Lenten Sermon – March 15, 2017 – Pastor Don Ninmer
Our text for this evening is one of my favorite passages. We will no doubt be hearing it again on Good Friday. Listen to the inspired writer, Luke as he says:
Text: Luke 23:35-43
“The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at Him. They said: He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One. The soldiers also came up and mocked Him. They offered Him wine vinegar and said: If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself. There was a written notice above Him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us! 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. Jesus answered him: Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:35-43 – NIV-2011)
What do you think about when you hear the word “key”? I think of the first years of my ministry in South Dakota when no one locked their houses or took the keys out of the car. Our congregational chairman said: Locking things only keeps the honest people out if they have to get in. Dishonest ones will get in anyhow.
I was asked to preach for the installation service of my niece’s husband when he was installed as the pastor at Mt. Zion Church in Ripon. My niece said at the end of the luncheon: I will go over and open the door ahead of time. When we went over some time later, she was still trying to get into the front door of the parsonage. The key did not work. We were reminded that to open a door you need the right key.
The last car that we bought has keyless entry and keyless starting. You don’t need to insert a key to get the door open or to start the car. But you still have to have the right key and you have to have it with you. It really is not a key, but rather a small control. Our daughter’s new house is an app house. The whole house is wired for app. You use your app phone to open the garage door, to turn up the heat, to turn on the lights, and a dozen more things. The garage door, the front door and the side door still use a key.
What do you think about when you hear the word “key”? Did you think about the words of our text and say, aha, there we see a key? – The key to heaven? We are reminded this evening that heaven is not keyless. There is a key that opens the door to heaven for sinful mankind. Heaven will never be keyless. That key will be necessary if anyone is ever going to get to heaven as long as this world exists.
We are also reminded that there is not a wide variety of keys. If you go to a hardware store and look in the key department, you will see all kinds of blank keys hanging there – dozens of sizes and shapes. You can take your key in and have one made. Many people think that there are many keys that open the door to heaven. You just take your pick the one that you like, and it will open the door to heaven.
But the key to heaven does not come from a hardware store. It is not something that the builder gives to you when your house is complete. There is only one key that opens the door to heaven. Jesus shows us what that key is this evening as we are reminded: TURN TO JESUS; He holds the key to heaven.
The first thing that we see in our text is rejection: The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at Him. They said, He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is God’s Messiah, the Chosen one. The soldiers also came up and mocked HIm. They offered Him wine vinegar and said, If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.
They assumed that Jesus had a key to nothing, not even a grave site. One of the criminals joined in the rejection and ridicule: One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us. The only thing that he wanted from Jesus was that Jesus would get him off of the cross and save him from that terrible death which he was now facing, death by crucifixion.
As we see t his dismal scene on the cross ,we do have a hint that Jesus was someone special. Unknowingly they gave this testimony: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. There was a written notice above Him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. By now the one criminal also recognized that this person, with whom he had been crucified, was someone special: 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.
There you have it! He confessed that he did not have a key to heaven. He was punished as he deserved. There was no way that he was going to get himself into heaven. If he were going to get there, he would need some help. He saw that help dying on the cross next to him. He felt the same way as one of our beloved Psalms expressed; I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2) His only hope of salvation was through the One who was crucified there with him. He recognized that Jesus holds the key to heaven.
That is what leads us to repentance during this Lenten season. We know that we do not have a key to heaven. We know that without God we could never find the key to heaven. But we know where to look to find that key. We do what the criminal did. We look at the One on the cross. We look to the one of whom it was said: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Jesus holds the key to heaven. Many people think that they can find a different way or a better way, but Jesus holds the key to heaven. It is faith in Jesus that opens the door to heaven. And we can’t even claim credit for this faith. It is given to us by the Spirit through His Word or through the Sacrament of Baptism. That faith is then strengthened through His Word and through the Sacrament of Holy Communion. So we do what that criminal did. We look to Jesus.