For this Sunday’s bulletin, click here: Last Sunday of End Times 2011

Why are we talking about Jesus suffering in November, right before Advent? At first this Sunday might seem out of place, but on closer examination it really does fit into the church year. Traditionally November has been a time where the Christian Church has focused especially on the last things — Jesus’ return to judgment, our heavenly home, and where we go when we leave this world — as well as who will be waiting for us: all those who trusted in Christ just as we do. It fits with the general mood of November quite well, as things grow darker and colder and we head toward winter. November is the time where the Church looks ahead especially to the end of all things and the beginning of eternity. Unique in the Christian Church, the WELS marks this traditional emphasis in our own way. We celebrate the season of End Time. The term itself, and to a degree the order of the days, is something we came up with, but really it’s an elaboration of themes that already existed in the church year. The end of October always brings the celebration of Reformation. The Second Sunday of End Time, Last Judgment, focuses on Jesus’ judging the world in truth and what that will mean for us, just as some of the historic gospels do. Nov 1 is All Saints’ Day, which is reflected in the Third Sunday of End Time, Saints Triumphant. On either of those days (or both) we think about those who share our faith and are already in heaven before us. Our God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. The Last Sunday in End Time, Christ the King, is the newest festival in the Christian church. The pope started it in 1925 because he thought that the leaders of earthly nations weren’t respecting Christ like they should (and of course, him as the vicar of Christ on earth.) The rest of the churches that commonly use the liturgy, to one extent or another, followed the Roman church in adopting this Sunday, and thus we celebrate it today.

Even though the Roman Catholic church started it, there’s still some value in observing it. We need to be reminded that Christ is a King whose kingdom is not of this world — “the kingdom of God is within you.” Just what kind of a King He is, we see in the Gospel for this Sunday.

May the Man of Sorrows console you with His bitter sufferings and death on your behalf, and His rising to life again. Amen.

“Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.” (matt 27.27-31 niv84)

There were no video cameras high up on the walls to capture what was about to happen. There were no alert reporters or courageous bystanders with camera phones who happened to be there and witnessed what was going on. There were no photographs, no 911 calls, no eyewitnesses who cared enough to try and stop what was about to happen. There were no watchdog agencies or groups of concerned citizens to speak up in His defense. There was precious little in the codes of law even to prevent what was about to happen.

Jesus has just been sent away from the judgment seat of Pilate, where the Roman governor had washed his hands of the Son of Man. Pilate then had Him flogged, which was bad enough. Prisoners sometimes died from the Roman flogging. It was an ordeal all on its own. But Jesus’ problems are far from over.

The small detachment of soldiers that was always with Pilate took Jesus into the governor’s palace, the Praetorium, and they begin to gather the rest of the soldiers stationed there. Word spreads quickly – “Hey, we’ve got another Jew to crucify—you want to have some fun?” Roman soldiers didn’t exactly care for the Jews they were supposed to be protecting; in fact, they despised them. They weren’t going to pass up an opportunity like this. From all over the soldiers trotted quickly to where Jesus stood at the center of a growing crowd of Roman soldiers. We might picture the number of soldiers around Jesus as a dozen, maybe two dozen at the most. It was far more than that. The word Matthew uses here denotes the tenth part of a legion. This could have been up to 600 soldiers who gathered to abuse Jesus.

This is a very threatening scene: hundreds of brutal soldiers, eager to shed the Savior’s blood, closing in around Him – and there is no one to help Him. No one. Nobody was going to blow the whistle on them. They could do whatever they wanted to Him and there will be no repercussions. He is totally at their mercy, and they’re not in the mood to be merciful. They want to have some fun by making Him bleed. Who was going to stop them? Was someone going to complain to the governor? They took orders from the governor – and Pontius Pilate himself was no friend of the Jews. He’d gotten in trouble with Rome in the past for using excessive force against his subjects. He’d ordered these same soldiers to commit atrocities against the Jews on several occasions. Jesus had nowhere to turn for earthly help, and it didn’t look like God was going to do too much for Him either. The soldiers didn’t expect any divine retribution for what they were about to do. They weren’t afraid of bolts of lightning flashing down out of the sky and frying them where they stood. Why would they be? Look at Him. He doesn’t even raise His arms or fight back. He doesn’t curse them or their mothers. Like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth nor make a move to resist. To the soldiers He’s as good as dead right now, so they feel safe to do whatever they want to Him.

What they do to Him is degrading, humiliating, and out of the ordinary. They heard what the crowds and Pilate were shouting at each other about Jesus being a king, so that gives them the idea to make Him into a proper Jewish king. They yank off His clothes and throw a soldier’s old red cloak around His torn shoulders. It’s made out of rough wool, and the slightest movement sends pain shooting through Jesus’ body. The robe quickly soaks up the blood from His torn back and sticks to His open wounds. A king needs a crown, so they find some thorn branches and twist them into a crown. Victors wore crowns. Emperors and generals who won battles wore crowns – but those crowns were made of olive or laurel leaves, not thorns. They drop it onto His head and casually pound it into His forehead. “There ya go, buddy.” The blood begins to run down His face. For a scepter, they find a good-sized stick and put it in His hand. Then they kneel down in front of Him in a horrible parody. Their mocking shouts echo off the marble walls. “Hail, King of the Jews! What a great king You are!” Whack. “How mighty You are!” Ptt, they spit in His face. “O great King!” Smack. As if to underscore how powerless He really is right now, they snatch the scepter, the symbol of a king’s power, out of His hand and hit Him in the face with it. “Here – You’re a king? What are You going to do about this?” Whack.

This was not what they usually did. The Romans would abuse prisoners or even kill them, if they weren’t Roman citizens — mainly because they could get away with it — but never like this. All the props, the elaborate staging, the mocking actions – they never did this, except for Jesus. They made a special effort and went out of their way to degrade, dehumanize, and humiliate Jesus. Why? For the same reason that we sin against God: because the sinful human heart hates God. On our own we are enemies of God. We want to lash out at Him, to spit on God and His Word – “You think You’re going to tell me what I can and can’t do, how I’m supposed to live my life? Ptt.” – and even after we’re baptized, part of us still hates Him and resists Him. It was Roman soldiers that made up the ring of unfriendly faces around Him on Good Friday, but it just as easily could have been us. It could have been you or me stepping up to take our best shot at hitting Him in the face.

Yet He’s standing there for you, and me, and the Roman soldiers, and everyone – He’s standing in there and taking it for all of us. It is because of my sin that He wears a scarlet cloak over a torn back. It’s because of me that He is spit on and insulted. I brought that on Him by my sins and my sinfulness. You did too. Each of us did. Our sins against God are so great that they can only be wiped out by this: the suffering of God’s one and only Son. Nothing less than the blood of God’s Son was enough to pay for your sins. Each blow of the stick, each drop of spit on His face, adds up, until at last He cries, “It is finished!” – and there’s no more sin left.  By suffering and dying in our place, He has paid the price for all our sins forever. Through Him God makes peace between us and Him. By His wounds we are healed. The blood and the spit ran down His face together, but not tears, because Jesus knew this was how it had to be – it had to be this way if we were going to be forgiven. This great injustice was the only thing that could make things right between us and God – and it did.

If you’re suffering, Jesus understands what you’re suffering, because nobody understands suffering like He does. In Him, you are consoled by knowing that His suffering means that your suffering isn’t pointless. God is using it for your good, and it’s only for a little while – but the glory of your reign with Christ will be forever if you endure.

Those soldiers were doing more than they knew when they knelt before Jesus and called Him King. They had absolutely no faith in the Man they were abusing, but what they say is still true. Jesus still is God’s chosen King, the Leader of His people – our Savior and our Ruler. They intend to mock Him when they kneel before Him, and they do, but they’re also confessing who He really is – just as one day everyone, even His enemies and those who never believed in Him, all will bow the knee before Him, “in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” “Then the end will come, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.”

Jesus is the one who gives all earthly authority. That’s why He told Pilate, “You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above.” One day Jesus is going to take all authority back, in order to destroy it. He’s going to do away with it, so that nobody can rebel anymore, no one can argue with Him or refuse to acknowledge that He is the supreme King over all, the King of kings and Lord of lords. As King all of Jesus’ enemies are under His feet – and when it says that, it’s not just talking about Roman soldiers or those who never believed in Him, but things like sin; the effects of sin, like old age and sickness; and even death itself. Death itself is going to die one day. Christ will overthrow it and destroy it by the splendor of His coming, because He rose from the dead. Not even death could stop Him. He truly is the Lord.

The Roman soldiers bore witness to that by what they say. Despite the fact that they don’t believe in Him, they still proclaim Him to be Lord, even while they mock Him, “for from Him and to Him and through Him are all things.” All things work together, whether knowingly or unknowingly, to confess that Jesus is Lord and King over all. What those Roman soldiers said was truer than they knew at the time – but they will see. One day we will all see.

Right now we don’t see Christ the King. Only faith can look at a beaten and bloodied prisoner and see the Son of God, the Savior, King over all. But one day faith will be rewarded when He returns in glory – no longer a victim or an object of pity, but the almighty King of the universe on the basis of an indestructible life. Everyone will see Him and worship Him as King, when He returns to give life to all His own and destroy death forever. “Hail, King of the Jews!” – my King, and yours. Amen.