Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Advent Midweek III

Advent Midweek III: His Throne[1]
December 14, 2011
Text: John 19:16-22

The account of Jesus’ crucifixion may seem a strange reading for Advent. I mean, we’re prepared for prophecies about His coming and accounts of His birth during this holy season, but by the glow of Christmas lights and the Yule log, the crucifixion can be a bit of a downer. But we’ve missed what Christmas is if we forget why He came. He came to die. Christmas is what it is in all its glory because of Good Friday. Otherwise this is just the birth of another baby to another peasant-girl. And while every birth is special, it’s an everyday occurrence. It is the purpose of this birth that sets it apart. Jesus is born to die. And to rise again, but that resurrection can only happen out of death. The newborn King claims His throne when He is nailed to it for the life of the world. He dies for His subjects. He dies for all people. He dies for you. And in so dying, He claims you for Himself. Hark, this is the peace on earth the herald angels were singing about: His death. “Glory to the newborn King.”

No matter how you cut it, Jesus doesn’t live up to human conceptions of kingship. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law were not against the Messiah coming. But they expected a Messiah who would be mighty and powerful, lead a military revolution, and rule as earthly King over an independent Israel… with the help and counsel of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, of course. When Jesus didn’t live up to their expectations, they plotted how they might trap Him, arrest Him, and deliver Him over to death. Jesus’ own disciples were no better. Even after His resurrection, they asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6; ESV). They were thinking too small. They failed to understand that by His crucifixion Jesus had restored the Kingdom to spiritual Israel, the Church, claiming a Kingdom and a people for His own possession, purchasing us from sin and death by His own sinless blood and death.

Jesus is not the kind of king we expect, either. We expect a king who will make our lives better, easier, who will not allow bad things to happen to us, or who will immediately pick us up and brush us off if they do. We expect a king who shares our values rather than imposing His own upon us. We expect a king who will shatter our enemies and exalt us as the favored nation. In reality, our expectations of the King aren’t that much different than the Pharisees and teachers of the Law and disciples.

Jesus is none of that. Not in the way we think, anyway. Jesus is the King whose power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). Jesus is the King who gives Himself up totally for the sake of His people. He is the King who comes not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). He is the King of the universe, the Son of God, who leaves His heavenly throne to take up residence in the womb of the Virgin Mary, who becomes flesh and makes His dwelling among us (John 1:14), who is laid in a manger because there is no room for Him in the inn, who grows up in a carpenter’s family, who surrounds Himself with fishermen and other commoners, eats with tax collectors and sinners, is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief (Is. 53:3). This is the King who is betrayed by a kiss, who willingly gives Himself into the hands of His enemies, though at any moment He could call upon His Father in heaven and be rescued by more than twelve legions of angels (Matt. 26:53). This is the King who is tried before earthly rulers, the Sanhedrin, Herod, Pontius Pilate (who declares Him innocent). His Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Nor is He a king the world would embrace. This is the King who is clothed in royal purple, worshiped in mockery by the soldiers, given a reed scepter and beaten with it, spat upon, and crowned with thorns. He is scourged and led in royal procession outside of the city, where He is nailed to His throne, the blessed and holy cross, lifted up and exalted between two criminals, forsaken of the Father, suffering all hell. For you. For His subjects. And there He dies. He dies to make you His own, that you may live under Him in His Kingdom and serve Him.

Pilate writes the truth. “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (John 19:19). Here He is, enthroned on high, for us and for our salvation. The devil, the world, and fallen humanity thought they had conquered this King once and for all that Good Friday. But on the Third Day He would emerge from the grave victorious over all His enemies. Glory to the newborn King, who came to die that we might live.

By nature we rebel against our crucified King. We reject Him as our King and as our Savior. We want to rule ourselves. We want to save ourselves. Or at least we want Him to rule and save us on our own terms. We want strength, not weakness. We want glory, not the cross. But there’s no salvation in that. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other Name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Jesus is the King. And He comes to us in weakness, that we might share in His glory. He comes to us in weakness still: Words and water and bread and wine. But in these weak vessels there is great power: the Holy Spirit, the washing away of sin, the true body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Don’t let the appearance of the vessels fool you, any more than you should let the appearance of the King Himself in His earthly ministry, suffering, and death fool you. This is Almighty God come to His people. Because we cannot ascend to Him. He descends to us. He comes to us, in weakness, by which His power is made perfect.

And there is no other way. This King must die to save His people. So He does so, willingly, in love. No earthly King would do what He did. No earthly King could do what He did. And that is why Christmas is what it is. We don’t celebrate just because a baby was born. We don’t celebrate because that baby was the symbol of hope, or even the symbol of God’s love. We celebrate because that baby is hope incarnate, God’s love in the flesh, poured out on the cross. Christmas is meaningless without the cross. Even at Christmas we say with St. Paul, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Worship the newborn King by beholding Him on His cross, and receiving the benefits of that cross as they are delivered to you in the means of grace. Because in that way you live joyfully in Jesus’ Kingdom. This (Christ crucified) is King of the Jews. By this, we have God’s peace on earth, God’s goodwill toward men. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1]The theme and many of the points made in this sermon are taken from Savior of the Nations (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009).


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