Listen to it:
Malachi 3:13-18; Luke 24:39-43
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Where is the distinction? Where is the distinction between the righteous and the wicked? That’s what the people of Malachi’s time wanted to know, and that’s what we want to know. Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer? Why do liars, thieves, murderers and adulterers get away with their crimes, especially if they are high-ranking government officials or CEOs of businesses too large to fail. And we know why the coverage is so extensive when they are caught: they are the exceptions. Why does an abortion doctor in Fargo perform abortions for three months without a valid medical license, and yet you know what would happen to you if you drove for even one day with an expired driver’s license? Where is the distinction between the righteous and the wicked? That’s the question behind the film The Boondock Saints. Maybe you’ve seen it. It’s entertaining. It’s about two Boston, Irish-Catholic brothers who feel they have a call from God to rid the world of all the filth. So they go around with their silenced weapons and take out pornographers, gangsters, and drug dealers—all in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. They want to know where the distinction is between the righteous and the wicked; where is the justice? Why do the wicked not only prosper, but put God to the test and escape? And really, what’s the point? What’s the point of following God and listening to Him, when we look around us and we see people who don’t listen to God, don’t care what He says, don’t even believe that there is a God, and whose lives seem to be going perfectly well. They seem to be perfectly happy—and they don’t even have to get up on Sunday morning! Where is the distinction between us and them?
Do we not fear God? What do we have that has not been given to us? We pile up the evidence to prove that we are the righteous and they are the wicked, but all we prove is that there is no distinction: that we are the arrogant whom we wish to be blessed. All we prove, once again, is that there is no distinction. “All—all—have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3 ). All—the liars, thieves, murderers, adulterers, pornographers, gangsters, drug dealers, abortion doctors, you, me. No distinction. There is no one righteous; not even one. Well, maybe One. The One who is crucified between two criminals. If there is a distinction between the righteous and the wicked anywhere, it is there. The righteous, holy, perfect Son of God is the only Righteous One; the distinction is between Him and everyone else. Even the criminal hanging next to Him recognizes it: “This man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). And yet, there He is, with the common criminals, dying naked on a Roman instrument of execution. See: there is no distinction. Jesus lowers Himself all the way down, making no distinction between Himself and all the wicked. He comes into our world, our flesh, our sin, our death.
And all that’s left to do is cry out to the Crucified One: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Remember me, not because there is a distinction between me and the wicked, but because I’ve exhausted all my possibilities, all my excuses, all my empty promises. Remember me, though I deserve the due punishment for my works, though we are all under the same judgment of the same righteous God. Remember me, though my half-done deeds and my lukewarm worship are worse than doing nothing at all. “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (23:43). That’s what Jesus says, as if there is nothing more to be done. And there isn’t. What could that suspended and condemned criminal, what could we, do, anyway? No, there is only righteousness that counts: the righteousness of God that comes by the faithfulness of Christ to all who believe, as a free gift. It has already been done: Christ has already “delivered us from the authority of darkness and transferred [us] into the Kingdom of His Son, in whom we have the redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13). You have been delivered; you have been transferred. Today, you are in the Kingdom of God, and Paradise is yours. There is a Book of Remembrance, and God has written you into it by the blood of Christ; He has made you, of all the people in the world, a part of His treasured and personal possession. You are, all of you, the Kingdom of Priests, the Holy Nation of the Lord Yahweh. You and I, who broke and destroyed the Image of God, He has reclaimed by Him who is the Image of God, in whom the fullness of deity was pleased to dwell. He says, “I will spare you, I will have compassion on you, like a father spares his son who serves him. I will spare you because I have spared My Son, who served Me in full obedience all the way to the end.” And how does the Father spare the Son? By raising Him from the dead. And so it will be for you. He will raise you from the dead, sparing you because you are in His Son. And once more we will see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked—not in ourselves! In us, the distinction can always be challenged, questioned, disputed, unclear. But in Christ, it cannot be disputed, because He made no distinction between Himself and you, giving you everything that is His.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/19/10