Fighting the Good Fight – November 24, 2019, Christ the King Sunday
Psalm 95, I Timothy 6:11-16
November 24, 2019
As I said last week, Christ the King Sunday is the culmination of the entire church year. All the celebrations throughout the year, everything we have thought so far, about the life and ministry of Jesus, leads up to this. Jesus was… “Born of the Virgin Mary, (did a lot of things!) suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. The third day he rose again from the dead…” and then this. “He is seated at the right hand of the God the Father Almighty.” That’s what we celebrate today. Christ the King!
I love this passage for Christ the King Sunday. Here, Paul is writing to Timothy, his young apprentice, and he’s telling Timothy to keep the faith, and to “Fight the Good Fight.” Why? Because “Fighting the Good Fight” is about staying faithful to the one who, at the culmination of all history, is “Christ the King!”
He tells Timothy, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called… Keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light.”
In saying that, I hope you see that Paul is putting Jesus on the same level with God himself – which he is, because he is God. We talked about that on “Trinity Sunday.” (Which comes right after Pentecost.) We noted then that it’s not easy to make sense of the whole “Trinity thing.” It can be very hard to fathom. In the modern expression, it can be hard to “wrap our minds around it.” You see, we believe in the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But we are not “Tri-theists.” That is, we don’t worship three gods. We worship a “triune” God, a God in three persons. And yes, for a time, Jesus the Son, was separate from God the Father. But they are one!
It’s hard for us to comprehend that. But here we have, in this “Christ the King Sunday,” the understanding that Jesus and God are one. And as we think about that, we find here this phrase, which we find again in Revelation, and which we’ve all heard set to music by Handel, in the famous “Hallelujah Chorus.” Jesus is “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.” And because he is, Paul says, we need to “Fight the Good Fight” of faith.
Now think about that for a moment. “Fighting the Good Fight.” Often the Christian life has been described in terms of warfare. You have passages like this one about “Fighting the Good Fight.” You have hymns like “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” And sometimes people have been uncomfortable with that. There have been times when they’ve tried to avoid such references, and remove such hymns from hymnals. Even the term “King” has a certain warfare connotation. In medieval times, the king would often lead his knights into battle! The imagery of the Messiah in the Old Testament was often that of a “Conquering King.”
For whatever reason, throughout history, warfare has been a part of the human condition. So, this kind of reference can be very meaningful. Maybe it can help us deal with that difficult part of our history. At the very least, we can identify with it when we hear Paul say, “Fight the Good Fight.”
Years ago, I wrote a paper about the concept of a “Just War.” That’s something that Christian scholars have been thinking about at least since the time of Saint Augustine in the fourth century. The idea is that war is sometimes not the “worst option.” I like that way of saying it. Yes, war is a bad option, but it’s not always the worst!
Augustine said that to be a “Just War” it must have three conditions. 1) It must be waged by a properly instituted authority. (Like the state, or the nation.) 2) It must occur for a “good and just purpose” and not for personal gain. (Vanquishing an evil foe, freeing the oppressed, or righting injustice.) And 3) It must have peace as it’s central motivation. (The only good reason to fight a war is to end the war!)
Think about that second condition. “It must occur for a good and just purpose.” Those who were part of the “World War II” era were called “The Greatest Generation,” in the book by the title. They knew they had a “good and just cause” in those days. They were ending totalitarian states. They were freeing conquered and subjugated people. They knew they were part of something big. And they knew dark days!
[I think mine was the first generation not to really know what it was like in the early days of that conflict, when things were going bad, when those who would subjugate the world were winning. All many of us know is that we won. We can’t imagine what it was like for Britain when they were alone, fighting for their survival, or the French who were already beaten. We didn’t know the bad news in that war, before there was good news.]
If you haven’t seen “Darkest Hour,” it’s an amazing movie. It was about Winston Churchill during the great struggle England was going through in the early days of the war – before America’s involvement. The Battle of Britain was raging in the skies overhead. But the biggest struggle Churchill had in those days was against his own government, against those who thought it best to negotiate with the Nazis, to “sue for peace,” which would have brought them under Hitler’s domination. That would have changed the course of the war, because we would not have had England as a convenient place from which to fight the war. Churchill’s speech before Parliament was the biggest moment of that movie – and that whole struggle. “We shall never surrender!”
I only say that today because I think Paul is telling us here that the Good Fight of faith also must have a just cause, a higher purpose. And I believe he is trying to focus our attention on what he saw as the highest cause. We “Fight the Good Fight,” we keep the faith, because we are part of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, because he is our King!
We have the greatest cause, the greatest reason, for “Fighting the Good Fight.” Because we are looking to Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith,” as Paul told the Hebrews. He is “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.” That’s why we “Fight the Good Fight!” We look to his kingdom. We look to the things “unseen.”
And we have to be reminded of all that – constantly! The sirens of this world are too strong in their call to us to look away from the heavenly world. We need to be constantly reminded of what Jesus has done for us. Hence this sacrament. We need to be constantly reminded of his life and ministry. Hence all the celebrations all year long – all of which lead up to this one. And we need to be constantly upheld and encouraged in our faith. That’s why it’s important that we meet together as believers.
So, Paul tells Timothy – and us – “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called… Keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.”
Eternal God, as we come to this sacrament, remind us of what you have done for us. Here let us know again of your great love, and the wonderful gift of your son, to be our savior, our friend, and our King. For we pray in his name, Amen!