WANT VERSUS NEED
Dear Christian friends,
When power is concentrated within just a few people, there is reason to be concerned. As a citizen of this nation there are things happening that make me very uncomfortable. Our president is exercising authority I didn’t know a president had. There are parts of law that he is setting aside arbitrarily. I didn’t know he had the power to do some things. Maybe I need another civics class, but I was taught that we have three branches of government. Congress makes laws, the judicial branch interprets law and the executive branch makes sure the laws are enforced. It doesn’t appear that way in recent times.
When a president becomes president of theUnited Stateshe takes an oath that he will defend the Constitution of theUnited Statesand the body of laws that are part of this land. I am disturbed as a Christian that the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, is not being defended simply because the present administration chooses not to defend it.
Why am I saying all this? Whenever there is a very concentrated center of power, abuse often follows. If you asked an historian what king in European history best represented absolutism?” you would probably get the answer, “Louis XIV ofFrance.” He had the biggest and most glamorous palace. He fought an endless series of wars. He taxed his people most heavily. His reign led to a revolution. He was jeered by his people as his body was taken to be buried. Power was exercised in one person.
Today is Christ the King Sunday. But there is no reason to be suspicious of our king. He is the King of Kings. He knows what we want but will give us what we need. Want Versus Need!
The English Royal Family gets a lot of print. There are a good number of English who oppose the monarchy. The English spend millions and millions of dollars annually to keep them in front of cameras and tourists. Some are tired of it all. There were and are many who don’t want to think about Jesus as their king either.
There were the common folk who stood looking at Jesus as if he were like a car accident that creates a curiosity. There were the religious leaders who were loud and obnoxious. “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.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
Remember who the leaders were. There were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They didn’t like Jesus or each other, but they had a common interest in wanting to get rid of Jesus. There were the Roman soldiers. They came from a religion of multiple gods and goddesses – Jupiter and Mars and Venus. They got some yuks at Jesus’ expense too.
It is an amazing how Jesus unites people. In the church it is a beautiful thing. Even though we have different backgrounds, we come from different states, different countries, we work in different areas of life, yet we share a common faith in Jesus. We treasure his Word and sacraments and grow in a common faith.
Yet there are a lot of people who are not here this morning and not in church anywhere. They also come from different backgrounds. They do all kinds of different things. They too are united in the thinking that Jesus isn’t worth the time or effort to worship.
While there are better than six billion people in the world, 300 plus million in the United States, everyone falls into one of those two categories - either for Jesus by the Holy Spirit’s power or against him by the stubborn sinful will of a foolish, cold, hateful heart. Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Why do people stand oppose? Jesus doesn’t offer what they want or feel they need. .
Needless to say, as a child of God and as Bible-believing Christians this is a very serious matter. There is no in between place for the semi-interested or the possibly-interested. There is no neutral place for those who think they can ride to heaven on someone else’s coat tails like Mom and Dad or a spouse or children or merely because a name is on a church roster. Only one of two places is a very serious matter.
As we look closer to these words, it is very worthwhile to look at all the arguments that groups give why don’t want to follow him.
They ridiculed his deity. In the Gospel of Matthew, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Listen to the sarcasm that drips off those words - “If you really are the Son of God!”
If you are... The apostles eventually didn’t doubt one bit. In fact, they died for Jesus who died and rose for them. Eventually ten of the twelve originals were martyred because they would not deny what they had seen and heard. Why? They were eyewitnesses. Hey, our judicial system uses eyewitnesses too. In fact, one eyewitness can be enough to change someone’s life. Besides the original twelve there were 500 who saw the truth about our King of kings and Lord of lords. It is foolish to ridicule his deity.
Those beneath the cross also ridiculed the miracles that Jesus the King he did. “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.”
It is interesting and ironic that these people didn’t deny that Jesus did the miracles. “He saved others,” they said. There were plenty of people walking around who were evidence that Jesus saves. There were those walking who couldn’t until they met Jesus. There were those who couldn’t see until they met Jesus. There were those who couldn’t hear until they met Jesus. There were even a few who had been dead until Jesus came to them. Even his enemies acknowledged that. But when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, it was embarrassing to have that man walking all around. That’s why they wanted to put the one whom Jesus raised to life in the grave again. People can be stubbornly stupid, can’t we?
But how powerful the sinfulness is that inside of us! What do you mean set aside logic and reason? I know we’re talking God stuff but miracles can’t and don’t happen. Besides, if I believed that people would laugh at me. To believe that stuff isn’t intelligent. I don’t want that for myself.
There have to be other reasons for a man to come out of a grave after four days like Lazarus did. Medical science has a word for it – psychosomatic. You know, it was all in his head. Some people will believe only what they want.
They also ridiculed his messianic office. “The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself…One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The Jews thought the Messiah was to be a king and ruleIsrael and get rid of the enemies ofIsrael… like the Romans who oversaw Jesus’ death. If Jesus was the Messiah who would free the nation ofIsrael, this scene was one of irony and pretty hilarious. Some Messiah you are!
Yet all their laughter showed how little they knew the Scriptures. This scene had been foretold hundreds of years prior in the Old Testament. Messiah was different from what they thought and even wanted. Messiah would die. The Messiah would die for sin. “Just as there were many who were appalled at him— his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness… Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Jesus never had any pretenses that things would turn out any differently. He knew his mission. In fact, he told his disciples a number of times how he had to go to Jerusalemto suffer and die. He “came not to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many.” He came to give himself as a ransom for all. He came, not to be what people wanted, but what people needed him to be.
There is no one better to look at than the man who was getting what he deserved. He was getting executed for crimes he had done. While all that is true, he is the one we need to emulate and imitate more than anyone else. He was repentant.
It is noteworthy that the other Gospels tell us the repentant thief was not receptive to Jesus at first either, but then the Holy Spirit melted his cold and frozen heart. He realized he needed Jesus and he realized that Jesus supplied what he needed.
He was the only one who stood up for Jesus. No one else did, not even the other disciples. This criminal, and that is what he was - he did not deny it – spoke out against the other criminal who took all kinds of verbal shots at Jesus like everyone else. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Hey, Bud, wake up it’s later than you think! Hey, it is not time to criticize but do a thorough self-examination. He needed to spend the little time he had left more wisely, not pointing out the perceived shortcomings of Jesus but reviewing and confessing his own.
The repentant criminal had no trouble doing that. “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.” That’s what all must do! Not just the criminals behind bars, and the ruthless dictators and evil people on the loose, but all of us. Our lives are not pleasing to the Lord. We have all fallen so short.
But don’t stop there with simply confessing. Don’t miss a step. Don’t say, "I will do better next time." Don’t say you won’t do it again. Don’t ask for another chance. Take your shortcomings to the cross of Jesus. Understand why he was there; why he endured the humiliation and pain and suffering he did.
There is something else much deeper and greater going on. God is punishing him for the sin the thief did and the crowd did and for what you and I did. Boldly and confidently say with the repentant thief and believe with the repentant thief, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
I am sure that the only regret that the thief had was that he didn’t live his whole life as he was able to live the last hours of his life, knowing that forgiveness was free and full.
“Today you will be with me in Paradise,” Jesus said. These are words of absolution. Sin has been taken away. Forgiveness is free. Receive it by believing it. Jesus knows you really need it – more than anything in this world.