Is it really Good to be King?
Tom Petty sang, "It's good to be king," in a 1994 song. Mel Brooks used the phrase a gag line in a 1981 movie. So is it a jest or a quest? Well, I doubt Jesus sang that song.
Jesus was king of the Jews. He rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday accepting the accolades of the crowds as Son of David, heir to David's throne. Pontius Pilate recognized Jesus as such and condemned Him as such. The placard nailed to a criminal's cross was the one hung around his neck as he carried his crossbar to Golgotha. It announced to all what crime he was being sent to the cross for. Jesus' read: "Jesus of Nazareth: The King of the Jews." See what being king of the Jews got Jesus? Tried, whipped, tortured, and crucified. I don't hear Jesus singing "It's Good to be King" on the way to the cross.
Jesus was king of the Jews by virtue of His birth from a virgin named Mary who was descended from David's royal line. Jesus was king of sinners by virtue of His office as the Messiah. He was the Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah. The One predicted to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. The One who would bear the iniquity of us all. The One who's beatings, whippings, and torturing would heal us of our sins.
The day Jesus was baptized He publicly ascended the throne as King of Sinners because then He accepted the sins of the world as His own. Neither you nor St. Paul is really chief of sinners. That "honor" belongs to the King of Sinners. And Jesus has to be king because Scripture tells us that Jesus was made to be sin itself. You can't get more sinful than that. As King of Sinners His crown was of thorns. His throne was a cross. And the purple that covered His body was His own blood. Is it really good to be king?
It's debatable if it's good to be king, but it is good have God as your king. The prophet Samuel tried to tell the Old Testament Church that but they wouldn't listen. To be like the nations around them, they rejected God as their king. Samuel warned them that there was a big difference between being ruled by God and a man. He said, "If you have a king, this is how he will treat you. He will force your sons to join his army. Some of them will ride in his chariots, some will serve in the cavalry, and others will run ahead of his own chariot.Still others will have to farm the king's land and harvest his crops, or make weapons and parts for his chariots. Your daughters will have to make perfume or do his cooking and baking. The king will take your best fields, as well as your vineyards, and olive orchards and give them to his own officials. He will also take a tenth of your grain and grapes and give it to his officers and officialsHe will also take a tenth of your sheep and goats. You will become the king's slaves."
Better to have God as king. Our text shows us this. There comes a time and place where your calculations and your resources will come to an end. Jesus brings His apostles to this point on purpose. With not just 5,000 but more like 20,000 people milling before Him, Jesus asks, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" Another Gospel records that Jesus told the disciples, "You feed them." From John we know that Jesus only put the problem before them to test them. He knew what He was going to do.
So have you reached that time or place where by all your calculations and your resources you come up short? Have you looked at what's before you be it a teeming sea of money, family, medical, or emotional problems and calculated, "Eight months wages wouldn't buy enough bread for each one to have a bite?" Have you looked at your resources whether it be bank accounts, self-help books, medicine, or determination and concluded, "Here are 5 small barely loaves and 2 small fish, but how far will they go among so many?" Good! Good! When your calculations come up short and your resources fail, that's when your ready to step down from the thrown of your life, and see it's good to have God as king!
King Jesus comes through making a hash of the apostles' math. Not using eight months' wages but no wages, Jesus fills this crowd not a little but full. Using a lunch meant for a small boy, Jesus feeds a crowd the size of an NBA arena. And more than that, He makes sure there is enough left over so each of the apostles who had thrown their hands up in despair can have a basketful for themselves.
It's good to have God as king. He doesn't go by your calculations or resources but by His power. "Ponder anew; what the Almighty can do." Whatever challenge, problem, pain, despair, or certainty you are facing, King Jesus sees it too. He bids you look at it and your resources, so that you might turn toward Him. And note well, Jesus doesn't turn them toward Himself so He can teach them "How to Feed 5000 People," He turns them to Him, so that they might see He can do what they can't. Indeed He can do what is flat out impossible for them. It is good to have God as king.
Now for the turn, the twist. It is good to have God as king, but it's not good to make God your king. That's what the crowds in the text tried to do. "They intended to come and make Jesus king by force." This is what others tell you that you need to do. You need to make Jesus king of your life. You know Jesus as Savior, now you need to have Him as Lord. The problem with your life is that you haven't turned it all over to Him. If you'll just let Jesus reign over every aspect of your life, then your problems will get better.
Jesus didn't let them make Him king. He withdrew from the would-be king-makers. This is perplexing because the crowd was apparently right about who Jesus was. Jesus was the Prophet Moses foretold. Unlike others, this group didn't think Jesus was John the Baptist, Elijah, or Jeremiah. They knew Jesus was the Prophet Moses told them to expect. Likewise, the people who want you to make Jesus king of your life are also apparently right about who Jesus is. They believe Jesus is True God begotten of His Father from eternity and also True Man born of the Virgin Mary.
So why doesn't Jesus let them king Him? Why do I tell you it's not good to make God your king? Because the crowd was wrong about what Jesus came to do. The text begins by saying they followed Jesus "because they saw the miraculous signs He had performed." And it ends with their concluding who Jesus is based on seeing the "miraculous sign" of the feeding of the 5,000. They embraced the signs themselves but not the One the signs pointed to. If you stop at a road sign shaped like an arrow that says, "Lockhart 10 miles," you'll never get to Lockhart.
Jesus is King of the Jews and King of Sinners, but He saves not by destroying your enemies whether they are Roman soldiers, sin, death or the devil. King Jesus saves by being destroyed by them. This is what turned everyone away from Him on the cross. He wouldn't come down from that cross. He wouldn't save Himself. So they didn't believe in Him or want Him as King. Do you? Those in a kingdom go the way of the king, don't they? He bore a cross; we will bear one. He died; we'll die. But because His cross paid for our sins and His innocent death delivered us from a guilty one, we will rise as He did, but you don't get His crown of life on Easter apart from the crown of thorns on Good Friday.
Jesus is King of the Jews and King of Sinners, but He saves not by healing everyone's body but by giving body His over to our griefs, sorrows, infirmities, and death. Not even when Jesus walked the earth did He heal everyone. We've seen Jesus leave Capernaum with many on the way to be healed. Those He did heal were signs to point people to Him as King. Healing, raising the dead, casting out demons, were signs pointing to something bigger not ends in themselves. Why? Because healing or even resurrection is no answer to the sickness of death that plagues us, haunts us, stalks us. The man healed of leprosy died of something else. The little girl raised from the dead later died again.
King Jesus is the answer, the end, the goal, the point; not the miracles He can do here but the eternal health, the eternal salvation He won for sinners. To win that for us, He had to keep the Law of God that we fail at keeping, and He had to pay for every last lust, curse, or evil we had ever thought, spoke, or did. And He did that on the cross. There He won eternal victory over the sins that plague us, the death that stalks us, and the devils that haunt us. And eternal salvation is what He gives in Baptism, Absolution, and Communion. Baptism doesn't rebirth you to another couple of decades here but to eternity. Absolution doesn't free you of the age or illness that will kill you but of the sins that would damn you eternally. The Communion of the Body and Blood of Jesus to your body and blood doesn't guarantee many years here but eternity here and in the hereafter.
Jesus is the king the Church prays for in the Collect. He is the Ruler and Guide who leads us, feeds us, forgives us in such a way so that we pass through things temporal that we lose not the things eternal. He is the King who knows which temporal (i.e. temporary) problems, pains, and illnesses to solve and which to leave as crosses, as graces, as gifts so as to lead us on that path where we don't lose eternal things. King Jesus does this not always by multiplying our bread and fish but as the Collect says by multiplying His mercy on us. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (20090809); John 6: 1-15