Why a Murderer Must Step Forth

Pentecost 27 Friday

Luke 23:39-43

Yet one of the evildoers who were hanging on the cross blasphemed him and said: If you are Christ, help yourself and us! Then the other answered, rebuking him and saying: And you do not even fear God, even though you are under the same sentence? And we, to be sure, are under it justly, for we receive what our deeds are worth; yet this one has done nothing unfitting. And he said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when you enter your kingdom. And Jesus said to him: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Now we want to look a bit at the history of the criminal at the right hand of Christ. It is such a fitting, beautiful example almost without par in Scripture. First, it is amazing that this poor man cannot deny his sin; he knows that he acted wrongly and that he is to suffer death on the cross for his misdeeds. This is why he cannot boast before God of any good work or merit. As he himself confesses when he says to his associate and rebukes him when his associate blasphemed the Lord Christ: “We,” he says, receive this punishment justly; for we receive what our deeds are worth. Yet this one has done nothing unfitting.” Here you hear that he confesses freely, without coercion, and willingly that he has well deserved such
shameful death. This is one thing that should amaze us: although he has reason to be afraid of God because of his sin, he, as we shall hear, nevertheless grasps the thought that he will yet enter the kingdom of God. The second amazing thing is that this one man is not troubled by the great offense that the entire council at Jerusalem, the political and ecclesiastical government, mocks and blasphemes this Lord Christ. The leaders in the ecclesiastical government said: “He helped others; let him help himself if he is Christ, the Chosen of God.” The soldiers do likewise: “If you are,” they say, “the King of the Jews, help yourself” (for the inscription above his head said: Jesus of Nazareth, the Jews’ King). The one murderer
who was crucified with Christ also said: “If you are Christ, help yourself and us as well.” He did not say this because he desired help, but because he wanted to mock and taunt him. In sum, the whole world is offended by Christ hanging on the cross and despises him. For even the disciples, although some of them stood by the cross, had lost all hope in him. Only the poor murderer at the right hand breaks through the offense and dares to call Christ, who hangs next to him on the gallows, a Lord and King. Thereby that murderer calls everybody a liar. He does not consider what other people think or say about Christ and proclaims him an eternal King. For these are his words: “Lord, remember me when you enter your kingdom.” He calls him a “Lord” and says he has a kingdom; and he desires that he would remember him when he will be in such kingdom. Now, this was at about the time when none of them would see the evening alive. This is why he believes that Christ is a Lord, as we said, of a different and eternal life. I consider this to be a great, amazing faith and a glorious confession while the whole world despairs of Christ and considers him to be nothing. This is how God wants to preserve his Christian Church even today. Even if everything fell down, emperors, kings, pope, bishops, God nonetheless wants to preserve a little flock of people who have his Spirit and who are to confess him before the world. If the disciples,
along with the others who are related to the Lord Christ, do not want to confess or believe, but deny him and run away out of fear, the murderer must step forth, confess this Christ, preach about him, and teach others what they are to think of him and how to draw comfort from him. For our Lord God will not leave Christ without a people who confess him, even if it is only a thief on the gallows or a murderer on the breaking wheel.

Walch ed., 13:738-740.

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