The Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 22, 2020
St. John 6:15
Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone. John 6:15
They wanted to make him their king. When a man is crowned as king it is called a coronation. The word coronation comes from the word corona, which is Latin for crown. The coronavirus is called the coronavirus because there are crown-like spikes on its surface. Judging by the affects this virus is having on the world, the coronavirus also has a sort of kingly status among infectious diseases. Sickness and death is just part of its devastation. It has disrupted the lives of people all over the world. Trillions of dollars have been lost with more to come. We certainly didn’t ask for this coronation.
The crowd wanted to coronate Jesus, to make him their king. Kings are decidedly undemocratic. But democracy is overrated. Let’s say that all Americans eighteen years and older voted to make the coronavirus go away and leave us alone. Would it leave? That’s not the way a virus works. It doesn’t respond to the votes of the people. It goes where it goes. You cannot vote it away.
Nobody wants the coronavirus. It’s a scourge. But while it is named for a crown, it isn’t a king to be feared. Jesus Christ is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He wasn’t elected by the people. He was chosen by his Father. He won’t be manipulated by the demands of the people. Jesus won’t let the people define for him his kingly duties. He knows what they are and he will do what needs to be done.
We Americans are taught to believe in democracy. In a conversation I had years ago with a lifelong Lutheran he asserted in a manner expecting me to agree: “The church is a democracy.” Well, President Lincoln did give a famous speech where he spoke of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Highfalutin language, but it has nothing to do with the church.
The church is not a democracy. It is a monarchy. It is the kingdom of God. Members of this kingdom don’t assign duties to their king. After Jesus fed five thousand men, not counting women and children, with five loaves of bread and two small fish, people from the crowd wanted to make him king by force. They saw that Jesus could give them all of the food they needed. That’s what they wanted. They had seen him heal diseases. That’s what they wanted. They wanted a king to provide them with bodily health and all the food they needed to eat. Should Jesus have let them make him into the kind of king they wanted? No. He left them.
Jesus rules. If you are frightened by the harm happening to our nation as a result of this pandemic, you need to know that Jesus rules. He’s in charge. Usually when we think of how God provides for our daily needs, we think of God the Father. It is to the Father that Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” But when Jesus miraculously fed thousands of people with just five loaves of bread and two small fish, he demonstrated that he, the Son, was the Creator and Sustainer of this world.
The Bible ascribes creation to the Father, redemption to the Son, and sanctification to the Holy Spirit. The Bible also teaches that the Son and the Holy Spirit participate with the Father in creation. The Father and the Son participate with the Holy Spirit in sanctification. Only the work of redemption belongs solely to one person of the Holy Trinity: the Son. The Father did not become a human being. Neither did the Holy Spirit. The Son did. He redeemed us with his blood. If you want to understand how it is that Jesus rules, you must know this. When facing a frightening pandemic that raises so many questions in our minds about our future, we need not only to know that Jesus rules. We need to know how he rules.
He refused the crowd’s desire to make him king. He did not permit them to force themselves on him. He left. But there came a time when he accepted the crown. He was coronated. The crown was made of thorns. It was designed to inflict pain on him and to mock him in his pain. This is how Jesus won his kingdom. Before ruling over us in his kingdom he had to gain his kingdom.
The feeding of the five thousand was a miracle. It was a creative miracle. Jesus created bread. Only God can create. Jesus showed that he was God. He did what only God could do. But that was not enough. It was not enough that God became a man. Listen to the words of Jesus recorded by John later on in this chapter of John’s Gospel:
The Lord’s Supper is the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. But Jesus is not talking here about the Lord’s Supper. When he says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you,” he is talking about faith. Eating his flesh and drinking his blood is faith. Faith eats and drinks. What faith eats and drinks makes all the difference in the world, all the difference in our lives. False faith eats and drinks poison and dies. True faith eats and drinks Christ’s flesh and blood and lives forever. In the Lord’s Supper there are two kinds of eating: oral and spiritual. The oral eating and drinking is receiving Christ’s body and blood with the mouth. The spiritual eating and drinking is faith in Christ’s flesh and blood. We are not celebrating the Lord’s Supper today. This does not mean that we are not eating and drinking Christ’s flesh and blood through faith.
Jesus calls himself the bread of life. To eat this bread is to eat his flesh and drink his blood. What is Jesus talking about? He says, “He who comes to me shall never hunger. He who believes in me shall never thirst.” We don’t make Jesus our King. He makes himself our King. He accepts the crown of thorns, bears not only the pain and anguish of crucifixion, but the sins of the whole world as he fights for our salvation. The reason his flesh and blood are real food for our souls is that in his flesh and by the shedding of his blood he took away our sins, broke Satan’s arrows, destroyed the power of death, and gained for us eternal life. We trust in the flesh and blood of him who died and rose from the dead. He is not dead. He is alive forevermore, and he chooses to rule over us.
His kingdom is not limited to this place. He rules over us by his grace. The gospel and the sacraments are his means of grace. Wherever his gospel sounds forth, there he is, forgiving us, strengthening us, comforting us, and giving us courage. Wherever his flesh and blood are eaten and drunk, that is, wherever his Christians hear his gospel and believe in him as their Savior from sin, death, and hell, he rules.
You cannot make him your King. He does so without any help from you. When he rules over you, you are safe. Think about it. The Creator and Sustainer of all that exists, who called the universe into being and rules over all of its galaxies, solar systems, and planets, who has the power to divert any natural disaster or calamity, is the One who laid down his life for you, died for you, and took away all of your sins by bearing it in his own body. He rules over you through faith. This is your faith. God instills it inside of you. It is no mere knowledge or disinterested consent to religious propositions you cannot understand. No, your faith eats the flesh and drinks the blood of the Son of Man. Your faith takes him in. All that he is is yours. All that he has done is for you. Faith is always focused on the flesh and blood of the Son of Man. His holy flesh redeems our sinful flesh. His precious blood washes us clean of all sin. Our King is our Redeemer. His blood has set us free to be God’s children.
If Jesus does not return first, every one of us will die. Read Genesis 5 where Moses writes a genealogy of men from Adam to Noah who lived to be several hundred years old. Amazing! After each name (except for Enoch) Moses wrote, “And he died.” “And he died, and she died” – that’s what will be said about us. The King who rules over us is he who bore our griefs, carried our sorrows, was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, whose punishment brought us peace, whose wounds healed us. He died and rose. Our Creator is our resurrection and life.
Jesus will not become the king of popular demand. He won’t subject himself to the vote of the people who want somebody to care for their bodies and not their souls. He forces himself on no one. Neither can anyone force him to be or to do anything. He tells us to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. Everything we need will be given to us. Our King rules over us by his grace. He rules over his church wherever she is gathered to hear his holy word. We’re not afraid of a virus named after a crown. We are in the care of him who wore thorns for a crown. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Rolf D. Preus