Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Risen King

We’ve spent these four Sundays leading up to Easter considering the dimensions of Jesus’ kingship. We’ve been poking around John’s account of Jesus’ Passion Week listening to the stories of people who were there. We’ve learned that Jesus is a lowly king, a servant king, and a suffering king. None of those adjectives sound very kingly. And when Jesus is riding a donkey’s colt instead of a stallion, washing the disciples’ feet instead of the disciples washing His, and willingly enduring suffering rather than dishing it out, well, Jesus doesn’t look like much of a king.

That all changes on Resurrection morning. That all changes in John 20, when Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. Jesus is the risen King. It was the resurrection of Jesus that caused His followers to take a second look at Jesus’ life and ministry. Maybe Jesus wasn’t just a Nazarene peasant with a bunch of new ideas. Maybe Jesus was more than just another martyr for a lost cause. He really is the Messiah King. This is Jesus’ followers’ conclusion: “Though in disguise, the eternal King was among us all the time.”


I don’t know why I went to the tomb so early on Sunday morning. I couldn’t sleep. It was still dark. I guess I just had to be near him. I guess I just had to convince myself that it was true—that this was not just a nightmare from which I’d awake. Jesus is really dead.

On the way to tomb, I replayed it over and over in my mind. There are images of sights and sounds seared in my memory that I suspect will never go away.

· The shouts of the crowd: “Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!”

· The snap of the whip upon His back, coupled with the grimace on his face and the guttural groan rising out of the agony of bloody wounds that covered him from head to toe.

· The clank of the hammer on the nails driven into his hands and feet.

· The mocking crowd.

· The laughing soldiers throwing dice for his clothes, carrying on as if killing Jesus was no different than butchering a cow.

· I remember his gasping for every breath … his last breath.

I’m afraid to close my eyes lest I see it all over again. If I’m going to be miserable, I might as well be miserable at his grave. At least I will feel that I am close to him again.

It was dark and I was careful not to trip over a rock or a root as I made my way to the tomb where we had buried Jesus’ body just two nights before. But dark as it was, even from a distance, I could tell something was wrong. Things were not as we had left them Friday night. I could smell damp earth, cold rock from inside. Oh, no … the stone … someone has moved the stone! Were they afraid Jesus would become a saint, afraid His tomb would become a shrine? Wasn’t killing him enough? They can’t even let his body rest in peace. And where have they taken him? To toss him off a steep cliff? To bury him among the garbage at the town dump? Why disturb his body? His body is all I have left, and now it’s gone too?

I didn’t stay to investigate. I’ve got to tell Peter and John. I ran faster than I’d ever run in my life to find them. I banged my fist on the door. “Peter? John? Wake up. I’ve got terrible, terrible news!” Apparently they weren’t sleeping all that well either; they opened the door immediately. Gasping for breath, I fell into Peter’s arms. “Catch your breath,” he said, “and tell me what’s wrong.”

So I took a deep breath and said, “They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve laid him.”

Their eyes got big. “What?”

“Somebody’s taken Jesus’ body and who knows where he is now.”

Without a word, they pushed right past me on a dead run to the tomb to check this for themselves. I followed as best I could. By the time I got there, they were just coming out of the tomb. I hadn’t thought to go in. But with daylight breaking, they could see at least a little bit. They told me they saw the linen burial cloths there. And strangely enough they found his head cloth folded and in its own place. They weren’t sure what to make of it. Nor was I. If someone stole his body, why take the time to unwrap the burial cloths? It made no sense. Our heads were spinning. Puzzled, Peter and John returned to their homes.

I stayed. I had come to the tomb to be near him, and even though he was no longer there, it’s the last place he was. I didn’t know where else to go. I didn’t know what to do next. I just stood there and cried like a baby.

Finally, I composed myself enough to stoop down and peek into the tomb. I saw what must have been two angels. “Why are you weeping?” they asked.

“Why am I weeping? They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid him.”

It never occurred to me that these angels might have done the taking, but I was not doing my best thinking in those moments. I was in something of a daze, I guess. So much so, that when I left the tomb I didn’t see the gardener either and bumped right into him. “Why are you weeping?” he asked. “Who are you looking for?”

“Sir,” I said, “if you’ve carried away my Lord, tell me where you’ve laid him, and I will take him away.” Like I said, I wasn’t thinking clearly. What was I going to do, pick him up all by myself, or ask the gardener to throw him over my shoulders? My request must have sounded rather silly, but the gardener didn’t seem to mind.

“Mary,” he said to me.

Hmm? I know that voice. I turned into the sun to get a better look. “Rabboni!” I said, “My Teacher!”

It was Jesus … alive! “Don’t hold on to me,” he cautioned, “because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”

“Don’t hold on to me?” What did that mean? I wasn’t holding on to him. And then, before I could respond, he gave me a job to do: “Go now to my brothers and tell them I’m ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Go? He told me to “go”? I wanted to stay with him. I wanted to be sure it was really him. We were together, and in those moments, that’s all that mattered to me. But he said, “Go.”

So I went. I took only a few steps and looked back, but he was gone. I don’t know if the disciples will even believe me. When I arrived at the house most of the disciples were there, buzzing about the empty tomb Peter and John had told them about, speculating about what it might mean. “Mary,” they said, “you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Not a ghost, the Lord. I have seen the Lord.” And they stared at me as if I had two heads: stunned silence. I told them the things the Lord had told me. More silence. I don’t know if they believed me or not. And we sat in that room not sure whether to laugh or to cry or to shout for joy, without one clue as to what to do next. But we were certain of this—at least I was: things would never be the same again.


Mary was right. Things were never the same. Jesus’ resurrection changed the course of history and the course of countless lives across the ages. So join me in worshiping Jesus Christ, the Risen King, on this Easter Day. All hail King Jesus! All hail!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Suffering King

This is the third installment in All Hail King Jesus! In this Easter season I'm exploring some of the dimensions of Jesus' kingship. He is no ordinary king. This time we're looking at Jesus' death. Did He die like a king? Well, not like most kings. When most kings die, their people mourn; when King Jesus died, most of the His people, the Jews, applauded. When most kings die, there is a state funeral with visiting dignitaries and great ceremony; when King Jesus died He was hastily buried in a borrowed tomb with no dignitaries and no ceremony. When most kings die, flags fly at half-mast and there is a period of national mourning; when King Jesus died, it was business as usual in Jerusalem. Jesus is no ordinary King; He is the suffering King.

And we're going to explore that dimension of Jesus' kingship through the eyes of Governor Pontius Pilate, the man who made the decision to kill Jesus on a cross. Just a word before you read the monologue: Pilate doesn't see the cross like Christians see it. He sees it like most anyone else who doesn't know what King Jesus did for us there. Keep that in mind as you read.


I do not feel as if I am among friends here. You know me for one thing and one thing only. I ordered the beating and the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. As Governor of this Roman province, I alone had the authority to execute Jesus or set him free. And as you well know, I chose to execute him on a cross.

But before you judge me too harshly, understand this: politics is politics. Did I like Jesus personally? Yes. I only knew him a few hours, and I found him mysterious and engaging. The man had courage—I will certainly give him that.

It was those pesky Jews that brought Jesus to my attention. It was Passover time so I was in Jerusalem. The city loads up with people on that holiday, so I send in extra soldiers and go there myself. Of all the various nations under our Roman thumb, the Jews were the hardest to subjugate—seems like they were always complaining about this or protesting about that. And at Passover, with Jews streaming into the same place from all over the Empire and their religious fervor stoked, well, it’s important to flex our Roman muscles and remind them who is boss. I had spent the last four or five Passovers there with not a single incident. This year was different.

Along with his cohorts, their high priest Caiaphas, a real malcontent, brought Jesus to me early Friday morning, and they had blood in their eyes. Of course, they are too holy to enter my headquarters, so I had to go out on my porch to meet them. They shoved Jesus toward me and said, “If this man had not done evil, we wouldn’t have bothered you and certainly wouldn’t have bothered you this early.”

“Why’d you bother me at all?” I said. “You’ve got your own laws; judge him yourselves.”

“We have judged him already,” they said, “and found him guilty. We are bringing him to you because he deserves to die for his crimes and we don’t have the legal authority to execute him. That authority belongs only to you.”

And immediately I felt a headache coming on. Since I didn’t trust Caiaphas, I didn’t ask him to explain the charges. I decided to ask the accused about that. I had heard about this Jesus of Nazareth. I ushered him into my office away from his accusers. “So,” I said, “you’re the King of Jews?”

Jesus raised his eyebrows and asked, “Did you come up with that yourself or did others tell you this?”

“Do I look like a Jew to you? Your own people and their priests brought you to me. What have you done?”

“My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus replied. “If it were, my servants would be fighting tooth and nail to set me free. But like I said, my kingdom is not of this world.”

“So, you are a king?”

“You said it. And I was born for this purpose. This is why I came into this world—to witness to the truth. Those who are of the truth listen to my voice and know the truth when they hear it.”

“Truth, you say. What is truth?”

I was getting nowhere with him, but he seemed harmless enough to me. So I left Jesus and walked back out on the porch to talk to the Jews who had grown in number while I questioned Jesus. “Not guilty,” I said. “He’s done nothing worthy of execution. But you have this custom that I should set one prisoner free at the Passover. How about I release the King of the Jews?”

“Not him!” they shouted. “Barabbas! We want Barabbas.” I can’t say I was surprised that they didn’t want Jesus released, but Barabbas? The man was bad news—a hardened criminal: tried, convicted and sentenced. And they wanted Barabbas? Do you see now what I had to contend with here?

But politics is politics, and I had yet to eat my breakfast, so I figured I’d give them something. I turned to the captain of the guard, “Take Jesus, tie him to the post, and flog him.” Well, they did more than flog him; they always do. They had heard all this talk about him being the King of the Jews so they made sport with him. They found a purple robe and draped it over his shoulders. One of them weaved together a crown of thorns and pressed it on his head. They shoved him around, roughed him up as they do all Jewish prisoners, and then bowed in mock reverence saying, “Hail, King of Jews!” That was a bit childish, I admit. But soldiers get bored and need a little entertainment now and then.

They administered the beating and finished their gruesome task while I enjoyed my breakfast. They brought him back to me, and I presented him to the Jews adorned in his robe and crown. His face was streaked with blood; more blood dripped out from under his robe. He stood in a pool of it. “I find him not guilty,” I said for the second time. And I really thought the beating might be blood enough for them, but it was not. “Don’t stop now!” they shouted. “Finish him! Crucify him! Crucify him now!”

“Crucify him yourselves,” I said. “I find him not guilty.”

“He is guilty!” they shouted. “Our laws say he has to die because he’s made himself out to be the Son of God.”

“What?” I thought to myself. “The Son of God?” They’re all crazy. But that’s the first I heard of that. We Romans believe in lots of gods and for all I know he could be the manifestation of one of them. We Romans want to appease the gods, not anger them. So this “Son of God” talk sent a shiver down my spine. I hurried Jesus back into my office, hoping he wouldn’t bleed on the marble floor. “Who are you really?” I asked. “Where are you from?” His head was down and he said nothing. “Speak up,” I demanded. “Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know who you’re dealing with here? I have the authority to crucify you or set you free.”

He looked up and spoke through swollen, bloody lips, “The only authority you have over me is what has been given you from heaven. That’s why the one who turned me over to you is a worse sinner in this matter than you are.”

And suddenly I was in waters I had never sailed before. Ask anyone who knows me from my military days to my days as governor and they’ll tell you that while I am sometimes wrong, I am never in doubt. And this time I was in doubt. It wasn’t that I was afraid to kill him. I’ve sentenced plenty of people to death, killed plenty by my own hand. So what if one more Jew gets hung on a cross. I won’t lose any sleep over it.

But this Jesus was no ordinary criminal. I had never dealt with anyone like him before. What to do, what to do? He sure didn’t deserve to be crucified, and I sure didn’t want to give those priests the satisfaction.

So I went out to talk to the Jews again. I tried to persuade them to back off, told them Jesus had been punished enough already, “He’s a bloody mess. I’ve a mind to let him go.”

Their eyes got big and they shouted, “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar. You know that anyone who makes himself a king raises his fist against Caesar.”

Have I told you how much I hated these people? But the last thing I needed was one more confrontation with Caesar over my governance. By now it was nearly noon. Sheesh … what a long morning! But it was time to bring this thing to a head, so I brought Jesus out to them. “Behold your king!” I said that just to spite those arrogant, no good ….

“Away with him!” they screamed. “Crucify him! Crucify him! Nail him to a cross!” They were out of their mind with hate and bitterness. I hadn’t seen them this riled up since I took some of their precious temple money to build an aqueduct that helped everybody. So I toyed with them some more. “Shall I crucify your king?”

And that’s when the chief priests said it, “We have no king but Caesar.”

Got ‘em! And I couldn’t help but smile at that. I’ve governed these rebels for more than four years, and I finally coaxed them into saying that Caesar is their king. That was victory enough for me in this whole fiasco.

So I decided to call it a day and made the call: “Jesus of Nazareth, I hereby sentence you to death by the cross. Guards, take this man and carry out this sentence today.” Did the Nazarene deserve it? No. But the political reality is that it had to be done. What’s one more dead Jew to me? Just one less rebel to worry about it. Caesar put me here to preserve order and keep the Roman peace. Trust me: I’d have had a riot on my hands if I’d have set Jesus free. Crucifying him was my only option. It had to be done.

I despise letting those chief priests have their way, but that’s politics and you have to compromise now and then for the greater good. I did goad them one more time. We Romans often nailed an inscription of the criminal’s crime to the top of his cross. You know, let people know what got the poor schmuck crucified so it might be a deterrent to others who were thinking of committing the same crime. So I told my soldiers to nail this inscription at the top of Jesus’ cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Nice little touch, huh? And I told them to write it in Aramaic and Latin and Greek so everybody could read it for themselves. The chief priests pitched a fit. Caiaphas was all red in the face and the vein in his neck was bulging out. “Don’t write, ‘the King of the Jews,’” they argued, “write ‘this man said I am the King of the Jews.’” Well, they weren’t winning this one: “What I have written, I have written.”

And that was that. I didn’t waste any more of my day watching Jesus die, but I’m sure it was like any other crucifixion. My soldiers stripped him of his clothes, they stretched him out, they drove nails through his hands and his feet, they hoisted the cross, dropped it in its hole, and waited for him to die. So yes, your King Jesus suffered, at my orders. Mine—a governor. A king that can be sentenced to die by a governor is not much of a king. Sure, kings get killed from time to time, but never without a fight, never without an army to defend them. If a king can’t take care of himself, how’s he going to take care of his people? People follow and rally around powerful kings—a king like Caesar—not weak, suffering ones like your Jesus. You call Jesus your king, right? Well, behold your king … on a cross.

You know … you can have him.

Okay, I'll take Him! I'll take the King who planned a way to forgive me sins and bring me into relationship with Him. I'll take the King who did for me what I could never do for myself. I'll take the King whose love is so deep and so wide and so high that He would die for me to bring me life. And I'll take the King whose death was hardly the end of the story. (But more on that next week.)

I'll take that King eight days a week and all eternity. How about you? Are you willing to serve and follow the suffering King?