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Sermon Text: Matthew 27:27-31
Date: November 22 & 23, 2014
Christ the King (End Time 4) A
Matthew 27:27–31 (ESV)
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
Our King is an Unlikely Ruler
1. He endured our torment for us
2. He gives his kingdom to us
In chapel this past Wednesday we talked about what makes a king. Here in the United States we don’t have a whole lot of exposure to kings and the concept of a monarchy. Maybe we hear of a royal wedding or baby in England, but that’s about where it ends. Despite that lack of exposure, though, the kids had a pretty clear idea in their minds of what a king should look like and do. They mentioned treasure rooms filled with gold; long, flowing, fancy clothing; a crown on their head; power to rule over people; and power to protect the people living in their country.
We probably all have an idea of what a king looks like and does. But I’m almost certain that the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of a king is not a bloody, beaten shell of a man. And yet, that’s evidently the King that you and I have. A King that was powerless to defend himself, refused to speak in his own defense, and was mocked and ridiculed in the cruelest ways by people that should have been subject to him. A leader who doesn’t lead isn’t a leader. A king who doesn’t rule seems to not be a king, which makes our King an unlikely ruler. Because, behind the façade of this tragic scene, Jesus is the most effective King to ever live.
There’s no mistaking when and where this lesson takes place, even without the context surrounding it. Jesus has been betrayed by Judas and arrested by the Jewish leaders. After the kangaroo court of the Sanhedrin determined Jesus worthy of death for blasphemy, they took him to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. Under the Roman Empire, the Jewish nation had lost the right to capital punishment. If they wanted Jesus to be executed, they needed not only Rome’s blessing, but for Rome to do the dirty work.
And so the spineless Pilate caved to the mob’s demands and sentenced a man whom he knew to be innocent to death. And not just any death, but the death reserved for the most vile, wretched, criminals. A death so awful and public that it was meant to be a deterrent for all others who would try to do the same things. Deterring crime was so much a part of crucifixion that most of the time they would affix a sign to the cross spelling out the crime or crimes for which the person was sentenced. Jesus was no different. The sign posted on Jesus’ cross was clear and to the point. Jesus was crucified because he was the “King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:36).
That’s not a king, at least, not an effective one. A king is powerful and rules. A king has riches and influence. A king aspires to his role as a ruler; it’s not a crime for which a person is punished. And yet, here we are. Just after Pilate handed down the order to crucify and just before Jesus would have to carry his own cross as far as he could before they reached Golgotha, where he would be crucified, Jesus spends some time with a group of abhorrent Roman soldiers.
The soldiers found this whole scene hilarious. They had no respect for the Jewish people. In fact, many of them probably resented being stationed in an outpost so far away from the sights and sounds of Rome. And so if here they had a chance to mock the Jewish people even more by ridiculing the one that was supposedly claiming to be their king, well they took full advantage of the opportunity.
They harshly removed his clothing, which would’ve been suffering in itself. Jesus has been beaten severely earlier at Pilate’s command, likely with a whip of many cords that each had little bit of metal on the end. His back would have been raw and bloody, and as the blood began to clot, his clothing would have gotten stuck in there. Just removing his clothes would have reopened fresh and already searing wounds.
That would have been enough, but then there’s insult to this injury. After all, even as our chapel conversation bore out, what is a king without his crown and sign of his ruling authority? So a crown made out of harsh thorns is placed on his head and a staff made out of a reed placed in his hand. Hardly the marks of royalty; this is nothing but a grim, disturbing farce. And just in case the crown wasn’t uncomfortable enough, and just in case anyone got the wrong idea that the staff this man carried was a sign of any real power and authority, the King’s crown is beat into his head as he’s struck repeatedly on the head with the staff that had just been given to him. The “homage” paid to him continues with shouts of false praise, “Hail, King of the Jews!” after falling before him. Yet the accolades are accompanied by spit in his face.
This whole scene, difficult as it is to stomach, is eventually brought to an end, but only because it’s time to go to the cross. The time for mocking and humiliating Jesus while beating him is over; the time for mocking and humiliating Jesus while killing him has come.
What are we supposed to take away from all of this? What are we to make of a king who suffers such horrendous abuse? What are we to make of a king who makes no effort to rescue himself, that calls on no army to save him, that doesn’t even lift a finger to make an attempt to stop any of this? Consider what Jesus had said just a few hours before this, while still in the Garden of Gethsemane the previous night: One of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:51-54). Let those words echo in your mind for a moment, “it must be so.”
Why? Why did this king, our King, have to endure this? Because this is not a show of weakness or lack of power—he makes clear that he could in an instant have twelve legions, more than 61,000 angels at his disposal, more than enough to stop his arrest or certainly halt this humiliation he’s enduring. No, this is not weakness, but mercy. Our King is on a mission to save.
A king’s primary responsibility is to protect his people. But, it’s not often that a leader sacrificing himself to an enemy will result in anything good for those he’s trying to protect. Maybe you’ve wondered at Jesus’ comment that he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). What good is it to the flock if the shepherd lets himself be killed by the wolves? Won’t the wolves then just move onto the defenseless flock? And what good would it be for a nation whose leader allows himself to be killed by the enemy? The people left would be without leadership and utterly defenseless. Our nation’s regulations protect the President and those who would follow him in the event of a tragedy for just this reason, so that the nation is never left without a leader.
But this King and this battle is different. God had said that the job of the Savior would be miserable. Right from the first promise of a Messiah, God had said that Satan would “bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). That heel striking is what is going on here, that heel striking is what will happen when the hammer blows ring out at the crucifixion. The Messiah’s job was to suffer, was to die. But what did God say the Messiah would do to Satan? “He will crush your head.”
Jesus is going in our place. He would suffer this physical torment—and so much more the spiritual disaster of hell itself—because of us. His mission of mercy isn’t so much falling down on the field of battle as he is exchanging his life for the lives of millions of his own people held hostage. We were shackled by our sin to death. There was no escape from it. Hell, for disobeying our God, was our only future, unless someone came in and made an exchange. And that’s what our King did. He took our place and endured the punishment of hell that you and I deserved and now we are free. There is no punishment for sins left because Jesus took it all on himself.
Satan, though, loves for us to think that our sin is too great or God’s love is too small to actually deal with the things that I've done wrong, with the sins you’ve committed. But stop here and look at how wrong he is. Stop and look at the hollow husk of a king you have—how far he was willing to go to save you. He laid aside every piece of authority and dignity that was rightly his as God to rescue you. Your King endured the scorn and misery of this mocking trial and even execution by crucifixion to save you. He endured not just rejection by the Jewish leaders, nor Pilate, nor the soldiers here, but rejection by his heavenly Father—to suffer hell itself—all to free us. So go ahead, Satan, tell me my sin is too big, tell me my King is too small to actually provide forgiveness. In that most ridiculous of lies, Satan shows just how desperate he actually is. When he claims there's no forgiveness for our sins, we know that nothing could be farther from the truth. And it's those specific, damming lies that Jesus came to defeat in our place. And, my brothers and sisters, our God, our Savior, our King is victorious. He has set us free forever!
It’s good and healthy for us to see, in human, physical terms, what Jesus’ mission cost him. It’s good to see what the heel-wound really looked like. But don’t find yourself just focusing on this pathetic image of a “king” abused and mocked. Look beyond the soldiers, beyond the cross, and go to the tomb where they laid him. See the King’s envoys there with that glorious message, “He is not here, for he has risen!” (Matthew 28:6). Jesus no longer displays any weakness; he is no longer under the burden of humility, because he’s conquered all our enemies. Though it looked like he was doomed, he has emerged the conquering hero for us. As we said last week, our triumph rests squarely on his triumph.
Jesus said before he ascended into heaven that “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18) had been given to him. He now rules all things for the Church, for his people, his bride, for you and me. Jesus is no longer the powerless, beaten man we saw before the soldiers. He is the almighty King of kings and Lord of lords. And when he’s using that power for us, that can’t help but bring comfort.
And so we’re in a bit of a dilemma. Because while we know that Jesus is ruling all things for us it certainly doesn’t look like it, it doesn’t feel like it. In fact, sometimes our life is such a disaster that it can feel like our King is really that powerless man getting beaten by the soldiers in Pilate’s headquarters.
But Jesus has us take the long view, because the here and now is not the ultimate goal. The here and now is not the reason that he suffered and died. He suffered and died because our sins meant not just disaster and tragedy in this life; it meant unending suffering in hell. But Jesus has undone that, so that what waits for us isn’t punishment and suffering, but joy and life. Life in an eternal kingdom where our Savior rules all things, an eternal kingdom where there is no pain, suffering, sadness, or sin. It’s a perfect place—in so many ways the polar opposite from our life here.
So, while Jesus is protecting us now, is ruling things for us, is working things out for our good, he asks us to lift our eyes heavenward and see what is coming: the fulfillment of his love, the end of everything bad, and the beginning of everything good, which will never end. No other king, ruler, or leader has ever been able to provide such a dramatic turn-around for his people. But Jesus has. Our King has set us free; our King has prepared our place in his eternal kingdom. We will be with him forever. Come quickly, O King! Amen.