Reign of Christ Luke 23:32-43

A sermon in the Anglican parish of Lansdowne Front, Ontario, Sunday November 25, 2001, by Robert Brow (

To day we celebrate the Reign of Christ commonly called the Feast of Christ the King. In the modern NRSV translation from which we are reading Matthew's Gospel begins with "An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah" (Matthew 1:1, 16, 18). The words Messiah (Hebrew mashiakh) and Christ (Greek christos) both mean anointed. Unfortunately in modern English the word "Christ" conveys little more to most people than a swear word. They say "Jeeesus Christ" when they are horrified or astonished. So, instead of using the unhelpful word Christ, I want to celebrate with you "The Reign of the Messiah."

The word messiah means someone anointed for a task. In Psalm 105:15 we have "do not touch my anointed ones" in the plural. Kings were anointed, and David is probably referring to himself when he said "The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against his anointed (Psalm 2:2). Later in the Psalm the LORD is called God's Son and the Father says "I will make the nations your heritage" (2:7-8). Many other Psalms are addressed to the LORD in a very personal way. "I lie down and sleep; I wake again for the LORD sustains me" (3:5, as in 4:8, 5:2-3, 6:3).

But there are also other Psalms that speak of the LORD as the reigning King who intervenes among the nations. "O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth" (8:1). "The LORD sits enthroned for ever, he has established his throne for judgment" (9:7). "Rise up, O LORD! Do not let mortals prevail; let the nations be judged before you" (9:19). "Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up" says the LORD (12:5). "Dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations" (22:28). "The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples" (33:10). We saw that happening in 1989 when the iron curtain and power of communism collapsed, and we have seen some of that happening since September the 11th., 2001.

If you look in the prophetic books you will see that every one of them speaks about the LORD reigning and intervening among the nations. Unfortunately in the four hundred years from Malachi to John the Baptist the voice of prophecy went silent. The Jewish people moved their emphasis from the LORD reigning among the nations to the need to study the books of Moses (the torah). Instead of seeing the Messiah reigning right then in the chaotic world of that time, they began thinking that one day the Messiah will hopefully come. And meanwhile he is sitting doing nothing. That is also a common view these days among Christians who see no hope till the second coming.

So you can see the great turning point with Peter's confession. For two or three years he had listened to Jesus, walked with him, eaten at the same table, slept next to him on the floor of many simple homes. Then one day Jesus said to the disciples "who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:15-16). It had suddenly dawned on Peter that this Jesus whom he had known so well as a friend and teacher was none other than the Sovereign LORD, Messiah King over all kings, that the prophets had spoken about.

Once this declaration became known, things went from bad to worse. The Pharisees became very angry. The Messiah who would intervene for the Jewish people was awaited in the future. Meanwhile we should obey Moses. The politically minded Sadducees wanted to say "We have no king but Caesar." Judas, one of the twelve apostles, decided Jesus was too meek to be the Messiah, and went and took money to betray him. Peter himself denied before a servant girl that he had ever known him.

The Sanhedrin, the supreme parliament for Jews everywhere, met early in the morning to condemn him. Pilate did not want to try this case, and sent him to Herod, the king of Galilee. He wanted to see some miracles, and when Jesus would not perform for him he had him dressed as a king and mocked him. Pilate tried every which way to release him, but finally gave in to the crowd, but insisted on putting a title above Jesus'head on the cross, "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.". And when Jesus was hanging there the Jewish leaders scoffed at him saying "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one" (Luke 23:35). The soldiers also mocked him "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" (23:36). As did one of the criminals nailed to the cross on one side. "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us" (23:39).

There was no one who could reasonably believe that this man bleeding to death on a Roman cross was the Messiah King of kings and Lord of lords who reigns among the nations. But the criminal on the other side saw through all the cruel externals, and said "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." And Jesus replied "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (23:42-43).

The word paradise is a Persian word meaning an enclosed garden. Adam and Eve were excluded from the garden of Eden (eden means joy, delight). But the Bible ends with the enclosed garden city of heaven. It has the river of the water of life flowing through it, and it is lined on both banks with trees of life for the healing of the nations (Revelation 21:1-2). On three occasions Jesus had told his disciples he would be crucified, but he would rise again on the other side of death. Now just before his blood has finally drained away the Messiah can see the enclosed garden of heaven, and he knows he will be there that very day, even before his corpse is taken down and buried.

In the Old Testament period those who died were pictured as going down into sheol (Greek Hades), the grave or abode of the dead. They were in a kind of cold storage till the Messiah came to raise them. But this believing criminal would not need to go down into the abode of the dead. The Messiah had already cleared out sheol (Hades) as he had said. "The hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out" (John 5:28-29). And Matthew describes how "many bodies of the saints came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many" (Matthew 27:52-53). That was even before Jesus' body was taken down from the cross. So this had already taken place by the time the criminal died, and he never went down into the abode of the dead.

All that is very interesting and important. But you may wonder how the Feast of the Reign of the Messiah impacts on our life in the here and now? Let me pick out two verses from the Epistle which was read for us before our Gospel reading. In his conversion on the Damascus Road Paul had shifted from expecting the Messiah to come one day to knowing him as the one he was persecuting. But that took a lot of working out before he could explain this huge shift in thinking among the nations.

Fifteen or more years after becoming a Christian (Messiah person) Paul was able to say that God the Father "has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son" (Colossians 1:13). The believing criminal had certainly been transferred from the power of darkness as he hung on the cross. He did not have much time left to serve the Messiah. But we are transferred by faith into the Messiah's kingdom as he reigns among the nations. We have a right to make our suggestions in prayer and he listens to us. As you picture something that needs doing here in Kingston, or in Canada, or anywhere else in the world, you can share your concern with our anointed King and you will be surprised at what happens (as I have been the past few weeks - I can tell you about that after the service).

The other verse is "He is the head of the body, the church" (Colossians 1:18). As Paul explained all of us have different functions in that body. "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. All of these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses (1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 11).

This means that the church here in Kingston has functions to perform for the Messiah. Instead of being discouraged about all that is wrong in the world, and in this city, and in this congregation, ask the Messiah what small (or great) task you have to perform. And don't be surprised if he wastes no time putting you to work.

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