130213 John 18:33-37

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 February 2013 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: John 18:33-37
Theme: Names of Wondrous Love: King

Unless you are an expert in 19th century English hymnody the name William Walsham How probably doesn't mean very much to you. How was a British minister who also dabbled in poetry. Some of his poetic words were set to music, and six of his hymns have found their way into our hymnal.

We owe William How a debt of gratitude this evening because we have modified one of those hymn titles, "Jesus! Name of Wondrous Love" (CW 76), to serve as the theme of this year's Lenten sermon series. For six consecutive Wednesdays different pastors will stand in this pulpit and explain the spiritual significance of names like the Way and the Truth and Immanuel and Christ Crucified. Tonight we begin with a divine name that sounds more like an earthly title, but when we apply this title to Jesus it becomes a name of wondrous love: KING.

Jesus was being hailed as a king before the word, "king" ever came out of his mouth. When the Magi followed the star from the east to Jerusalem, they wanted to know: "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews" (Matthew 2:2)? And their search eventually led them to Bethlehem where they found the Christ child and bowed down and worshipped him.

At the beginning of his ministry, when Jesus was gathering his group of disciples, his miraculous revelation about one of the Twelve (remember that Jesus knew who Nathanael was and what he had been doing before he ever met him), led Nathanael to confess: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel" (John 1:49).

And near the end of his public ministry, when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem with palms waving and crowds cheering, he didn't try to stop the procession. He allowed the people to sing his praises because he knew that the events of Palm Sunday were a direct fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy: "See your king comes to you...gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zechariah 9:9).

Only a few days after that Jesus was being called a king again, but this time it wasn't intended to be a compliment. It was an accusation. The religious leaders claimed that Jesus was claiming to be a king, that he was inciting a rebellion against Rome and that Pontius Pilate needed to put an end to this revolt by putting Jesus to death.

When Pilate investigated these charges, when he took Jesus into his chambers and pressed Jesus for answers, when he asked him point blank, "Are you the king of the Jews? (33), Jesus gave him an answer, a beautifully clear and comforting answer, and answer that reveals his wondrous love for sinners like you and me.

INRI. Those four letters are familiar to people who are familiar with Lent. They represent the words Pilate put on a sign that was fastened to Jesus' cross, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" (John 19:19). But some people didn't like that sign. The religious leaders, the same people who had accused Jesus of being a king were now insisting that the wording be changed to read that Jesus only claimed to be a king (John 19:21).

It's not that they were totally opposed to the idea. They wanted someone who would support them. They were looking for the kind of leader who would quietly stand behind them. But Jesus was no puppet ruler. He spoke out against the religious leaders. He criticized their insincerity. He rebuked their hypocrisy. He called them to repent, but they refused.

On Good Friday they refused to enter Pilate's palace because they didn't want to make themselves unclean, but they didn't think twice about making demands that the world's only innocent man be put to death. And if you think that they couldn't get any lower, if you think that they couldn't raise the bar of hypocrisy any higher, they did.

When Pilate concluded that Jesus was innocent, when Pilate appealed to the people's compassion by asking the question, "Shall I crucify your king" (John 19:15a)? do you remember how they responded? The chief priests fired back: "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15b).

These guys hated Rome. They hated anyone who had anything to do with Rome. Their blood boiled when Jesus suggested that they "give to Caesar what is Caesar's" (Luke 20:25). But on Good Friday they were willing to tell bold face lies, they were willing to bend their knees to Caesar, they were willing to do anything to do away with Jesus.

But the religious elite weren't the only people who were disappointed by Jesus. The common people were too. 5,000 of them got their hopes up when they saw what Jesus could do. He provided them with a miraculous meal of bread and fish. He provided them with everything they could eat and more. And they wanted to make Jesus their king right then and there so that they wouldn't have to provide for themselves ever again.

But when Jesus explained why he had come to earth, when he told the people that the miracles were intended to validate his message, when he declared that he was the Bread of Life who had come to take care of their spiritual needs, many of them walked away...disappointed.

It's a good thing that we don't feel that way. Jesus provides us with everything we need. Jesus is all we will never need. So "disappointed by God" or "disappointed in God" are phrases that are totally foreign to the Christian's vocabulary. Right?

When you see what is going on in the world today, when things that the Bible calls sin are being accepted and even applauded in our culture, don't you wish that Jesus would flex his almighty muscles? Do you ever wish that he would do something about it, just once, just to get people's attention, just to get his message across? Do you ever wonder why he doesn't?

Or maybe you have found yourself going down this doubting path. I believe in Jesus. I want to trust in him. I want to follow him, but sometimes it's hard. When the test in the doctor's office comes back positive, when the performance review at work is negative, when my friends desert me, when my enemies surround me, when my present situation is pretty bad and the future looks even worse, where is Jesus then? Where is my so-called king? Is he strong enough to help me? Does he care enough to help me? As the questions pile up and the doubts creep in, I begin to lose sight of God's wondrous love and begin to wonder if God loves me at all.

As it turns out "disappointment" is a part of the Christian's vocabulary because Christians disappoint God all the time. We describe our feelings as questions or uncertainty or doubt, but God has a different name, actually the same name, for all of them. He calls them sins. Sin disappoints God. Sin angers God. Sin separates us from God.

Isn't that why we are here tonight? Isn't that what Ash Wednesday is all about? Recognizing the seriousness of our sin. Repenting of our sins and rejoicing in the forgiveness of our sins. All thanks to Jesus. All because of the wondrous love of our King.

We begin to appreciate his awesome power and amazing love when we see that he is unlike any other earthly ruler. Jesus tried to get that point across to Pontius Pilate when he said: "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place" (36).

Unlike every other worldly ruler Jesus doesn't command armies of soldiers. Unlike every other world empire Jesus' kingdom isn't defined by geographical borders. Jesus rules over heaven and earth. Jesus rules in people's hearts. Jesus rules in our hearts by faith. That was Pilate's problem. Because he didn't have faith, he couldn't see Jesus for who he was. All he could see was a man, a bruised and broken shell of man.

In Pilate's private chamber we see something entirely different. We don't see a criminal on his knees begging for his life. We see a man standing tall and acknowledging that the accusations made against him are true. We see Jesus boldly declaring that he is a king. We see our king speaking the truth and inspiring his followers to stand up for the truth.

And with the eyes of faith you and I can see beyond what Pilate saw. We see beyond the purple robe and the crown of thorns. We see beyond Gabbatha and Golgotha. We see an empty cross and an empty tomb. We see our risen and ascended Lord seated at God's right hand.

And because Jesus is ruling and reigning over all things, we know that we will see him again. On Judgment Day we will see Jesus with our own eyes. We will see him face-to-face. We will see Christ our King in all his glory. And when he takes us to heaven, when Jesus takes us to the special place he has prepared for us in heaven, I can only imagine what that will look like. I have no idea what it will feel like, but I do know this. We will not be disappointed! Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.

 

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