AUTHORITY From The Cross

Authority From The CrossLuke 23:33-43

The sermon was preached on November 24, 2013, by Dr. Bill Nieporte, at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, VA.  You can read the manuscript below, or watch the video (the link comes up after this little note.   You may also visit the church website at and listen to the MP3 or subscribe to our weekly podcast.

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Here is theVIDEO

Here is the MANUSCRIPT

 Today is the last Sunday on this year’s Christian liturgical calendar.  Next Sunday we begin a new church year of worship and celebrations with our Advent focus in preparation for the celebration of Christmas.

This last Sunday of the Christian calendar focuses on a celebration remembering Jesus authority over all things.  We call this day “Christ the King” or “The Reign of Christ” Sunday.  Whatever we call it, the message is the same.  Jesus Christ is Lord and King.

So the text selected for the day may seem odd.  As we have been taught to define the word AUTHORITY,  it hardly seems fitting to associate that world with the cross.   They hung a sign above Jesus head on the cross declaring him KING, but that notice was meant as sarcasm.  We do not think of the image of one writhing in torturous pain having anything to do with AUTHORITY.

When we think Jesus as AUTHORITY, our mind might wander to the accounts of his amazing miracles: walking on water, healing the sick, giving site to the blind, cleansing lepers, raising the dead.

When we think of “Christ the King” our minds might remember verses which declare that through him all things were created.  We might remember the Book of Revelations that declares Jesus to be the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.  We might remember the verse from the Letter to the Colossians that describe Jesus as the “very image of the invisible God.”

We would not picture Jesus on the cross and think of AUTHORITY.

In fact, if Jesus is truly KING, we might wonder:  “Why does he not use his authority to prevent suffering – his own, ours, and that of the whole world.”  Even one of the criminals crucified with him had that same question.  “Aren’t you the Messiah?” he asked Jesus.  “Save yourself and us!”

Today I would like for us to explore the challenging question:  “How is the AUTHORITY of Christ is reveal at the cross?”

You and I do everything we can to avoid suffering.  Only those whom we might define as mentally ill would intentionally do something to harm themselves.

When we do experience suffering, the result is often that we become depressed. We raise our fist toward heaven and challenge God:  “Why me?  “Why this?  Why now?”  Or maybe we lower our gave away from heaven and imagine:  “I deserve this.  God is angry with me.  God is disconnected from my life.”

The bigger our tragedy, difficulty, or hardship – the harder it is for some of us to believe.  We a going along through our days, minding our own business, seeking to do good and to avoid doing bad.  Then, out of the blue, we lose a job.  Or we become ill.  Or a family member dies.  Sometimes all those things happen in rapid succession.  When we suffer the visceral response from most is to imagine that God is either angry or powerless to make a difference.

There is a third option.  The message of the Gospel is that God becomes one of us among us in Christ.  The message of the Gospel is that on the cross God comes to us and embraces us all in the mess of our lives – in our suffering, sorrow, struggles, and sin.  God embraces our brokenness and take us and all that pain into himself – and reveals His authority even over all the things that made us feel broken and helpless.


God is not angry with us at the cross.  God is not avoiding us at the cross.  God is not powerless at the cross.  On the contrary, God is revealing that he comes to us in the brokenness of our humanity to redeem us, heal us, to like, love, accept, include, and adopt us.

In the scripture for today from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus speaks two words from the cross.  First, he speaks first to his Father.  Secondly, he speaks to one who hangs on the cross next to him – metaphorically, then, he is also speaking to each of us.

In Jesus two simple statements, he reveals his AUTHORITY from the cross.

We know what happen.  Jesus was unjustly arrested, unlawfully tried, and  unfairly condemned.  He is beaten and abused and a crown of thorns was crushed into his brow.  He hands and feet were nail to a cross, and he was left to die in naked shame and torturous pain, while being ridiculed and insulted by the religious folks who were centrally responsible for this miscarriage of justice.

His response is unusual, to say the least.  Consider what you would do in a similar circumstance?

I become outrageously angry and offensively defiant over far less that the cross.  How about you?  Somebody cuts us off in traffic…Somebody offends us in the workplace…Someone shocks or sensitivities with what we consider to be uncouth behavior…Somebody offends us or insults us or get’s under our skin.  What do we do?  In our hearts and minds we pray that God might rain fire down upon them from the heavens. We talk about and sometimes to them with insults and judgment.

When that happens, here’s what we are doing.  We are giving people the people the power to get under our skin.  We are giving these folks authority over our thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  We walk around with a chip on our shoulders and imagine that while we are griping and complaining that we are POWERFUL, but in reality we are revealing ourselves to be weak.

Jesus does not give up his AUTHORITY at the cross, he reveals it.

He affirms that even in that mess he is not disconnected from his Father whom he called Abba.  He affirms his identity as the one who has come to SAVE US, but praying that we be forgiven.  He did not submit or surrender.  Neither did he retaliate and seek vengeance.  He remained true to who he was.  He refused to turn his power, will, and authority over to those who nailed him to the cross.

I read these words (can’t find the source):

Jesus chooses a different alternative, a regal one, that shows his cross is not a trap, but a throne. He forgives those who are mocking him, shaming him, killing him. They condemn him by word and action; he prays for them: “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.” He forgives their ignorance –– their hardness of heart, their thirst for blood, the moral blindness which allows them to put to death the author of life.

Why does he do this? Because he sees them for who they truly are. Not powerful people, but people weak, ignorant, blind, and fearful. In the midst of his execution, he recognizes how miserable are their circumstances. At the same time, he declares them redeemable.

That is power.  That is AUTHORITY.

Now, it would be easy at this point to make this a morality lesson.  You know what I mean.  We’d say, “Look at how Jesus behaved on the cross.  The next time somebody get’s under your skin at work, or the grocery store, or even in church – make sure you don’t give them power over your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.”

That’s not the lesson.  The lesson is that OUR BROKENESS AND SIN took Jesus to the cross.  Yet from the cross Jesus prayed for us, saying, “Father, forgive them.”  At the cross Jesus revealed the regal AUTHORITY of one who came to redeem us all from our sin and brokenness.  At the cross Jesus prays for us!

There are two other crosses on Golgotha’s hill.  The cross of Jesus sits between the crosses of two criminals. One of those criminal joins with the crowd hurling insults toward Jesus.  The other makes an audacious appeal for help.  Recognizing that there is something royal about Jesus, he asks:  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” To this Jesus responds, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

We often draw a dividing line between these two men.  We see them at the good criminal who repents and the bad criminal who mocks.  I wonder if it is not that easy.

Whenever we question the notion of redemptive and sacrificial love; whenever we scapegoat the harm that has befallen us; whenever we moan and groan and wonder why; whenever we expect or demand that God should step to the front and do something; might we not be like that criminal who said:  “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

Jesus does respond to the OTHER criminal.  “Lord, in your KINGDOM, remember me!”  Notice the word KINGDOM.  That is an acknowledgement of Christ’s authority, is not?

“Jesus, in your Kingdom, remember me!”

Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in paradise!” In so doing Jesus is again revealing his AUTHORITY from the cross.  Get this…one of the things we notice about Jesus is that he always made the most of every opportunity.  No one slipped past his love and his grace embrace.

Look at the events of his life!

He spoke of redemption to a religious leader named Nicodemos who was so fearful of being seen with Jesus during daylight hours that he came to the Lord under the cover of darkness.

He spoke of living water to the ostracized woman he met at a well during the high heat of the day.

He brought healing to a band of lepers – one of them a Samaritan – whom his own religious traditions taught should be excluded and rejected.

He welcomed into his company and fellowship a traitorous Chief Tax Collector name Zacchaeus.

Over and over again Jesus revealed the AUHORITY he had to accept and include all who needed God’s LOVE and GRACE.  Even from the cross – while vultures circle over head – Jesus again reveals this authority when he says to a broken down and beaten criminal:  “When all this is over, you will be with me!”

Jesus reveals his AUTHORITY to seize the opportunity to respond to one man’s simple expressions of faith.  The cross did not stop Jesus from the AUTHORITY to express love.  In point of face, the cross was the penultimate expression of that AUTHORITY – of that love.

In her great book, The Preaching Life, Barbara Brown Taylor writes: 


Preaching Life
by: Barbara Brown Taylor

“I want a safer world. I want a more competent God. Then I remember that God’s power is not a controlling but a redeeming power–the power to raise the dead, including those who are destroying themselves–and the red blood of belief begins to return to my veins. I have faith. I lose faith. I find faith again, or faith finds me, but throughout it all I am grasped by the possibility that it is all true: I am in good hands; love girds the universe; God will have the last word.”

 We are in good hands, too.  We are in the hands of the one whose love undergirds the universe.  We are in the one who expresses from the cross the AUTHORITY – the power – of redeeming love.

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