This Is Your King? - Luke 23:33-43
How many of you had to read Beowulf in high school or college? Let me ask it another way, how many of you were supposed to have read Beowulf in high school or college? I was supposed to have read it at one point, but I have to honestly admit that I never did…one attempt at trying to read and comprehend the Old English, and once again Cliff Notes were my friend.
How many of you out there think the Preacher has now lost his mind? I mean, this is the preacher who doesn’t want us to sing Christmas songs before Christmas Eve and he just had us sing “We Three Kings.” Then he follows it with a reading from the crucifixion of Jesus, which clearly belongs in a completely different season of the church year. The Preacher then follows all of this with a clip and starts talking about Beowulf which he has never fully read or watched. He’s really has lost his mind. Well, just to check, how many of you felt that the preacher had lost mind before today? Okay, that’s good to know. Hold on a minute…note to self, mark ________, ___________, and _________ off the Christmas card list.
God’s people had not always had an earthly king. If we travel back through Scripture to the earliest their existence, especially after they were liberated from slavery in Egypt, we don’t read of any king leading God’s people. God’s led his people through the leadership of the judges and prophets. It was during Samuel’s leadership, as God’s people continued to be plagued by the nations around them, that the people began demanding a king. They looked around at the other nations who were troubling them and they had kings, so the Hebrew people turned to Samuel and said, “We want a king. We want to be like everyone else.” Samuel became upset. However, he did not respond with parental response, “If all the other nations jumped off the world, would you jump too?” He took the complaint to God. God said, “don’t worry, Samuel, it isn’t you they are rejecting, it is Me.” You see, Israel was not supposed to be like the other nations that were ruled by earthly kings, God’s people were to understand that God was their King, and to put their confidence in Him. However, they wanted a flesh and bone king, so God turned to Samuel and said, “give them what they want.” Samuel tried to talk them out of it by telling them exactly what it would cost them:
“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” [i]
Despite the warning, they still demanded a king. Without going through the history of the kings, we’ll just summarize that the people got what they asked for, and for the most part, got exactly what Samuel warned them they would end up with, as they had more kings who abused their power and the people and led them away from God, than they had good kings—there were a few, but they were few and far between—such as David, Jehosophat, and Josiah. Of them all, and despite the fact that he was flawed like the rest of us, David tends to stand head and shoulders above the rest, considered a man who sought after God’s own heart, and led Israel out of conflict to a time of peace. To David, God promised that there would forever be a king of his line on the throne. It was with the image of the mighty David and God’s promise to establish his throne forever that brought the people of God to look for a king in the line of David. Like King Hrothgar looking for a mighty warrior that would save his people from Grendel, the Hebrew people were looking for a mighty warrior that—a king that would defeat all of these civilizations that were pouring through the region and taking God’s people as vassals. They were looking for a king that would raise them up so that these other nations would become vassals of Jerusalem.
Into this expectation, a tiny baby was born, not in a hospital, not in a palace, but in a barn. While the angels revealed to the shepherds that he was to be the Savior of God’s people, and while, about the time he was two years old (sorry folks they did not show up at the manger) wise men or kings from the Far East, came bringing Him gifts, acknowledging Him as King, the rest of the world seemed to be in the dark. Can you imagine the ridicule that would have happened had people gone around proclaiming that a baby born in the barn was the long awaited king who would free God’s people from their greatest enemies? Can’t you picture the scene if Herod had actually happened to come upon Jesus, laying in a manger or playing the shadow of his earthly dad, Joseph? He would have laughed. He would have turned to the wise men or any proclaiming Jesus as the King of kings, and said, “This is your king? You’ve got to be kidding!”
Years pass. The baby grows up. He begins teaching. He is preforming miracles of healing and feeding and even calling the dead to life again. A following begins gathering around Him—first twelve guys, then thousands. The religious authorities begin getting anxious—they are on the verge of losing their control over the people—they don’t seem to mind the idea of remaining under foreign rule as long as they keep their influence over those who are God’s people. They develop a plan, they carry it out, and this baby grown into a man—the one the Twelve proclaim as the Messiah—Jesus, is nailed to a cross. Pilate overseeing Jerusalem and the surrounding area for Rome had a sign placed above Jesus’ head proclaiming Him as “King of the Jews,” suggesting this as the fate of anyone who might proclaim themselves king opposed to Rome. We hear the soldiers deriding Jesus saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” One of the thieves harassed him yelling at him, “Are you not the Messiah, save yourself and save us!” In essence the soldiers and the first thief were saying to Israel, “This is your king? You’ve got to be kidding!”
It was the second thief, and we never really find out what made these two thieves so different, that understands what Herod, what the soldiers, what the other thief, what even the disciples failed to understand—that the crown of thorns, intended to mock Jesus, was truly a coronation, petitioning Him, “Jesus, remember me as you come into your Kingdom.”
That thief understood that Jesus was a king unlike any king the world had seen. He was the exact opposite of what King Hrothgar describes. When asked if the people should start praying to the new Roman god, Christ Jesus, the king says, “the gods will do nothing for us that we will not do for ourselves, what we need is a hero!”
What King Hrothgar says is true of the pagan gods because the false gods could not do anything for mankind that they cannot do for themselves, because these false gods are completely dependent on humanity. What King Hrothgar failed to understand, though, is that Jesus is not only a king like no other King, nor a god like any of the pagan gods. For Jesus does not do for us what we will not do for ourselves, Jesus does for us what we could not do for ourselves. Jesus was not a hero, but He was God, Himself, the King of the Universe, coming in the flesh of a tiny baby, born in a manger. Jesus was not a hero, but He was God, King of the Universe, who willingly went to the cross so that we might be freed from an enemy far greater than Rome or Grendel—for through the cross, sin was defeated—our God, our King, rather than taking from us, as Samuel described the kings of the world would do, took our place, took our punishment, and freed us from slavery to sin—freeing us to truly live for God—three days later the crowned King came from the tomb where the kings of this world had declared him defeated—to reveal that sin’s Siamese twin death—had also been defeated—and no longer were those who belong to the King of kings subject to the rule of death.
God in taking on our flesh and dying in our place and rising to give us life undid all sin, including the sin of those who petitioned Samuel to be like the world—fulfilled the covenant with David—and reestablished Himself as the King of His people.
What does this mean for us? It means that we have a King who has given His life for us rather than demand that we lay down our lives for Him. It means that we have a King who went into battle for us and defeated our greatest enemies. So what does it mean to declare Him our King? It means we pledge our fidelity—our loyalty—to Him. It means as He gave His life for us, we live our lives for Him…not because He demands it, but because He invited us into relationship with Himself, we offer it out of sheer gratitude for what He has done. By calling Him King, we voluntarily submit to His rule in our lives—no longer living according to the kingdoms of this world, wanting to be like everyone else, but desiring to be like our King and living in and for His Kingdom—with our allegiance to Him above all else.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!