The Way of the Cross #3: The God We Want?

I preached this sermon on Sunday, April 2, 2023. The Scriptures were 1 Samuel 8:1-7 and the Gospel of Mark 15:1-15. You can find them here.

“The same as all the other nations have”

There’s a story in the OT, in the book of 1 Samuel, where all of the elders of the people of Israel go to the prophet Samuel. They go to him with a demand. This is what they say: Appoint a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have. Until this point, the nation of Israel has not had a king. They have had leaders but not a king. And now not only do they want a king, they want a king the same as all the other nations have.

When we hear that, maybe we think, “What’s so bad about that?” After all, Samuel was old — and perhaps not long for this world — and his sons were not walking in his ways. Who will lead them after Samuel dies?

But Samuel’s uneasy with their demand. Something is off. He believed their demand to be wrong. So he prays. He goes to the Lord in order to receive direction about what to do. This is what the Lord tells him: Listen to the people and everything they say to you. They have not rejected you; they have rejected me as their king.

So that’s what’s going on. It’s not that Israel is simply wondering about who will lead them when Samuel’s no longer around. It’s not even that want a king. It’s that they want a king the same as all the other nations have. This is tantamount to rejecting their calling to be a light to the other nations, to be a blessing to all of the peoples around them as they follow God’s ways in the land he gave them.

Indeed, the Lord puts it bluntly and simply: They have rejected me as their king. Israel’s demand for a king like other nations have is a rejection of the God who made them. The Lord was not the God they wanted; he was definitely not the king they wanted.

And rather than be the people God called them to be, they wanted to be like all of the other people around. They didn’t want to be distinct, set apart, holy; they wanted to be like everyone else, indistinguishable from the crowd. They wanted to fit in. Does this ever in any way describe us? Does this ever in any way describe the church today?

“Are you the king of the Jews?”

We read in the Gospel of Mark the story about Jesus before Pilate. Accusations have been brought. He’s already been before the Sanhedrin. He’s already been found guilty by the religious leaders. He’s already been mocked, spat on, and beaten.

Now Jesus stands before the secular authorities, because the Jewish leaders haven’t the authority to put someone to death. They bring him to Pilate, who was the Roman official among the Jews at this time. Rome, of course, is the ruling power of the land.

Jesus is questioned by Pilate. Are you the king of the Jews? Jesus’ answer is not a denial nor an admission: You say so. Clearly he doesn’t know what to do. Jesus seems innocent on the one hand, but a threat to civil order on the other. The chief priests repeat their accusations in front of Pilate. Jesus remains silent. Pilate is amazed at Jesus.

It’s interesting that just a few chapters ago in the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus enters Jerusalem, there are crowds chanting hosanna. On what we call Palm Sunday, which the church around the world acknowledges today, Jesus’ entrance is filled with Messianic symbolism. He enters the holy city to the roar of the crowd.

It’s important to note that there were all kinds of expectations among the Jews at this time about who the Messiah would be and what this Messiah would do. Among these expectations was the hope that the Messiah would overthrow their Roman oppressors and rule over Israel as king, bringing justice and peace. That is who they thought — who they hoped — God was going to send.

Yet consider our main passage again. Jesus is before Pilate, who represents the Roman empire oppressing the nation of Israel. He’s silent before his accusers. He does not answer Pilate’s questions.

And it so happens that at this time of year, during the festival of Passover, there was a tradition of releasing one prisoner requested by the people. Pilate, wanting to wash his hands clean of this whole situation with Jesus, figures this is his chance. You see, Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent. While he may have gotten under the skin of these Jewish leaders, he had done no punishable crime. Pilate knew it was because of envy that the chief priests had handed him over.

So he asks the crowd that has gathered: Do you want me to release the King of the Jews for you? But the leaders stirred up the crowd. They instead encouraged the people to ask for the release of another prisoner, a man named Barabbas. Now, Barabbas was not just another prisoner. He was a murderer.

When Pilate heard this, I can imagine he was taken aback. I can imagine him thinking: “They want me to release this murderer Barabbas instead of this Jesus?” So he asks: Then what do you want me to do with the one you call King of the Jews?

Then the crowd shouts: Crucify him! Pilate mystified by the whole thing, asks: Why? What has he done wrong? But the crowd shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” Pilate, wanting to rid himself of an inconvenient problem, caved to the whims of the rioting mob. He handed him over to be crucified.

So only days before the Passover festival the crowds were shouting Hosanna! Now they were shouting Crucify him! There’s a lesson: beware of trusting crowds. It turns out, Jesus was not the King they wanted, just like God was not the King they wanted in the days of Samuel.

Just as the Lord said to Samuel, Jesus can also say here: They have rejected me as their king.

The King We Need

But maybe we ask: Why would anyone reject God — reject Jesus — as King? If Jesus is God in the flesh, why isn’t he the one we truly want? I read an article while preparing for today called, “The King We Needed, But Never Wanted,” by Marshall Segal. I want to share a few of the points he makes in that article.

He says this: “If we come to the crucified one expecting him to make life easier and more comfortable, we’re not listening to him.”

Perhaps we can say this: Jesus does come to bring comfort but not to make us comfortable.

But if we think God should give us or even owes us a comfortable and struggle-free, then we will reject him as king.

However, if we seek a king who will comfort us with his presence, who identifies with us in our suffering, Jesus is that king.

Segal also says this: “Many of Jesus’s followers thought Jesus came to rescue and reign now. They anticipated a physical and political freedom from the oppressive Roman rule. For them, the Christ was the key to their immediate, this-world issues. Life now. Freedom now. Power now. But Jesus, walking to the cross, instead says to wait. Be patient.”

Perhaps we can say this: Jesus does come to reign and to bring freedom, but to reign in our hearts and to free us from sin and our deep brokenness.

If we think God ought to be quick about answering all of our prayers, or that he should act to alleviate all of our problems immediately, then we will reject him as king.

However, if we seek a king who will sustain us in the present, who will bring light out of darkness, hope out of despair, and life out of death, then Jesus is that king.

Lastly, Segal says this: “Jesus did not come to purchase the approval of others . . . it is God’s approval we desperately need. And God’s approval doesn’t come by popular opinion, but by divine intervention — the substitution of his own Son in our place.”

Perhaps we can say this: Jesus does bring God’s approval, not because of anything we do but because we trust in what he has done.

If we think having the approval of other people is what makes us valuable, then we will reject Jesus as king.

However, if we are looking for someone who will love us and receive us even if the rest of the world rejects us, even if when we fail to meet the expectations of those around us, then Jesus can be our king.

Because Jesus himself did not come into our world to seek comfort and ease. Because he did not come to operate by the world’s political methods. Because he did not come to win the approval of others.

No, Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came to usher in the reign of God, which would begin, slowly but surely, to contaminate the world with grace and forgiveness, to cast out evil and to bring justice — to point also to that future day when the kingdom would come and God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. Because heaven and earth will have come together.

But only because of the cross. Only because Jesus would walk to Golgotha weighed down by a crossbeam on his shoulders, and then shoulder all of the evil, brokenness, injustice, and wrong this world knows. Absorbing all of that onto himself, Jesus — the Son of God — defeated all of it.


It’s true. Sometimes the God I need is not the God I want. Because I want comfort. I want my problems solved right now. And I want the approval of people around me. And I want God to give me all of this. Sometimes, in my worst, most self-absorbed moments, I actually think I deserve this.

But the God I want is not always the God I need. Jesus is the Messiah, the king, the Lord, the God I may not always want. But he is always the one I need.

And so the story of Jesus going to the cross, is the story of us rejecting God, of turning away from our Creator, from the one who made us for himself, apart from whom we not only cannot truly have life, but cannot even know what life really is.

But here’s the hitch, the twist in the story. The cross is also not an accident. It’s not something that Jesus did not expect. It didn’t take God by surprise. Indeed, it’s what he had always planned to do!

In the mystery of his will, the way of the cross was always going to be the way Jesus would take. Because it is the way of the cross that leads to life — to not only Jesus’ resurrection, but to life for us also.

Because on the cross all of our rejection of God, all of our self-assertion and pride, all of our vile thoughts and insensitive remarks and sinful attitudes get absorbed and dealt with. Because on the cross Jesus took care of all that is wrong to make us right with ourselves, with one another, and, ultimately, with God.

So while it is true that in my sinfulness and my rebellion the God who takes the way of the cross may not always be the God I want, as it turns out, much to my surprise and to my joy, this God is always the one I need.

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