End Times 4a: Christ the King
Preached: November 20, 2011
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit brings us our Savior is Matthew 27
At that time the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the residence (praetorian) and gathered the whole unit around him. After stripping him, they put a reddish cloak on him. They wove a crown out of thorns, placed it on his head, and put a staff in his right hand. Knelling before him, they kept mocking him, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews.” They spit on him, took the staff, and beat him on his head. When they had mocked him, they took the cloak off of him. Dressed him in his own clothes. And led him away to crucify him. (Matthew 27:27-31).
This is the word of our Lord.
What royal events have you seen? Did you see footage last April of His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales’ marriage to Miss Catherine Middleton? Or maybe you can think back to 1981 when His Royal Highness The Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, married The Lady Diana Spencer. Some of you may remember Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953.
How grand the pomp and circumstance! How magnificent and royal! That’s what we expect from kings and queens and their heirs. How different the scene from Matthew 27! Behold your King -- not in his glory and splendor but in his pain and humiliation. Behold your King -- and what can we say at this horror? What can we say? Let’s think about that as the Holy Spirit shows us our King who so drastically changes our hearts and lives. What can we say as we behold our King, dear friends?
Thomas Kelly wrote in his Lenten hymn, “If you think of sin but lightly Nor suppose the evil great, Here you see its nature rightly, Here its guilt may estimate” (“Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, 127:3).
We, too, live in an age that thinks of sin but lightly. Even many churches today boast of their toleration and acceptance of what used to be called sin. But do you see, dear friends, how we use that as a backdoor to make light of our own sin? “I’m not perfect, but at least I wouldn’t tolerate the kind of filth they accept!” -- as if their sin is so much more damnable than ours.
If you think of sin but lightly -- if you think your sin is light compared to others, behold your King. See him stricken, smitten, and afflicted. That’s what your sin did to him.
How our inborn, natural old self fights against that grave truth! We feel the need to cling to some vestige of self-worth or self-esteem. “I wasn’t there! I wouldn’t have done that to Jesus! Even now I try hard to do good!” But see your King stricken, smitten, and afflicted. That truly is what your sin and mine did to him. What can we say except: “How grave my sin is!”
Maybe one way to drive home to our hard hearts the gravity and enormity of our own sin is to realize we are breaking exactly the same commandments as the so-called “bad” sinners out there. Now, if we’re breaking the same commandment, don’t we deserve the same punishment from God, the same death sentence? For example, we all recognize how evil cold-blooded murder is. It breaks the Fifth Commandment. But that hateful word muttered under your breath or shouted out from your mouth breaks the same commandment. We all recognize the wickedness of incest. It breaks the Sixth Commandment. But that lustful thought, even if its just from computer images or a movie scene, breaks the same commandment. None of us would build an altar in our backyard to sacrifice to the sun-god, but your worry breaks the same commandment. For when the Lord says, “You shall have no other gods,” he’s not just talking about altars of stone but the altar of your heart. What is it that you fear, love, or trust more than God, so that you worry about it as if it were so important?
Do not think of your sin lightly? Then see your King stricken, smitten, and afflicted because of your sin. How grave my sin!
Right before this text, Jesus had been scourged, his back torn open by the sharp metal or bone fragments in the leather straps of the whips. Those bloody stripes mark your sins and mine. He stands there stripped, just as our sins leave us naked and exposed before the holy God. They throw a old, ragged soldier’s cloak, on his open wounds -- oh, the pain! Even our righteous acts, our good deeds, are by themselves filthy rags, meriting the stinging pains of hell. How grave my sin!
Behold your King, and confess with me in the words of another Lenten hymn: “Ah! I also and my sin Wrought your deep affliction; This indeed the cause has been Of your crucifixion” (“Jesus, I Will Ponder Now” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 98:3). Behold your King and say, “How grave my sin!”
But, dear fellow sinners, because your sin is here, laid on your King, here also is your ransom, the payment that atones for your sin, the ransom that redeems you and sets you free from law’s curse and death sentence. Here is your ransom paid for you by the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Here is your ransom measured in the drops of his holy, precious blood.
Our old self clings to that self-worth that makes light of our sin and argues that we have at least some small amount we can contribute. But all the self-worth in the world does not measure up to even one drop of that ransom Jesus paid for you. All the nothings you add up are still worth nothing. But dear friend, look the price God paid for you. Look at the worth he placed on you -- not because of any intrinsic value in you or me (we were worthless), but only because of his good will. Either you cling to your claims of self-worth or else you cling to the ransom Jesus paid for you. Which one will it be? Which is of greater value? Which one alone can save? Behold your King. How grand the ransom he has paid for you!
Likewise, our old self clings to those notions of self-esteem -- you gotta love yourself. But here in the bloody, humiliated Christ, you witness God’s great love for you. How can any amount of self-esteem begin to measure up to such wondrous love? He gave his Son, his one and only Son, the only-Begotten from eternity. He gave him as your ransom. Behold your King and say, “How grand my ransom! How grand the price God paid for me!”
Behold your King, crowned with thorns. Why so crowned? So that you may wear the crown of eternal life. For he took your place. He is your Ransom. So he substituted himself for you and wore that crown of thorns to bring you the crown of life. He was mocked and ridiculed by the voices of those soldiers so that your voice may join the heavenly choirs eternally praising your King, the Lamb upon his throne, reigning forever and ever -- your voice mixing with the angels and saints, the believers from every nation, tribe, language, and people, from every time and age. He let them take his mock scepter and beat him on his thorn-crowned head with it, so that you may reign for real with him, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Behold your King, your Ransom!
That’s why we cherish not only the empty cross, but also the crucifix which displays our Savior suffering. For in the greatness of his suffering, we see the grandness of the ransom he paid for you and for me. What wondrous love that placed such a great price on us worthless sinners! “See, from his head, his hands, his feet, Sorrow and love flow mingle down. Did e’er such love and sorrow meet Or thorns compose so rich a crown?” (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 125:3). Behold your king and in the awe of faith say, “How grand my ransom, the ransom Jesus paid even for me!”
Finally, faith that marvels at our suffering King, gladly takes up our cross and follows him. For faith knows that even the heaviest cross we carry flows from the grace of our God. No matter what hardship or ridicule mocks us following Jesus, no matter what doubts tempt us to question the God’s goodness, yes, no matter what the cross, the Father’s love is drawing you closer to his Son, training you as his own dear child. As we behold our King, each of us can say, “How gracious my cross!”
Rather than complaining, faith rejoices in our crosses. Rather than questioning God’s love, faith finds evidence of his love in the crosses we carry. The Scriptures say to you and me, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:5, 6 NIV1984). How gracious our crosses!
Now as today’s text ends, take note. “Then they led him away to crucify him” (Matthew 27:31 NIV1984). As horrible as the torture is that we see in the text, it’s only the beginning as he goes to the cross. So, dear Christians, if our King willingly carried the greatest cross of all -- the cross of our sin and shame and all the sin and shame of the world -- won’t we, his faithful people, take up our cross and follow him, knowing what a gracious gift from God it truly is?
And as heavy as your cross may feel, the glory your King has won for you, dear Christian, is far, far greater. For even after that most gruesome death on the cross, forsaken by God because of our sin, our King rose in the greatest victory of all, the Easter victory. He had defeated the devil, that ancient Serpent, and paraded triumphantly through hell itself. He had conquered death, rising from the dead on the third day. He gives you that victory. He gives it freely, gratis, at no charge. Believe his promise. Then each of us by faith can say with the Apostle Paul, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18 NIV1984). Behold your King and say, “How gracious my cross since it leads to such great glory.”
Earthly royals have their pomp and circumstance. We have our suffering King. But what glory awaits you because your King suffered in your place. Behold your King and say, “How grave my sin! How grand my ransom he paid for me! How gracious my cross as I follow him!”
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.