"King Backward" - Good Friday
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
March 30, 2018 at 7:30 PM
Central Passage
John 18:1-19:42
Community Good Friday Service at First Presbyterian Church

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Good Friday – March 30, 2018

John 18:1-19:42


King Backward


              Outside of fairy tales and fantasy novels, Americans have little use for kings. That attitude goes back to the American Revolution, when (as we were all taught in school), a small band of brave, erudite colonists stood up to the tyrannical King George and told him, in so many words, just what he could do with his crown and scepter. As the Revolutionary War anthem, “Independence”, by William Billings goes,


“And all the continent shall sing,

Down with this earthly king!

No king but God!”


              We have a bit of an anti-authority streak, don’t we? We don’t like anyone in authority telling us what to do, whether it comes from the pulpit or from the Oval Office, the governor’s mansion or the county council. One of the worst insults you can lobby at any leader is that he or she is acting like a king. We don’t like kings, lords, or masters. Except ourselves, of course.


              But on Good Friday, John’s Passion narrative confronts us with King Jesus. Though we see Jesus calm, cool, and serene, triumphing over the powers that nail him to the cross, there is something else very strange about him. Jesus is king, but not as one might expect. Jesus is king in the most upside-down, inside-out way imaginable. He has no land and no army. His disciples have left. He eschews violent resistance, commanding Peter, “Put your sword back in its sheath.” He is mocked, beaten, and ironically, painfully crowned by the Roman soldiers. No one in the political or religious establishment, save perhaps Nicodemus, recognizes his divine authority. The religious leaders even declare “We have no king but Caesar,” an unbelievable statement on Passover – the day celebrating God’s liberation of his people from another oppressive king, Pharaoh. And finally, at the height of cruel irony, he is crucified with the inscription, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”. Jesus is truly “King Backward”. He doesn’t have what kings should have. He doesn’t act like kings should act.


              But precisely because Jesus is “King Backward”, he was able to save us from the powers of sin, death, and the devil. Jesus is our Lord and Sovereign, but in a way completely opposite that of earthly rulers. Jesus is the King who lays down his life for the life of the world. Subjects tend to give their lives for their king; Jesus gives his life for his subjects. Every other government on earth rules through violence or the threat of violence. That’s no less true in our republic today as it was in Jesus’ day. But Jesus rules only by the power of his love, freely given to us. He gives his life freely, as he says in John 10, so that his sheep – us – may have abundant life. A God-rooted, God-soaked life, God-focused life, which begins now and continues through eternity.


Jesus could never have saved us by compulsion. He never could have saved us through fear or violence. He knew that he could only bring us to his Father out of love. He could only give us life if he laid down his own. The powers of the world – both natural and supernatural – tried to get rid of him by lynching him on a Roman cross. But in doing that, they enthroned him as our King. As the King who has come not judge us, but to save.  


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.