June 28, 2010 David Balzer

Luke 22:66-23:49: A King Among Thieves

Aslan, Lucy and Susan climbed the hill on which the Stone Table stood. When they got to the last tree, (it was one which had some bushes about it) Aslan stopped and said, “Oh, children, children. Here you must stop. And whatever happens, do not let yourselves be seen. Farewell.”

And both the s cried bitterly (though they hardly knew why) and clung to the Lion and kissed his mane and his nose and his paws and his great, sad eyes. Then he turned from them and walked out on to the top of the hill. And Lucy and Susan, crouching in the bushes, looked after him and this is what they saw.

A great crowd of people were standing all round the Stone Table and though the moon was shining, many of them carried torches which burned with evil-looking red flames and black smoke. But such people! Ogres with monstrous teeth, and wolves, and bull-headed men; spirits of evil trees and poisonous plants; and other creatures whom I won’t describe because if I did the grown-ups would probably not let you read this book.

In fact here were all those who were on the Witch’s side. And right in the middle, standing by the Table, was the Witch herself.

A howl and a gibber of dismay went up from the creatures when they first saw the great Lion pacing toward them, and for a moment even the Witch herself seemed to be struck with fear. Then she recovered herself and gave a wild, fierce laugh.

“The fool!” she cried. “The fool has come. Bind him fast.”

Lucy and Susan held their breaths waiting for Aslan’s roar and his spring upon his enemies. But it never came. Four Hags, grinning and leering, yet also (at first) hanging back and half afraid of what they had to do, had approached him. “Bind him, I say!” repeated the White Witch. The Hags made a dart at him and shrieked with triumph when they found that he made no resistance at all. Then others-evil dwarfs and apes-rushed in to help them, and between them they rolled the huge Lion over on his back and tied all his four paws together, shouting and cheering as if they had done something brave, though, had the Lion chosen, one of those paws could have been the of them all. But he made no noise, even when the enemies, straining and tugging, pulled the cords so tight that they cut into his flesh. Then they began to drag him toward the Stone Table.

“Stop! said the Witch. “Let him first be shaved.”

Another roar of mean laughter went up from her followers as an ogre with a pair of shears came forward and squatted down by Aslan’s head. S – – nip went the shears and masses of curling gold began to fall to the ground. Then the ogre stood back and the children, watching from their hiding-place, could see the face of Aslan looking all small and different without its mane. The enemies also saw the difference.

“Why, he’s only a great cat after all!” cried one.

“Is that what we were afraid of?” said another.

And they surged round Aslan, jeering at him, saying things like “Puss, Puss! Poor ,” and “How many mice have you caught today, Cat?”

“Oh, how can they?” said Lucy, tears streaming down her cheeks. “The brutes, the brutes!” for now that the first shock was over the shorn face of Aslan looked to her braver, and more beautiful, and more patient than ever.

“Muzzle him!” said the Witch. And even now, as they worked about his face putting on the muzzle, one bite from his jaws would have cost two or three of them their hands. But he never moved. And this seemed to enrage all that rabble. Everyone was at him now. Those who had been afraid to come near him, even after he was bound, began to find their courage, and for a few minutes the two s could not even see him-so thickly was he surrounded by the whole crowd of creatures kicking him, hitting him, spitting on him, jeering at him.

At last the rabble had had enough of this. They began to drag the bound and muzzled Lion to the Stone Table, some pulling and some pushing. He was so huge that even when they got him there it took all their efforts to hoist him onto the surface of it. Then there was more tying and tightening of cords.

“The cowards! The cowards!” sobbed Susan. “Are they still afraid of him, even now?”

When once Aslan had been tied on the flat stone, a hush fell on the crowd. Four Hags, holding four torches, stood at the corners of the Table. The Witch bared her arms Then she began to whet her knife. It looked to the children, when the gleam of the torchlight fell on it, as if the knife were made of stone, not of steel, and it was of a strange and evil shape.

At last she drew near. She stood by Aslan’s head. Her face was working and twitching with passion, but HIS looked up at the sky, still quiet, neither angry nor afraid, but a little sad.

Then, just before she gave the blow, she stooped down and said in a quivering voice,

“And now, who has won? Fool, did you think that by all of this you would save the human traitor? Now I will kill you instead of him as your pact was and so the Deep Magic will be appeased. But when you are what will prevent me from him as well? And who will take him out of my hand then? Understand that you have given me Narnia forever, you have lost your own life and you have not saved his. In that knowledge, despair and die.”

The children did not see the actual moment of the . They couldn’t bear to look and had covered their eyes.

It’s a tragic picture. A picture of sacrifice and waste. Of senseless destruction. Of justice being overturned. Of wickedness and evil defeating purity and good. Of thieves and ers triumphing over royalty.

And it’s the same picture we’re presented with here in Luke’s gospel.

Of little men, temple guards and Roman soldiers – nothing more than playground bullies, mocking the King of creation, who was there when the Universe began. The One who possessed more power in his little finger than the combined might of the entire Roman Army would EVER enjoy.

Of Jewish leaders – the very people Jesus came to SAVE – sitting in JUDGMENT against him. Determined to destroy him. Common Priests standing in condemnation against the GREAT High Priest.

Petty rulers, both Roman and Jewish, sitting in judgment over the supreme King of Creation. The one infinitely more worthy of wearing a crown than they were.

All such little, insignificant, powerless men. Yet Jesus just TOOK IT ALL. Never raised his voice in anger. Never raised a fist in retaliation. He just TOOK IT.

It’s a picture of complete obedience and submission. Of sacrifice.

And while we contemplate the horror of this picture, it’s ANOTHER picture Jesus has got in HIS mind. A picture of honour, of glory. Of splendour and eternal majesty. Of dominion and power and might.

It was because Jesus knew who he was, where he’d come from, and where he was returning to. That he could LOWER himself. Allow himself to descend to the depths he did. Have a look at how he answered the Jewish leaders. Ch 22 v67. They ask him if he’s the Christ. And look at how he answers;

“If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer.   69 BUT FROM NOW ON, THE SON OF MAN WILL BE SEATED AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE MIGHTY GOD.”

He’s thinking of the book of Daniel. Ch 7 v13. Daniel saw it in a vision. But for Jesus, he was THERE. A vision of where Jesus had come from. And where he’d be returning to. Daniel had only been peeking in through a window into heaven. But Jesus had EXPERIENCED it. Listen to what Daniel saw.

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was ONE LIKE A SON OF MAN, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days (that’s God himself) and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

If you read the WHOLE of Daniel’s vision, the FIRST part is about rulers of THIS WORLD – animals of terrifying power and wickedness. But all with a rule that has LIMITS – that comes to an end. That’s finite and temporary.

The sort of rule those who are torturing Jesus will have. They’re the animals!

And so Jesus REMINDS HIMSELF of the dominion his Father will give him/ because of his obedience. It doesn’t really matter what THEY think of him. It’s the approval and welcome of his Heavenly Father that’s important.

69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”

The King will be ascending to his throne before too long.

Jesus knows it. But not too many OTHER people are seeing it clearly. Notice how many people are ASKING him about being King. Questions about his identity.

The Jewish Council ask if he’s the Christ – God’s promised King. Pilate asks if he’s the king of the Jews. Herod wants to see some magic tricks, but isn’t too interested in the power that can win forgiveness for the human race.

Herod thinks it’s funny he’s accused of being a king. And so, he dresses him in his own robe, and sends him back to Pilate as a practical joke, laughing as he does it. That’s v 11 of Ch 23.

But the one who’s dominion is an everlasting dominion, and who’s throne is eternal, just holds his tongue, and bides his time. Because the time of his coronation is nearly here.

And, even though he’d done nothing wrong. The guilty verdict is delivered. The crowd joins in on the act. Only a few days earlier, the same crowd had been CHEERING. Now, they’re baying for his . V23.

23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and , the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.

Some Unlikely Followers

And Jesus is led off to be executed. But as the procession begins, we see SOME UNLIKELY FOLLOWERS.

The experts in the law, who knew exactly what the Messiah would do, have CONDEMNED him. HIS DISCIPLES have all abandoned him. Even Peter, the only one game enough to follow into the High Priest’s courtyard, has denied Jesus three times.

But, instead, it’s a STRANGE group of people who recognize their king. First up, Simon from Cyrene – which is in Northern Africa. As far from the events of Jesus’ ministry as anyone in the known world.

We’re not told SPECIFICALLY that he’s a follower of Jesus. But the fact that he CARRIES THE CROSS is a strong hint. Because it’s the picture of carrying the cross Jesus uses in Luke 9:23 to describe DISCIPLESHIP. Following Jesus.

And in Mark’s gospel we’re told he’s the father of Alexander and Rufus, who were probably Christians known to the readers.

So, it seems an AFRICAN recognizes Jesus as King.

And a bit further on, we see that it’s WOMEN who are following. The MEN are too scared. But the women are there, weeping and wailing. That’s there in v27.

And, down in v49, at the foot of the cross, it’s the women again, who’ve followed from Galilee. And they pop up again at the tomb in v55. Same group. But, again, no sign of the men.

And then, at the start of Ch 24. It’s the women who are there on Sunday morning bright and early at the tomb. The first witnesses to the resurrection. The crowning of the King of Creation.

And the women have RECOGNISED it. Not the most likely attendants in those times for a victorious and powerful king.

Then there’s the criminal. Hanging right next to Jesus. The LEAST worthy of earning eternal life according to HIS DEEDS. But he recognizes ENOUGH to be guaranteed paradise by Jesus!

We’ll come back to him in a moment.

Or what about the centurion? There in v47. The godless and unclean heathen. But he identifies more of Jesus than nearly anyone else.

47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, PRAISED GOD and said, “SURELY THIS WAS A RIGHTEOUS MAN.”

Was his sight clear enough for saving faith? We don’t know, but he SPOKE true enough! Better than those who should have known better.

An unlikely collection of followers, indeed.

And, even today, it’s a strange assortment of disciples who recognize their king. Just take a look around this morning. We’re not the brightest, or best-looking. We’re not the most religious, or best-connected. And we’re not the wealthiest.

But in 1 Corinthians 1, God says he chooses a strange collection of disciples. People the world might consider weak and foolish, so that we’d put our confidence in GOD, rather than in ourselves. And not boast.

So, when you look around, and are tempted to get discouraged by the lack of numbers, or how unlikely we are to do much, remember that God LOVES to show his strength through WEAKNESS, so that he might get the glory.

So, as we seek to live for him, in weakness, let’s pray that he might receive the glory, and use us to grow his kingdom.

A King Among Thieves

But let’s go back to the criminal for a moment. In v33, we see that two criminals are crucified with him. One on his right and one on his left. A King among thieves. Just the way Jesus predicted it would go/ back in Ch 22 v37 “and he was numbered with the transgressors.”

So, there we are, Jesus at the center. With the whole crowd, including the soldiers, abusing and ridiculing him.

Even one of the criminals joined in. v39.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

Completely helpless. Convicted and being punished. Hours away from . Yet all he can do is look for someone else to blame. It’s Jesus’ fault he’s stuck up on the cross! No sign that he’s done anything wrong that DESERVES punishment.

It’s the same attitude many people have today. Failing to recognize any responsibility in their own problems. Refusing to recognize their own sin. Or the consequences it brings.

But at the same time refusing to recognize that Jesus can do something about it. Wanting to BLAME God for life. Yet, refusing to give him the allegiance which might lead to a difference in their life.

That’s ONE criminal. But Jesus finds an ally in an unlikely place. THE OTHER criminal. Look at what he says to the first criminal from v40.

“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.”

Notice the two things he does. First, he recognizes HIMSELF. That he’s done wrong, and is being punished JUSTLY.

Secondly, he recognizes Jesus. “This man has done nothing wrong”. And then, in the next verse. “Remember me WHEN YOU COME INTO YOUR KINGDOM.”

He’s got the eyes of faith that can see past the broken, ied body. Past the black eyes and swollen lips. Past the pierced hands and feet.

To the glorious son of man. Coming with the clouds of heaven. To the one who’d be seated at the right hand of the Ancient of Days. Who’s kingdom was coming.

To the one all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped. To the one who’s dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and who’s kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

That’s who the thief saw when he looked at Jesus. That’s who the thief asked to REMEMBER HIM.

In other words, that he’d be KNOWN and RECOGNISED. ACCEPTED AS A FRIEND.

Like a doorman at the popular new nightclub. Everyone wants to get in. But if you’re his BEST FRIEND. Then he’ll REMEMBER you. And you’ll come straight to the front of the line, and get let straight in.

And the thief is asking for the same sort of acceptance. Favourable treatment when it matters most. At the judgment seat of God.

And what I love about this story is what Jesus answers. I love it because it tells me that there’s no-one who’s beyond a second chance. No-one who’s so far gone that they’re hopeless. No-one who’s left it too late to turn over a new leaf.

Because Jesus answers “TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE. The sweetest words anyone is ever likely to hear.

And music in the ears of this criminal. A criminal who recognized a king when he saw one. This king among thieves.

A king who gave himself as a willing sacrifice for subjects who d him.

And whether you’ve done this BEFORE, or perhaps this is the FIRST time. FOLLOW the example of THIS thief. Don’t follow the rebellion and mockery and blindness of the FIRST thief.

And throw yourself at the feet of your king. The king who saves you. The king who’s bought you with his own . And join with all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipping him. Because his dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Comments (2)

  1. Tom

    You can bet that Satan was shocked beyond believe when he realized that this event was in his hand and the end was his condemnation. It cost Satan his control plus insured his judgement iin the end. No one knew nor it recorded that this was the EXACT plan God had which allowed Satan to condem himself by his own action.

  2. Tom

    Let me add a note: The Bible records that there are Seven Battles between God and Satan. This is number four which these seven battles incidently fit the Seven Feast of Israel to the letter.

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