Hail, Jesus King of the Jews
Editor’s Note: This is the meditation I wrote for our Maundy Thursday service.
Hail, King of the Jews
There were many traveling rabbi’s in Israel. Some were more interesting than others. But this man who had come from Galilee had captured the attention of so many. From the way he had come on the scene, being baptized by the equally enigmatic John the Baptizer; to the way he often spoke of the Kingdom. Now there was a politically charged word, Kingdom. Many people had heard of the miracles he had done in the northern part of the country. Then, he had marched steadily toward Jerusalem. He may have been the real deal. Then the way he rode into town, to the chants of Hosanna! “YHWH, save us Now!” We really thought the Romans were done for. But then instead of chasing the Romans out of town, he chased our people out of the temple. He chided Jews, not Romans. How should we be expected to say –
Hail, King of the Jews
The soldiers taunted Jesus as they fitted him with a crown of thorns. They mockingly added a robe of royal scarlet to the spectacle. Finally, they gave him a weed as a scepter. As the Roman foot soldiers mocked their made-up King, they took turns snatching his scepter, his symbol of authority and hitting him with it. They spat on him, spurning his power, jeering at his lowliness. They covered his head with a sack and demanded he tell them who struck him. With each wound, with each blow, with each piece of the soldiers fake royal trappings they sneered. They curled their lips and let out a sadistic smile. They danced and let off steam. They looked at this Galilean rube, this Jewish pretender, and howled with a certain amount of sick, violent joy-
Hail! King of the Jews
God’s world had been plunged into sin by Adam. Soon after the flood, God chooses Abraham and tells him that his family, those who come after him will be a part of God’s rescue plan for the world. But all too soon, we find that the people of Israel are a part of the problem. They too are infected with Adam’s curse. Instead of being the solution, they turn to nationalistic pride. The devolve from a light to the gentiles into guardians of a secret God. And then, in the midst of this problem, steps a prophet. A voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way. Hope rises; maybe Rome will finally be thrown out. Maybe the exile will end. Then someone comes. He enters Jerusalem just a few days earlier to pomp and messianic cries only he fails to do what the Jews expected. He didn’t overthrow Pilate! He couldn’t even save himself. How in the world should the people of Israel be expected to say with any faith-
Hail, King of the Jews?
Pilate was absolutely baffled. In front of him stood a man from the countryside to the north, the sticks. This man had somehow angered the Jewish people to the point that they turned him over to Rome. The Jews hated Pilate. They hated Rome. And now, they had given this man over to him to be punished as a revolutionary. The Romans had already decided to remind the Jews of who was in charge while they were all gathered in Jerusalem for the feast. They had planned a public execution of three failed insurgents. These terrorist had stolen Imperial property and murdered Roman officials, and one was so crazy, he was certainly a danger to the Jewish population as well – this Barrabas. So there this man stood. Clearly exhausted, and with blood seeming to ooze out of his pores as well as his wounds. Pilate had just asked this man if he was truly the King of the Jews. The man’s response, “You have said so yourself”. What? What sort of insolence was this? How could anyone look at this man and say –
Hail! King of the Jews?
But now, as Jesus is being crucified, he is there nailed to an old rugged tree fashioned into the shape of a T. He is suspended between earth and heaven, struggling for each breath. He feels the breath of God, hot and angry on him. The agony of hell meeting earth in his body at that moment drowns out the crowds. The wrath he feels from heaven blots out the thoughts of the crude sign that says in three languages the crime for which he is being punished. Here on a Roman torture device hangs the King of Israel. The Second Adam. The True Israel. And he is not ultimately feeling the brunt of Rome, but the wrath of God for our sin. He focuses on the pain in his wrists as the nails etch your name and mine physically onto his body. He bears the condemnation we deserve and all the while focuses on the joy set before him. That joy was no abstract thought. That joy was no celestial place. No, that joy, the joy the kept him on the cross was you. It was me. It was his beloved, his church. And so this evening church, look to the cross.
Look and Hail, King of the Jews.