"Paradise Is for You"
Sunday of the Fulfillment
St. Luke 23:27-43
November 25, 2007
(Immanuel Lutheran Church, Buffalo, New York)
IN NOMINE JESU
"He saved others; let Him save Himself!" Many scoffed at the King of the Jews as He hung from the cross. They sneered and jeered at Him. Regardless of what the Lord would do, the people would not believe in Him. The Lord came to save sinners, saving them by dying in their place on the cross. Even while dying there on the cross, the people would not believe in Him as the Savior of all the mankind. Had Jesus come down from the cross, the people would not believe in Him, either. They would have branded Him an imposter, as they had before. The Pharisees and scribes, who knew the Scriptures intellectually, did not know the Scriptures Christologically. That is to say, while they technically understood what the Scriptures say, they failed to see that Jesus Christ is the Fulfillment of these same Scriptures. They knew that the Messiah would come, but they did not accept the fact that the Messiah came in the Person of Jesus. "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, to those who believe in His Name" (Jn. 1:11-12).
Among the children of God was one of the criminals who was crucified with Jesus. He was there when they crucified our Lord. To him the crucified Lord gave the right to become a child of God, by believing in His Name, and the Lord promised him the Holy Spirit. More than that, the Lord promised him eternal life. Actually, the Holy Spirit had already come and entered the heart of this condemned man, for it is only by the Holy Spirit that he was able to confess that the Christ was innocent. He who once hurled insults at the crucified Lord was brought to repentance. This man knew his end was soon coming, and he prayed to the Lord for deliverance, and the Lord granted him forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. The Lord granted him the sweet calm of Paradise the blest. The Lord grants this also to all who die in His arms, a promise that will be delivered in all its fullness on the Last Day, when He comes again in full power and great glory, coming to raise us and all the dead, giving eternal life to us and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
This we look forward to with joyful expectation and anticipation. This is the focus of our celebration today, the Last Sunday in the Church Year, the Sunday of the Fulfillment, the Last Sunday of End Time, Christ the King Sunday, the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, or whatever you want to call this day. Today we celebrate our Lord's fulfilling the Scriptures as He did atop Calvary's cross and as He will do again when He returns on the Last Day. The coming of the Lord on the Last Day is cause for us to rejoice, for He will come to deliver us from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven. For the Christian, the Second Coming of the Christ will be a joyous occasion, for on that day we will be with Him in Paradise.
Or are you dreading the day of the Lord? Are scared of His return? If you love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself, then there is no reason to fear His return. But this is the scandal that undoes us. This is what prevents us from welcoming Him as He looks to come again in glory to judge both the quick and the dead. We are full of dread because we are really dead—dead in our trespasses and sins. We are dead because there is no life in us. More accurately, the life in Christ is not in us. We have shown time and time again that we are more interested in ourselves than in our salvation. It is easy for everyone to see as we look at our own thoughts, words, and deeds in the light of the Ten Commandments—specifically, the First Table of the Law. We fear, love, and trust in ourselves above God. We misuse His Name, often taking it in vain and not using it to pray, praise, and give thanks. We do not like to remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. While we may fulfill the Third Commandment in its technical sense, we certainly do not follow the spirit of this commandment. We do not allow the Word of God to take root in our hearts. Even though we are gathered here in the Lord's house and around His Word, do we fully cherish and keep and crave the gifts our Lord offers through His Means of Grace: forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation? Do we fully realize and appreciate the reality that our Lord through His Word and Sacraments desires to give you Paradise? We do not, for our hearts are not right with God. We consider the written, read, and proclaimed Word suspect, and we, like the Pharisees and scribes, look at Christ, the Incarnate Word, with contempt. They met not Paradise but perdition. As long as we do not hold God's Word sacred and do not gladly hear and learn it, we reject the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us and have every reason to fear the Last Day, when the Lord comes again and sends the unfaithful to the resurrection of condemnation. For such people, the day of the Lord will be a frightful one indeed.
What we also see in our text is that there is still an opportunity to receive God's grace, albeit a limited time, even in one's final hours. There were two criminals crucified with the Lord. Both jeered Him. But one repented and asked for His forgiveness. The Lord, knowing all things and seeing into the hearts of all men, forgave him who justly suffered for his own offenses but turned to the Lord for his deliverance. He understood. He believed. He got it! The Pharisees, scribes, and unbelieving Jews did not. They rejected the gift the Lord offered even while being nailed to the cross and praying, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (v. 34a). God's forgiveness was there for them, but they rejected it. The repentant criminal received it with gladness, for he knew that the dying Lord would remember him when He came into His kingdom, for that day the criminal would be with the Lord in Paradise.
Take heart, O sinner. The Lord is extending this same gift to you. The words from your crucified and dying Lord's lips He speaks for you and to you this day. To all who seek His forgiveness, our Lord grants you this and the promise of eternal life in the Paradise of heaven. You see, it was for you that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, to bear your sins and be your Savior. It is for you that Jesus was crucified. It is for you that He suffered and died. It is for you that He said, "Father, forgive them, and, again, "You will be with Me in Paradise," and, again, "It is finished!" It is to you and for you that He gives His grace, His undeserved love—for you, for He desires that you be with Him in Paradise into all eternity. It is you that He desires to gather you to Himself on the Last Day. It is for you that He rose so that He would ascend into heaven and prepare a place for you in the heavenly mansions. It is for your entry into heaven that your Lord prepares you by giving you His Word and Sacraments. It is for you that He gives you His body to eat and His blood to drink, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, that you would receive a foretaste of the Feast to come, the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end. The eternal Feast is indeed a marriage feast, for Christ, the Bridegroom, will be united with us, His bride, the Church Triumphant. There will be no death to part us, only life—eternal life—to unite us with our Bridegroom.
So while there is time, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, repent and believe the Gospel, that you would be with the Lord in Paradise. He saved others. He did not save Himself, so that He would save you. God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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