The Rev. Ronald Warren is bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In this sermon, Bishop Warren contrasts Jesus' reign on earth with that of earthly kings.
If any of you are searching for job security, don't become a king or a queen. Although Queen Elizabeth of England is paid millions of dollars a year and has been a monarch for more than 50 years, she is an exception. Looking back over history, some historians estimate that the average length of a reign for a queen or a king is only 3Â½ to 4 years. And for the most part, royalty has had a violent, murderous history throughout the centuries.
Ironically, from the earliest days of the infant, persecuted church, the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth was given the title "King of Kings." In Luke's Gospel, Jesus is pictured as a king even before he was born. When the angel Gabriel informs Mary that she will bear a son named Jesus, he adds, "…the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." (Luke 1:32-33)
Later, the three Magi ask, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?" (Matthew 2:2)
In Mark's Gospel, the oldest of the four gospels, Jesus begins his public ministry by stating that "the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near." (1:15) The very core of Jesus' message is the coming of the kingdom of God.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time, the people gather in the streets and see him as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy of Zechariah: "Behold your king is coming." (Zechariah 9:9, Matthew 21:5, John 12:15) The crowds shout with reckless abandon, "Blessed be the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Luke 19:38) Jesus purposely enters the city signaling a different kind of kingship. He insists on entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, a sign of reconciliation and peace.
And then as the events unfold in Jerusalem, leading up to Jesus' horrific and torturous crucifixion, He is either hailed or mocked as a king. In the final hours of Jesus' life on earth, we witness his famous interrogation by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. The interrogation is classic:
"Are you the king of the Jews?" Pilate asks Jesus.
Jesus answers with a counter question, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?"
In John's Gospel, Pilate seems to be the one being interrogated and on trial.
"What have you done?"
"My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Judeans. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."
Pilate must have been both confused and infuriated! True, Jesus and his followers did not seem a threat to the Roman Empire. But who is in control here?
Again, Pilate pushes his questioning, probably thinking that he has Jesus trapped in his words:
"So, you are a king?"
"You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
It must have been obvious to Pilate that either Jesus of Nazareth was crazy, or He, Jesus, was unlike any king he had ever known. The truth is that Jesus was and is to this day a unique king, who reigns over a unique kingdom.
First, Jesus is the servant king. Jesus was not and is not a king who rules through raw power, greed and manipulation at the expense of others. He did not conscript any army to dominate the minds and hearts of people by force. He lived and modeled a far different style of leadership in life among His people.
Jesus' reign as king is revealed in humility, self-emptying and service to others. According to the world's standards, Jesus is a very strange king, one who serves, heals, and uplifts His followers.
Second, and amazingly, Jesus is the servant king with scars. Charles Colson, former legal counsel to Richard Nixon and later founder of the Christian Prison Fellowship, says it like this: "All the kings and queens I have known in history sent their people out to die for them. I only know one king who decided to die for his people."
In a reading from the Celtic Daily Prayer, there is this simple but profound question and answer:
"Question: What are the only human-made things in heaven?
Answer: The wounds in the hands, feet and side of Christ."
One of the most fascinating facts about the New Testament story of Jesus is that after his resurrection he is revealed with his scars. When his disciples doubt who he is, he shows them the scars in his hands, feet, and side. Those scars are five signs of the most compelling love the world has ever known-complete, self-emptying, utter love for all of us. In other words, God the Father chooses to reveal Jesus in a perfect, resurrected body with the healed, gruesome wounds from the crucifixion. To this day, we still know Jesus by his scars.
For the stunned and frightened disciples and now for us, we remember how his wounds and sacrifice have forever transformed that hideous and torturous method of capital punishment, the cross. As Christians, every time we witness a baptism, receive the Lord's Supper, wear a cross, celebrate the resurrection of a dear one at a funeral service, we remember his scars and the hope that they bring us.
St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, "We always carry in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body."
You see, my friends, Jesus is the servant king with scars.
Jesus is alive. He is alive now for us and for all human beings.
He is alive, scars and all!
Let us pray.
Living Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, we celebrate and praise you for being our unique servant leader and especially for your scars, as a sign that we are loved from here to eternity by the Father, Holy Spirit, and you beyond anything that we can imagine.