February 20, 2017. President’s Day. A national holiday. A day honoring George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (or, if you so desire, apparently every United States President [see: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Presidents-Day]). You can reflect on all the advantages gained from leadership. A steady hand guiding a nation through the dark days of war. Inspiring speeches encouraging countless Americans pressed down by conflict. Policies bringing economic growth and a secure retirement. President’s Day presents the opportunity to consider how past and present leadership intersected with your expectations.
Yet, February 20, 2017 stood out as a uniquely special President’s Day. Many (millions?) flocked to the streets, bundled in hats, scarves, and gloves, poster-board signs in hand, and started chanting: ‘Not my President! Not my President!’ Counter-protesters shouted back: ‘That is my President! ‘That is my President!’
Now, regardless of your political stance, both messages strike a common chord. The elected president is expected to represent an individual’s values (or beliefs). This protesting is really nothing new. In fact, the chant is thousands of years old.
Each Wednesday in Lent we meet opponents of truth. Each adversary confronts undeniable truth, but rebels against its reality. Every nation rejects the King sent to them. He simply did not meet individual expectations. Now, smug taunts dare him to act. ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’
Of course, no one really considers that a true statement. Pontius Pilate had seen kings before. In fact, a king had appointed him governor of Judea. Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar, the most powerful man in the ancient world. Now Caesar, that man fits the mold of a king. He wears elaborate robes adorned with dazzling gems set in glistening gold, the essence of lavender wafts off his manicured body. The snap of his fingers command fine delicacies, a hand-tap demands service. One word and the army marches. This man holds prestige, dominance, control, influence. People expect that type of grandeur from kings.
Jesus, well, he just does not have that aura. Here stands the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. Nazareth, that’s as exciting as saying that you’re from Temple. That township is not known for leaders or industry or military figures. It has no claim to fame. Carpentry, a good skill, but not a multi-million dollar profession. Jesus has no Shangri-La [house]. In fact, he has no set place to lay his head; he constantly finds a new room (Matthew 8:20). His fanciest clothing is an undergarment, a piece of linen seamlessly woven together from top to bottom (John 19:23). Look him over and it’s pretty clear: Jesus is no king.
Pilate knows that. Pilate intends driving the point home. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face.
The Romans have complete control over the situation. Jesus will not escape. No rabblerousing supporters will bother the soldiers. At this moment, Jesus’ health lies in the hands of a more dominant force. Not just that, but this image of a thorny crown and grimy soldier’s cloak reveals Jesus to be no more a king than a kid dressed up as a king on Halloween. The Romans make clear: If Jesus calls himself a king, then he’s pretending. Any claim to authority can be snuffed out. Perhaps the Jews will understand the point, drop the charges, let him go, and then return home.
Really, this why the Jews hate Jesus in the first place: He is not a king. A few occasions did offer a glimmer of hope.
One time, Jesus took five loaves of bread and two small fish. He thanked God for the meal, tore it into pieces, and gave everyone a free lunch. Not only did everyone eat, but they were stuffed; they had to tell Jesus ‘Enough! We’re full!’ Over five thousand mouths feasted on one grade-schooler’s lunch. That catches people’s attention. They witness divine control over natural forces. They watch God bless the food in Jesus’ hands. That leads many to conclude: “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Crowds grab at him, trying to make Jesus king by force, but he escapes (John 6:14-15).
Then, just a few days earlier, the hope rekindled. Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem. The prophet Zechariah predicted this! He said, ‘Keep watch for that event! When you see it, then you know your king has come!’ (9:9-10). They saw it! The long-promised king to give new birth for a new nation. Instead of storming the palace, Jesus storms the temple… and he calls himself God… and starts acting like God.
The Jews did not want that. They do not want a spiritual king. Abraham is their ancestor; the family tree will make God happy. Worst case, they have the temple. Just bring some animals, say the right words, and God will be pleased. They feel the spiritual department is met. What the Jews want is an earthly king. Someone who drives out the dreaded Romans, fills the belly with food, and leads the nation towards independence, economic strength, and replaces all fear with peace. That’s what they want. Actually, that’s what they determined needful. As for Jesus, well, he does not look like the King we want.
Study that statement long enough and you find a contradiction. He does not look like the King we want. Kings lead people. Here, people try leading king. It leaves you asking: Who, then, is truly the king?
You see, the trouble is not with Jesus’ teachings, the trouble is with self-perception. Our flawed hearts think we stand equal with God, that we hold the right to negotiate with God in our pursuit for pleasure! Jesus urges: ‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear’ (Matthew 6:25). Yet, this pandemic is spreading and it does not appear to be slowing. So, we feel a right to worry because we feel the situation extreme. He teaches: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Mark 12:17). Yet, we exchange Jesus’ words for Facebook gripes, and criticize first instead of taking words and actions in the kindest possible way. Jesus sets hearts on God’s unbreakable Word: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4). Yet, that’s difficult because we doubt God will keep his promise. (Or worse, maybe he will keep his promises, but it will cost me money, popularity, or that sinful passion.) Jesus does not look like the King we want.
Remember, kings lead people. Yet, people try leading the King. It leaves you asking: Who, then, is truly the king of your life?
The Jews want a king who caters to their demands. The Romans claim control over the world. That leaves no room for Jesus. He simply does not look like the King wanted.
Because that’s not the King Jesus comes to be. He does not arrive after winning an election or getting the popular vote. He comes to reign as the king we need.
Pontius Pilate, the Romans, the Jews have seen kings before. They marvel at immense wealth, prestige, dominance, and influence. They stand outside grandiose palaces set in lofty locations. They follow orders given at the snap of a finger. That kingship does not always address your every fear or physical need. Really, that kingship lasts only a lifetime— unless it ends sooner.
Jesus reigns as the king we need. He steps off from his throne, lays aside his royal robes, leaves the halls of choirs upon choirs singing his praises. He leaves the confines of safety and security and steps into a royal mess. He wraps himself in human flesh, but is not born to royalty. He becomes a child to a low-income carpenter and a virgin mother from an insignificant village. His royal band does not consist of dignitaries and ambassadors, but rather simple fishermen and tax collectors. He speaks not to national forums, but to gatherings of the curious, the bruised, and the hurting.
He marches off to war the devil in the wilderness for forty days and nights. A foe that snatched at Jesus’ throne. A foe that promises us pleasure if we just follow him. A foe that had lied to us, captured us, and held us captive. A foe that had bound to the pits of hell and eternal death. A foe we constantly faced, but a foe that constantly overwhelmed and defeated us. Yet, that foe could not overwhelm our King.
The King of the Jews comes for you. Jesus literally comes through a Jewish family tree. Miracles testify that he is God’s chosen one, that he is God-appointed, that we can follow him. He marches to the cross as the King to fight for the hellish consequences his subjects brought upon themselves. Some chant his name: ‘Hail, King David’s royal son!’ Others shout: ‘Crucify! King of the Jews!’
This is the reason for which our King is sent: to make us citizens of his heavenly kingdom. Our cries for independence—all those little pleasures that feel so good to indulge do not make us free. Instead, they bind us. They clasp us to a very real hellish consequence. Jesus steps into our trouble. Our consequences bind his hands, head, and feet to the cross. God makes him the target of his wrath. There at Calvary, the greatest battle is fought—and won! Our perfect King meets God’s expectations. Easter Sunday trumpets the tickertape parade for the Triumphant King! He ascends into his heavenly coronation, where all things are set under his feet.
Even today, that perfect King comes to you. He has clothed you with his royal life. He has washed away grimy selfishness. He has slipped a ring on your finger—a ring that identifies you as belonging to him. Baptism made you a citizen of heaven (Galatians 3:26-27). Kneeling at the Lord’s Supper is really feasting with God at his table.
That King still speaks today. Jesus records his Words in the Bible. Those teachings on obedience to government are not meant to restrict you. Rather, they showcase the joy gained by working with and praying for your leaders. Repeated reminders not to worry mean to drain away fear and to cast all anxieties on the One able to handle them. Your King reigns so that you may experience your blessed position under his reign and delight in him controlling all things for your eternal good. Jesus reigns as the King we need.
Each Wednesday in Lent we meet opponents of truth. Each adversary confronts undeniable truth, but rebels against its reality. Every nation rejects the King sent to them. He simply did not meet individual expectations. Jesus does not look like the King we want.
Kings appear in so many different forms, but this King is different. He comes not for self-interest, but for your interest. His cross brings real peace. His resurrection showcases real control. ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ Jesus reigns as the King we need.