God led and governed his people by Moses and Joshua and then by the judges and the priests. In all of this, there was no doubt among these leaders or the people they served, that it was God himself who was the ruler of his people.
But in the days of Samuel the people no longer desired to be led this way or governed this way or ruled this way. They wanted an earthly king to rule over them so that they could be like the other nations around them, the pagan nations around them, the people who did not have a relationship with the living God.
When Samuel prayed to the Lord about this sinful desire and sought his counsel on how to address it, the Lord said to him:
Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you”
They have rejected me as their king. Can you imagine such a faithless, foolish thing for anyone to do! To intentionally choose to be ruled by frail, fallen man when you could have the Lord himself as your king!
But that is what they asked for and so the Lord sent them kings. Some of these kings were faithful but most of them were not.
One stood out above all the rest: King David was a man after God’s own heart—but still just a man who sinned and failed. And yet, God loved him and promised that he would have a descendant who would sit on his throne and rule his people forever—someone who would be both David’s heir and David’s Lord. The Bible says that:
It was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. Pilate said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”
Standing there day in the presence of Pilate and the chief priests and the Jewish leaders and the Jews-- was the fulfillment of God’s promise to raise up a king from the line of David to rule upon his throne forever.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David. He was a direct descendant of David. He commanded the forces of nature. He defeated the forces of evil. His words possessed authority.
Just a few days earlier all of Jerusalem had turned out to welcome him into the city and shouted, Hosanna to the Son of David! Surely the priests and religious rulers of the Jews would acclaim him as their king and rejoice in the faithfulness of God to his promise to raise up an eternal heir to David’s throne!
But the Bible says that, They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Crucify him!? Not, “thanks but no thanks” but “crucify him”?! That response seems completely over the top!
And yet, over the years they had accused him of being an outrageous sinner. They said he was in league with the devil. They talked trash about his mother.
To call names is one thing but to plot someone’s murder and call for their execution, that is something else altogether. What can account for this kind of hatred? At the end of it is the mystery of evil and yet we know a few, important things about what was in their hearts.
We know that the Sadducees were closely connected to Herod and the other political powers of the day and they wanted to keep their place in society and were afraid they would lose it if Jesus came to power.
We know that the Pharisees had abandoned the biblical teaching that salvation is by God’s grace through faith in his promises of a Savior to come and had substituted a religion of the law where they were the teachers and gatekeepers and judges of other men’ souls.
And we know that the Zealots were looking for an earthly messiah who would throw off the Roman rule and re-establish an earthly Jewish kingdom.
And Jesus was a complete rebuke to all of them because he taught that his kingdom was not of this world and that life with God is based upon his gracious love for sinners. Jesus was a threat that had to go.
That was the wholesale failure of the Jews to receive their promised king and it led to his crucifixion-- but we cannot go too far without noting our own place and role in all this.
You see, Jesus is not just the Davidic King promised to the Jews. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords and his righteous reigns extends to our own lives too no less than the Jews.
And yet how often have we chafed under his wise rule? How often have we rejected his ways? How often in our sins have we engaged in outright rebellion against our true king? How often have we desired to reject his rule for our own?
We did not call out Crucify, crucify but have no doubt that there have been days when we have rejected his lordship no less than the Jews did that day and that rebellion, our rebellion led to his death no less than theirs. The bible says that:
Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”
The passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is one shocking, appalling scene after another but surely this is near the top of the list!
The chief priests of the Jewish religion were the men, above all others, who should have been leading the people to the Messiah—who should have been anxiously awaiting their true Davidic king—who should have had a loyalty to God above all else.
If nothing else, the previous four hundred years of their history had been focused on regaining their national prominence and so why would they ever abandon their own people--but now in this moment, when they have a chance to receive their king, they abandon their faith, they turn their backs on their nation, and they pledge allegiance to a pagan king.
This was the sin of the Jewish religious leaders but there is an important lesson here for us too! To reject the righteous rule of our true king over our lives does not make us free any more than the Jews that day who, rejecting Jesus as King, had to swear allegiance to Caesar as king. We will always have a ruler and that ruler will always be a tyrant who despises us and desires our destruction rather than our good.
A generation after these words were spoken the Roman army would utterly destroy Jerusalem, lay to ruin the temple, and kill over a million Jews.
We have no king but Caesar! And so it has been for the Jews for the last two thousand years and so it will be because their king has come and they rejected him and had him crucified by the Romans. The Bible says that:
Pilate delivered Jesus over to them to be crucified. So they took him, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.
The wages of sin is death. From the very beginning when God promised Adam and Eve if they disobeyed him they would die till the last day when death will be destroyed once and for all, death is the curse pronounced upon sinners.
But Jesus was no sinner. And yet he carried the instrument of his own down the way of suffering to a place outside of Jerusalem known as the Skull. What God wants us to understand about this scene is that the cross is not placed upon the shoulders of Jesus because of his sins, he does not go to die for his failures, he does not journey on the way of sorrow on account of his failures.
All of this takes place because of our sins. He was proclaimed by John as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and in this moment we see those words fulfilled.
Watch that scene with the eyes of faith and see your sin burden placed upon Jesus. Journey with him down the way of suffering and know that is your failures that he is carrying. Go with him to that place of death and know that he dies there under the Father’s wrath as your substitute. The Bible says that:
There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.
When the Second Person of the Holy Trinity took on human flesh within the womb of his Blessed Mother, God became man. Jesus shared in our joys and our sorrow. He knew what it was to be tempted and he felt the pain of rejection and the loss of friends.
And there at Golgotha we see how far his love for us would take him as he became one with us in our sins, one with us under the judgment of God, one with us in death, dying in the very middle of sinful mankind.
On one side was a sinner who did not know him and refused to hear a word from him of love and concern and forgiveness—a sinner who died in his sins.
One the other side of him was a sinner who did not know him before, but came to know him during those hours on the cross—a sinner who listened to what he had to say and came to faith even in that late hour and entered into Paradise.
Jesus still stands in the very midst of sinful humanity and he still speaks words of love and mercy and care and forgiveness.
Sadly, tragically there are still those who prefer to die in their sins and reject his salvation. But for us, even in this late hour, there is still time to listen to what Jesus has to say there at the cross—to believe the promise that he makes that we are forgiven and that Paradise is still to come—and to confess him as our Savior and King. Amen.