27There followed [Jesus] a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
32Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37and 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.”
39One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:27-43)
Today’s Gospel reading from St. Luke seems far removed from ‘The Last Day of the Church Year’. Where we would expect to hear of God’s Coming Judgment, of signs in heaven and growing tribulation on earth, and of Christ’s return in the clouds (Acts 1:9-11), instead we hear of Christ on Calvary’s cross, of women weeping after Him, of people mocking Him as He’s dying, and one of the two criminals crucified with Him saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).
An account such as Jesus’ crucifixion does not seem to ‘fit in’ to this time of the church year. It seems like it would be better suited for Lent and Good Friday than today. However, taking a closer look at the text, we find that it is indeed fitting: first, with regard to Jesus’ words to the women who were mourning and lamenting after Him as He is on His way to the cross and death. Second, concerning the proper way to be prepared for our Lord’s return. And third, with reference to Jesus’ words to the criminal on the cross, to whom He said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
First: Jesus’ words to the women
First, Jesus’ Words to the women who had followed Jesus. They were mourning and lamenting because of what was happening. Jesus was going to His crucifixion and death. But to them He says, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28). Then He proceeds to tell them what is to come, “29For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:29-31).
Here our Lord is not talking specifically about the Day when He will return. Rather, He is talking about the coming destruction of Jerusalem, of which Jesus spoke of earlier when He wept over it and said, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:42-44).
The destruction of Jerusalem was in 70 A.D.. It was a foreshadowing of the destruction of the world to come.
The words of Jesus, “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves,” are words also for our years.
We comfort in the ways of the world than in the ways of God. We seek help and remedy from men and not exclusively from God. We look to the here and now and neglect that which is to come according to the very promises of God in Christ. We sorrow over what could be and rejoice little in what is. Yes—indeed—we are sinners.
On these words of our Lord, “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves,” Luther writes…
“Such admonition we should accept as addressed to us. For we must all confess that we, on account of sin, are like an unfruitful, dry tree, in which there is nothing good, nor can any good come out therefrom. What will it, then, behoove us to do? Nothing but to weep and to cry to God for forgiveness, and to resist the evil, sinful nature earnestly, and not to give it free reign. For there the sentence stands: Since the fruitful tree is thus treated and God permits such severe sufferings to come upon His dear Son, we should certainly not feel secure, but acknowledge our sin, fear the wrath of God, and pray for forgiveness.1”
When it comes to Christ’s death on the cross, many pity the Lord and His suffering, but go no further. They only hear of a man in pain and dying a slow death. But if that’s all that Christ is, Jesus is not Savior.
To pity and to be sorry for Jesus on the cross is not yet to recognize the why of His suffering and of His dying. Jesus willingly chose to go to death on Calvary for you…to pay the penalty for your sins…to suffer in your stead…and to die your death. You deserved all that He received. Willingly He suffered His passion and death, in order to save you from you sins.
Second, The Cross
Second, the cross. St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Later, he wrote, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
It is through Christ and Him crucified by which your sin is no more held against you, Jesus having put to death that which is rightfully yours, that is, death and hell. Because of Christ, you no longer bear the curse of the Law. Christ did that for you.
Paul says again, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them” (Galatians 3:10).
On account of God’s law, you all fall short, for “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). None is righteous, perfect, or holy (Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; 143:2; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10).
This none, the all who have sinned, includes you. You have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. You are not righteous. You are not perfect. You are not holy.
Jesus went to the cross that you not die in your sin, but that you live, no longer bearing the curse of the Law because of Adam’s sin and your own. On the cross, Christ took that curse upon Himself, and there, He did away with it.
Jesus died as a criminal—as a sinner—yet He had no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Indeed, Jesus “Was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12)
“As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:19-21).
Christ crucified means that your sins are no more held against you, nor can they remain to be. They cannot condemn you before the Holy God because they were already put to death when Christ died. “By the blood of His cross” you have peace with God (Colossians 1:20; Romans 5:1).
Third: Jesus’ Word to the Criminal
Lastly, in today’s Gospel text, is conversation between the two criminals and Jesus while on the cross. The one mocks and blasphemes our Lord. The other defends Him, and says to Him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Then, Jesus says to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).
By those words, “Remember me,” that one criminal wasn’t asking Jesus to simply not forget him. He was placing himself into the mercy of the Lord Jesus, whom he had come to recognize as One Who did not deserve to be lifted up on a tree, but Who did have the honor of God’s very Son. The man was confessing His faith in the Lord Jesus, and his desire to be with Him. And to him, Jesus promised eternal life.
As you, too, call upon the Lord to remember you, placing yourselves into the Lord’s hands, trusting in Him for deliverance from this body of death, so too does He promise you paradise. When He comes again, this is where all who believe in His Name will be. This is the certain hope that all Christians possess, because God is faithful in all that He declares through His Son.
This is a present hope, but a future reality. It is not a question of “if” you have eternal life. The question is when. And that question is answered even for you, as it was for that thief on the cross, TODAY.
Kretzmann writes, “For all sinners in the whole world the Lord has opened the doors of paradise by His life, suffering, and death, and whosever believeth on Him has complete salvation as soon as he dies. That is the glorious fruit of the Passion of Christ: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.”2
Said another way, “Do not receive the grace of God in vain. Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:1, 2).
Though at first, a Lenten text having to do with Christ’s crucifixion might not seem to ‘fit’ very well as a reading for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, there is plenty there for us to consider with reference to the Lord’s Second Coming.
“With His precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death”, Jesus “purchased and won you from all sins, death, and the power of the devil” (Explanation to 2nd Article). Rather than weep and sorrow for He who through suffering and death delivered you from hell, sorrow over your own sin. Find comfort in Christ, who died in your stead. Take Jesus’ words of forgiveness, peace, and eternal life to heart, for in and through Him, these are yours. Amen.
1 Paul Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, New Testament, Vol 1, (St. Louis: CPH), 393.
2 Ibid., 395.
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