Tuesday, November 26, 2019
What kind of king?
We all know what kings look like. They have dignity and power – or at least the show of having power. Modern day monarchs are not like the mighty royals of old but we all tune in to a royal wedding because we know we will see a great show. Elizabeth II may not have the power Henry VIII had but she has more grace, dignity, and pomp. So when it comes to calling Jesus King, we know what is wrong. Kings don’t suffer. Kings don’t reign mostly naked from a cross. Kings don’t die as the innocent for the guilty. Kings don’t bleed to make clean their guilty subjects. Kings don’t plead for their killers. It is no wonder that people found it hard to call Jesus King, nailed to a cross as a victim, seemingly too weak to save Himself, so how can he save us?
St. Luke records the questions that were thrown at Jesus like stones and arrows. He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, His chosen one. And the soldiers also mocked Him saying, If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself. You see they secretly wanted to see Jesus do just that. They wanted a King who to turn tables on His enemies and come down from the cross to kill those who tried to kill Him – but they did not want a King who remained on a cross and who died like every other man whom the cross claimed as its victim. They really did want to believe that Jesus was the Christ of God but they would only see Him as Christ if He did what they expected the Christ to do – not a willing Lamb led to the slaughter.
If the picture of Jesus nailed to the cross, suffering and dying, was not enough to sweep away all hopes and dreams that Jesus was who He claimed to be, then the words of Jesus sealed the deal. Father forgive them, for they know now what they do. For what kind of fool absolves those who kill him? What kind of king forgives his subjects who put him to death? They might have waited to see if Jesus would come down from the cross and prove to be a real King but when Jesus spoke, He removed all their doubts and they were done with Him. He was no King. At least no King they wanted. Let Him die. Let His blood be on us and on our children. They judged Jesus no real King at all.
The Father forgive them part we get. In other words, our Lord is pleading with the God of heaven not to remember the kangaroo court that condemned Jesus, the false changes laid against Him, the flogging and taunts to satisfy the crowd, the suffering He endured, the nails pounded into His flesh, the mockery and side show of fake homage they offered Him, and the final agonizing sigh in which He would surrender His spirit. But how you the Father not remember this? This was His Son, eternally begotten of the Father, who came in time to the womb of Mary to be born in flesh to save the world, according to the play laid before the foundation of the world. How could God forget?
But Jesus is doing more than pleading for the Father to forgive them. He is asking the Father to count His sacrificial death as the sin offering to render them forgiven. He is praying that His crucifixion and death count as their crucifixion and death – the great exchange of the sinless for the sinner, so that these guilty might be saved. For the only hope for those who crucified Jesus was Jesus crucifixion. If everything stopped now and Jesus came down from that cross, you and me and those who put Him on that cross would not have a chance in hell to avoid God’s righteous anger and the lawful punishment of eternal death.
Then there is that word them. Who are them? It certainly refers to the Roman soldiers who were carrying out orders. They were still guilty but it was complicit guilt. They were not acting on their own but upon orders from above. Jesus Himself makes this distinction when He insists that those who betrayed Him and ordered Him to die had a higher guilt than those who carried it out. And yet them includes Pilate and Herod, the leaders of the Sanhedrin, His fearful disciples who ran and hid, even Judas who betrayed Him. The them includes the two who were crucified with Him, one on His left and one on His right. The them included every sinner who lived and died before this day when Jesus mounted the altar of the cross and those who watched it happen and those not even born when it took place. The them includes you and me.
But what does Jesus say? For they know not what they do. This does not mean that they had no idea that if you mounted a man on a cross with nails into his flesh that he was not going to die. Everyone knew that. But what no one knew but Jesus and the Father and the Spirit was that this was not one man dying but the Son of God dying for the sins of the whole world. What no one knew but Jesus and the Father and the Spirit was that this was the Lamb to whom all the slaughtered lambs looked when they shed their blood on Passover and Day of Atonement. What no one but Jesus and the Father and the Spirit knew was this the head of the devil was being crushed this day in fulfillment of the promise to Adam and Eve. What no one knew but Jesus and the Father and the Spirit is that on the third day Jesus would rise again, that forgiveness, life and salvation would be preached in His name to every end of the earth, and that all who look to Him in faith will be saved.
Friends, what kind of King do you want? Do you want one who looks the part and carries out all the pomp and majesty or a bloody King who suffers and dies in your place upon the cross in order to save you. You cannot have both. Though Jesus calls upon the Father to forgive and remember no more the sins of those for whom He has died, Jesus refuses to forget the cross. He insists that His Church lift it high before the world, as Moses once raised the bronze serpent, so that this cross might be a magnet for sinners. Jesus insists that this cross be preached to the ends of the earth so that hearing, a lost people might believe and believing a dead people might life. Jesus refuses to let the wounds of that cross heal – just as Thomas found out on the Sunday after Easter. For in these wounds the King offers healing to a sin sick and death bound world.
Friends, what kind of King do you want? The Spirit works in you to lead you past the desire for a king who looks the part to the King who does all things to save us. The Spirit is right now at work through the Word proclaimed and preached, calling your heart to repentance so that you may know the joy of sins forgiven and guilt removed. The Spirit is right now working in you that you may do and be that which is well pleasing before God – having faith to call Him Lord and thanksgiving for what Christ the Lord and your Mighty King has done to save you.
Once a people were happy to disown Christ as King. We have no king but Caesar, they proudly said. Now it is time for you own Him in the humility of faith and in bold witness before the world. We have no King but Jesus. And we know no Jesus but the crucified Savior. Amen.