THE KING AND HIS FOLLOWERS
A unusually beautiful illustration of the truth is supplied in the story of the criminal on the cross beside Him. Carefully note the setting of that story in the Gospel of Luke. Immediately preceding it is the account of the superscription over His cross, "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS." (Luke 23:38) Immediately following it is the declaration: "It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the land until the ninth hour, the sun's light failing, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst." (Luke 23:44-45)
The superscription expressed the fact that the Hebrew nation did not believe this truth. So far as Pilate was concerned it was undoubtedly an expression of his contempt for the men who had embraced the death of Jesus. These are the human elements. The Divine fact is that the superscription was written with the finger of God even though Pilate all unconsciously was His penman. As of old He restrained Cyrus, though he did not know Him, so He inspired Pilate who was all unconscious. The Jewish nation in the purpose of God was a revelation of His GOVERNMENT, a theocracy through which He would express the benefits of His rule to the nations of the world that they might all share in them by submission. In the economy of God, therefore, the King of the Jews was the Holy One set upon the hill of Zion, King of the whole earth. The Hebrew people had their exodus from bondage long centuries before, but it had never been completed. The letter to the Hebrews makes this perfectly clear. They passed over the sea, and yet died in the wilderness. The God-appointed King, talking with Moses who had led that o1d-time exodus and yet who himself had failed as the people had failed spoke of an exodus which He would accomplish. The other exodus was never accomplished. It was begun but not finished. He had come to accomplish, to finish the exodus, and the superscription marks Him as the King Who is leading His people, and all people who bow to His scepter in that exodus which is perfect freedom from the bondage of false authority.
At last the hours of darkness are ended, and then it is written, "the veil of the temple was rent in the midst." (Luke 23:45) The torn veil was the sign that the exodus so far as the King was concerned, was accomplished. This exodus which has been considered as a going out of, liberation from the bondage is now seen as an introduction to RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.
Between this declaration concerning the superscription, and the account of the rent veil, there is the story of the criminal, and his coming into association with the King, in the process of the exodus. That dying man is a superlative illustration of the SLAVERY OF SIN. He is suffering the penalty of death, which is the issue of the paralysis of ruined character. In that hopeless condition he becomes conscious of his nearness to the King. There is, as it seems to me, no record of faith in the New Testament as wonderful as that of the dying criminal. In the very moment of the defeat of Jesus to all human thinking, in the presence of the sign and symbol of His casting out, this man recognizes the King moving towards a Kingdom, and he appeals to Him before the exodus is accomplished, before the crowning is reached. His cry is the cry of conscious need as it casts itself in all its helplessness at the feet of ultimate authority. "Jesus, remember me when Thou come in Thy kingdom." (Luke 23:42) What did the King say to such an appeal? He was on His way from Egypt to the land of liberty. He was at the moment grappling with the bonds that bound the race. He, whelmed in the billows of the sea, was yet in infinite power dividing a pathway through its waters, and without hesitation, in a great consciousness of the coming victory, He said, "Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43) We care nothing for the moment as to discussions concerning the Paradise: "With Me." That is the word of value. Explain the Paradise as you will. Let it mean for the moment, if you so please, simply the abiding place of disembodied spirits. Those spirits are in need of a temporary body to function and that the King will furnish until the resurrection of their body of this earth and its final perfecting; healed and perfected. What does that matter? The fact remains that the sin-slaved and ruined man is in that abode to be with the King. Abandonment to Him will issue in identification with Him. If that issue is His defeat, then also will abide the defeat of the man. Yet this is a suggestion ventured only by way of contrast to the glorious fact. The King really said to him, I am going on My exodus, you come with Me. I am passing to the depth of this slavery. I am breaking these bonds. I am liberating the prisoners. Come with Me. From that moment until this He has been leading souls who have trusted Him through the pathway of His passion with all its values, into the place of His victory with all its virtues.
Thus the presence and the plea of the dying criminal reveals the Cross as the condemnation and death of rebellion and unbelief, and the commendation and life power of loyalty and faith.
So comes the kingdom of God! The King has accomplished the exodus! Are we living in the bondage, or in freedom? The answer to this question will be found in the answer to another. Have we yet come into the place of trusting identification with Him in His Cross? If so, then for us
"Bars are riven, Foes are driven"
and our bondage is at an end.
The King accomplished the exodus for all such as put their trust in Him, and these have already passed with Him from darkness to light, from slavery to freedom, from death to life. May the King be followed and obeyed in deed.