Sunday school lesson for the week of April 13, 2014
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson Scripture: Jeremiah 23:5, 6; Zachariah 6:9-15; John 19:1-5
Some individuals and couples are known as “fun people.” We look forward to being with them in the present and future because we have experienced them as enjoyable in the past. On the other hand, if we’ve experienced folks as being “perpetual complainers,” our expectations are entirely different.
It has been suggested that what is true for individuals or couples may also be true of entire peoples and nations. Here, I’m not talking about “fun people,” but the fact that our present and future expectations are based on experiences from the past. A case in point is that Israel’s past experiences with kings shaped its future expectations for a certain king. And our two Old Testament lessons from Jeremiah and Zachariah illustrate that connection.
The King Recognized
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God declared his intention “to raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king…” (23:5). Right there, we see the promise of a future king made in reference to a past king. David’s reign had occurred 400 years prior to Jeremiah’s ministry in Judah and Jerusalem. During David’s kingship, the 12 tribes of Israel were strong and united, but in Jeremiah’s time things had fallen apart. The northern 10 tribes had been destroyed by the Assyrians a century earlier. And the remaining southern kingdom of Judah was tottering on the brink of destruction. Compared to the chaos of Jeremiah’s day, David’s era must have looked “golden,” indeed. David’s reign symbolized the good old days, when Jerusalem had everything going for it – strength, prosperity, and security.
No doubt, it was with a hopeful, pleasant expectancy that the people thought of the future king in Davidic terms. In the past, all the kings of Israel had been measured by David. So, based on Israel’s past experiences with David, the people’s future expectations were bright.
As we know, the prophecy of Zachariah 6 does not specifically mention David. However, because Zachariah was several generations after Jeremiah, his use of the term “Branch” may have been thought of as a connection to David’s promised descendent. Furthermore, scholars inform us that Zachariah, like Jeremiah, greatly anticipated the reign of this “Branch” who is a priest and king, who establishes the Lord’s house, who is implicitly identified with David; and whose name, in the New Testament Greek, would be Jesus.
Consider how God characterizes this coming reign: wisdom, justice, righteousness and safety. As we are informed, these words reveal the perfect will of God. The reign of this “Branch” will, in fact, be the kingdom of God.
The King Unrecognized
If David and his reign are seen as the best, then everyone should strive to that standard. Undoubtedly, the people’s past experiences biased their future expectations for David’s “golden era.” But what if David was not the end of all ends? What if David’s good reign was meant to be only a beginning? When looking for a Messiah, scholars suggest “that David is not the sticker price from which you negotiate down. Rather, David is the opening bid to which God adds still more value.”
For sure, David was great, but he was also mortal. In David’s character, there were royal qualities of strength and magnanimity, but there were also dangerous passions. At times, he showed serious weaknesses and terrible lapses of judgment. But regarding his descendant, the “Branch” that is something entirely different.
If the people were looking for a warrior-king just to liberate and rule their nation for a generation, then David might do. But God has a much larger vision in mind regarding this Promised Branch of David. In terms of the Messiah, God is thinking global and his plan includes the salvation and liberation of all people. Indeed, God’s plan is eternal and includes the redemption of all creation. And his method of conquest is the way of humble service in using “a towel and basin,” embodying self-sacrifice and love. In addition, his followers will likewise do the same. To be sure, the world has never seen this king of king and perhaps that’s the reason he is unrecognized.
The King Rejected
“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged” (John 19:1). Just that! Yet a flogging with the terrible iron-tipped and iron-weighted Roman lash was a horrible ordeal. Flogging would tear the lacerated flesh to ribbons and often cause death. But of that, there was not a word.
Sick and dizzy with pain, Jesus found no sympathy among the guards. These were hardened soldiers, and they had heard of the charge that Jesus had claimed to be the king of the Jews. They saw a chance for some immense entertainment. So these guards dressed Jesus in a faded tunic, which would pass for royal purple. They wove some sharp thorns into a crown and forced it down upon his head. In derision, they kept chanting, “’Hail, King of the Jews!’ while they continued striking him on the face” (19:3).
“’Here’s the man!’ said Pilate, bringing Jesus out, still wearing the emblems of his bogus royalty” (19:5). Pilate saw through the false charges of the officials and wanted Jesus flogged and freed, but he didn’t have the courage to take a stand.
For all the speculation about Jesus’ identity as “King of the Jews” prior to his birth and during his lifetime, people didn’t really understand what kind of king he was. As we are told, the leaders and people alike only thought in terms of the kind of kings they had known. And with their limited vision they didn’t recognize the real king right there in their midst. They never understood that “(his) kingdom is not of the world” (John 18:36).
So many years of hoping and waiting for God’s special king, but they didn’t recognize him. What about us?
Dr. Kirby Godsey, former President of Mercer, says, “That you and I are not defined by the passing of days, of hours or minutes, or even months or years…in each of our histories, it is the moments that count, not the minutes. There are moments that are unique and defining for each of us…When certain, specific events occur, we are never quite the same – an encounter, a marriage, a divorce, an automobile accident, an illness, a fire, an angry word, a storm, a broken relationship, and enduring friendship. And I would add, a divine recognition.