Last Sunday of the Church Year 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
November 20, 2022
Malachi 3:13-18, Colossians 1:13-20, Luke 23:27-43


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            There is a television show I like that often depicts people being rescued from dire circumstances.  Innocent people are being held hostage by well-armed, evil men who do not care who they kill.  The good guys, a team of Navy Seals, infiltrate the target, shoot the bad guys, rescue the innocent people and move them to safety.  The people were in great danger, now they are safe.  So far from the episodes I have watched no one ever asks to stay in the middle between danger and safety.  No one says, “Thanks for the rescue, but I don’t want to get to safety, I will just stay in the middle.” 

            There is a great temptation to try to live life in between, but we learn from our readings today that spiritually, there are only two categories.  You are safe, or you are in great danger.  You are righteous or you are wicked.  You are one who serves God, or you are one who does not serve Him.  There are those in the domain of darkness and those in the kingdom of Jesus.  There is a distinction.  You belong to the Lord, or you belong to the devil and his darkness.

            This stark contrast is a difficult teaching.  Our sinful nature does not like the sharp distinction.  We want there to be a muddled middle area.  We want there to be some gray area.  We want to live in the mushy middle where we try to convince ourselves that we are not under the authority of darkness and we are not under the authority of Jesus.  We claim to be our own authority.  We declare that we are in charge because if we are in charge, we can rule by our feelings and not by the Word of God. 

For centuries people have sought to mold and shape God’s Word to fit their desires instead of having their desires molded and shaped by the Word of God.  People want to reject that Jesus is only way to the Father because they want every way to be a good way.  But there is no other way.  Jesus is the Way.  Jesus is the light.

            Jesus is the Way and He has delivered you from the domain of darkness.  He delivered you from the rule and authority of the devil and transferred you to the reign of Jesus; the kingdom of light.  You live in the light of Christ. 

From John 3:19–21 (ESV)  19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” 

            In today’s Gospel reading we witness someone being delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the Kingdom of Jesus. Jesus is being crucified on Golgotha, the Place of a Skull.  He is dying in a way carefully designed to be utterly humiliating, agonizing and slow. He is not being crucified alone; there is a criminal to His left and another to His right.  All three are slowly being tortured to death in excruciating pain and while He is dying, people ridicule Jesus.

            The rulers scoffed at Jesus, Luke 23:35 (ESV) 35 … “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”   The soldiers mocked Jesus,  Luke 23:37 (ESV) 37 … “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”  They all think that if Jesus is Christ the King He should save Himself, but Jesus did not come to save Himself.  He came to save you by dying on the cross for your sins.  

            Luke 23:39 (ESV)  39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” This criminal has at least heard that Jesus is the Christ, but, he along with the rulers and soldiers wants to stop the Christ from doing what the Christ came to do.  Even Jesus’ disciples wanted to stop Jesus from going to the cross. 

            Earlier, Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ; the Son of the Living God and Jesus blessed Him.  But then Jesus goes on to explain what it means to be the Christ. Matthew 16:21 (ESV)  21 … that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

            Matthew 16:22 (ESV)  22 … Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”  Peter is not going to let Jesus go to the cross.  So Jesus rebukes Peter, Matthew 16:23 (ESV)  23 … “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  

            The Son of God dying on a cruel cross is not the way you would think that God would save the world, but it is God’s way to save. The first criminal views Jesus through eyes of the world.  Luke 23:40–41 (ESV) 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” Do you not fear God?  This second criminal knows he is a lowly, justly condemned, criminal.  And he knows who Jesus is.   

            Luke 23:42 (ESV)  42 And [the second criminal] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And Jesus replies, Luke 23:43 (ESV)  43 … “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

            In the literal darkness of Good Friday, this man is delivered from the domain of darkness and brought into the Kingdom of Heaven.  He does not deserve to be in God’s kingdom, but he is transferred in by Jesus Word. 

            You have witnessed this very thing happen many times, right here at this font as someone is delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the Kingdom of Jesus through water and the Word of God.  We renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways and declare faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, Matthew 28:19–20 (ESV)  19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. ...”  Jesus said to do it, so this is what we do.  We baptize and we teach.  Baptism is Jesus’ command and it delivers from the domain of darkness and transfers into the kingdom of Jesus.  Your deliverance is refreshed and strengthened by Jesus’ Words each week, “I forgive you all your sins,” and by receiving Jesus Body and Blood into yourself.

            In the literal darkness of Good Friday, this man is delivered from the domain of darkness and brought into the Kingdom of Heaven.  He does not deserve to be in God’s kingdom, but he is transferred in by Jesus Word. 

            Jesus, God in flesh, offers eternal life to all people through His life, death and resurrection.  This is the greatest Good News of all time, and yet there is an entire cottage industry of theologians trying to remake Jesus so that He is not the eternal, incarnate, Son of God.  They want to deny Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary, because those things don’t make sense. They want to deny that Jesus rose from the dead because dead people don’t rise.  They want to deny Jesus is the only way to the Father because they think that is mean.  They want to make Jesus into just a nice teacher who encourages people to love one another.  They want to change Jesus’ identity into a powerless but nice prophet.  But that is not who Jesus is. 

            Colossians 1:15–18 (ESV)  15 [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” 

            Jesus is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary.  He was crucified, died and was buried and He rose from the dead.  We have eyewitness accounts, but so many want to deny it because they are afraid.  They are afraid because if Jesus really did rise from the dead it means that He really is God and if Jesus is really God then He is the Lord.  If He is Lord that means He is in charge.  Folks hate that the idea that someone else is in charge, but what they should hate is that are in the domain of darkness.

You have been delivered by Jesus.  You live in the reign and rule of Jesus.  Jesus is Lord. For now, you live in this fallen world and life is still a struggle.  You will be called to do difficult things.  You will be rejected by the world, you will struggle with a fallen world, but you have joy in the struggle because you are in the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus and He rules with grace and forgiveness and love.  In the Kingdom of Jesus you have eternal life. 

            And who is welcome in Jesus’ Kingdom?  Who does Jesus invite?  Is it an exclusive club for middle class “good” people?  Is it limited to certain people in certain places? Today, in our Gospel reading, we have a fascinating example of who Jesus reaches out to and invites.  Jesus is being crucified.  The Jewish leaders cried out for blood and stirred up the early morning crowd to chant, “Crucify him, crucify him!”  Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, washed his hands of the affair, had Jesus flogged and sent for crucifixion.  The Romans soldiers at Golgotha stripped Jesus and drove nails through His flesh to affix Him to the cross.  What is Jesus’ response to these people?  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Jesus welcomes even those who crucify Him; He offers words of forgiveness.  All are invited into the reign and rule of Jesus.  

            You are a baptized child of God.  You have been transferred into the Kingdom of God.  You have been delivered from the domain of darkness and you live in the light of Christ.    Your sins are forgiven.  You are safe. Amen.