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The Cross and the Crown

Date: 13 Nov 2022

Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong

Sermon Text: Luke 22:1–23:49

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Checkmate. It’s a signal that the game is over, the match has come to an end. The game of chess spread to Europe via the Arab world, and the term checkmate is actually derived from the Persian phrase, “shah mat”, meaning, the “King is dead”.

When the king is dead, the game is over. You lose. End of story. That’s the way it is in real life as well. In many wars, when the king dies, the army scatters, the kingdom falls. The king is dead, checkmate, the game is over.

Throughout the Gospel, the author Luke has spent considerable effort establishing that Jesus is the King. In his birth prophecy, the angel Gabriel said to Mary:

31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

This Jesus rode into Jerusalem to the cries of “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”. And as we look at our passage this morning, as we witness Jesus’ final moments leading to the cross, Luke intentionally underscores his identity as King.

LUKE 22:28-30 “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

We see him proclaiming himself as king to his disciples.

LUKE 23:2-3 We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” 3 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.”

He does not deny his kingship before Pilate.

38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Luke 23:38)

Finally, at the cross, a plaque identifies Jesus as The King of the Jews to every single onlooker.

Jesus is the King. But checkmate. The king is dead. Here in the Gospel of Luke chapter 23, at the death of Jesus, it ought to be game over, this is where the story normally ends. The king is dead.

So Luke, the author of this gospel, has his work cut out for him. He has to persuade his readers that they are reading a different kind of story to the one they are familiar with. One where the cross signals not defeat, but victory. One where the cross is not a symbol of pain, but gain. One in which Jesus becomes king not in spite of his death, but precisely because of death.

Luke has to explain how it comes to be that Jesus bearing the cross is synonymous with him wearing a crown.

Reasonably speaking, it’s a fool’s errand. Because it’s not like the original readers of Luke are strangers to a crucifixion. It’s not like they needed anyone to explain what the cross meant. They were familiar with the cross, they had a prevailing interpretation for it.

If you were a Jew, Jesus dying on a cross meant that he was cursed by God. Not the chosen one, but condemned one. He is a mistake rather than the Messiah. For the scriptures teach that “cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree” (Gal 3:13, ref Deut 21:22). In other words, Jesus cannot be the chosen King of Israel. Because of the cross, Jesus is deemed a forsaken criminal cursed by God. That is the prevailing view of the Jews.

If you were a Gentile, a Roman, you would know that Roman citizens cannot be crucified. It was a punishment reserved for non-citizens, slaves, ethnic minorities, those whom Rome considered as less-than-persons, sub-humans. The cross was designed to shame, to denigrate and humiliate, so that the crucified person loses his dignity as a human being. The cross renders Jesus a non-person. Which meant that on the social hierarchy, Jesus on the cross is furthest away from Caesar on the throne. The Cross is the exact opposite of the Crown.

So, as I mentioned, Luke has his work cut out for him. How is he to going to spin the story into making the crucified Jesus into the King of the world? How will he merge the symbols of the Cross and the Crown in the person of Christ?

Well, Luke first highlights that the death of Jesus was no mere accident of history. It was the fulfillment of the divine plan. Jesus’ death fulfills God’s plans.

LUKE 22:22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined,

At the last supper, Jesus predicted his betrayal at the hands of Judas. A betrayal at the hand of a friend usually comes as a surprise, but Jesus is aware in advance of what is about to happen and he says that it will go as it has been determined. It will go according to plan.

LUKE 22:37 “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”

Again, in speaking about his death on the Cross, Jesus says that it must happen in order for Scripture to be fulfilled. In other words, his death, the death of King Jesus, is part of the script. It is written in the divine plan of the Father.

Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane reveals the same.

LUKE 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

To drink of the cup of God’s wrath, that is dying on the cross, is the Father’s will. His will will be done.

Even at his final breath, Jesus fully entrusts himself to the Father.

LUKE 23:46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

And having said this he breathed his last.

Jesus did not cry out to the Father to rescue him, He did not ask for a change in the circumstance. He simply committed himself into the hands of the Father, because all of what is happening, is in the Father’s hands.

In other words, Luke is saying: Jesus is King, he is born the king, he rode into Jerusalem as the king, he died on the cross as the king. The prophecy didn’t change, the promise didn’t fail, it is all part of the plan.

But the question remains, “why”? Why, if Jesus was king, did he have to die? Why is he dying, instead of ruling? How do we behold the cross and see a crown?

The answer is the Passover.

LUKE 22:7-13 7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.”… Follow him into the house that he enters 11 and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” 13 And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

LUKE 22:14-20 14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

A firefighter dying from the burn wounds he suffered because he returned repeatedly into a burning building to a rescue a family of four. A serial killer who faced the death penalty in prison. A Ukrainian soldier dying in the defence of his home. A drunk driver speeding, losing control of the vehicle and dying from the resultant collision.

The context of a death matters to our view of the deceased. The context determines whether one dies as a hero or as a villain, as warrior or as a fool.

The context of Jesus’ death, as Luke highlights for us, is the Passover meal.

Now, what is the Passover?

The Passover is the celebration of God’s liberation of his people from slavery and death in Egypt. The nation of Israel was labouring under the oppressive power of a foreign power. And God intervened to rescue them, God brought death and destruction upon Pharoah and his armies, but passed over Israel, freeing them and promising them a land of their own, so that they might worship God as a kingdom of priests and holy nation.

In other words, the Passover is a celebration of Israel becoming her own kingdom and in her own land with her own God as king. It is a celebration charged with political and kingdom overtones.

But at the heart of it all was a sacrificial lamb. The reason why the angel of death, which visited every household in Egypt on the night of the first Passover, passed over the houses of the Israelites was because they killed an unblemished lamb and smeared its blood on their doorpost of their homes.

The lamb died so that they might escape the judgement and live. And be constituted as the kingdom of priests and the holy nation of God.

7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.”

Jesus used the Passover meal to explain to his disciples what was about to happen. He would die, his body would be given up, his blood will be poured out, but it will not be in vain, and it will not be an tragic accident.

It would be by design, it would be part of the plan, to bring sinful men and women into the God’s holy kingdom. The lamb of God will be slain on the cross to bring about the forgiveness of sins, so that the judgement of God will pass over sinful humanity, and they might become a kingdom of priests and holy nation.

Jesus is king, and the cross is the means by which he constitutes his kingdom. His death will liberate his disciples from the power of sin and death and transform them to be his holy nation.

Each time we partake of the Holy Communion, we are reflecting on a cross and proclaiming a crown. The communion unites the cross and the crown of our Lord Jesus Christ.

His death has brought us forgiveness and brought into his kingdom. And the text itself bears that out.

LUKE 22:31-34 31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

Peter who denied Jesus three times, will be forgiven and restored. Jesus himself prays for it.

LUKE 23:32-34 32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And 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.
34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Hanging on the cross, in the company of sinners and scoffers, the Lamb of God prays to the Father for their forgiveness.
LUKE 23:35-39 35 And 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!”
36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!
39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

Hear how they mocked and scoffed at Jesus: “If you are the King, save yourself!” What they do not understand is that Jesus becomes king precisely because he chose not to save himself, but gave himself to save sinners. And so when the apostle John was brought up in the spirit to behold the throne room of heaven, what does he see?

He sees at the centre of the throne, a Lamb who appears to have been slain. Jesus on the cross is Jesus on the throne. Jesus who bears the cross is the Jesus who wears the crown. They are one and the same image of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

LUKE 23:42-43 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” LUKE 23:47 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

And the offer of forgiveness and the entrance into the kingdom does not remain as abstract theories on the Cross. It is actualized in the lives of the unlikeliest sinners.

The criminal on the cross who placed his hope in Jesus is promised salvation in that very moment. And at his death, a gentile centurion, the enemy of Israel, the executioner of Christ, sees the truth of the Jesus and praises God.

If forgiveness and the kingdom is extended to men such as these, then you and I too, can be saved by the Cross of Christ. Like the thief on the Cross, we too, in spite of our sin, can be with Jesus in his kingdom, in paradise, this day, at this very moment if we only believe in him.

This is the one key meaning of the Cross. At the Cross, the Son of God, the Chosen One of God, dies as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

At the cross, the judgment of God passed over us, and was poured out instead on Jesus Christ. So that whoever believes in him shall not perish but eternal life.

The Cross is the promise of salvation in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

But the cross reveals something else. The focus of the narrative isn’t merely on Jesus’ salvation for sinners in the world, but on Jesus’ victory over the evil powers of the world.

Jesus’ death defeats worldly powers.

Just as the Passover was the culmination, the final of 10 plagues, in a longstanding battle between Moses the servant of God, and Pharoah the king of Egypt, so too, in his arrest and trial and crucifixion, Jesus the Son of God, comes to head to head with the powers holding sway in the world.

22:54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house
22:66 When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council
23:1 Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate
23:7 And when he learned that he belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod

Everyone with authority, every earthly power arrayed against the Son of Man, is accounted for in the death of Jesus. The high priest, the Jewish Sanhedrin, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, the Tetrach Herod Antipas, all acted in concert to put Jesus to death.

Jesus was being shipped around from place to place, to stand before this person and that, to be mocked and abused and judged. To the human eye, it appears that Jesus’ final moments were determined by the will of powerful men, that his fate was decided by his mortal enemies.

But Luke reminds us that there is more to it than meets the eye. The fact of the matter is that everything that happened is according to the will of the Father. It is all unfolding according to plan.

LUKE 22:22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined,
LUKE 22:37 “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”

Jesus is turned over by the sovereign will of God to the deadly will of humans to show how the power of God counters the power of darkness. Even their best case scenario, the crucifixion of Jesus, only serves to fulfill the purpose of God and the kingdom of Christ.

In a sense, the death of Jesus is checkmate, but not side you would have thought. The death of Jesus is the final nail for the forces of darkness, not merely because it liberates mankind from the clutches of sin and death, but because it reveals that try as they might, scheme as they will, murder if they want, everything they do serves the sovereign will of God the Father.

Even at the cross, when it seems Jesus has lost, Jesus has won. It has fulfilled the plan. It’s checkmate for Satan.

And that gives us hope, it gives us hope that there is never going to be a situation so bleak it is outside the sovereign, loving, and good purposes of our heavenly Father for his children. It gives us confidence that even bad circumstances is in the good hands of God. What men intends for evil, God can use for good. And ultimately, that for all who believe in him, even death is a pathway eternal life.

Which brings us to our final point. The Cross doesn’t merely hold out to us the promise of eternal life, it is also a model for how to live the present life. As disciples of Christ, we are not called to simply appreciate the cross, we are called to carry it.

The cross is a way of life.

LUKE 22:24-27 24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jesus had just been talking about his impending sacrifice, his body given up, his blood poured out for their sake, and how someone amongst them will betray him.

And the conversation amongst themselves is about who will be the greatest in the kingdom. You shake your head when you come to these verses. How self-absorbed can they be?

But are we so different from them today? When our theology of the atonement is restricted to the blessings and benefits of the cross for our lives, are we not reenacting the attitude of the disciples?

When we look at the cross, and we only consider how we are forgiven, and loved, and brought into the kingdom, are we not merely seeing things according to the flesh?

What Jesus is communicating to his disciples is what he has told them before. That to be his disciples, they will have to deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow him.

The cross is a way of life. It is a way of life that leads to true life. Jesus’ death models a better path. A better way to live.

It is a path of sacrificial service. We do not ask what’s in it for me. We ask, how can I benefit my neighbour. Imagine a church with this mentality. A congregation where everyone seeks to serve each other, to build up one another, to fill up what is lacking, even if it comes at great cost to ourselves, and demands of us our time, our talents and our treasure. Do you come to worship on a Sunday with a view to serve? You can’t serve if you aren’t here, you can’t build up if you aren’t present, you can’t disciple if you’re engaged.

Do you know that ever since churches began livestreaming their services as a result of the pandemic, there is about 20% of the congregation who will remain “online worshippers” and not step back into church? Why not? Because for some them, church is not about others, it’s not about service to one another. So there is no real need to leave the comfort of home to gather with others in-person. But if church isn’t about the good of one another, what is it about then? They have made it about them.

The Cross stands as indictment against any such self-seeking notions. The Cross reveals Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. So we who follow him, who are called to carry the cross, must do likewise.

We must serve the many.

But it’s tiring, and it’s painful and it’s inconvenient. Friends, of course it is. Of course it is. What else can cross-bearing feel like?

There are some who will sing praises to God for the forgiveness that the Cross has bought for them, but have determined in their hearts to not forgive their brother, or mother, or spouse. You don’t get to pick and choose what the Cross represents. The Cross represents both the offer of forgiveness and a command to forgive. That’s what it means to follow a crucified Saviour.

But forgiving our enemy is hard, it’s humiliating, it hurts so much, and it feels like dying. Of course. Of course it does. What else can cross-bearing feel like?

The cross represents forgiveness, and salvation and eternal life. All that is true.

But lest we forget, it is just as much a symbol of pain, and shame, and sacrificial death, all of which are inherent in the Cross – the cross we as disciples are called to bear.

When we say, we have decided to follow Jesus. When we claim that we want to grow in Christ-likeness? What is the picture we have; of the Jesus we want to be like? Is it Jesus on the throne, or Jesus on the Cross?

Are those even the options? When the King on the throne is the Lamb who was slain? The cross and the crown, suffering and glory, service and greatness, forgiving and being forgiven, are two sides of the same coin.

When we say we want to move to the right, to become more like Christ, have we considered that that means inching closer to calvary? It means moving closer to death of our flesh, closer to sacrifice for others, closer to the old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame? Because that’s what it means to be like Christ.

You cannot know Christ apart from the cross. There is no such Christ.

May we adopt the aspiration of the apostle Paul,

PHIL 3:10-11 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

As we behold our King of glory lifted up upon the dread Calvary, let us ever remember that the crown of life comes to us through the way of the Cross.

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