In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on that donkey, and the crowds are there with their branches and their garments scattered on the road, they shout, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David. So this is how that kingdom comes: “Ride on, ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die. Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain, then take, O God, Thy pow’r and reign” (LSB 441:5). This is how the kingdom of David comes; this is how the promises to David are fulfilled by this King, in this way. Mark makes it clear that Jesus is the King. Over and over in chapter 15—six times, in fact—Jesus is called “king.” The irony, so thick you can almost feel it, is that that word comes where you least expect it, from the mouths you least expect to confess it. But they cannot help it, and by repetition, Mark hammers it into our heads, that even in their unbelief, they speak the truth. Pilate asks Jesus, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Then he asks Jesus’ accusers, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” And when they say, no, Barabbas, Pilate asks, “What shall I do with the one you call the King of the Jews?” Crucify Him! Then the soldiers take Jesus to the palace courtyard, where they beat, mock, whip, spit on Him; crown Him with thorns and put a purple robe on Him, and kneel before Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And what is the charge against Him? What is the accusation? Why is He being crucified? It is posted over His head: “The King of the Jews.” Finally, the leaders of Israel mock Him with the words, “Christ, King of Israel, come down from the cross and save Yourself, so that we may see and believe.”
When Jesus fulfills David’s Kingdom, He fulfills the Kingdom of a king whose reign saw the death of his son Absalom; He fulfills the reign that was marked by covetousness, which led to adultery, which led to murder and, finally, unbelief. The Holy Spirit left David, which is why he was so numb to the sin which he had committed. He didn’t even recognize it until the prophet Nathan came and told him a story, which caught him up and condemned him where he stood, so that he said, “The man who has done this deserves to die.” And Nathan says, “You are the man.” Then David can finally say, “I have sinned against Yahweh.” And Nathan says, “Do not be afraid. God has put away your sin; you will not die.” But Nathan also says, “The sword will never depart from your house.” That is, death will always be entangled with your house and line. So when the fulfillment of that house’s line comes, the final King must die. He must die because He is King over subjects who are subject to death. He is King over subjects who reject His rule by thought, word, and action. We are those subjects, no less than the mob that was stirred up to ask for a murderer instead of their King. We cannot be those who welcome Jesus with shouts of praise on Sunday, but refuse on Thursday and Friday to include ourselves among those who shout crucify or mock Him. If you had been there, don’t fool yourself that you would have acted differently from all His disciples who fled, or all those who loved the spectacle of a good crucifixion on a Friday afternoon. God’s Kingdom comes without our prayers; but we pray that it might come to us as well, because we daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment.
So the King of subjects such as us must die. Normally that would be the end of it. The rule of kings ends when they die. Someone else takes over the throne. But not so with this King. Because His death is only the beginning. On Saturday He rests from all His labor, and on the first day of the week, the reign and rule of God begins to spread from an empty tomb. Behold your King. There is what we see, which says He is no king at all; and then there is what is said, and every word, even from unbelievers, says, “King!” Though they say it ironically now, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Him as King. God has made all things His footstool, until His last enemy is destroyed, which is death. Jesus’ crown is thorns, but He will give us the crown of righteousness and glory (2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 5:4). Jesus’ throne is a cross now, but we will see Him on His throne, when we are clothed in white garments and wave palm branches (Revelation 7:9). Jesus’ royal medals are wounds and cuts, but we say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus’ armies flee in fear, but He makes them bold by His Holy Spirit to confess His death and resurrection. Jesus’ homage in this world is mockery and ridicule, but every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Jesus’ royal command is silence before His accusers, but that is so that He can confess you before His Father in heaven, and speak loudly, “Come, blessed of My Father, and inherit the Kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world.” Jesus’ cupbearer gives Him a sponge of vinegar on a stick, but it is so that He can give you the cup of life and forgiveness in His own blood. His title is an accusation, but He will reign to all eternity. His royal robe is nakedness and blood, but it is so that His blood might wash us clean: “Your blood my royal robe shall be, my joy beyond all measure” (LSB 438:4), on the day when He presents His bride to the Father in purity and holiness, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but blameless “to stand in joy beside [Him].” His victory is defeat and He conquers in death, so that we will be more than conquerors, and share in His eternal life.
It is, as always, the difference between faith and sight. As we follow on our yearly journey from the gates of Jerusalem to the Temple to the upper room to the Garden, to Pilate and Herod and false witnesses, to the cross and to the empty tomb, we walk by faith and not by sight. We see that the shadow of the cross looms over Jesus’ whole life, just as death looms over ours. But the shadow of the empty tomb—Jesus’ and ours—overshadows even the shadow of the cross. So He does ride on in majesty, humbly to bring salvation, man and God to die and then to take His power and reign. Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our father David! Blessed is the One who comes in the Name of the Lord to feed His children again today! We bless you from the House of the Lord: “Do not be afraid. God has put away your sin by putting it on His Son. You will not die, but live.” Blessed is the King!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/28/15