, since 1925, the Catholic branch of Christianity established this Sunday—the Sunday before Advent—as Christ the King Sunday. The pope at the time, Pius the XI, instituted it because he connected the increasing denial of Christ as king to the rise of secularism throughout Europe. Many Christians had begun to doubt Christ’s authority and existence. So the more things change, the more they remain the same? Do we, too, ever doubt Christ’s authority, and even existence, in our turbulent times?
Next Sunday is already the beginning of the Advent, a time of waiting and looking forward to the wonder of God coming to earth in the form of a human baby so that one day he might take away the sins of all who turn to him. So considered from the perspective of the life of Jesus, it makes sense that this Christ the King Sunday we are ending with our Lord Jesus extending hope to a criminal condemned to die with him on the cross—and destined to live him for all eternity because of his response to Jesus while hanging next to him there. And we, too, need a reminder in a world that often feels far too uncertain that our Lord Jesus is indeed Christ—he is indeed King and Lord over all creation and he will indeed return one day in glory to finally establish his kingdom and peace once and for all.
Turning to Luke, earlier in the passage Pilate had succumbed to the crowds’—which included chief priests and rulers of the people—demand that innocent Jesus be crucified in between two guilty criminals. And our passage begins by noting the three men condemned to die. “When they came to the place called the Skull,” we’re told in verse 33, “they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.” Crucifixion, as we know, was a means of capital punishment in which the victim was tied or nailed to a large wooden beam and left to hang for several days until they died from exhaustion and asphyxiation. This was a slow and painful way to die. It was a public and humiliating display intended to be a deterrent to other criminals. So Jesus and two criminals are led to the place called the Skull—Golgotha in Aramaic—and the three of them are crucified there as they await their respective deaths.
Buy why was Jesus being crucified with these two criminals? In the opening of this chapter Luke recounts how Jesus was accused of at least three things: 1) subverting the Jewish nation; 2) opposing payment of taxes; and 3) claiming to be Messiah, a king. In other words, there was a great deal of confusion about who he was and what he taught. Jesus didn’t subvert the Jewish nation, though he regularly did challenge Jewish leaders who weren’t properly teaching the Hebrew Scriptures. And he didn’t oppose payment of taxes. In fact, one time when he was set up by Pharisees and Herodians who asked about this, he clearly indicated, by asking for a denarius, the currency used in that day, that they ought to give to Caesar, whose image was on the denarius, what was Caesar’s and to God what was God’s. As to the third charge, Jesus did claim to be the Messiah, the Christ, who was to be king. But people misunderstood that his kingship wasn’t an earthly one that would challenge current earthly authorities but it was far greater than that. Jesus, who was also the Christ, the Messiah, God in the flesh, as God was already king not only over the entire earth, but the entire heavens as well. As John records in his Gospel, Jesus stated clearly that his kingdom was not of this world even though he had come to bring his peace, God’s peace, to a world that has ever been in desperate need of it.
Yet despite this unwarranted crucifixion, Luke records in verse 34 Jesus’ request for forgiveness for those who have crucified him as he prays, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Which is to say, they did not know that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah. And though there was no earthly reason for Jesus to have been crucified, he nonetheless prayed that his heavenly Father might extend forgiveness—might overlook this injustice—since those who were putting him to death did not know what they were doing. Those responsible for crucifying him thought they were simply killing a man. They didn’t realize they were crucifying the One through whom all things had come into being; they didn’t realize that were crucifying their Maker; they didn’t realize they were crucifying the One in whose image they were made; If a denarius bore the image of Caesar and thus they were to render to Caesar what was Caesar’s, those who were crucifying Jesus didn’t realize that that they were crucifying the One in whose image they were made and to whom they should have rendered the entirety of their very lives sine they were made in his image. Again, they didn’t realize they were crucifying the One whom God in the Hebrew Scriptures had promised would one day come and establish his shalom, his peace, once and for all.
At the end of verse 34 we’re provided with an accurate historical detail about Jesus’ crucifixion when Luke notes, “And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” Though for the sake of modesty most renditions of Jesus on the cross that we’re familiar with portray him with a loincloth on, it’s possible that Jesus hung naked on the cross, though there’s no consensus among scholars. Typically those who were crucified were stripped naked and the clothing of the person who was crucified was given to those who carried out the execution. Luke reflects this practice in noting that Jesus’ clothes were divided up by casting lots. But Luke—and the other Gospel writers, for that matter, for they all include this detail in their accounts—isn’t merely reflecting cultural norms but is also the fulfillment of a prophecy from Psalm 22 that indicated what the future Messiah would undergo nearly a thousand years later: “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” It’s difficult to imagine a greater humiliation for an innocent man—an innocent Savior—to undergo.
In verse 35, the humiliation continues: “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.’” Jesus was being shamed. People were treating him with contempt. They were mocking him. They were jeering at him. They were aware that throughout his life he had spoken and acted and taught as though he were the Messiah. But if he was, what was he doing on a cross now? And what is more, this mocking too was in fulfillment of Old Testament predictions about how Jesus, who again was God’s Messiah, would be treated. Listen to these verses also from Psalm 22: “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. 8 ‘He trusts in the Lord,’ they say, ‘let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.’” But the people did not know what they were doing in their treatment of Jesus for he was God’s Messiah. Messiah is what “Christ” means. He was God’s Chosen One. In at least two different pivotal moments in Jesus’ life, his baptism and his transfiguration, his disciples heard the heavenly Father’s voice announcing: “This is my Son, whom I love. This is my Son with whom I am well-pleased. This is my Son whom I’ve chosen. Listen to him.” Again, the mockery that is recorded in verse 35 is but an illustration that they really didn’t know what they were doing for they were mocking God in the flesh.
And this mocking—this demanding by the people that Jesus prove he was Messiah by undoing his crucifixion—illustrates an important truth, namely that God who made and sustains the entire creation cannot and will not be controlled by that creation. God cannot and will not be told what he must do. Contrary to what the people may have thought, God’s will could not be bent to do their will for even as he was being crucified on the cross, Jesus was still God and as God, he would only do what he, in agreement with the Father and the Holy Spirit, had determined from before the earth’s foundation.
This scene reminded me of a professor I had when I was a freshman at Bucknell University. This brilliant man stood before our class and pronounced: I can prove to you—as I’ve done many times before—that God doesn’t exist. And then he looked upwards toward the ceiling and dramatically exclaimed, “God, if you exist, then strike me dead this very moment.” And when this professor was yet again spared God’s wrath despite such impudence, he, too, sneered and concluded for us all to hear: “See? I told you he doesn’t exist. Otherwise I would be dead.”
Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (34).
In verses 36–37, we see that the contempt continues: “36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’” Yet these soldiers were acting in a cowardly manner. They were armed, but Jesus was nailed to the cross; they were clothed, but Jesus’ clothes had been removed. And to add insult to injury, verse 38, “There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.” Make no mistake. This was not intended as an acknowledgment of who Jesus was. This was not an attempt to pay homage to Jesus. This was mockery, pure and simple, for what real King would ever find himself in such humiliating circumstances?
And as if all of this mocking,
From the crowds,
From the chief priests,
From the people watching;
From the rulers,
From the soldiers,
weren’t bad enough, in verse 39 we see that even one of the criminals crucified next to Jesus joined in on the taunting. This criminal “who hung there” next to Jesus “hurled insults at him.” Even a criminal mocked him by asking: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
For the crowds—and the chief priests—and the watching people—and the rulers—and the soldiers—and now this criminal, it simply made no sense that someone who was Messiah, someone who was the Christ, someone who was God’s chosen Son, someone who was King of the Jews would not save himself from the predicament and shame of death on a cross. And so they mocked him.
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (34).
For they did not know that they had demanded that Jesus, the only means of their living eternally with their loving and heavenly Father, be crucified;
They did not know that they were sneering at Jesus, the only possibility they had of knowing, of experiencing, God’s love;
They did not know that Jesus was God’s promised Messiah;
They did not know that Jesus was God’s Chosen One;
They did not know that they were mocking the One who had made them and the entire universe;
They did not know that not only would Jesus be saved when he rose from the dead, never to die again, but that this Jesus whom they mocked was also the only possibility of their salvation;
They did not know that Jesus was not only King of the Jews, but of all who acknowledge him as their Savior and Lord.
But in verse 40, we find, at long last, someone who, in the midst of all of this hostility, did side with Jesus, namely, the other crucified criminal; the other criminal hanging on the other side of Jesus. “40 But the other criminal rebuked him.”—the first criminal— “‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’” Out of everyone we’ve seen, this other nameless criminal is the only one who got it right. He recognized and understood who Jesus was. And so he turned to him, verse 42, and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And then we see how Jesus did remember this once criminal, now disciple, as he answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Even from the cross—even in the midst of his humiliation—even in the midst of his being abandoned by those he loved—even in the midst of being mocked by all who were watching—Jesus promised he would remember this criminal. And what’s important to note is that for God to remember means that he will act on someone’s behalf. For in the Person of God, unlike us, there is no gap between intention and action. And so Jesus remembered the penitent criminal—which is to say that Jesus extended forgiveness and mercy to the one person who had it right, the criminal who was being crucified next to him. Because this criminal had turned to Jesus in faith, seeking his mercy, through Jesus the heavenly Father did indeed forgive this criminal. And if he was willing and able to forgive this criminal so he would be willing and able to forgive all who expressed similar faith in the life, death, and resurrection of his beloved and chosen Son.
I mentioned earlier that when we look through the Gospels we can find no earthly reason for why Jesus had to be crucified. But there was a heavenly one. For God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—in his eternal wisdom had purposed that forgiveness would be extended to those who initially rejected Jesus, God’s eternal Son, God in the flesh, not knowing what they were doing. And, what is more, this was all in keeping with God’s eternal plan, as we’ve seen in the earlier references from Psalm 22. But listen, too, to what Isaiah prophesies hundreds of years prior to Christ’s coming to earth: “Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors—the two criminals on the cross. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. Brothers and sisters, the crucifixion was no surprise to Jesus; the crucifixion was no surprise to God.
But because this offer of forgiveness, this offer of eternal salvation, freely granted, came at the greatest price God could undergo—the cost of the life of his own Son—then this forgiveness also had to come at a price to those who would receive it. For this forgiveness can only occur by us acknowledging our need and turning from ungodly ways that we might turn by faith and trust and commitment, to the God who made us for himself and one another. And the wonder and the beauty and the good part of the good news of the Gospel message is that Jesus will remember, Jesus will act on the behalf of all, even those of little faith, who turn to him in faith. For all who turn to him in faith, like the believing thief on the cross, even though they die will today, will the moment they die, be with him in paradise, never to be separated from him for all eternity. For all eternity all who turn to Jesus will be able to live with and enjoy him who loved them so much that he gave his own life that the Father’s forgiveness might be extended even to those who once rejected him, not knowing what they were doing.
Let us pray….
 Pope Pius XI instituted The Feast of Christ the King in 1925 for the universal church in his encyclical Quas Primas. He connected the increasing denial of Christ as king to the rise of secularism throughout Europe. <http://www.churchyear.net/ctksunday.html> At the conclusion of the Christian year, the church gives thanks and praise for sovereignty of Christ, who is Lord of all creation and is coming again in glory to reign (see Revelation 1:4-8). This festival was established in 1925 by decree of Pope Pius XI. Originally it took place on the last Sunday in October, just prior to All Saints’ Day. Now it is celebrated on the last Sunday of the Christian year, a week before the season of Advent begins. <https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/christianyear/christ-king-reign-christ/>
 Zondervan Study Bible: Latin Calvaria, hence the name “Calvary.” Also note on Mark 15:22 parallel: The Place of the Skull. It may have been a small hill that looked like a skull, or it may have been so named because of the many executions that took place there. Crossway Study Bible: In Matthew it is also called Golgotha (in Latin, Calvariae), a transliteration of the Aramaic word for “skull.”
 Luke 23:1–2: 1 Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”
 Matthew 22:15–22: 15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” 18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. Mark 12:13–17: 13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. 17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.
 John 18:36: 36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
 Reformation Study Bible.
 Matthew 27:35: When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Mark 15:24: And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. John 19:23–25: 23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”[Psalm 22:18] So this is what the soldiers did.
 Verse 18.
 Baptism: Matthew 3:16–17: 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21–22: 21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Transfiguration: Matthew 17:5: 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Luke 9:35: 34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” In Matthew 12:8 (quoting Isaiah 42:1–4), Jesus is referred to as God’s chosen.
 In Matthew 27:38 they’re called “robbers.” Jesus’ crucifixion with criminals fulfills Isaiah 53:12: Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
 42καὶ ἔλεγεν, Ἰησοῦ, μνήσθητί μου ὅταν ἔλθῃς εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν σου. 43καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἀμήν σοι λέγω, σήμερον μετ’ ἐμοῦ ἔσῃ ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ. Some manuscripts “Jesus, remember me when you come with your kingly power.”
 Reformation Study Bible: re: “paradise”: A Persian word for “garden,” which came to mean the place of the righteous dead (2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7). 2 Corinthians 12:3–4: 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. Revelation 2:7: Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
 Isaiah 53:12.