ESV Luke 23:27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but for yourselves and for your children weep. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” 32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The King of the Jews
Behold your king! Here he comes stumbling down the cobblestone Via Dolorosa. Hauling a wooden cross on his back. Faltering, falling under its weight so they forced a man called Simon to carry it for him. He is wearing a crown…make of thorns, blood is pouring down his face. His back is covered with red stripes of fresh, oozing blood made by the whips that lashed him. A great multitude of people are following him and women are mourning and lamenting for him. Oh, what a contrast to his entry into town just five days ago accompanied by the sound of cheers and praises!
Behold your king! Hanging on a cross between two criminals, on a hill called The Skull. Nail pierced hands and feet. People jeering and mocking. If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!
Behold the Christ, the nail pierced king! Bearing the sin of the world. Scorned, scourged, smitten. All the ugliness of your sin wrapped up in one man. The filth of your heart smeared all over his naked body. The shame of all your evil thoughts and desires exposed for all the world to see. Cursed for your crimes, he dies with criminals.
And whose fault is it? It’s yours! It is your rebellion, your hard hearts, your sinful nature that dragged him to his cross as he cries out in the midst of agony, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Why do the crowds mourn? Why do they lament? Because they wanted a King who would reign from a mighty throne. A king who would wield the sword and annihilate their enemies. A king who would set them free from oppression and slay the oppressor. They wanted a God who would solve all their problems, make them successful and wealthy, take away their illnesses and reverse the aging process. So today they lament, because their King is weak and dying. His throne? A cross. His crown? Thorns. Their hopes? Dashed. Their dreams? Vanished. As the Roman army with their shining armor, deadly weapons and fearsome strength stand there jeering and mocking, they are humiliated. Put to shame by their nail pierced king, who bows his head and breathes his last.
And that’s the way with us men. We are humiliated by a nail pierced God. We are ashamed of a God who dies on a cross. Away with the cross! Away with Christ! Take him out of the school. Take him out of the business place. Take him out of sporting events. Take him out of congress. Take him out of the public square. We want a god of splendor and glory who rules with power and might. A god we can be proud of and boast about. A god who does spectacular miracles and mighty signs. A god who makes us rich and powerful. A god who removes suffering and affliction from our lives. A god who transforms our lives from poverty to riches; from failure and success. We want a king who is mighty in battle, who conquers our enemies with the sword. That’s the way earthly kings rule. But we are ashamed of a God on a cross. So take the crosses down. Hide them behind the curtains. We want to be a mighty people marching on the road to success and fame and fortune. We are going to change the world, fix our broken society. If necessary we will take the world by force. We will show our might in the voting booth. We will pass laws and make them stop doing what they do. If they don’t listen to our words, then lets storm them by force and sheer numbers.
But Jesus turns to the wailing crowds and says, “Do not weep for me. For yourselves and for your children weep!” For I am not an innocent victim, a bystander who got mixed up in this cesspool of evil. I came for this very moment. I came to die. But you, what will become of you when I return to judge the world? I am giving my life of my own free will for you. But you, if you reject the one who delivers you, what will become of you. If this is the way they treat the wood that is green, that has life in it, that is fresh and innocent, what will they do to you who are guilty of sin and walk in the ways of corruption.
Behold your God! He is God who did not stay out in the heavens, seated on a throne of glory, calling us to come up to him, to make ourselves worthy of him, to become glorious as he is glorious, rather, he is a God who comes down to us. A God who meets us where we are, in the midst of sin and filth, in a world of pain and suffering. A God who enters into our lives and lives with us, walks with us, suffers with us. He is a God who humbles himself by coming down to our level. A God who literally absorbs our sin into his human body as we beat him, scourge him, spit in his face, mock him, ridicule him, reject him, ostracize him from society, and murder him.
But that is the only way he can save you from his eternal wrath. In order to save you from sin, He must take your sin into himself and put it to death on a cross. In order to free you from punishment, He must be declared guilty of your crimes so he can be punished for them. In order to give you health, He must take your sickness into himself. In order to give you life, He must take your death and die himself. He came down to your level so he could be your substitute in guilt, suffering and death. He made himself the victim of your crimes, your hatred, your filth, your ugliness. He is the victim of your murderous hearts.
But while he hung there between two criminals we jeered and scorned him; soldiers gambled for his clothes and mocked him by giving him spoiled wine. Then he looked down on us with complete compassion and perfect love, and he prayed, “Father, forgive them.” He forgave his murderers. He forgives you. He forgave the whole world. As a Lamb on the altar of sacrifice, he atoned for the sin of the world. He did it for you, for there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. The blood that he shed on that cross he pours out on all people. He pours it out on you as you come before the altar to eat and drink. Our God is a nail pierced God, because only by the shedding of blood is there forgiveness. Only by his death are you free from death. Only by his resurrection does he raise you from the dead. So we boast not of a worldly king who rules with sword and might, but of a heavenly King who rules from a cross and reigns by love and forgiveness. Your Father forgave you on account of his nail pierced Son. Your sins are forgiven!
And on that day he inaugurated his kingdom. That day the Holy Spirit led Pontius Pilate to declare him King when he wrote the inscription that was above his head, “This is the King of the Jews.” On that day the Holy Spirit led the Roman soldiers to declare him king as they placed a purple robe on him and a crown of thorns on his head and mocked him. On that day God’s Spirit inspired the Jewish priests and council to declare him King by jeering at him and calling him to come down from the cross if he were the Christ. On that day he told the man who prayed to be remembered when he came into his kingdom, “Today you shall be with me.” Today! On that Good Friday. That was the day he came into his kingdom; the day his kingdom was inaugurated. That was the day the nail pierced King began his reign.
He reigns today, but not like an earthly king with sword and power. He reigns with his word in water and in bread and wine. He does not reign by laws, but by the gospel, by forgiveness, by love. He reigns through his church where the Word is proclaimed and the Sacraments administered. Not by force or might, but by love and forgiveness. Today he rules in the hearts of his people from a throne shaped like a cross. He wears a crown of thorns. He reigns humbly, by love and forgiveness. He blesses the poor in spirit. He comforts those who mourn. He satisfies the hungry and thirsty. He gives mercy to the merciful, he blesses the pure in heart, and the peacemaker he makes into sons of God.
Behold Christ, your King! By his death he overcame death and on the third day rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father almighty, and from there he shall come to judge both the living and the dead. He will come in glory and splendor. He will come as a mighty King and will overthrow the powers of evil and the evil one. Yes, he shall come. Yes, there will be judgment. Yes, we will all have to give an account of all that we have ever done, every thought, ever said: good or bad. The day of judgment will come, so live unto God as people who know they will be judged for their deeds. Flee from temptations and sin. Do not allow sinful thoughts to enter your mind. Do not allow sinful lust to enter your heart. But pray that he will give you strength to stand firm until the day of his coming. Pray that you will be found “not-guilty” on account of the blood of Jesus. Pray that on that day all your sins will be remembered no more, that they will be covered as if by mountains and hills, that on account of his blood no charge will brought against you. Pray that on that day you will have justifying faith. Seek his mercy and blessing in word and sacrament. Flee to the means of grace for there the blood of Jesus is distributed to you and poured over you and your sins are covered. There your fears are calmed, your spirit is renewed, your sins are forgiven, your faith made sure, your deeds cleansed by the blood of the Lamb and there you are sealed under God’s protection. And most of all, wait, watch, and lift up your heads, for the day is drawing near when the King shall come and your redemption will be fulfilled. Come, King Jesus, come! Amen.