Luke 23:32-43

The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching

November 20, 2022

On the game show Family Feud, hosted by Steve Harvey, folks are asked how 100 people answered various survey questions.  A decade ago, contestants had to guess the top answers to this question:  “When someone speaks of ‘the King’, to whom are they referring?”  The four most common replies were in order: Elvis Presley, 81 of them; Jesus or God, 7; Martin Luther King, Jr., 3; and the Burger King, 2.

So not many think of Jesus’ Kingship!  What’s worse, when they do, as Max Lucado has noted, most have a meager view of what that means.  Some, Lucado says, see King Jesus as a “Rabbit’s Foot Redeemer” – a pocket-sized good luck charm that’s easy to handle and to keep in its place.  What are this King’s powers?  Getting you out of a jam!  Need a parking place?  A good grade on a test?  Just pull out your furry four-leaf clover, rub Him, and then put Him back in your pocket until the next time.

Others see King Jesus as an “Aladdin’s Lamp Redeemer”.  Want a new job?  Better friends?  Better returns on your investments?  Your wish is His command.  Then He reenters the lamp whenever you tell Him.

Still others see King Jesus as a “Monty Hall Redeemer” (in other words, a “’Let’s Make a Deal’ Redeemer”).  You strike a bargain with him and decide on an exchange.  Say, if you attend church most Sundays and act the part of a person of piety with a passion for justice, He gives you Paradise behind a pearly gate, “behind door #3!”

The problem with all these meager views of Jesus’ kingship is that they rule out the possibility of His ruling over you.  For they turn a blind eye to His regal authority – as so many did at Calvary when Jesus appeared to be just a helpless weakling.

Hanging on that cross – humiliated, and seemingly broken, beaten and bereft of power – Jesus looked nothing like a king.  Thus, the religious leaders ridiculed Him as someone who wasn’t saving Himself when He had every reason to, especially after calling Himself the Savior of the world.  The Roman governor mocked any royal pretensions by nailing into the wood right above Jesus’ “crown” of thorns a sign sardonically stating, “This is the King of the Jews.”  The soldiers made sport of Him bowing before Him in derisive playacting.  And one of the criminals who was being crucified with Him insulted Him for failing to end their common suffering.

But the other crucified criminal – perhaps seeing in Jesus something of a regal dignity or a commanding majesty – seems to have begun to wonder whether there was more to this good strong man than met the eye.  And this felon, perhaps out of desperation, grabbed hold of a wild hope that this good strong man, whose character seemed to suggest He had power He was holding in check, might choose to help a felon like him.  Whatever that felon was thinking, he cried out to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And Jesus in reply declared, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The surprising power of God’s mercy!  The crucified Christ, though He looked as if He had no authority to do a thing, acted as if He had the ultimate authority to determine someone’s eternal destination!

The position a person occupies at a certain time may hide who they are and what authority they wield!

Sam Bronfman, the late CEO of the Seagrams Corporation, once entered a crowded conference room and, eager to get on with the meeting, plopped into the nearest chair.  One of his young assistants immediately said, “No, Mr. Bronfman, you’re supposed to sit at the head of the table.”  “Young man,” replied Bronfman, “wherever I sit is the head of the table.”

Whatever place or position Jesus takes, He’s still the head of everything.  Wherever He sits is a throne from which He reigns over everything.  While looking weak, Jesus still ruled over that horrible hill of killing – and every other inch of the earth.  Surrounded by haters who derided and degraded Him, He remained in charge of the course of history.  With sovereign authority, He kept choosing the terrible position to which He was then nailed.

For the world’s salvation, Jesus refused to exercise His kingly authority to escape all that pain and disgrace; but, for the salvation of a single criminal, He did exercise it to comfort the man and assure him of Paradise.

Jesus was king then, and He is king now, exercising still His kingly power to bring God’s mercy to any and all.

Pam Parillo grew up in Los Angeles.  In her home, church and the Bible were unknown.  Her mother showed little care or concern for her kids and, when Pam was nine, ran off with the cook where she worked as a waitress.  She died in a car wreck shortly thereafter.

Pam’s father was an alcoholic who molested her.  At age 13, she met Sammy Parillo, then 19.  They ran away into Mexico and had a “quickie” wedding.  She soon joined her new husband in his heroin addiction.  After he was arrested and imprisoned, she delivered their twins, but only one survived.  She never saw Sammy again.

To support her son and her drug habit, she danced at a strip club.  She met a man there with whom she teamed up to rob a customer.  Fleeing California, they picked up a hitchhiker who, they noticed, had a big roll of money.  High on PCP, they murdered him.

The law eventually caught up with Pam and she found herself on death row awaiting execution by lethal injection.  A woman from a prison ministry would visit death row, and the two of them struck up a friendship. They talked about God’s mercy and the possibility of forgiveness and redemption.  Then one day, Pam gave her life to Christ.  She says, “After 24 years of being tossed about like a dry chunk of dirt, God poured in the waters of life and began molding me for His purposes.”  But Pam struggled to keep the faith and to keep growing.

She got to know another woman on death row who’d given her life to Christ. Karla radiated such joy and peace that it inspired Pam to dare to believe in God’s mercy and to keep moving forward in the hope He can make anyone new.

Karla was executed. But later Pam’s sentence was reduced to life in prison.  Today Pam, living out the rest of her earthly life in prison, is radiating joy and peace, as she helps fellow inmates find the hope in God’s mercy she found, and as she trains service dogs for disabled veterans.

This is the surprising power of God’s mercy!

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