3rd Wednesday of Lent
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, I wasn’t expecting that. For tax purposes as a pastor I’m considered self-employed for income tax purposes. And so every year my wife and I pay quarterly estimated taxes. And we often get a portion of it back as a refund. Well last year after doing our taxes and checking them and rechecking them we weren’t going to get much back at all. We were a little disappointed but life goes on. After several weeks I received a letter from the IRS stating essentially that they had checked my taxes over and amended my return and that we’d be getting about 3 times more back than we had anticipated! I wasn’t expecting that and I really wasn’t expecting that from the IRS! When have you said, “I wasn’t expecting that!” These surprises of life have a way of keeping life rather interesting, right?
This principle is something that we see over and over again in the life of Jesus. If you would sometime, try reading the NT Gospels as if you had never heard the accounts before. Like you had never heard them for years and years in Sunday school or church. Imagine what you’d see. The first recipients of the news of the most important birth of all time is announced to…shepherds. They find Savior of the world not in a palace but resting in a feeding trough. Or the time when Jesus used a little boy’s lunch to feed over 5,000 people. I wasn’t expecting that! Or Jesus telling a paralyzed man to walk…and he does! Or Jesus telling a man dead for over 4 days to come out of his tomb…and he does! I wasn’t expecting that!
But Jesus is still blowing away our expectations while he’s hanging on the cross. But notice first the things we see here that do meet our expectations. First, it’s the rulers, the leaders of Israel, “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him have himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” It wasn’t enough for Jesus to feel the whip on his back, the nails in his hands, and the thorns in his head. But he was also ridiculed and mocked by the religious leaders. They mocked Jesus for being who he truly is. What we see here is the sinful and corrupt human tendency to turn away from God and hate what is true.
But it’s not just the leaders, the soldiers did too, they “mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’” This was just their icing on the cake. They had earlier mocked Jesus with a robe and crown of thorns. This is something we also expect. The sinful and corrupt human tendency to turn away from God to prey mercilessly on the weak.
Pontius Pilate also got his fun in. “There was a written notice above him, which read: This is the King of the Jews.” He didn’t care that Jesus was a king or that Jesus had a kingdom. He intended the sign to mock the Jews- and this Jesus. He presided over the worst miscarriage of justice of all time. This too we would expect. We expect to see the human tendency to turn away from God trying to make wrong right and right wrong.
And finally, what else do we see? Not only ridiculed by the religious leaders, the soldiers, by the Governor, but also by a criminal! “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” Wow! Can you get more humiliated than to be insulted by the worst of society? Here again we see the corrupt human tendency to turn away from God but want all his gifts without any love toward him.
I didn’t expect that. Jesus is certainly not the king we would expect. We expect kings in palaces, on thrones, with huge armies, not kings brutalized and mocked, hung on a cross, and wearing thorns instead of a crown.
Jesus didn’t meet the expectations of a king everyone had. Does he meet your expectations? What do you expect from Jesus? Do you expect a nice, easy, carefree life because you are His follower? Do you expect a life of ease and only minor troubles and difficulties? Do you expect that he will make you constantly healthy, wealthy, and wise? Do you expect a grandfatherly grin as you fling yourself headlong into that sin for the umpteenth time?
God tells us what to expect in His Word. He says expect pain, difficulty, trouble in this world – especially for following Jesus. He says expect a sinful world tearing itself apart. See God’s unfathomable wrath poured out on Jesus for every sin you and I thought wasn’t that big of a deal- see Jesus look disfigured beyond recognition, looking like a worm and not a man- all because of your sin and mine.
But then something happens that we don’t expect. A voice of faith-filled repentance: “But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘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.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ His miserable life was about to come to a miserable end, he was about to be snapped in the jaws of a hell far worse than he had ever experienced, but in faith spoke a simple request: Jesus, remember me.
And Jesus did! “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” I wasn’t expecting that! Immediately, beyond this criminal’s wildest dreams, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” This is what we should expect from Jesus. In Jesus God is gracious to the most undeserving. He is the key to heaven, even for criminals on crosses. Especially for criminals on crosses. With one sentence, Jesus turned the key and opened the gate of paradise in heaven for this criminal!
You see, while we’re so busy trying to save ourselves, trying to have a paradise on earth, Jesus didn’t save himself, he sacrificed himself. Why so? So that his forsakenness would be your forgiveness, his judgment your justification, his humiliation for your glory, his pain for your peace, his wounds for your healing, his death for your life!
And because that’s Jesus we can pray Jesus remember me! Remember me when I’m in pain, when I’m suffering, when I lose a loved one, when life proves to me again and again that I’m not in heaven. And he does remember and one day we will be with Jesus and a forgiven criminal in paradise. So, turn to Jesus; he holds the key to heaven! Amen.