Sunday, January 18, 2015

King Jesus

Today, we take a look at the crucifixion of Jesus. This event, along with Jesus' resurrection, is why John has written his Gospel. And while it is familiar to all of you, there is always more to see. This morning I'm going to look at it from a different perspective so that you can grasp more of what actually was going on there. Listen as I read. (John 19.16-30)

Let's start with this question. What's not here? What did John leave out?
There are things that you would expect to see here. What's not here from that list? Well, it's the Cross so you'd expect some sort of comment about Jesus dying for your sins, right? But it's not here. John says nothing about that. He doesn't use the language of atonement or forgiveness or anything close to that. Aren't those the kind of words what you'd expect to see here? But John didn't write about those things, at least not here. John did write about atonement and forgiveness elsewhere, but not here. Sometimes you have to look to see what's not in the text.

That, of course, leads to this question. What is here? How does John explain the Cross if not in terms of forgiveness? John does present the Cross in terms of a theme, though not the theme of forgiveness. It's the theme of kingship. John explains the Cross in terms of Jesus as king.

John applies this theme by including a reference to that inscription Pilate posted on the Cross: 'Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews'. By itself that doesn't seem like much. But it's not by itself. This isn't the only place that this theme of kingship shows up. Actually, it shows up quite a lot in John's account of what led up to Jesus' death. Listen.

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

John writes here about Jesus as a king, a king with a kingdom.

And then, there is John's description of how the soldiers treated Jesus.

And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

Then, we find the Jewish leaders leaning on Pilate with these words.

If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.

And then, there's this between Pilate and the leaders.

Pilate said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”

Do you see what John has done? Words about atonement or forgiveness of sin are not here. That's not the aspect of the Cross that John wants to stress. Instead, John establishes the theme of Jesus as a king. Then he uses that theme to explain what is going on in Jesus' death. According to John the Cross is about a king. It's about a king who is dying.

Now, what do you think? Did John goof by leaving out forgiveness as the explanation of the Cross? Did he make a mistake? Because this is God's Word, we know that the authors who wrote it didn't make any mistakes. John got it right. When you consider the Cross you need to understand that it is about the death of a king.

When you read your Bible and come upon places like this - where it seems that there has been a mistake or at least something odd is going on - you need to see it as an opportunity. It's an opportunity to see something new. The problem isn't with John or any of the other authors. The problem is that there is something going on here that you haven't seen before. And that can lead to grasping more of what the Bible is about.

So, lesson number one: Read each bit of the Bible carefully so that you don't miss what's there or include what's not.

Let's move on. John wanted his readers to be confronted with the idea of Jesus as king. Why? What is John up to? What's going on with this 'king' theme? And how are we supposed to put that together with Jesus dying?

Well, what is it that kings do? There are lots of good answers to that. Here's one that fits. Kings conquer. King Jesus is all about conquering. Now, I didn't pluck that out of the blue. I found it in the Bible. This is from Revelation. Notice how Jesus is described.

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

Here is Jesus being presented in God's throne room. And how is He presented? He is the Root of David. That is, He is a king. He is also described as one who has conquered. And how did He do that? He was the Lamb who was slain. On that Cross Jesus was fulfilling the role of a king who conquers. It's what kings do. John wants you to see Jesus as the conquering king. And he especially wants you to see that He is a king who conquers by dying.

Now, right off the bat that has to sound wrong, so very wrong. What king conquers by dying? Makes no sense. And yet, that is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus, the King, conquered on that Cross. That's how He is presented in God's throne room. What looks like a defeat, His death, was actually a victory, a conquest.

So, another lesson. There are things in the Bible that just look crazy. They make no sense. But they don't make sense to us because we are the ones who are making the mistakes. So, in the present case, we think that the only way that kings conquer is by avoiding death. John wants you to see that Jesus disagrees with that. Jesus conquers by dying. He attains success in a way that seems just so wrong but isn't.

I've told you two things. First, John presents Jesus as a king as He goes to death. Second, it is as He dies that King Jesus conquers. Victory came by dying.

Let's use something from Paul to explain this.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Do you see what Paul is saying here? The idea of a crucified leader makes no sense to people of the world. It just doesn't fit their expectations. It seems so foolish. But God thinks otherwise. Jesus as the crucified king reveals God's power and wisdom.

Here are three things I would like you to take home with you, three things to think about this week.

First, you are in a war. That is the basic assumption for all of this. Jesus, our king, leads us in this war. The goal of this war is complete conquest. There will be no truce or peace treaty. The war is over when one side or the other is completely conquered. This defines one large part of who you are. You are someone who is in a war. The need of the day is for Christians to understand this about themselves. As they do, they will consider their decisions in terms of this question. 'Which course of action will move the cause of Jesus closer to victory?'

Second, fighting this war is hard. Here's one reason why. You are to fight this war in ways that will not make sense. What are actually wise choices will seem foolish to the people around you. And sometimes they will not make sense even to you, at least at first. So, for one thing, you will fight by dying. As I've told you over the last couple of weeks, there will be those times when you will need to die to some desire, some good desire. You will need to let it go. You are to follow the example of your king. He fought - and won - by dying. That will hurt. But as you do this you will bear much fruit - or to say it differently - you will win many battles. This strategy will look stupid to those in our culture. Life for them is all about - and only about - pursuing desires. Your life won't make any sense to them, and they will let you know that. Who dies in order to win? Here, there are many Muslims who put so many in the American church to shame. They are ready to die and not just to some desire but to life itself. And they do this because they want to faithfully follow their teacher. Should our devotion to our teacher be less than that?

Here's the last thing I want you to take home with you. We fight with optimism. Or to use that church word, we fight with joy. King Jesus has won the key battle. He fought it at the Cross. His ascension as King of kings and Lord of lords is proof of His victory. And now, as King, He will finish what He started and conquer all the nations. He will save the world. So, we know who wins this war. That doesn't mean that the rest of the war will be an easy stroll. No, there are still many hard battles to fight, much suffering to endure. But we can fight with confidence, unafraid because we are assured that we will be there cheering when the final victory is celebrated.