April 14, 2019
“Are you the King of the Jews?”, Pilate asks Jesus on Friday morning. Jesus replies, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Well, who told Pilate that Jesus was the King of the Jews? Yes, the chief priests and elders of the people accused Jesus of making this claim. This was the charge they hoped would lead to his death. Yet, just six days earlier large crowds were shouting this very thing as Jesus road into Jerusalem on a donkey with palm branches waving in the air and people singing Hosanna! It is possible that Pilate himself heard the crowds shouting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” If not, it is certain that many ran to inform the governor that a man was entering the city, whom the crowds called, “the King of Israel.” This certainly would be unsettling news to a Roman governor ruling over a proud province, which once was a mighty kingdom.
The crowds declared Jesus the King of Israel. And six days later the inscription above Jesus’ head as he hangs on the cross reads, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Oh, the irony! Jesus is proclaimed the king of the Jews by the Jewish people themselves, and for this claim Jesus is crucified. The charge that brought Jesus’ death sentence was shouted with joy just a few days earlier by children and adults alike. Now it is written above his bloody head, so all may know why this man died.
The chief priests and Jews complained to Pilate and said, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” But Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” Now, what Pilate meant by this, one cannot be so sure. Yet, what the Holy Spirit meant by causing Pilate to write these words is clear. Jesus did not die because he said that he was King of the Jews. Jesus died upon the cross, because he is the King of the Jews. Jesus is the King of Israel. And for that, he must die.
The day before Jesus road into Jerusalem on a donkey he was at a dinner given in his honor at Bethany, because Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead there. And as Jesus ate, Mary, the sister of Lazarus anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive ointment made of pure nard. Now, in the Old Testament two types of people are commonly anointed. One is a king. You might remember that the Prophet Samuel anointed David to be king while he was yet a shepherd boy. And of course, the priests were anointed with oil when they were ordained to perform the services of the temple.
Yet, this anointing with aromatic oil just the day before Jesus’ kingly procession into the city of the Great King was not Jesus’ anointing to be king. Jesus had already been anointed by the Holy Spirit to be both King of Israel and High Priest. This happened at his Baptism by John in the Jordan River. Jesus tells us why Mary anoints him, “Leave her alone,” he says when Judas complains, “so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.” The sweet aroma coming from Jesus’ body as he rides into Jerusalem is not the ointment of a newly anointed king, but rather the smell of a body fitly prepared for the grave.
Yet, the shouts of the crowd are not wrong. They are absolutely right when they call Jesus their King. And they are right to shout, “Hosanna,” which means, “Save us now!” Jesus indeed is their king, who comes to save them. But he will not save them in the way many expect. He will not overthrow Herod or Pontious Pilate. He will not unsheathe a sword or draw a bow. Rather, Jesus will go as a lamb to slaughter without complaint. He will die without shedding the blood of anyone else.
The problem for unbelievers, who think that Jesus failed in his death is the confusion that comes from equivocation. Equivocation is when the same words are used for two different meanings. Jesus is the King of Israel. To Pilate this means that Jesus comes to rules an earthly kingdom from Jerusalem. But that is not what those words mean. Jesus is not a king of this world, but he rules a heavenly kingdom. That means that Jesus does not fight against human foes, but against spiritual foes. Jesus comes to conquer Satan and death itself. Jesus overcomes death by laying down his own life. And Christ’s precious life wins for us eternal life. The Israel of which Jesus is King is not the territory on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean between Europe and Africa. Rather, Jesus rules over a heavenly Israel, which has no end. A nation made up of every people and language on earth, all those who believe in Jesus Christ.
Jesus is also the High Priest. But not a high priest, who offers sacrifices first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people, sacrifices of bulls and sheep. Jesus, the great High Priest offers himself up as a sinless sacrifice for all people.
And so, to understand the events from now until Easter, we must look not simply at the physical, but the spiritual. Jesus the King of Israel and High Priest comes to battle and to sacrifice. Without the eyes of faith this looks like an utter failure. Yet, if you believe the words of Scripture, you see how great a victory our King wins for us and how priceless a sacrifice our High Priest offers.
The crowds shout, “Hosanna” to their king. They were absolutely right to do so. Jesus is the King of Israel. Yet, they didn’t really understand what was happening. Even Jesus’ closest disciples “did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.” Does that mean that when they did not understand these things that they did not have faith? Did those who declared Jesus the King of Israel and the Son of David not have faith? Certainly, they did have faith. Yet, they did not know that in six days their king would be nailed to a tree.
Faith does not mean that you understand everything. We usually explain faith as what you believe, and that is what the word means. Yet, saving faith is not simply believing in facts. Saving faith is trusting in Jesus. When you believe that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, then your sins are truly forgiven. That is saving faith. These people did not know all the facts. They didn’t understand what Jesus knew as he entered Jerusalem. Yet, they had saving faith in their Savior, to whom they shouted, “Save us now!”
Today, two young persons were baptized; one, only a baby, who can’t even talk. Neither of them knows all the facts about Jesus. They have a lot to learn. But do they have saving faith? Does their Baptism do them any good? In our Small Catechism we learn that Baptism “works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” And these words and promises of God are revealed to us in Mark chapter 16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Baptism does not save apart from faith. But this should not trouble those who are baptized as little children. Because baptism is not our work, but God’s work in which he washes away our sins by virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection. Baptism simply joins you to Christ’s work on the cross. And faith is not our work either. Faith is a gift from God. No one can believe in Jesus Christ unless it is given to him from God. And Jesus makes clear that the gift of faith is given even to little children.
No, these young children do not know all that they should know about Jesus. But they still have faith in Christ. Baptism itself, which is powered by God’s Word, can give faith even to infants. So, we should believe that Gracie and even little Lane, who have been taught God’s Word and who have been Baptized into the name of the Holy Trinity, indeed have saving faith, because they trust in their Savior Jesus Christ, even as baby Lane trusts in his mother without knowing anything about her except that he trusts in her.
Saving faith does not mean that you know everything about Jesus. But this does not mean that it is not important for you to learn the teaching of Jesus. Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand what was going on that Sunday so long ago. Yet, they eventually did learn it. And had the crowds who declared Jesus the King of Israel not learned how Jesus would reign even from the cross, their faith would have been lost when they saw him die. But they learned that Jesus’ death was for their sake. And many even witnessed the resurrection of Jesus and testified of it to their friends.
Saving faith involves learning the truth of Jesus. Saving faith does not refuse to learn. Gracie and Lane are going to continue to learn more about Jesus as long as they have saving faith. And so, it is for all of you who trust in Jesus. If you do not continue to hear God’s word and to learn from Jesus, then your faith will die. You cannot keep your saving faith by your own strength. Saving faith is given to you as a gift through the word of God.
St. Paul teaches us to share in the same mind of Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God took the form of a slave and humbled himself to die on the cross for us. You can only share in this mind if you have saving faith. This humility, which Jesus teaches us involves humility toward both God and our neighbor. In humility toward God, we are to repent of our sins and receive forgiveness as a free gift. The Psalmist says, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Only in humility can you receive forgiveness from God. If you do not acknowledge your sin as sin and repent of the wrong you have done, then you cannot receive forgiveness from Christ. Saving faith includes having a humble and repentant heart.
Christ teaches us to be humble to our neighbors. Jesus is God. He never stopped being God for a moment, even as he suffered like a criminal. And he did so in service to you. This means that there is no service below you. It is good for us to humble ourselves and serve one another. The simplest way to do this is to forgive one another. Christ never sinned against us, yet he willingly covers up our sins with his blood. So, should we, who do sin against one another, willingly cover up each other’s sins. Not by ignoring sin, but through gentle correction and forgiveness for the sake of Christ.
Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world. That means that the faithful who called Jesus the King of Israel in the streets of Jerusalem were citizens of a heavenly kingdom. And so are we! We are citizens of a kingdom not of this world today. And so, we behave as citizens of that heavenly kingdom even as we live here on earth. Christ rules us with his Gospel, forgiving our sins and strengthening our faith. And we repent and believe in Christ and serve one another in love.
There were two crowds who met to greet Jesus with praise. The one crowd, which followed Jesus were those who witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. The second crowd, which came to meet Jesus from Jerusalem, were those who heard the report of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead from these witnesses. And so, this procession into Jerusalem foreshadows our entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem on the Last Day. We have heard the report of Jesus’ death and resurrection from those, who witnessed it in real life. And we are going to meet those witnesses one day in the heavenly Jerusalem and sing praises to Jesus our King. On that day, we who live as citizens of Christ’s kingdom through faith will see this kingdom with our own eyes. And we, who have believed on Christ because of his words spoken to us will see him in the flesh. Our king, who once reigned from the cross will reign over us in heaven. And we will all fully understand the words we speak when we sing, “Behold, the King of Israel.” Amen.