Luke’s account of the crucifixion is striking because it contains one small moment of intimacy. It is a moment which is good for us to see and remember.
Crucifixions were not known for their intimacy. Instead, they were notorious for their cruelty. One of the purposes of a public crucifixion was to dehumanize the person being crucified, to strip them of honor and make them an object of scorn. Crucifixions turned people into things.
In Luke’s account, this is true. Jesus is an object of scorn. The religious leaders mock Him as a Messiah unable to save Himself much less His people. The soldiers mock Him as a king, receiving rich wine from a steward, but being given sour wine instead. Even one of the criminals joins in the act. When someone being crucified looks upon you with scorn, you cannot get much lower than that.
But Luke records one more interaction. A strange moment of intimacy between Jesus and the repentant criminal.
First, the criminal makes a confession of sin. He admits he is crucified justly. His death is deserved because of his misdeeds. Then, he makes a confession of faith. Jesus has done nothing wrong. His death is not deserved, and He will be vindicated. The criminal foresees a day when Jesus will come into His kingdom.
Having heard Jesus pray for God to forgive those who know not what they do, this criminal prays Jesus will forgive someone who knows what he did. He throws his hopes on Jesus and prays, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” To this prayer of a dying man, Jesus responds with a promise, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
Such intimacy stands out at a public execution. It is extraordinary because it is strange. But it also stands out because it is true. In this one, small moment of intimacy, we see truth in the midst of the mockery. Here, we see a true sinner meeting his true Savior.
This should not surprise us, of course, because this is what we have seen through the Gospel of Luke. Jesus loves those who are lost, the marginalized and mocked, the disabled and disenfranchised, the hopeless and humiliated, the suffering and the sinner. These are the ones Jesus seeks out and saves.
When Jesus was presented in the Temple, Simeon sang of God’s salvation for all peoples, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” When Jesus preached His first sermon, He offended His hearers by reminding them of Elijah’s mission of mercy to a Gentile widow and Elisha’s cleansing a Syrian of leprosy. In Jesus, God’s merciful mission extends beyond the bounds of Israel. A Samaritan leper falls down in thanksgiving before Him. A Roman centurion stands as an example of faith for Israel. Luke reveals the faith of those on the margins, the place at the table for the outcast, the love of God for the lost. In Luke, Jesus summarizes His mission with the words, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (19:10).
And so, at the very end, as Jesus speaks His last words, He reserves one word of promise for a criminal who repents. In mockery, people cry out for Jesus to save Himself. In truth, Jesus came not to save Himself but to save others. He came to save you.
On this, the last Sunday of the church year, our Collect reads, “Lord Jesus Christ, you reign among us by the preaching of your cross.” Today, our Savior rules not in spite of the cross, but through it. He would not free Himself from the cross because by the cross He frees others; then and now.
Our world has changed. Christianity has been displaced by other ways of living. Christians are no longer tempted to see themselves as powerful. They no longer set the cultural agenda. Instead, they have been set aside. They are not serious partners in cultural conversations. If they appear at all, it is as jokes on late night television or as dangerous figures fostering hate speech.
Yet, among the despised, Jesus comes and reigns. He gathers the marginalized and mocked, the disabled and disenfranchised, the hopeless and humiliated, the suffering and the sinner. These are the ones Jesus saves.
And so, today, God calls us to be servants of Jesus. A king who reigns by a personal word of welcome to the least. God invites us to have intimate conversations in a world filled with mockery and hate. To trust Jesus reigns whenever and wherever He extends a word of promise to the displaced and the disfavored, welcoming them home.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 23:27-43.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 23:33-43.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Ryan Tietz of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 23:27-43.