The King is Dead. Long Live the King!

Text: John 19:14-15, 19
Date: Good Friday + 3/29/13

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Yes, we say it again, even on this occasion. We say it again because Pontius Pilate declared the kingship of a guiltless Jesus when he had the phrase affixed above Jesus on the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

But we just heard it. This King, The King is dead!

You’ve heard the phrase invented by the French and picked up elsewhere wherever the government is in the form of a monarchy, where the throne is automatically passed on to the next qualified descendant—“The king is dead. Long live the king!” What sounds to our ears, at first, to be a contradiction or incongruity is actually to announce the death of the current king and yet at the same moment the immediate succession of the new king. The newly elected Roman Pope Frances, for instance, officially became Pope not when he was “installed” and given the ring and the pallium. He became the next Pope officially at the moment he answered “yes” to the question by the cardinals, “Do you accept?” Our phrase could not be used there, however, since the previous Pope lives on as Pope Emeritus!

The truth is, Jesus was a king. As he said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He spent three years teaching His disciples about His kingdom. Recall the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount describing how His kingdom, the Kingdom of God, is in many ways just the opposite to the way things normally go among the kingdoms and governments of this world. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn,” “the meek,” “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” “the merciful,” “the pure in heart,” “the peacemakers,” “those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matt 5:3-10). Would that the kingdoms of this world had such priorities, such a character. He taught that the Kingdom of God in this present time is like a sower sowing seed, like a mustard seed, like a hidden treasure, like a pearl of great price, like a net and a great banquet.

When we pray “Thy kingdom come” we do so with the knowledge that “the kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.” And we believe that “God’s kingdom comes [to us] when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” God’s kingdom comes to us, we do not, in fact, prefer not to come to Him. It is not by our act of repentance or any other act be it ever so good and laudable. Rather, God’s kingdom comes to us because God comes to us by His Word, calling, gathering and enlightening.

That’s why it took the Son of God to become such a sight “as one from whom men hide their faces” (Is 53:3) because He did not look like a king according to worldly standards. Yet this is the King of love. “Greater love has no one than this,” He said, “that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). You heard Him say, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:17-18). So even though it appeared that His enemies and the devil had won, King Jesus was in control even in this greatest act of love.

The truth is, Jesus was a king. And the greater truth is, Jesus IS King! On Good Friday we proclaim, “The King is dead.” But His kingship was not passed on to another. Rather, we say, “Long live the King” because Jesus did not stay dead. Rising from the dead He lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. He lives and reigns, rules by His Word and Spirit in the hearts of all those He calls, gathers and enlightens with faith.

In fact, tonight we celebrate such an extent of love that the world has never seen elsewhere, that our whole lives and all our worship is but a proclamation of His death. For when He died, He lives. But more, when He died He brought to light the glorious promise of eternal life for all who put their trust in Him.

Tonight we say, “The King is dead. Long live the King.” For, blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.