The soldiers led Jesus into the courtyard of the palace and called together the whole troop. They dressed Him in purple, twisted some thorns into a crown, and placed it on his head. Then they began to greet Him, “Long live the king of the Jews!” They kept hitting Him on the head with a stick, spitting on Him, and kneeling in front of Him with false humility.
After the soldiers finished making fun of Jesus, they took off the purple cape and put His own clothes back on Him. Then they led Him out to crucify Him. – Mark 15:16-20
The Church season of Lent is to be for us a penitential season; a season to remember our sinfulness and to feel a sincere longing for peace with God – a season of repentance.
The simple meaning of the word, “repent”, is to turn around and go the other way. Unfortunately though, repentance, even when it is sincere, is often short lived and we turn again to sin.
For some people, the season of Lent is marked by self-denial. You may remember the custom of giving up something for Lent – meat, chocolate, or something else. In earlier times, Lent was a season for fasting, a time to focus on prayer and serious meditation. It was a season for being different than we usually are – for being different than we actually are.
In some countries, the difference between the way people actually are and the way they are supposed to be during Lent, is marked by the festival of Mardi Gras. The day or days preceding Lent are given to overdoing lustiness, gluttony, and drunkenness like the celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro held on Shrove Tuesday, literally “Fat Tuesday”, the eve of Ash Wednesday. Then begins the season of Lent, the season of denial, fasting, and repentance. A season to be different than we actually are – almost as though we are play-acting.
In medieval Europe there were play-acting festivals, too. In Paris, in the late fifteenth century, there was a great holiday called the “Day of Kings and the Feast of Fools”. The holiday lasted several days and was a wild, lusty celebration. One of the high points was the selection of a “King of Fools” – this was to be the ugliest man in all of Paris. One by one the contestants stuck their heads through a hole in a facade and made the ugliest possible faces they could make. The crowd would boo, hiss, or cheer in all their enthusiastic, medieval excessive sensual pleasures to indicate approval or disapproval. One time a man stuck his head through the hole and he was without doubt the ugliest man they had ever seen. He had ragged hair, jagged teeth, with one fang-like tooth that protruded over his lower lip when his mouth was closed. He only had one eye because the other was closed by a grotesque facial growth. The crowd cheered wildly. This man would be their “King of Fools”. But this man was not play-acting. He really was that ugly. Not only was his face ugly, but his body was twisted by a curvature of the spine. He was hunch-backed. He was the nearly deaf bell-ringer at Notre Dame Cathedral. You may have heard of Ouasimoto, the character in Victor Hugo’s, Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The people wanted a King of Fools – a play-acting ugly man, someone being something he was not. The irony was that the real life Ouasimoto was not play-acting, he really was the ugliest man in all of Paris.
In our text this evening, the soldiers had custody of Jesus. Jesus had been charged before Pilate with treason. He was convicted. The witnesses that testified said that He claimed to be a king. The soldiers thought Him to be play-acting, so they dressed Him up in a “royal robe”. – It was a cast off garment, but the color was right – purple – the color of royalty. The soldiers put a reed in His hand for a scepter to symbolize His authority, and crowned Him with a crown of woven thorns. They taunted Him with the words, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They slapped Him, spat on Him, struck Him repeatedly with the staff, and fell on their knees play-acting worship! Yet Jesus said nothing. He stood there, blood dripping from His brow, tears running down His cheeks, but He said nothing. They wanted a “King of Fools” to play with, but Jesus was not play-acting. The irony was that He really was their king – THE KING.
We are in the midst of the church season of Lent – a season of penitence, repentance, and denial. We have denied ourselves the use of this evening for other pleasures. We have come to church. We say the words of worship. But are we play-acting? Are we merely pretending to be something we are not – for a season – for an evening? The soldiers who called Jesus “King” were play-acting. We, too, call Jesus, “King”. Are we different than they?
The soldiers gave Jesus a reed to mock His authority. How much authority does He have in our lives? If a man is your king, he has ultimate sovereign authority over your life – he tells you what to do and you do it. We call Jesus, “King”, and in His Word He tells us what to do. Do we do it? Jesus said, “If vou love Me you will keep My commandments.” Have we obeyed? Have we loved God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, as He commanded? Have we loved our neighbor as we love ourselves? Have we trusted Jesus above all else? Are we aware of our need to sincerely repent? And if we do repent, is it merely short-lived so that we turn back to sin again? Do we not call Jesus, “King”, and then mock Him with our attitudes and behavior? Then do we not run back to His altar when times get rough crying, “I repent!” and then mock His forgiveness? St. Paul said in the Epistle lesson, “Be not deceived God is not mocked!”
Just calling Jesus Christ, “Lord” and “King”, is not enough. Simply saying the words, “Hail, King”, does not make Jesus our Lord. In our hearts we must believe He is our King and then live our lives accordingly by His Holy Spirit. Deep in our hearts we need to ask ourselves, “Does Jesus really rule over my life? Do I follow His commands and obey the will of His Father in heaven, or do I do things the way I want? Does my King carry a sceptre of strength or merely a reed of swamp grass?”
Jesus wants to be the King of our lives, and we know that as long as we only pretend He is our King we are guilty of mocking God. And unless our sin of mocking God is forgiven, we will be lost forever.
But the good news is that our sins are forgiven. The mocking Jesus endured from the soldiers was part of the payment He made for the punishment we deserve for our sins. Because of Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross, God does forgive mockers. The war is over and there is peace now between God and all mockers who trust in Jesus as their Savior and King.
Tonight you will receive a piece of purple cloth for your CROSS/PEACE display. May this purple cloth remind you of the purple robe the mocking soldiers put on the shoulders of our Lord. May it remind us that Jesus wants to be the King of our life; not a King in name only, but a King whose commandments we follow, a King whose care we trust, a King who receives all our praise.
May Jesus be your King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. In the name of Jesus our King, who is our peace. Amen.