ASH WEDNESDAY 2014 – THE KING’S WISDOM

This year during Lent we are focusing upon Jesus as King: the King of the Jews and King of all people. Our King.

 

What do you think of when you think of a king? The greatest king of the Jews was Solomon. His throne was made of ivory, and overlaid with the finest gold. The six steps leading up to his great throne each had carved lions on both sides. At the back of the throne was a calf’s head, a symbol of kingly might. The armrests were elaborate, and his footstool was made of gold. Wise King Solomon truly built himself a glorious throne.

 

But as magnificent as his throne was, the one who sat on it was even more impressive. Early in his rule God had invited him to ask for anything. But, Solomon didn’t ask for the things kings normally want: riches, or a long life, or victory over his enemies. He asked for wisdom to rule God’s people, and God was pleased to grant his request. He became known all over for his great wisdom. The Queen of Sheba came 1,200 miles to test him with hard questions, and his answers left her breathless. He spoke 3,000 Proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs.

 

Yet, all that glory couldn’t stop Solomon’s life from coming to an inglorious end. Sadly, his heart increasingly turned away from the Word of the Lord and made him a tyrant. So, while his lips still poured forth wisdom, the way he lived made him no more than a hypocrite. “Rejoice in the wife of your youth,” Solomon taught (Proverbs 5:18), while he rejoiced in 700 of them. “How much better to get wisdom than gold,” he said (16:16), while his greedy royal hands grasped for as much as they could gather. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” he wrote (Psalm 111:10), but he lived as though he feared everything but the Lord. A royal hypocrite, indeed.

 

Ash Wednesday is a time for us to recognize and admit to our own hypocrisy. In today’s Gospel Jesus spoke against the way of those religious show-offs, the Pharisees. But let us not “tsk-tsk” too loudly at what those show-offs did. You’ve certainly never stood on the street corner and prayed so that others would see you, as they did, but how often have you stood there and lied, telling people that you were praying for them when you weren’t? How often have you not prayed at all in public because of what others would think? How often have you been unwilling to pray for others because you were angry with them? We must all admit to our hypocrisies.

 

Repent. King Solomon and the Pharisees aren’t the only hypocrites. There’s a reason for those marks of mortality on our foreheads. There’s a reason those words first spoken to Adam, “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19), were spoken into our ears this day. The reason is the inglorious, show-off hearts of ours that seek a religious “Atta boy.” Glory-seeking hearts are never content with being seen by the only eyes that matter—the eyes of our Father in heaven. We need to remember that His eyes are always upon us, and are the only eyes that matter at the end.

 

And so, we repent and turn to our Father, who has eyes of mercy. He is gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love. And He loves giving rewards to those who confess their unworthiness. He remembers that you are dust, and to dust you shall return, but above all He remembers His mercy and His promise to rescue sinners. He sees that wretched state of yours and sends you a king wiser than Solomon to help you. A Greater Solomon, in fact. The King of kings, whose throne in heaven would have made Solomon’s throne look like a deck chair, yet who left heaven to take on your flesh and blood and come down and rescue you.

 

King Jesus is seated on a green, grassy hill in today’s Gospel. Teaching with authority and pouring out the gold of His Word, He should be seated on a golden throne, but He sits on the ground and His feet rest on dirt. He is not surrounded by twelve carved lions, but by twelve flesh-and-blood sinners whom He considers His sheep. He teaches us about a Kingdom that cannot be earned, but only received by faith in Him.

 

But, King Jesus not only talked the talk; He walked the walk. For you He left that pretty, grassy hill, so that His whole earthly life would be a walk to another hill, an ugly one outside of Jerusalem called “Golgotha.” What drove Him there was His immeasurable love for you and for His Father. On the way there, He blew no trumpet as He readily helped the needy in body and soul, doing so until His hands were stretched out and pounded onto a cross to heal our sinful hands. Even though He was God in the flesh, He didn’t stand on the street corners and impress people with His prayers; He was content to continually leave the crowds to pray alone to His Father in heaven. This was a King who was willing to serve everyone, even the most sinful and undeserving, to do what we should do and show forth the mercy of God.

 

King Jesus is different from all other kings. While wise King Solomon built a throne for himself and his own glory, Jesus did no such thing. He was content with the One that His Father prepared for Him. It wasn’t a throne made of ivory and overlaid with the finest gold. It was made of wood, to be covered with the finest blood—His blood, God’s blood. It didn’t have an impressive backrest, or armrest or a golden footrest. His throne was an ugly, wooden cross. He mounted it to die an inglorious death for inglorious sinners. To that ugly throne He dragged all your phoniness and mistrust so that He might triumph over it in the resurrection and seat you with Him at God’s right hand.

 

King Jesus is just the king we need: a crucified King. God’s Wisdom in the flesh. The Father’s reward for you. The King with the perfect heart, who by His precious blood has atoned for all your sins and given you an eternal Kingdom you could never earn or merit. The King whose glory is not found in might, or gold, or many wives, but in being a faithful husband to one wife: to you, His beloved Church whom He has absolved and adorned with the magnificence of His forgiveness and enriched with the wealth of His holy life.

 

The King of heaven now calls you sinners to this altar to drink His very blood from the royal goblet, which imparts to you the forgiveness of sins, and enlivens you with courage to be His kingdom of priests for the sake of your neighbor. Yes, this day we remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. But we are now dust which God has joined to His Son and raised as new men and women, His own precious and beautiful people because of the love of our crucified King! Amen.