35 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.” 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.” 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “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.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
On the morning of January 12, 2012, Josh Bell, one of the world’s most famous violinists, participated in a social experiment with the Washington Post. Josh Bell dressed like a typical street performer and went to a subway station, during rush hour, in Washington D.C. He set up his violin case for people to put money in and then he played his 3.5-million-dollar Stradivarius violin for 45 minutes. What do you think happened? I’ll tell you what happened. While he was playing thousands of people simply walked right past him and paid no attention to him. I know the first time I heard this story I thought, “Really? One of the world’s top violin players played a free concert in a subway station, and people simply walked by while he played incredible music? They missed out on something pretty amazing…” A handful of people did actually stop to listen, but they only listened for a few seconds and then continued on their way. But one person stopped and listened to him play because she heard the amazing music he played and recognized him for who he was. That’s a pretty crazy story, isn’t it? Thousands of people had beautiful music playing in their ears, but of those thousands only one recognized him and praised him for who he was.
That’s exactly what happened to Jesus in our Gospel reading for today. Many passed by Christ, your King, and ridiculed him, but one praised him for who he truly was.
Our lesson for today takes place early on in Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus had just been nailed to the cross. During the little time that has passed so far, those in the crowd, along with the rulers, soldiers, and both of the criminals who were crucified with Jesus ruthlessly ridiculed him. But Jesus’ love shone brightly. While he was being ruthlessly ridiculed he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Though he was going through intense pain and abuse, Jesus didn’t ridicule back. Instead, he asked his Father to forgive them. I don’t know about you, but if I was ridiculing someone and then heard them ask God to forgive me, I’d like to assume I’d stop and think about what I was doing… But that’s not what the rulers and soldiers did. They continued to ruthlessly ridicule Christ, your King.
Verse 35… People stood watching. They watched as Christ, Your King, was nailed to a cross and as the rulers sneered at him. I’ve never fully understood what the word “sneer” meant. In the Greek, the word “sneer” isn’t simply “being mean to someone” with your words. Rather, it has the idea that one is flaring their nostrils at another and viciously attacking and ridiculing them with their words. Can you imagine someone ridiculing another so much that their nostrils are flaring, their face is red, veins popping out of their forehead and neck, and shouting words that no one should ever say? That’s what the people, the rulers, the soldiers, and both criminals did to Christ, Your King. They were “all-in” on ridiculing him and it wasn’t just a one-time action. They continually ridiculed Christ Your King as they shouted, “if you are God’s Messiah, the Chosen One, save yourself!” “If you are God’s Messiah, the Chosen One, save yourself!” Over and over they shouted these words.
Now, why would the rulers and the people do this? Didn’t they know better? Yes, they knew the prophecies about the Messiah. They had the fulfillment right in front of their faces, but he wasn’t the king they wanted. They wanted a king that would tell them that they could go on preaching falsely, obtaining money dishonestly, and continue sinning because that’s what they wanted to do. They didn’t want Christ Your King as their king because for the past three years, he told them they were wrong and needed to repent. They did not like that in the slightest. So, as they watched Christ, your King be crucified, they were overjoyed and took out all their frustration on him they had stored up over the last three years.
Verses 36-38… For the soldiers, Christ Your King was just another criminal they could ridicule. Pilate even ridiculed him by placing a sign above his head that read, “this, the King of the Jews.” Christ your King was ridiculed by many: Rulers, soldiers, and other criminals… According to the other gospels, early on both criminals ridiculed him. Now just one was ridiculing him with the crowd.
Verse 39… The criminal’s words were blasphemous, “aren’t you the one who was supposed to save us? Then save us if you can. We’re dying.” The criminal didn’t see Christ, Your King as a King who was saving, but rather as one who was allowing him to suffer and die without any hope. So, he joined in on the ridicule by enticing Christ Your King to save himself but then asking Christ Your King to save him too just in case he could indeed save himself…
Can you picture everything that is happening? The soldiers pounding nails into Christ your King’s hands and feet. The rulers, soldiers, and many others ridiculing Christ Your King while people watch in approval. The criminal blaspheming Christ Your King. Can you picture all of that? Can you also see yourself in the picture as one who continues to ridicule Christ, Your King today?
“If you really are Christ, my King, make me popular at my school. Then I’ll know you want me to be happy…” “If you really are Christ, my King, allow me to get that scholarship. Then I’ll know you want me to succeed in life…” “If you really are Christ, my King, give me a raise. Then I’ll know you are providing for me…” “If you really are Christ, my King, help my family member to be healed from their illness. Then I’ll have confidence in your promises to be with your people…” “If you really are Christ, my King _____.” What do you say to Christ, your King that ridicules him for who he is and what he has done for you?
Whenever you look at God’s plan for your life and don’t agree with the path he is taking you down you’re essentially telling God, “God this is not how I want my life to go right now and you need to fix it.” That is how you continually ridicule Christ Your King. You stand at the foot of the cross and continually gnash your teeth at him. You demand that he do things for you when and how you want them done. It’s as though you too are screaming at him, with a red face and veins popping out of your forehead, when he doesn’t do something the way you wanted it done. Your actions are terrible and deserve terrible punishment.
Verses 40-41a… Don’t you fear God? As you stare at Christ, Your King, on the cross, look at what your ridicule deserves. See the suffering and pain you deserve to go through. You deserve to have God ridicule you and cast you away from his presence forever. You deserve hell.
Verse 41b… Christ Your King was praised by one. A thief praised him when he said, “he did nothing wrong.” The Greek literally says, “he did nothing out of place.” Nothing Christ Your King did was out of place. He did nothing wrong. Yet, he was convicted as a criminal and sentenced to die on a cross with the worst of the worst. Why? Because he is Your King who saves. Christ, Your King, went through all of that so you wouldn’t have to. He never ridiculed you back as you ridiculed him. Instead, while you disagreed with the path he was taking your life down and demanded that he do it your way, he absorbed your teeth gnashing at him and asked his Father to forgive you. He endured your ridicule in order to save you. He never came down from the cross because his love for you held him there.
Verse 42… When the thief asked Christ Your King to “remember” him, he was asking him to do a lot more than just remember him. He was asking Christ Your King to think carefully about him and be concerned about him and have mercy on him. When Christ, Your King, died on the cross, he thought carefully about you… and you… and you… He was concerned about all of you as he lovingly died on the cross. He had mercy on you.
See Christ, Your King’s mercy for you in verse 43… Christ, Your King, has mercy on you in the same way he had mercy on the repentant thief. Instead of punishing you for your ridicule, for your rejection of God’s plan for your life, he gives you a guaranteed promise that from the moment you die, with no time lapse, in less than the blink of an eye, you will be with him in paradise, in heaven, forever. How is that possible? How can that be true? It is possible and 100% true on account of what Christ Your King did for you. He took your sins of ridicule and mockery and placed them upon himself and, in turn, he placed his “nothing out of place” perfection upon you.
See Christ Your King for who he is and stand up for him when others ridicule you for your faith. Lovingly show them the importance of Christ’s suffering and death. Be an example for those who use Christ as a punching bag as they ridicule him and show them that Christ is an awesome King who offers us free and full forgiveness. Be that one who praises Christ, because people will notice.
Many walked by Josh Bell and paid no attention to him or the beautiful music he was playing. But one recognized him for the famous violinist that he was… Many walked by and ridiculed Christ Your King, but one praised him. When you leave here today, lean on Christ Your King and his promises. Though he was ridiculed by many, one praised him. Be that one to continually sing his praises.