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"The King's Strength "

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 23, 2018
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:The King's Strength)
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Luke 1:26-56

A young girl and her teenage sister wait along a cobblestone street. There is a crowd and so she's having trouble seeing past the grownups. Everyone's chattering excitedly. Someone shouts, "Here he comes!" The crowd breaks, just enough for the little girl to slip through to the edge of the street. A man on a magnificent brown and white horse passes. She looks up and waves. He waves back and continues down the street surrounded by his loyal subjects. Her sister whispers in her ear. Now you are special forever because you have been greeted by a king. That's a scene from Lois Lowry's book Number the Stars. A story based on life in Denmark under the rule of King Christian the X. What would it be like to have a king? That's a difficult question for us to answer; kings, monarchies, for the most part, have gone out of style.

We don't know what it's like to yearn for a king, and so in a similar way, we may have trouble understanding the accounts that narrate the birth of Jesus. In the New Testament, if you slow down and listen to the first chapter of the biography of Jesus called the Gospel of Luke, you will hear people aching with hope for a king, not just any king, the Messiah, the King chosen by God who would defeat the enemy. You listened to the first chapter of Luke, and you will hear Elizabeth rejoice simply for the fact that she had been greeted by the mother of her King. You will hear Mary sing for joy that the Lord was going to cast down the mighty from their thrones and raise up the offspring, the seed of Abraham. You will hear Zachariah rejoice that the Lord has raised up a King from the house of David who will save His people, forgive their sins and enable them to serve God without fear.

You listen to Luke chapter one, and you will hear loyal subjects waiting for their King. Listen to this excerpt from Luke chapter one, beginning at the 26th verse: "In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a woman, a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph who was a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel said to her, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you.' And Mary was troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be, but the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with Child and give birth to a Son and you are to name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will rule. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and there will be no end to His kingdom.'

"And Mary said, 'How will this be since I am a virgin?' And the angel said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. And so the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth, your relative, is going to have a child in her old age, and she who is said to be barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing will be impossible with God.' And Mary said, 'I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me is you have said.' And the angel left her. At that time, Mary got ready and hurried to a house in the hill country of Judea, to Zachariah's house. And she greeted Elizabeth, 'Elizabeth!' As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby in her womb leaped for joy. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed in a loud voice, 'Blessed are you among women, And blessed is the Child that you will bear! But why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed it is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.'

And Mary said, 'My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for the Lord has regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden. For behold, from this day, all generations will call me blessed. Where the Mighty One has done great things to me. And holy is His Name, and His mercy is on all those who fear Him, from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm. He has scattered the proud in the imaginations of their heart. He has cast down the mighty from their throne and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich, He has sent empty away. He has helped His servant Israel in remembrance of His mercy as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever."

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

"And Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then she went home."

This is the Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, Oh Christ.

What would it be like to have a king who inspired your soul to magnify the Lord? If we want to try to understand what the birth of Jesus means, what the birth of Jesus meant to this group of Jewish people who authored the documents that came to be called the New Testament then we need to attempt an answer to this question. What would it be like to have a king? Now King Jesus is different than any other monarch that has ruled throughout the ages, but I have found a helpful comparison between King Jesus and this king of Denmark that I mentioned, in this, that king in Denmark exhibited a strength that inspired his people through weakness and defeat to resist the enemy. In a similar way, our King Jesus exhibits a strength that inspires His people through weakness and defeat to resist the enemy. King Christian the X ruled in Denmark for 35 years from 1912 to 1947. He was one of Denmark's most beloved kings. Every morning he would ride out on his royal steed through the streets of Copenhagen to greet his people.

In 1940, the Nazi armies invaded Denmark.

If they were to try to fight the Nazis by force, thousands of Danish people would have died in vain. King Christian knew this and so the first thing he did was order his navy to burn the entire fleet of ships in the harbor so that they would not fall into the hands of the Nazis, and then he ordered his military to lay down their arms and surrender. The Nazis took this for weakness, but there is a strength that is stronger than bullets and bonds. Lois Lowry based her children's book Number the Stars on life in Denmark under the reign of King Christian during the Nazi occupation. In the historical afterward of her book, she wrote the Nazis controlled the newspapers, the rail system, the government, hospitals, schools, and the day-to-day existence of the Danish people, but they never controlled King Christian. Every day during the occupation, he would continue to go out from his palace on his horse unguarded and greeted by his people. One story has it that a Nazi soldier asked a boy standing on the road there, "Who is this man who rides past every day on his horse?"

And the boy said, "He is the king, the king of Denmark."

"If he is a king, where is his bodyguard?"

And the boy said to the soldier, "All Denmark is his body guard."

Some rulers wheeled economic, technological, and military might, but the true strength of a king is unveiled in the loyalty of his people. What would it be like to have a king? What would it be like to have a person who brings out the best in us? A person who because of his great love for his people, inspired in them sacrificial service and undying loyalty? What would it be like if all your everyday tasks, your chores, were lifted out of the realm of survival, out of the realm of earning a paycheck, exalted into sacred service for your king? What would it be like if the bravery and the strength and the kindness of your king had the effect of making you braver, stronger, and more kind? What would it be like to have Jesus as your King? Jesus is a unique kind of king. He's not like other kings, even Mary and Elizabeth, they could not anticipate what this King would do. They rejoiced at His conception, but they could not fully conceive of His mission. He is a king who would conquer not by seizing power and taking control but through weakness—through surrendering power, submitting to death, even death on a cross.

Why would He be king in this way? Of all the ways that He could be king? Why would He be king in this way? Because this was God's chosen way: the only way for Him to truly defeat the enemy. This I think is where the analogy between King Jesus and the king of Denmark breaks down. It's in the nature of the enemy. See, the most dangerous enemy for you and me—he does not launch a direct assault. It's more of an inside job. It's less like a blitzkrieg and more like guerilla warfare or psychological warfare. See, your enemy has a two-pronged attack. The first of which is to tell you that you have absolute power to decide what's right for you. He will prod you to behave as a little monarch, to manipulate and control the people around you, to build your kingdom. And this power has a way of corrupting and, eventually, your kingdom will crumble and fall, and that's when he launches the second prong of attack, which is to tell you that you are a failure, that you are so riddled with guilt and shame that you have no value to anyone. And if you try to fight him on your own strength and rebuild your kingdom, once again, it will crumble and fall, and once again he will tell you that you are worthless, abandoned by your people, damned by your God, and so great is his hatred that he will delight—not just to do this cycle once or twice, but again and again even to your eternal damnation, if you give them the chance. Jesus became king for this. At every point in His life, when the enemy tempted Him to seize control and take power for Himself, Jesus willingly submitted to the Father's plan, willingly served. Even when they were crucifying Him, Jesus prayed for the people who were telling him in the strongest possible terms that they thought He was worthless. Jesus prayed for them. See Luke 23:32-35, and there on the cross, at this most extreme point of weakness and failure and shame—there—Jesus broke the power of the enemy. You remember the ironic message they put above His head. This is the King, the promised King of the Jews. Only the cross of Jesus has the power to cast down the mighty from their thrones. Only the cross of Jesus has the power to scatter the proud in the imagination of our hearts. The cross of Jesus is the only way out of your self-imposed, self-corrupting monarchy. Cling to Him, and through His death and resurrection He will set you free.

We get a glimpse of the strength of our king veiled in weakness in the example of the king of Denmark and his people. When the Nazis invaded Denmark, they began to do what they had done in every other country, that is, to forcibly begin to relocate the Jewish people and other undesirables and to send them to the work camps and, eventually, to the death camps. Very few citizens in other countries resisted. By and large, they looked the other way, concerned for their own safety when they saw their neighbors being moved from their houses. But virtually the entire nation of Denmark resisted, because they were following the example of their weak and defeated king. When the Nazis gave the deportation order to move the Jewish people out of Denmark in 1943, the Danish people secretly worked together to hide their Jewish neighbors and, in a matter of a few weeks, they smuggled almost the entire Jewish population out of Denmark, across the sea, in their fishing boats to safety in Sweden, saving nearly 7,000 lives. The Nazis thought that the Danish people in their king were weak, but it was they who subverted the Nazi plan. It was their king who continued to reign even after the enemy had been defeated. There is a strength that is stronger than bullets and bombs. This week, loyal subjects all over the world will be singing, "Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let Earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing!" What would it be like for you to have Jesus as your King? Would you rejoice with Elizabeth? Would you sing with Mary? What's keeping you from making room in your heart? Maybe you feel like He hasn't been meeting your short-term needs. Those things matter to Him, but what is most important is your long-term wellbeing, and so you will always find Him at work in your weakness. You will always find Him at work confronting your sin and your pride. You will always find Him at work in His forgiving and liberating Word. Look to Jesus, and God's Spirit will bind you to Him with something that is stronger than bullets and bombs: the love and the loyalty of your King. If you're willing, I invite you to pray this prayer with me: Lord Jesus Christ, I am Your servant. May it be to me as You have said. Jesus, I am Your servant. May it be to me as You have said. I am Your servant. May it be to me as You have said. Amen.

Reflections for December 23, 2018

Title: The King's Strength

Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and we just heard a message from Dr. Michael Ziegler titled, "The King's Strength." I'm Mark Eischer. I'm here in the studio with Dr. Ziegler and joining us, Dr. Tony Cook.

Tony Cook: I really liked this sermon. I like the concept of exploring a king—what it means to be acknowledged by someone in that position. And you tell us the story of the two girls and the king acknowledging and greeting them and them feeling special as a result. And I thought, well, why is that?

Mike Zeigler: I think the word that you're talking around is recognition. This is something that parents give to their children early on. It's something friends give to other kids on the school playground. It's something that we seek in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods. We hunger to be recognized by other people. And when that recognition comes from someone who is high up in the social hierarchy or somebody that many people admire—to be recognized by that person—carries with it a measure of special importance, then. "Oh, I'm on the same level with them. Or at least I'm near them." He recognizes us and creates something in us, simply by choosing, by grace, on account of Christ, to call us not just His loyal subject in His kingdom, but His children: children of the Father, brothers of the King.

Mark Eischer: Many of our messages will focus on Jesus as the sacrifice for our sins, but today you talked about Him as King. What are some of the big differences?

Mike Zeigler: Well, going with that idea of recognition—so if Jesus is the King and He has not only all authority and power, but also all credibility and all the legitimacy that you'd want to see in a good king, a good, purely human king like we talked about—the king Christian in the story—Jesus is all that to the max. So simply to be recognized by Him, that I am a part of His kingdom, that's good news. And that's a way to say the good news that might be fresh to a lot of people.

Tony Cook: Well, one of the interesting things you bring out in the sermon is that while Jesus is filling that role as King, that He does have these distinct differences, and one of them is really kind of a counterintuitive thought of strength versus weakness so that you have Jesus as King, but He comes in the form of a baby, you know, that needs to be taken care of and the weakness that's associated with that. But then also His saving work on the cross appears to be a form of weakness. And you talk about in the sermon that probably Mary and Elizabeth would have even struggled with an understanding of how counterintuitive that would have been with Jesus being that promised Messiah, that King that they were waiting for—so very, very different than a worldly king.

Mike Zeigler: Right. The people that we look up to, the celebrities that we have, that we admire, often because of their strength or power or beauty. And for Jesus to be the kind of King who has, as Isaiah 53 says, nothing that would attract us to Him and a king who would empty Himself of power, is counterintuitive, and I think it could lead us to see Him as weak in some way. And that is true, but that's where the analogy with this king of Denmark is helpful, I think, because here is a king who was defeated and seen as weak by his enemies and yet possessed this great strength that was unveiled in the loyalty of his followers.

And this is the kind of strength that Jesus possesses. In His weakness, in what seems to be defeat, He has victory, and it's this victory that comes from surrendering to His Father, entrusting Himself to His Father. There's a helpful phrase that sometimes used in Advent that once Jesus came in history, in weakness, now He comes in the mystery, that is, in the church and in His presence and the Lord's Supper and His promise in Baptism. Soon, He will come in majesty. And that's when we will see Him, and as Paul says in Philippians, "every knee will bow."

And I wonder what will be that power that causes every knee to bow. Maybe it'll be something that's similar to coercive power, but I think there's a different kind of power that even those who rejected Him will be brought to their knees in awe of Him when they see Him for who He is.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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