THE KING OF THE JEWS
Sunday of the Passion – B LSB #’s 443, 940, 919
Text – Mark 15:1-2
And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders & scribes & the whole Council. And they bound Jesus & led Him away, & delivered Him over to Pilate. And Pilate asked Him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And He answered him, “You have said so.”
THE KING OF THE JEWS
For as long as I could remember, I always knew the Sunday before Easter as Palm Sunday. Because of that, around 20 years ago, it came as a surprise when I looked at the gospel lesson for this Sunday. It had nothing to do with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Since we follow a three-year of cycle of rotating through different lessons each week, I checked the gospels for the other two years. Neither of them dealt with Palm Sunday either. Even during my years of seminary & vicarage, I’d never noticed that. Now, today is officially called the Sunday of the Passion. I doubt that I’ll ever get used to that.
What the Gospel reading for today is designed to do is focus our attention on the events of Good Friday to help us prepare for its arrival. Traditionally a Christian would prepare for that by stepping back & examining their life. What sort of choices do I make, & why? What are the priorities in my life, & why? Is Jesus really the king of my heart?
It’s not too difficult to mouth the words “Jesus is King” when life is going smoothly:
When your work is steady, when the house is new, the car is running, the children are well behaved & everyone is healthy. When those are the conditions of life, we seem to run on autopilot as things easily fall into place & nothing disturbs our peace.
And though it’s easy enough to mouth the words “Jesus is King” at times like those, the fact is that living our lives as if Jesus is King is never easy. Quite often, when life is going well, is when we most easily forget Him. We seldom stop to reflect on our lives, our decisions & our priorities. And when the difficult times arrive, just because we stop to think about our life, does not mean that we give Jesus 1st place in our heart. Typically, if you have not learned to focus your life on Christ during the easy times; when the struggles arrive, you don’t turn to Him then either.
You feel guilty, inadequate, or like a hypocrite, so again, you manage to ‘get by’ without seeking God’s influence or direction in your life.
Last Sunday’s sermon dealt with ‘seeing Jesus,’ & we found that it is on the cross where we truly see Him for what He is. That makes for a nice lead in to this week’s sermon, & things start out with Palm Sunday.
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus commands His followers not to tell anyone of the miracles He’s done. From our vantage point in history, that seems like a contradiction to what we’ve been taught. Even if we’re afraid to do it ourselves, we do understand the great commission, “Go therefore, & teach all nations.”
Because Jesus keeps telling people not to spread the news of His miracles, it seems as if He’s trying to keep His identity a secret. One solution to that contradiction is that the people of Jesus’ day had a total misunderstanding of what Messiah would look like. They were looking for an earthly king, a superstar, not a dead man hanging on a cross.
The disciples of Jesus were still looking for the earthly kingdom even at Jesus’ ascension to heaven. But here, on Palm Sunday, Jesus agrees to the desires of the crowd, & His triumphal entry into Jerusalem marks Him as the King.
In this way, Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah, “Behold, your king comes to you, righteous & having salvation, gentle & riding on a donkey.” (9:9) Jesus allows the people to see Him as their Messiah, even if it is their incorrect version of it which they see. Now, the time of Jesus’ death is near enough, that the shouts of, “Hosanna, blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!” will soon be replaced with “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”
The leaders of the church, & the majority of the people, wanted a king who would restore Israel to its political glory, a kingdom of earthly power & wealth. It’s ironic that, after rejecting Jesus because He didn’t conform to their ideal of an earthly king, they do have Jesus condemned for exactly that, an earthly king & therefore a threat to Caesar.
Pontius Pilate sees the falsity of their charges, but he’s constrained by the political atmosphere to yield to their demands. Thus it is that Jesus is condemned to die for being the King of the Jews. Nevertheless, Pilate didn’t believe the charges, & the Jews refused to grant Jesus the title.
Neither side is satisfied with the situation. It’s a very messy affair & nothing could be accomplished as cleanly or neatly as either side wanted. Jesus is very much like that in our lives. His law calls us to perfection – to holy & complete obedience, which makes a very messy affair of our lives as we try to cover up our mistakes, to hide our sins, to deny our guilt.
We would just as soon have a Jesus that makes our material lives more comfortable, more manageable, neater & cleaner. We’d just as soon have a Jesus that looks safe & uncontroversial, a Jesus that does our bidding like a Genie out of a bottle whenever a problem needs to be taken care of.
However, the Son of God will not come to us like that. He only reveals Himself on the
cross, in all His blood-stained agony, as the King of the Jews. He won’t give us everything we ask for, & He is not our King in order to make our lives neat, & clean & comfortable.
As far as the Jews were concerned, crucifixion was for someone cursed by God, & Jesus Christ was all of that. Yet that is ultimately how He reveals Himself as Messiah. As Passion Week unfolds, we find Christ enthroned as King – on the cross. He has attendants at His left & right hand. He’s had the purple robe & the crown of thorns placed upon Him. The soldiers have knelt & bowed down before Him, hailing Him as King of the Jews.
The obedience that Jesus exhibited in submitting to the will of the Father reversed the pattern of disobedience that began with Adam, & has been continued by all subsequent members of the human race, except for Jesus Christ.
The message, centered in the cross, was empowered by God to overturn Adam’s offense, to overturn man’s sinful nature & to bring men, by the power of the gospel alone, back into the proper relationship with God. In the same way the bronze serpent on the pole was empowered by the Word of God to heal men of the snakebites in the desert.
And yet, multitudes are still blind to the love of God. While Jesus was voluntarily hanging on the cross, the chief priests & the scribes were mocking Him: “He saved others, but He can’t save Himself.” How profound those words are, because in order to save us, Jesus Christ could not save Himself. He had to sacrifice Himself instead. PAUSE
At noon, darkness fell over the whole land. That’s a sign of the Day of the Lord, a day of judgment for those who will not believe, yet a day of joy for those who do.
Christ is the center of God’s radical judgment & deliverance. The cross of Christ is the judgment of God on man’s sin & also the acquittal of man from sin in one great act. It’s the abrupt transition from inexorable judgment to inexplicable grace.
The next words of Jesus are well known to Christians: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me!” In that cry we find the experience of the damned being cut off from God, cut off from the source of all that is good. Jesus is experiencing the Holy Wrath of God that unbelieving sinners will feel when they reach hell. As Jesus experiences becoming sin, He experiences the despair that sinful men feel when they come to grips with the fact that we are poor miserable sinners, wretched & blind to God’s love or presence. However, although as sinners we’re blind to that, God’s love is still there, & He is still providing for us.
In Hell, God’s love will no longer be present – there will be no provision, no blessing. There will be only the horror of complete separation from love. In the cry of Jesus, we find a ruthless authenticity that provides the assurance that the price of sin has indeed been paid in full.
As Jesus said, “It is finished!” & breathed His last, the Centurion overseeing the crucifixion said: “Surely this man was the Son of God!” Compare those words to the mocking taunt of the chief priests & the Scribes: “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself!”
Belief & unbelief are held in bold contrast to one another in response to the same event – the crucifixion of the King of the Jews. PAUSE
Where do you stand, or sit, this morning? Do you stand in the shoes of the Centurion, or in the shoes of the chief priests & Scribes? Is Jesus your King, or is He your failure? When the final Day of the Lord comes, will you be shouting, “Hosanna, blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!”? Or, will you be shouting insults & taunting God?
Do you expect Messiah to guarantee a nice, comfortable earthly kingdom? Or, are you looking to Jesus on the cross in order to find the kingdom of God? Your sins have been paid for. Through the blood of Christ, you have been washed clean. May the Lord grant you a faith that empowers you to say along with the Centurion, “Surely, this man still is the Son of God!”
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet