Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“A Different Kind of King” (Mark 15:12-14)
Palm Sunday: March 29, 2015
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
While walking home from school one crisp spring afternoon in third grade a glint from something lying in the gutter caught my eye. I bent over and discovered a small crucifix, silver colored, slightly rusted. I wondered how long it had been there. Above Jesus on that crucifix was a tiny sign that read Rex Judaeorum, which years later I learned was Latin for “King of the Jews.” I knew who it was on the cross and I knew that a crucifix should not be in a gutter, so I took it home.
On this Palm Sunday we are reminded again of the great suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ in his passion and death. Scripture tells us why Jesus endured this great suffering—“Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Jesus died in our place to atone for all our sins—and in his great suffering he revealed once and for all his even greater love, love for sinners and sufferers, which includes all of us.
And yet we should have suffered for our sins, not Jesus, as John Donne writes in Holy Sonnet XI:
Spit in my face, ye Jews, and pierce my side,
Buffet, and scoff, scourge, and crucify me,
For I have sinned, and sinned, and only he,
Who could do no iniquity, hath died:
But by my death cannot be satisfied
My sins, which pass the Jews’ impiety:
They killed once an inglorious man, but I
Crucify him daily, being now glorified.
Oh let me then, his strange love, still admire:
Kings pardon, but he bore our punishment.
And Jacob came clothed in vile harsh attire
But to supplant, and with gainful intent:
God clothed himself in vile man’s flesh, that so
He might be weak enough to suffer woe.
Jesus indeed “clothed himself in vile man’s flesh.” As we were reminded today in the reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, Jesus fully embraced our human weakness as he “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (2:7). And yes, Jesus even became “weak enough to suffer woe.” In his passion and death Jesus suffered more woe than we could ever imagine.
Moreover, scripture tells us that during Holy Week it was no ordinary person who suffered and died in our place—it was a king—a different kind of king.
As Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time, he was greeted with crowds shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38)—and throughout his account of Jesus’ passion and death Mark emphasizes how Jesus was continually addressed as a king.
Jesus, having been betrayed and arrested and kept up all night, having been bound and led to Pilate, looked Pilate in the eye. Pilate got right to the point, “Are you the King of the Jews?” he asks (Mark 15:2). Jesus, who could have responded that he was not only the King of the Jews but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and who could have certainly put Pilate in his rightful place, chose not to, and instead gently responded, “You say so.”
Later, according to his custom of releasing a prisoner of the people’s choosing, Pilate asked the crowd, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” But as you know, the crowd wanted Barabbas released instead, and so Pilate asked them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?”
“Crucify him!” yelled the crowd, “Crucify him!” And of course some of those yelling the loudest may very well have been among those just five days earlier who had shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Welcome Jesus as king and then only five days later demand his crucifixion? How duplicitous! How fickle! And we are no different.
Pilate did not understand why the crowd wanted Jesus to be crucified. “Why, what evil has he done?” he asked them. Of course Jesus had done no evil at all, but the crowd ignored Pilate’s question and continued to shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” and so Pilate gave the crowd what they wanted.
After Jesus was stripped and his hands tied over his head to stretch his skin tight, he was flogged with a flagellum, a whip with multiple thongs at the end of each of which was attached a sharp piece of rock or bone or metal. And with each and every blow these multiple thongs of the flagellum wrapped around Jesus body and were dragged back across it, again and again, wreaking havoc on Jesus’ flesh. Many who were flogged did not survive the ordeal. Jesus survived.
But that was not enough…and so Pilate handed Jesus over to hardened Roman soldiers to be crucified, but the soldiers decided to have some sadistic fun first. They followed Pilate in addressing Jesus as a king as they covered his bleeding body with a purple robe, pressed a crown of thorns into his bleeding skull.
But that was not enough…so they struck him in the head, spit on him, and knelt down before him, and mocked him again and again, “Hail, King of the Jews! Hail, King of the Jews!”
But that was not enough…and in spite of the blood from Jesus’ many wounds having already begun to coagulate and bond with the purple robe, they ripped that robe off of Jesus’ bloody back and replaced it with a cross for him to carry to Golgotha—and once at Golgotha, they nailed him to that same cross.
But that was not enough… to emphasize yet again who was being crucified, a sign was nailed above Jesus, a sign that could have said any number of things, but at Pilate’s insistence, simply stated, “The King of the Jews.”
But that still was not enough…Jesus was further mocked, even as he was dying: “Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now,” the crowd jeered.
But the king would not come down from the cross.
Because Jesus is not only the King of the Jews and the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, he is also a different kind of king.
Jesus was unlike any other king in history. Jesus was not interested in military power, or royal pomp and spectacle, or expanding an earthly kingdom through violence or oppression, or eliminating those who stood in his way.
No, Jesus was a different kind of king…the King of Mercy.
In the fourth act of Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice Portia beautifully articulates how it is mercy above all else that marks true kingship:
The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless’d;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself (IV.i.184-195).
Mercy was, and is, enthroned in the heart of Jesus, God himself, the King of Mercy.
And so the king remained on the cross, in your place, his blood gently dropping “as the gentle rain from heaven” to cover all your sins—his great suffering revealing his even greater love for you.
While sceptics may relegate all this as religious myth to be tossed into the gutter and gather rust, perhaps today the Holy Spirit will enable a glint of the good news of the gospel to catch the eyes of your heart.
Jesus Christ is the King of Mercy, and his mercy is indeed…enough.