A Kingdom in the Midst of Death. Good Friday, Chief Service 2015
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 18:36-37
April 3, 2015
“A Kingdom in the Midst of Death”
So Pilate had Jesus flogged. The whips opened wound upon wound in His skin. Blow upon blow fell upon Him. He was punished though He had done nothing wrong. Then the soldiers twisted together strands of thorns, plaited them into a crown, pressed it down on His head. Blood trickled down His face. Someone brought out a purple robe, like a king would wear, and put it on Him. And as He sat shivering from His wounds, the soldiers laughed and knelt before Him. “Ave!” they shout. “Hail, King of the Jews!” And then a punch to the face. “Hail, King of the Jews!” And another blow.
Then they lead Him, bloody and swollen-faced, to Pilate. Pilate can be heard on the platform, shouting, “I am bringing Him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.” And why should anyone be afraid of this Jesus now, thinks Pilate, now that the soldiers have worked Him over and He is thoroughly beaten? “Behold the man,” Pilate cries, thinking it will all end here. But when the crowd sees Jesus with His crown and robe, half-dead and held up for ridicule, it erupts. There is no pity, only fear and fury. “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” the cry goes up.
Is Jesus a king? Who would think so, seeing His mockery? Yet everyone is afraid of Him, as though nothing besides His death will make them safe from His claims to rule.
Yet Jesus quietly affirms that He is a king. Before His mockery He is led bound before Pilate, and Pilate takes Him inside His quarters and asks Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answers, “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.”
Clearly His kingdom is not of the world. Above His head a scrap of parchment reads, “Jesus of Nazareth—the King of the Jews.” Beneath the sign, Jesus hangs naked, His body torn, suspended from the wood by spikes driven through His hands and feet. On either side of Him are two murderers, also crucified. What kind of kingdom can He have as the soldiers divide up His clothes, His only possessions in the world? What kind of a kingdom can He have, when He hangs on a cross instead of sitting on a throne, when He drinks not wine from a goblet but vinegar from a sponge? What kind of Kingdom can He have when He says, “It is finished,” and gives up His Spirit and dies? What kind of a kingdom can it be when His heart is pierced with a spear and flows out in blood and water? Surely Jesus and His disciples made a mistake in thinking He was the King of the Jews. How can you be a king when you are mocked, tortured, and die? When you lose everything, including your own life?
Jesus’ kingdom is a true kingdom. But it is not of this world or from this world. Kingdoms in this world are established and maintained by force and power. Kings in this world take what is good and ensure that no one takes it away with the point of a sword or the barrel of a gun. It was this kind of kingdom that Peter was thinking of when he picked up a sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant.
But Jesus has another kingdom. It is not established by force against others, but by His own suffering and death.
It is a kingdom that goes on, that stands in the midst of pain and loss, in the midst of humiliation, even in the midst of death. The kingdoms of this world and the kingdoms we try to create for ourselves cannot endure pain, humiliation, and death. Suffering and death means the end of the good things of this world. When you suffer and die, as far as this world sees it, it is all over for you. But Jesus is a king who reigns as He is suffering, as He is mocked. He reigns as He is dying and He reigns when He is dead and buried.
His kingdom is not of this world. It isn’t made up of gold and fine clothing and honor. It isn’t enforced by swords and guns and the threat of death. His kingdom is the kingdom of the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is accused and mocked and punished because He is making payment for our sins.
He is accused so that we are declared innocent of our evil deeds and thoughts before God.
He is punished for our disobedience against God.
He is mocked because we have tried to take God’s glory for ourselves.
He dies because the wages of sin is death, and He takes possession of what is ours. He is the King of the Jews and your king. He takes our sin and death and makes it His.
He reigns over the whole world even in His death and humiliation. And He reigns not by giving laws and imposing them at the end of a gun. He reigns by forgiving sins. He reigns by dying for our sins. All who believe in this king have an end to their sins. Their sins come to an end in His death. You are freed from your sins. Your sins no longer belong to you. They have died in this king’s death.
Jesus brings us into His kingdom by proclaiming His death for us and the forgiveness of our sins. We have through faith in Him a kingdom that stands in the midst of suffering, humiliation, even in the midst of death. Pain and humiliation can’t take away the forgiveness of sins from you. Even death cannot take you out of His kingdom of forgiveness.
On the cross Jesus reigns over sin and death. He takes them upon Himself and brings them to an end. His wounds and His mockery were His royal robes in which He reigned over death and your sins and put them under His feet. His cross was the throne of His kingdom, and from it, He issues His royal edict—“It is finished.” That means the forgiveness of all your sins before God. Sin and death are defeated. Satan, guilt, and condemnation no longer reign over you. The King who was mocked and crucified does. He reigns over you by forgiving all your sins.
And where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life, for death is the wages of sin. Where sins are forgiven, death no longer can reign. Even when the spear pierced His side and He was laid in the tomb, Jesus reigned over death. And even in the midst of dying, you reign over death through faith in this king.
Soli Deo Gloria