“Pilate also wrote an inscription and put in on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
“Give us a king like all the other nations have,” the people demanded. Their request had to come like a vicious kick to the gut. Samuel had served Israel long and well as their judge. But the years were taking their toll. No longer could he maintain the grueling schedule he once had kept as a young man. So Samuel appointed his two sons, Joel and Abijah, to assist him.
Sadly, the sons were not as unselfish as their father and not nearly as devoted to duty. They used their office for personal gain and, for a price, perverted justice. It’s difficult to explain their actions. You wouldn’t think that Samuel would be one to neglect the training of his children. After all, he had grown up alongside Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas, and had seen firsthand what such permissive parenting can lead to. But it appears Samuel’s sons simply had given in to those temptations that so commonly beset those in public office.
By the time the elders had arranged a meeting with Samuel to discuss their concerns, their minds were already made up. “Behold, you are now old and your sons do not walk in your ways,” they said. “Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” Samuel asked for time to think over their request and to discuss it with God in prayer.
Understandably, Samuel took the people’s request personally and regarded it as a rejection of himself. God reassured Samuel he was not the one they had rejected. The people had forgotten they already had a King. The Lord God was their king, enthroned on the Ark of the Covenant, between the cherubim. In calling for a king like all the nations, they were rejecting the kingship of God.
An earthly king might have used a show of force to put down such a rebellion; but our patient, loving God relented. “Give them a king,” He told Samuel, “but let them know up front the consequences.”
Samuel warned the people: “If you get a king, instead of your king helping you and serving you, you are going to make matters worse for yourselves… for you are going to serve the king, not the other way around. He is going to want your money. He’s going to want your property. He’s going to want your sons and daughters. And he is going to want you to bow down before him. The day will come when you will cry out for relief from this king you have chosen.”
And that is exactly what happened. God gave the Israelites a king. And he was just like the kings all the other nations had. He demanded to be served. He demanded their money. He demanded their property. He demanded the service of their sons and daughters. And he demanded them to bow down before him.
For 400 years they had a king. First Saul, then David, then descendants of David. Some, like King David, were men after God’s own heart, most were usually worse than the one preceding. Those kings led the people to worship other gods. They led the people to make peace treaties with other nations who were God’s enemies. They permitted people to harm their neighbor and said nothing. And those kings were usually getting something on the side to keep their mouths shut.
Because of the disobedience and rebelliousness and injustice of the kings and the people, God eventually took away their land and left it mostly empty around Jerusalem. The people of Judah were taken away in exile to Babylon for seventy years. Even when they were allowed to return, they had no king. For 600 years after the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, until the time of our Lord, there was no son of David who ruled as king. Even Herod, who had taken the title for himself, was no king, but a puppet put in place by Rome as governor of a small portion of the region of Galilee.
Now, a thousand years after the glory days of King David, the people of Judea were waiting for another king. They wanted a king to give them back what David had—a little bit of real estate where they could be safe. Self-rule free from the dictates of a foreign conqueror. A king like all the rest of the kings of the world—only one they could call their own.
When Jesus came, He said, in effect: “My kingdom is not of this world. I am not the kind of king you want, but I am the kind of King you need. I have not come so that I can bring some glory to you, so that everyone else will do your bidding, and work for you, as the people once did for Solomon. I have not come to keep your belly filled with bread and fish so that you can sit back and do nothing.
“The problem that you have is much deeper than having a roof over your head, beautiful clothes on your back, wonderful children, and someone to serve you. From the time that your first father and mother sinned, you have rejected God as your King. Oh, occasionally, when it was fresh on your mind, you would celebrate God’s love and deliverance. But very quickly you would forget again that He is a king who saves you and serves you and bids you to do the same for your neighbor. And you would go back to your old sinful, selfish, and rebellious life.
“Such treasonous behavior carries the threat of capital punishment in earthly kingdoms. But I am going to suffer the consequences of your sin and rebellion. I am going to suffer your death, destruction, and eternal damnation, so that you don’t have to, so that I might be your King.”
Christ’s coronation as King is most shocking. Human beings kill God the Son. The Jews do so, claiming Jesus committed blasphemy by saying He was God. And that was the truth. He did claim that. The irony was that they did not know that He was telling the truth. The Gentile governor, Pontius Pilate, who didn’t know what truth was, puts Jesus—the Truth—to death, because he wants to save his own skin and keep on playing king, as if his were the final authority.
But even more shocking is that King named Jesus willingly suffers eternal death. The Crowned Prince is punished by His own Father in the place of subjects who are unwilling to be ruled by anyone, not even by a loving king, their God. Jesus goes to the cross because He wants to be our Lord and must go into battle against the powers which hold His own subjects captive—the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.
Jesus yields His Spirit to His Father and He declares publicly that everything needed to bring every human back into His kingdom has been done. It is finished. All of that brokenness which humans experience over against God, self, and others, all of those problems, all of the blindness and deadness and being at enmity with God, with ourselves, and with each other, is at an end.
The once crucified King comes to us, offering forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life, solely out of His mercy and grace. And the only thing we have to bring to Him is our sins. But that’s okay—that’s exactly what He wants from us!
We are summoned to stand before our almighty God, that we might confess what in us caused our Lord’s death, what wickedness in our hearts moved Him to love us sinners. We are asked to examine our heart: “Where have I sinned? Where have I rejected what You are and what You have done for me, O Lord, my King?” We are called to ask Him to open our eyes to see and to confess the many ways in which we wish God would be a different kind of God. We are called to lay our sin-filled lives before His cross, that we might go forth, washed in the blood of the Lamb, freed, restored, and alive.
Jesus wants us to acknowledge what we really are, who we really are. We are poor miserable sinners who justly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment. We are by nature sinful and unclean and have consistently sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. We have rejected our King!
But even on this Good Friday, our King does not want us to go away with our heads hung low, in fear and in shame and in doubt. Even, and maybe especially this day, He wants us to go forth in joy knowing that the Creator and Lord of the universe loves us so much that He would give Himself up to a horrendous death because He wants us to be with Him forever. He does not say, “Go away from Me,” but says, “Come unto Me, you who labor and are heavy laden. I can give you rest.”
Jesus really is a King who comes to serve and save us! He gives us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation as He makes us His sons in Holy Baptism. He feeds us His own body and blood for our forgiveness and the strengthening of our faith. Through His called and ordained servant of the Word, He speaks words of forgiveness and life. Then, He who took up His cross tells us that, for the joy set before us, we can follow in His footsteps, enjoying the challenge to love as we have been loved.
So go forth in the peace of the Lord. Your King Jesus reigns. Crucified, risen, and ascended to the Father’s right hand, He lives and reign to all eternity on behalf of His Church. He intercedes for you before the Father, and comes to you with forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. For His sake, you are forgiven of all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.