All Hail the King!
ss=MsoNormal>“Hail! Hail to the Chief, who in triumph advances!” Those words are from the official anthem to the President of the United States, “Hail to the Chief.” A military band plays this song at most official appearances of the president. And now that we’ve had an election in our country, that song is bound to be played a lot soon, especially when our new president has his inauguration in January.
The point of that song, Hail to the Chief, is pretty obvious, isn’t it? When the military band plays that song for the president, it doesn’t matter if they all voted for him or not. It doesn’t matter if they agree with everything he campaigned for or not. Instead, they use the song as a sign of respect for the leader of our country. They play “Hail to the Chief” to show their support and allegiance to their Commander-in-Chief.
Well, if that’s how we treat the president in this country, what about the King? I’m not talking about a king or a queen of some other country, I’m talking about the King. The King of the universe, the one who rules all things, who reigns over every nation and every person who has ever lived, the one who rules our hearts by faith, the one before whom every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is King of Kings and Lord of Lords! (see Phil. 2:10-11) That King is our Savior Jesus Christ. For him we want to do so much more than just sing a pretty anthem! We want to praise him and thank him with everything we are and with everything we have now and forever.
But that’s not how everyone feels about our King. Enemies of our Savior hate him so much that they will do anything they can to disrespect him and show their contempt for him. In his life on this earth, this hatred led Jesus’ enemies to beat, torture, and kill our Savior and King, as we will see from our text from Matthew. And when we look for Jesus’ enemies today, sometimes we don’t have to look any farther than a mirror. Because what greater disrespect for our King is there when we go against his will and sin against our King and Savior like you and I do every day?
But even there, at what should be his lowest, our King shows his power. Even when he was beaten and tortured, even when our sins show utter contempt for our King, even at those times – especially at those times – he reigns! He used his suffering and death to triumph over death forever. He takes even our sins and he repays us for them with his love and forgiveness. Yes, he is a King! He’s a King who deserves the greatest praise imaginable from every person and every host of heaven. As we think of his reign for us this morning, let’s remember to praise him with the words, “All Hail the King!”
In some ways, our text from Matthew is a little bit hard to look at. It’s only five little verses, but in some ways it’s an ugly picture that’s painted here. The worst of humankind is on display in these verses, the hatred of sinful people for their King. It’s the hatred and sinfulness that we know are inside of us, too. We know it’s in our hearts, so maybe that’s what makes these verses so hard to look at. But when we do, beneath all the ugliness and hate, we see the most beautiful picture of our King and his love. We see how far our King was willing to go to make sure we would receive the crown of life.
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. (Matt. 27:27) Let’s remember what’s going on here. The governor our text is talking about is Pontius Pilate. Jesus is on trial for his life. The Jewish leaders, who in the Roman Empire didn’t have the authority to execute anyone, were bringing Jesus to the Roman governor Pilate in hopes he would sentence Jesus to death. Make no mistake: Pilate knew Jesus didn’t deserve death. But Pilate was a coward and didn’t want to go against what the crowd said. So he tried to come up with ways to get the crowd to want to release Jesus.
Before our text Pilate had tried to release Jesus as a present to the people. So he gave them the choice of whom to release: Jesus or Barabbas, a notorious criminal. Surely, they’d pick Jesus, right? No, their sin and hatred were too strong. “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” (Matt. 27:21-22) The crowd wanted death, and Pilate was too weak to stop them. But he made one last-ditch effort. He thought, Maybe if I let Jesus be so mistreated, if I let him suffer so much, they’ll feel bad enough for him that they’ll want him released. That’s when Pilate decided to let the soldiers do some damage to our King.
Our text says a whole company of soldiers came around Jesus. The word used for company of soldiers here is a technical term that could’ve meant as many as 600 soldiers around Jesus. Whether it was that full number or not, a whole lot of soldiers were there with Jesus in our text. And what they did to him makes our stomachs turn. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 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.(Matt. 27:28-29)
“All Hail the King!” takes on a whole new meaning when these soldiers “praise” Jesus. For them, dressing up Jesus like a king isn’t a way to praise him, but to make fun of him. They take a Roman soldier’s dirty robe and throw it over Jesus like it was a royal robe. They take some thorns that happened to be nearby and made King Jesus a crown from it. You know when you touch a thorn that it stings to the touch. Imagine many thorns being forcefully pushed on your head. It must’ve been excruciating. You can imagine the blood and sweat running down his face now. Then they put a stick in Jesus’ hands and pretended it was a King’s scepter. All so they could mock him.
I said this description in our text makes our stomachs turn, and it should, but it gets even worse as the violence continues. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. (Matt. 27:30) This King didn’t have respect from these soldiers. They weren’t leading an enthusiastic chorus of “Hail to the Chief.” No, they were dressing him up like a kid’s toy doll. Instead of a kiss of respect and obedience to his hand, they spit in his face. Instead of bowing down in honor, they beat him on the head with his own staff, showing not only did they not really think he was a king, but he couldn’t even stop them from beating him. And we think, “How dare they!” “How dare they do this to my King!”
But, friends, are we really any different from those soldiers? Sure, none of us were there in that praetorium, none of us participated in this little horror show in our text. But we might as well have. We might sing our King’s praises here in church, but how often doesn’t the rest of our lives – our words, our thoughts, our actions – how often don’t they tell a different story? Every sin we commit is an act of rebellion against our King. Every impure or unkind thought we have is spit in his face. Every gossiping or hurtful word out of our mouths is a mocking taunt at our Lord. Every sinful action we take because we’re thinking about ourselves, because we put ourselves first, every one is another blow to his head.
Sure, we come up with plenty of excuses for this behavior. “We’re just human; we’re not perfect.” “Lots of other people commit much worse sins.” “Sure, I sin a lot now, but I’ve gotten better.” We may even go so far as to trample on Jesus’ love for us. That’s exactly what we’re doing if we think, “Yes, what I’m going to do is sinful, but I’ll just repent later on and I’ll get forgiven for it.” Yes, we might as well have been right there with those soldiers in that Praetorium, mocking and beating the King.
Maybe as we look at this text we would wish that Jesus would just rise up and strike those soldiers down, we wish he would show them that he really is the King, and they’ve got no right to treat him that way. Well, that’s exactly what our King should do to us. We’ve rebelled against him. We’ve mocked him and beat him with our sins. We deserve to be destroyed. All we can do is throw ourselves at our King’s feet, begging for his mercy.
Friends, all hail the king! He gives us exactly what we don’t deserve! In fact, that’s why he endured what he did in our text. Every thorn on his head, every mocking cry in his ears, every time that staff struck him in the face, and later on every nail that pierced and the agony of hell and being abandoned by God that he felt on that cross – it was for you and for me. He suffered the punishment of hell so we wouldn’t have to. Those sins that we commit against him, he took the death they deserved, so he could give us the life he deserved! All hail the King!
And remember, it’s not a dead king we’re celebrating. He lives! This King reigns even over death. He proved it by showing that no grave could hold him. He showed that his suffering and death, as awful as it was, didn’t mean the devil had won, but that our King had conquered. He rose and he lives and he reigns. And because he lives, we will live. Even after our breath stops in this world, even after our eyes close on this life, we will live. We will live forever; yes we will reign with him forever, out of his love for us.
That’s the kind of King we have. And that’s why we want to spend our lives now praising him. Like the military band that always plays “Hail to the Chief” for the president, we want to always praise and thank King Jesus. Let’s do that! Let’s live for that! Praise him as you give thanks every day for the love and mercy he has shown you. Praise him as your faith grows through the study of his Word and in the Sacrament. Praise him as you encourage your fellow believers to keep growing in their faith. Praise him as you bring up your kids in the way of the Lord. Praise him as you serve each other and your King here at church and out in the world. Praise him as you spread his message and his Word for others. Praise him as you live not for yourselves, but for him who died for you and was raised again. (see 2 Cor. 5:15) Praise him because he’s the King, and he has promised you a crown. All hail the King!