Jeremiah 23:1-6, John 18:28-40
November 25, 2012
This is “Christ the King Sunday.” And if you haven’t heard me say it before, this is the last Sunday of the Liturgical year. Next Sunday believe it or not! is the first Sunday of Advent, which is the start of the Church year. And by the way, as I’ve been saying, if you think Advent is coming fast this year, wait till you see Lent! It’s very early!!
The idea of the Liturgical year is that we start with the celebration of Jesus Christ coming into the world, including the anticipation leading up to that event. That we call Advent. Then, throughout the year, we celebrate the various events of his life and ministry. And finally, we lead up to the end, the Grande Finale of all that, when we celebrate him as Christ the King. Then we start all over again.
So here we are at the end. Here we are celebrating Christ the King. And as we do so, we think about that in two ways. First we celebrate Jesus coming kingdom at the end of time. Over the years we have referred to that as the “Eschatological Kingdom.” That comes from the Greek word, “Eschatos” meaning “last” or “end.” We also have the word “eschatology” which is the study of the end times. As you know, if you watch TV late at night, there are some churches that talk about that almost exclusively! Whats going to happen? Who will the players be? When will the end come? And that’s all well and good. But it’s only part of the picture.
So as we celebrate Christ the King, we look forward to that time down the road when Christ shall reign on earth. And we get hints and pictures of that coming kingdom in various places in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament, and particularly in the book of Revelation. And of course, we pray for that coming kingdom every single Sunday in worship. You all said with me today, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s what we’re talking about. We could say, “Thy eschatological kingdom come…” But we won’t.
Well, the other way we celebrate Christ the King is the way Jesus often talked about it in his ministry. If you remember, he spoke often of the Kingdom of God, and he likened it to many things. Many of his Parables started out with the words, “The kingdom of heaven” or “The kingdom of God is like…” He told them, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed.” “It is like leaven.” “It is like the merchant finding the pearl of great price.”
But he also talked about the kingdom in a new way. He said, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” “It is in your midst.” “It is now!” We can’t forget that part of Christ the King Sunday. That’s an important way of thinking about it. Because that takes the kingdom out of the realm of “pie in the sky by and by,” it takes it out of the “someday if we make it,” and it puts it in the present. And when we do that, the question becomes, is Christ king for us – now?
I also hope you see that’s not an easy question. That’s hard to fathom. Is Jesus really king for you? The people in his day had a hard time dealing with that. If you remember, they wanted an actual king! They hated being under the thumb of Rome! They wanted freedom! So when, in Matthew’s Gospel, the Wise Men – the Magi – came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?” Jesus instantly became part of the power struggle in that region! (A power struggle that seems to be going on even today!) And he wasn’t even born yet!
The people then wanted a king! They longed for a king like unto David! He was their greatest king, their leader in the glory days of Israel. And that desire was the backdrop of everything that happened in the days of Jesus. He even chose one of the revolutionaries, Simon the Zealot, to be one of his 12 chosen. The Zealots were ones that wanted to force the revolution so that the kingdom could be restored. It may have been Simon who asked Jesus, even after his resurrection, “Lord, is this the time you will restore the kingdom?!” (Acts 1:6)
The idea of Jesus being King of the Jews persisted to the end of his ministry. When he was brought before Pilate, that was the accusation made about him. That same power struggle seemed still to be very much alive! When he was brought bound before him, Pilate asked, “Are you King of the Jews?” That was an important question as far as the Romans were concerned. To claim to be king challenged their power. And the conversation that followed speaks of that power struggle, as it speaks also of the celebration we have today. I read part of it for you in our New Testament Lesson. Jesus said, “My kingship is not of this world. If it were, you’d have a real revolution on your hands.” There’s no question Pilate was concerned about that. He had seen the huge crowds! I’m pretty sure he feared that Jesus only had to say the word, and that revolution would have begun!
Even the exchange between Pilate and the priests speaks of Christ the King. If you remember, Pilate had the sign put on the cross that said, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Thats the INRI you sometimes see on a cross. That’s an acronym of those words in Latin. “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Well, the priests objected to the sign. “Do not write ‘King of the Jews.'” they said! “Write ‘This man said he was the King of the Jews.'” That’s ironic because he was the only one in the whole narrative who did not say he was the King of the Jews!
At any rate, Pilate would have none of that. He told them, “What I have written I have written!” which sounds like an official pronouncement, doesn’t it? And in all of that exchange, don’t you get a feeling of that power struggle. And somehow, it wasn’t Pilate who was the stronger power! Even the great soldier he was, standing there in the seat of his power, representing Rome, was somehow less of a power than the man standing before him beaten and bleeding. There, in that moment, was Christ the King!
Well, at the end, when Jesus didn’t fulfill the people’s desire for a king, they abandoned him. They hailed him king on Palm Sunday but he refused the crown, so they turned on him. In the end, it was the issue of him being king that led to his demise, which was part of the greatest irony in history.
But in all that, I believe the question that always comes back to us on this Sunday, is Pilate’s question. “Are you King of the Jews?” That’s the question we have to ask ourselves. “Is Jesus King?” And more specifically, “Is he our king?” Yes, the eschatological kingship of Jesus is all well and good. It makes for an interesting study and discussion. But it is this immediate question of the kingdom now – the kingdom in our midst – the kingdom in our lives – that has, I think, the greatest impact.
I want you to think about that as we come to this sacrament, as we remember here at this table the sacrifice made for us so that we can be part of Jesus kingdom – the kingdom here on earth, and at the end of time.
Jesus, you are our king. Help us to seek your kingdom first in our lives. Help us to know the joy we have in being your people, no matter what the circumstances in our lives. Help us now to have a glimpse of your kingdom as we celebrate this communion together. For we pray in your name, and for the sake of your kingdom, Amen.