Christ the King
Christ the King
Hail, King of the Jews!
Triumph. Do you know what that word means? I’m sure you all know how we use, but do you know where the word comes from? In ancient Rome, a triumph was a parade. When a conquering general came home, his army marched through the city pulling wagons loaded with plunder followed by enemy generals, nobles and kings in chains. It was the ticket tape parade of the ancient world. At the head of that parade, the conquering general rode while the crowds cheered: Hail, Caesar, victor and emperor! From that cry came another cry that we hear Roman soldiers shouting today, a cry that touches our hearts and our souls: Hail, King of the Jews.
Today is Christ the King Sunday. And what a picture of our King God shows us today! Today, our King stands before us a prisoner, while bullies weave branches of thorns into a crown and shove it down onto his head. They strip his outer clothes off and spit on him. Those soldiers wrap an old cloak around him, put a reed in his hand, and mock him as the King of the Jews -- and then hit him on the head with that reed. 2,000 years later, their cry is still ringing in our ears: Hail, King of the Jews. Hail King of Mockery.
What a horrible glimpse into the human soul! Those soldiers didn’t know who they were beating and taunting. They thought that he couldn’t do anything about it. They didn’t even worry about him getting revenge later, because he would dead soon. In these men we see the root that grew up into Nazi Germany and Kosovo. These men hated Jesus because he was a Jew. To their way of thinking, they were stationed in a god-forsaken, dangerous and rebellious corner of the empire inhabited by people that they considered to be totally incomprehensible. The way they worshipped their God, the way they refused to work on Saturday, the way that ate their food to the Romans all seemed like proof that these people were badly in need of enlightenment. But when the Romans did them the favor of conquering them, they revolted and treated the Romans as if they were unclean. “Hail, King of the Jews” was more than just mockery of a helpless prisoner. It was that, but it was also an expression of all the impatience and frustration that these homesick soldiers had for this arrogant little country. It was blind, ethnic rage.
But this little snippet of what happened on Good Friday is not about those Roman soldiers and their prejudice. Not really. It’s not about their cruelty. These words are about Jesus. They are about the horrors that he suffered all that morning, and all the night before and all the rest of that pivotal day in human history. There in that corner of the praetorium, the governor’s palace, Jesus was paying for our sins. Deep inside of all of us, there’s a Roman soldier just trying to get out. There’s a bully in our hearts that enjoys seeing the feeling of power that making someone else suffer can bring. Most of us have been taught since we were little that it’s wrong to hurt other people, and by the grace of God, as adults most of us have learned to be horrified by human cruelty. Yet, in this enlightened country, our schools are full of kids that are tormented because they don’t fit in. They’re mocked. They’re isolated. They’re even beaten up once in a while. And in a very few cases, they buy a gun and hit back. All those things happen because we all are born with a rotting, festering nest of cruelty and prejudice in our hearts. It’s human nature to hate what you don’t understand. It’s human nature to hurt what you despise. It’s human nature to take your frustrations out on any convenient target. And an honest look at our own hearts would show that we, too, have that same cruel human nature lurking in us. Even if you have never actually exercised it by picking on kids that don’t fit in, or by uttering racial slurs, that sinful, cruel nature lives in all of us. Because it is there, we all deserve to spend eternity in hell. That’s God’s punishment for bullies -- even if we’re only wannabe bullies. That’s God’s punishment for hearts that are cruel. We deserve that punishment just as much as the Roman soldiers who busted a gut laughing at the King of the Jews.
But Jesus wore that crown of thorns and that robe, Jesus endured being called the King of the Jews and being spit on, Jesus let those men drive thorns into his head and smack him with a reed so that we won’t have to go to hell. Hell is the ultimate humiliation. Rotting in hell will be God’s eternal proof that sinful human beings are worms. You and I should suffer that humiliation. But we won’t. Because Jesus has already been humiliated for us. Of course, this wasn’t the end of what he was going to endure that day. But God shows us here, as clearly as anywhere, the depths of the humiliation that Christ had to go through to save us. Because of what Jesus was going through, we are forgiven for every cruel word that we have spoken. We are forgiven for every person that we have tormented. We are forgiven even for act and word of discrimination against people whose skin color is different from ours. And even if we have never acted out that kind of cruelty, we are forgiven for bully that lives in our hearts and wants to treat people that way. We can be certain of that because Jesus paid for all the sins of all people who ever lived. While they were laughing at him and spitting on him and striking him, Jesus was paying for the sins of those thugs who thought it was so funny. And he paid for us to. Because he finished the suffering that we see underway here, we will be honored. Every mocking “Hail” that Jesus heard will come to us as God saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Every laugh at his “royal robe” and crown of thorns will come back to us as God’s smile of approval on Judgment Day. All that Jesus suffered on that Good Friday means that we will suffer nothing for our sins. While millions of others go to hell, Jesus will say to us, “Come into the kingdom of my Father.” That is what this little snippet is all about. .
One thing strikes me about this text: how close mockery is to real honor. Those soldiers could have just slammed Jesus. They could have said something like, “Come here, you dirty Jew, and let me shove some pork in your mouth.” But they didn’t. Instead, they imitated the honor that a king ordinarily gets, because that was funnier and more cruel. Kings wear crowns, so let’s give him a crown that makes blood run down into his eyes. Kings wear robes, so let’s strip off his own clothes and put a beat-up old cloak on him. Kings have scepters, so let’s give him a reed -- and hit him with it. Kings receive honor, so let’s kneel and praise him. But those actions are so poignant because Jesus truly deserved all the honor that they were mocking. He really did deserve a crown and a scepter and a crowd shouting itself hoarse. Today, we see that. By a miracle that only God can do, that mockery is transformed into the highest praise. Today, when we hear those soldiers shouting, Hail, King of the Jews! we truly hear a shout of praise: Hail, King of Peace!
The people that Jesus was dying to save mocked him. The praise that he deserved was thrown back in his face. But there’s an even greater irony here. The greatest irony is that God has made the humiliation of Christ his greatest honor. Today, Jesus wears this mocking and this brutality the way a soldier wears the Congressional Medal of Honor. Only God could make that change. He did it, because in the horrors that happened that day, Jesus demonstrated the greatest love ever realized. He suffered all that to save us. His mission wasn’t just to come here and be a great teacher. He didn’t come just to give us an example of sacrifice and to teach us some far-reaching truths about the way that people are supposed to live together. Jesus didn’t come her to underline the reality that all men are brothers. He came here to die and save us. A simple death, though, would never have been enough. To get us to heaven, Jesus had to experience all the horrors that sin has caused in our lives. God’s justice demands that every sin be paid for, and the only way to do that was to suffer hell. Jesus went through hell. What happened here was just one stop on the way.
Jesus made that trip. The crown of thorns won him the crown of heaven. All the blood he shed that day won him the glory that he has coming. On Judgment Day, all people in heaven and on earth and in hell will praise Jesus for what he suffered on Good Friday. “Hail, King of the Jews” will become “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” His enemies will have to kneel before him and acknowledge that he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Do you think they’re going to enjoy doing that? Giving Christ the glory he deserves will be part of their punishment. But it will be part of Jesus’ triumph, his ticker-tape parade.
Jesus won a title that no one else can ever hold: Savior of the World. Nothing else even comes close. No one else would have had a chance at that title. Who else would have been willing to suffer so much? Who else would have been willing to let those bullies crowd around him and take out their hate on him? Matthew says that the whole company of soldiers gathered around him. Now, we don’t know how many men that was, but the word that he uses ordinarily refers to a unit of about 600 men. We don’t know how long all this took, but it probably wasn’t quick. This was down time. Jesus had been condemned, but now they had to crucify him. Did they have crosses just lying around waiting to be used? Did they have execution forms stacked up in a warehouse waiting to be signed? I don’t know, but I imagine that it took a little work and a little time to throw a crucifixion together. So while Pilate’s staff were running around lining everything up, and checking to see if there was anyone else that they could dispose of, Jesus was being bullied by Pilate’s soldiers.
And he could have stopped it all at any moment. That’s what makes this such an incredible act of love for us. Jesus wasn’t really powerless. He wasn’t really a prisoner. They thought he was. But he was still God. With a thought, he could sent that whole company of soldiers straight to hell. But instead he let them beat him and mock him. He let them humble him to save us. He went through all this to give us the peace that we can only have by knowing that God has forgiven us. How often have we agonized over our failures as Christians? How often do we look at our lives and sigh because we just keep saying and doing things that hurt others, things that show how much evil there still is in our hearts? Jesus loved us so much that calming our troubled and sinful hearts was more important to him than the pain and the humiliation he suffered. In that love and forgiveness we find the peace that only God can give. That’s what won him the ultimate glory.
Jesus hid his glory that day. Hid it behind blood and weakness and pain. In truth, that glory is still hidden. We see it, because the Holy Spirit has revealed it to us in God’s Word. But for most people, that glory is still hidden. Jesus wasn’t just mocked on that day. He’s mocked every day. He’s mocked by all those people who have heard the gospel and have refused to believe it. Last summer, we did a Bible study on the occult and the internet, and there are internet sites out there that mock Christ as a false and dead god because of the weakness that they see in him here. But they aren’t alone. Jesus is mocked by all those people who just don’t believe, even if they don’t actively make fun of his death. Jesus is mocked by all false Christians who claim to be believers and aren’t. Jesus is even mocked by us, when we don’t live a life that gives glory to him. Why does he put up with it? Wasn’t Good Friday enough? Weren’t the crown of thorns and the whip and the cross enough? Wasn’t being abandoned by the Father enough? Yes they were. They were enough to pay for all our sins forever. They were enough to forgive us even for making a mockery of him by our imperfect Christian lives. Jesus continues to suffer mockery not to pay any more, but to give us an opportunity. He will remain hidden to the world around us until the very last Christian comes into his church. He will remain hidden to all human eyes until we have grown into the Christians that God is making us through his word. Jesus is still mocked because God isn’t finished with us yet. But the day is coming when that mockery will cease. The day is coming when every tongue will confess Jesus as Lord to glory of God the Father.
What love! What a triumph! What a king! No human being would ever have thought of winning victory like this. No general has ever conquered by submitting to torture, mockery and death. No human king has ever delayed his triumphal procession for 2,000 years and more just so more people could be a part of it. What love! What a triumph! What a king! Amen.