Last Sunday of the Church Year, 2013 (November 24)

Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
(Luke 23:27–43)

TITLE: “Paradise”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. Luke chapter twenty three.

It is the end of the Church Year. We have been talking about judgment day for a couple weeks, considering the end of all things and Christ’s return in glory. And here is this reading from Jesus’ death right in the middle of it? Why? What does Jesus’ death on the cross have to do with our life in Christ, and especially how we stand before God on the great, final day.

That is the question for the day. What does Jesus’ death have to do with judgment day?

As our Lord was stretched out dying upon the cross, two other men were experiencing their own judgment day. They were both criminals. They were both deserving of death. Their judgment was really their won doing. As they lay dying, the three of them together, one of them joined in mocking our Lord. Hear again the exchange:

“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? 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 justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”” (Luke 23:39–41 ESV)

The wages of sin is death, so St. Paul said. We all receive the just reward for our false and sinful works. Good or bad, rich or poor, wise or fool, every one of us will make our own long road to the grave. Somehow, though, in the midst of that kind of pain and suffering, one of these thieves recognized that with Jesus, there was something different. With Jesus, He was not there because of His own doing. He was innocent. The first man since Adam to ever be really, truly innocent of all wrongdoing. Yet He suffered the same humiliation as they. He would die, just as they were about to die.

The concept of judgment by God goes far beyond the modern view. Today we don’t talk about judgment; we talk about karma. What goes around, comes around. Usually we use the concept of karma whenever something bad happens to someone else. A rich person goes broke and it’s karma.

But judgment is very different. Judgment means that you are held to a standard, and the standard is fixed, immovable. Love the Lord your heard with hear,t soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the standard, that’s the rule. These thieves had broken the rule, and so they stood under the judgment. They would die for their crimes.

And so it is that we stand under the same judgment. Oh, we may not be notorious criminals, stuck in the ground on a cross for the world to see. But we are still under that same judgment. How do we know this? Because we are all dying, every one of us. That is the nature of life under sin. We all stand under that one judgment.

Or do we? What if we aren’t looking forward to judgment day, but backwards on it? What if we are actually on the other side of God’s judgment, and we have come out innocent, holy and loved by God? Is that possible? Could such an amazing thing be true?

Yes, it is. Saint Paul tells us of this miracle in our Epistle. He writes,

“He [Jesus]is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 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.” (Colossians 1:15–18 ESV)

Jesus is the image of the invisible God. That word image is literally the word, ikon. Jesus is a window to peek in and see the very heart and character of God. And there He is, the Word made flesh, the creator of heaven and earth and everything in between, the one who holds the whole world together, there He is, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). God the Father poured out His judgment not upon you, but upon Him. St. Paul continues in his Epistle,

“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:19–20 ESV)

In other words, Jesus takes all of the sin and sorrow, sickness and death, the disease which infects us all, He takes all of it and sucks it into Himself. And out of Him pours the very blood of His forgiveness. St. John reminds us that when Jesus died, out of His side poured blood and water. That blood and water and Spirit testifies that in every way that matters, Judgment Day has already taken place.

Judgment Day was on the cross, beloved in Christ. And on the cross of Jesus all your sins were taken to the grave. And when our Lord arose from the dead, He left all those sins there, in the tomb. Your Judgment Day was a long time ago, and God has judged you holy and righteous, His precious sons and daughters, heirs with Jesus to an eternity forever in God’s presence, along with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

Don’t be afraid of judgment. It’s done. Finished. All that’s left is the cleanup. Oh I know, we still suffer and hurt here. The earthly consequences of our sins sting and bother. We struggle with how to live and we struggle with how and when to die. But not matter. Christ has reconciled us to Himself. You are one in Him and therefore in each other. Jesus, who is enthroned forever at His Father’s side, Jesus now calls to you and says, “Come, sit with me up here. This is your place. This is your home. Leaven all of your worrying and anxiety behind. I have done it all for you. You need never be afraid, ever again.”

That is your future, beloved of God. Your future is wrapped up in Christ, who has won it all so that you might become one with Him.

Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.