November 20, 2022

  “True Greatness!”

(Jeremiah 23: 1-6; Luke 23: 32-43)

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! Says the Lord.Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall no longer fear longer or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.  The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

     Today we are celebrating Christ the King Sunday.  This last Sunday in our Christian year is dedicated to our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.  This year, as I was reflecting upon today’s celebration of Christ the King Sunday, I could not help but to visualize the sharp contrast between the kings of this world and our own Lord Jesus, the King of all kings.  This contrast is especially vivid as we are spectators in all that is presently happening in England, where Charles III is in the midst of being crowned as King.  There is so much pomp, circumstance, and media attention given to this event. I have seen the photos of the jeweled crown and scepter Charles will wear at his coronation. I am reminded that Christ Jesus, our Lord and king, never wore a stately crown of rich purple velvet and jewels; but instead he was mocked with a crown made of sharp and injurious thorns.  Yet, I am also reminded of the insightful words of an author, whose identity is unknown, reminding us “True greatness is like a river, the deeper it is, the less noise it makes.”  True greatness does not need the shallow trappings of pomp and circumstance, for true greatness is secure in its own identity and in the value of its self-worth.  And so our King, Jesus, the King above and over all the kings and rulers of this world, is not a nobleman with worldly wealth, but a humble and suffering servant.

     Authenticity is its own validation.  I have a friend from my college days whose family comes from old money, really old money.  She had no need to impress anyone at school with her wealth, and so she drove a Datsun B210 automobile, and she lived on campus in the community dorms.  I never heard her brag about her family’s enormous wealth, for they had helped to fund the building of the first transcontinental railroad; like I said-old money! Yet, she quietly picked up nearly every meal tab, invited folks who could not possibly afford to dine out to join our friendly group, and funded, silently, many student trips to perspective job interviews when the companies did not make provisions for the travel component.  She never mentioned a word about it, an envelope would show up under the door with needed funds for the recipient for travel to some important occasion—and I quietly knew it was Diane that had provided the ready cash because I was in her inner circle of friends.  That, friends, is true greatness—the deep river kind of greatness that doesn’t make a lot of noise.  It made such a lasting impression on me that I am sharing this story with you today, many decades later.

     Jesus was the deep river kind of Savior God sent us to atone for and forgive our sin.  Jesus was a humble man, who was compassionate, loving, gentle and kind to others.  Jesus wasn’t about the ways of the powerful and wealthy. Jesus saw the forgotten people, and he showed kindness, respect and compassion to those the society of his day had rejected.  Consider Zacchaeus, the tax collector.  He was a man loathed by the people for his taxing practices.   Man of small stature, Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus when Jesus came into his town.  His presence was ignored by others, but Jesus saw Zacchaeus sitting up in the tree, and called to him.  Jesus told Zacchaeus that he wanted to come and stay at his house, and Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus.  The people all grumbled that Jesus would make himself the guest of this sinner, but Jesus had compassion for Zacchaeus.  Before the muttering crowd, Zacchaeus vowed to give half of his wealth to the poor, and to pay back four times the amount he had cheated out of others.  Jesus rejoiced over Zacchaeus’ conversion, saying “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost; now there’s a deep river kind of Savior.

     Jesus did not come only to seek out and help those who were the lost and the outcasts of society.  He came as the perfect and spotless Lamb of God to sacrifice himself as the complete and final act of atonement for the sin of the whole world.  All of the sacrifices that were made down through the generations could not affect the complete and total remission of the world’s sin.  We needed a Savior, and God sent us Jesus.  The prophecy of Isaiah has been understood to foretell the kind of suffering-servant our Savior, Jesus, would be.  Isaiah 53: verses 1-6 and 11-12 state:

He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;

and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors;

yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

By his stripes, and because of his self-sacrificing suffering, we who believe in him receive his atonement for our sin, and so walk in the newness of an eternal life in the kingdom of God.  Jesus did all of this without pomp, and circumstance.  Secure in his identity as both the Son of God and the Son of Man, Jesus did not seek the approval or permission of others to fulfill his healing ministry for the salvation of the world.  He often cautioned his followers not to over-publicize his miracles and good works.  Yet news this great has a way of being made known.  Not everyone appreciated Jesus’ true greatness and the miracles of healing and wholeness he performed.  Some sought his death, believing that they could put an end to Jesus’ mission by killing him.  They crucified Jesus along with two common thieves in an agonizing and humiliating death. Yet, even at the point of his own death, Jesus remained compassionate, kind, and caring, as he promised the thief who asked to be remembered a place in Paradise. We who stand on the other side of the cross know that Jesus’ promises are true; for they proceed from the true greatness of the one who truly is the King of all kings.

     So church, what does Christ the King Sunday mean for we who celebrate it two thousand years after the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord and Savior, Jesus?  As recipients of the very same love and grace of God that sent Jesus to the cross two thousand years ago, our joyful response should be to serve him by carrying out, and continuing on, his ministry of compassion, mercy, kindness and love in our hurting world today.  As we sit around our Thanksgiving tables this year, sharing those blessings that we are grateful to have received, let us remember first and foremost the gift of salvation unto eternal life we have received through our Lord Jesus.  May we, like the thief on the cross, truly comprehend the depth of our own sin, and the wideness of God’s mercy, that saved us through Christ Jesus.  May that remembrance move us to action, that we may be instruments of the love of God in Christ Jesus, bringing comfort, kindness, mercy and peace with justice and equality of opportunity for all God’s people.  That is how we who believe in Jesus can carry on the legacy of the true greatness of our King of all kings.  Amen.