A King for Defeated Generals
Rev. Kurt Lantz Sunday of the Passion C Luke 22:31-62
April 10, 2022 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear soldiers of the King,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem like a long-awaited king with the people shouting “Hosanna, to the Son of David” that is, “Save us” as King David saved the nation. David was known to be Israel’s greatest military king. He extended the territory by defeating Moab, Edom, Ammon, Syria, and the Philistines. David had 350,000 men in his army, including mighty men of great reputation who had single-handed killed hundreds of the enemy and slew giants, as David himself had killed Goliath.
In response to God’s promise to David that some offspring of his would reign over an everlasting kingdom, the people often hoped for such a Messiah to appear in Jerusalem. And on the day that Jesus entered riding on a donkey, they celebrated that hope, waving palm branches and laying their cloaks on the road as a royal red carpet.
This was Jesus entering to be the military king of His people. He is the One of whom the angel told Mary, “The LORD God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33). Jesus was already famous for His teaching and His miracles and His compassion. I’m not sure that any of those characteristics are necessarily required in a military king, but if He has them, all the better.
Jesus, not accompanied by 350,000 men, but only by 12 apostles entered to the hopeful cries of the people: “Hosanna!” “Save us!” If David could kill Goliath and rout the Philistines, could Jesus conquer the military might of the Roman Empire? Did the people actually think that He could do it?
We know all about Jesus’ mighty men of valour. One of them betrayed Him. And the others that night scrambled about to find two swords. When Jesus asked them to keep watch, they fell asleep. When the opposing forces came, the lack of fighting skill was apparent. The boldest of them struck out at the enemy with one of those two swords and he only managed to cut off an ear. Zero kill count for these mighty men of Jesus. They all ran away. Peter followed at a distance in order to see what would happen. He was unable to do anything about it. He was unable to even voice allegiance to this great King Jesus. He did the opposite and denied Him.
“Hosanna!” “Save us!” Save us because we are not mighty men. Save us because we cannot defeat our enemies. Save us because we are worthless in battle. Save us even though we cannot follow your orders; we cannot stay away; we cannot stand with You; we cannot admit to being Yours.
If there was to be a battle between King Jesus with His followers and the Roman Empire, it was not looking very good for those waving the palm branches. But the enemy was not the Roman Empire. The enemy was a greater giant, a more fearsome foe, a treacherous threat not only to physical life, but to the eternal salvation of the soul.
Jesus told Peter plainly, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). This was a cosmic battle, not an earthly one. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Jesus used Peter’s original name, Simon, not Peter (meaning rock) to emphasize Peter’s vulnerability, his weakness, to remind him that he is not a rock, but that he was given that name because he stood firmly on the rock which is Jesus Christ alone. This would not be any battle that Peter could hope to win even by the strength of that confession he had made in the past.
We are no match for Satan. He knows how to sift. Look what he did to Job in the Old Testament. He had Job on the ropes, on the verge of cursing God. And had God not finally spoken to Job from the whirlwind he would have convinced himself that there was no loving Creator to save him. Now Satan had his eyes on Simon and the other disciples. He would sift them all, hoping to cast away any hope that they might have, any strength that they might possess, any deeply held conviction that they might have about being a soldier for Jesus. And Satan was quite successful.
Jesus reassured Simon Peter that He had prayed for him that his faith may not fail and that he would turn again in order to strengthen his brothers. But the success of Satan over Peter and the others would happen. They would fall asleep when they needed to be praying. None of them would stand with Jesus to the end. Peter would deny even knowing Jesus three times before the dawn of the next day.
It might look like Jesus was totally incompetent as a military king. It may appear that way, when we think of great military leaders as those who are able to inspire the troops to stand firm and give no ground. It may appear that Jesus did not select his generals very well. It may appear that they were not trained properly. In truth, they had no chance against the enemy whom they had to face. They had no chance of overcoming Satan. Adam and Eve could not do it in all of their innocence. How could we, who are so aware of our great many sins and failings, hope to defeat the ancient foe who could even bite the heel of the Son of God sent to save us from him?
Yet this is exactly what makes Jesus the perfect king for this military operation, the only king who could carry out such a campaign. He had to do it without any generals, without any soldiers, without any hard aid sent in from distant allies. Even when an angel came to strengthen Him in His time of prayer, it was only that He could agonize all the more, His sweat becoming as great drops of blood after the angel attended Him.
Jesus is the King who saves us all without any of us helping. He is the King who saves us from the Satanic foe that we cannot defeat. Jesus is the King who saves us from our own weakness in prayer, from our own fearful flight, from our own sinful denials that somehow come out of our lips when we never ever imagined we would say such things.
Yet, this king pulls out the victory for us. He prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail despite Satan’s sifting and it did not. With a compassionate look that drove Peter to tears, Jesus not only said, “I told you so,” but also, “I want you to come back and strengthen your brothers.” This is the King who, in agonized prayer to the Father, sweat great drops of blood, but when the battle commenced and the crowd came to arrest Him, had not one sign of fear or weakness or reluctance for what the Father had asked Him to do. This is the King who, when His followers feebly struck out with the sword on His behalf, did not take advantage of the distraction to run away, but put an end to His soldiers having to fight at all, and even healed His enemy.
This is the King who fought alone in order to save us. He is the only One who could. This is the King that we need. This is the King who has come to save us. “Hosanna!” “Save us, now, we pray!”
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.