Click here, Luke 23:33-43, for an easy to print or email Adobe PDF version.
This lesson, chosen for Christ the King / The Reign of Christ Sunday, seems to be chosen as a deliberate counter-point to the temptation to rush to a quick and easy, "Christ the all-powerful King will rescue you from all physical hardships, and prevent any bad things from happening to you," type of sermons.
Indeed, the question that cries out from the page is, "If Jesus can't save himself, how can he save us?"
The taunting of the leaders, soldiers and the one criminal: "If you are the King / Messiah, save yourself," are all part of the humiliation of Jesus that is intended not only to kill him physically, but to also kill him "inspirationally." That is, to make sure that all hopes and dreams that the crowds had begun to place in Jesus were also terminated. This will be a shameful death; an excruciating death; a degrading death. His followers will not be able to glory in his noble death as a martyr for their cause.
Their taunting reveals a new found sense of confidence. Finally they can challenge Jesus publicly and he will not have a parable or question that will only further embarrass them; further prove their powerlessness before him. They are demonstrating THEIR power and authority is now THE power and authority, and folks had better start paying attention to what THEY say, and forget about this Jesus fellow.
The sign over Jesus' head might just as well have said:
Look what we did to Jesus
Imagine what we will do to you
So. Why doesn't Jesus save himself?
He's done some pretty amazing miracles in the past. Why doesn't he just climb down from the cross? Or even, at a minimum, why doesn't he have some witty remark to once again rebut the taunting? He has always bested his opponents in the past, why not now?
What sort of Saviour can't even save himself? How can this be good news?
A couple of things from Jesus' past complicate any easy response.