Sermon for Christ the King Sunday, November 25, 2018 - John 18:33-37
The story goes of a Scottish minister who comes to America post-Revolution. He comes to Philadelphia on a ship and plans to serve churches in the area, and he enters into a tavern and he discovers a large sign on the wall, hand carved that says – “We have no kings here.” He then thought to himself, “Boy, I have my work cut out for me.” The land of independence. Of freedom. No kings. No sovereigns. Elected governments. We choose. At least we think we do.
So, what do we think of kings? Of princes? We love them in the tabloids. Royal weddings. Palace intrigue. The history. The names. But what does it mean for us to have a king? If we say of Jesus that he is King of kings and Lord of Lords, what do we mean? What does that change for us?
In history, a king or prince had a job – protection. Tasked with caring for a group of people who tended their land, or pledged allegiance to them as the mighty one in their midst, kings went to war and came to the defense of others. But they also held some rights over the people. Took taxes and land. Sent your young men off to war. Stole your daughters to work in the palace. Allowed soldiers free reign of the area maybe, depending on how kind the king or lord was. It was an issue of safety. You needed a lord over you, a symbol of law, in order to protect from bandits and warring armies.
We see a taste of this in Daniel. God seated upon his throne. The Ancient of Days. The One who exists before time. Outside of time. Outside of anything we might create. Any hierarchy, and here he comes to do the work of King. Subjecting the foes of his people to punishment. Destroying the destroyer and allowing his kingdom to have dominion and power over any other kingdom we bring.
This should bring us absolute joy and hope, but also terror. Joy and hope over the fact that we have a God who looks out for his people. Who sees the one who is attacking, the one who wants our ill, who wants to destroy us and his end is one of destruction. Whether you see that destroyer as the king of Babylon or Persia as the Jews of Daniel’s day. Or Emperor Caesar as the early church, or the beast/dragon of Revelation. Satan. The evil one. Death incarnate. Doesn’t matter. To know of this God who stands outside of time to vanquish the one who thinks he is master of these days. Who thinks he is the one grater than you because he can take your life from you. Death itself coming. Yet there is a glimpse here of the one on the throne, the Son of Man dressed in white coming to claim victory and to win. This king. Ruler. Authority.
This should bring terror, in a way, because what if there is this thing happening outside of any world we know or see? What if there is another life, something else beyond this world that needs this King sitting on his throne, being the king that is needed for that war? For that world? I find it terrifying because that means there is an evil stronger than me that can’t be defeated by elections or weapons. Can’t be defeated by social media boycotts or public protests. A change.org petition won’t solve the problem. The terror of a destroyer whose job is to destroy us. Two terrors actually – 1) an enemy exists more powerful than any defense I can create; and 2) a King exists who is mightier than any kingdom I can make.
In our Gospel text, Jesus is on trial and the accusers have run out of options. They wanted to convict him because of blasphemy, Jesus equating himself with God (imagine that), and the Romans laughed, and so they turned to something else – King or Lord. In Matthew and Mark he confesses to being the Christ, the Messiah. In Luke he confesses to being the Son of God and is dragged before Pilate accused of subverting the nation, refusing to pay taxes, and claiming to be a king. In all four gospel accounts he is asked the same question by Pilate – Are you the king of the Jews? The wrong answer would not bring as much condemnation as we might think. Jews being an ethnicity or religion, not a state or dominion. No real problem, but Christ does the very thing you would not expect, he actually admits nothing. He speaks of a kingdom, the kind that is not like any kingdom here on earth. Not managed by military might or power. But when asked by Pilate, “Are you the King of the Jews?”, he does not answer that question. The original language has this – “You say that I am a king. But I was born for this reason, and for this reason I came into the world – in order that I might testify to the truth.” He never calls himself a king. He allows Pilate and the accusers to do what they will, but he makes it plain that his kingdom is not like ours. Not like a kingdom we can construct. No fiefdom or serfdom, although we could see our lives as such. But no. He says his kingdom is not of this world. Nothing like it.
As Christians, as we come to the end of a church year and begin a new one, it is as though we have lived a whole lifetime through this year. It begins with a pregnancy and a birth. New birth. Christ coming to his people. God leaving the throne behind to win the war. Then the whole life of the Christian progresses with Christ from cradle, to cross, to grave to resurrection. Along the way pointing to the God-man who has come to earth for you. Then life slows down as we move through the green period looking at the teachings and the parables. The miracles. Being reassured as this King, who is not like any other king, explains to us the kingdom. Giving to us the description of his rule, his life among us. One in which the great and mighty fall, but the lowly and meek have greatness tied to this Christ.
Then the end comes. End of time. End of days. A movement from this worldly kingdom to another one. Where we begin to see and have to talk of the fact of the end. Life will die. We will succumb to age and time, but at the end stands this Christ on his throne, in his kingdom who tells us that nothing can separate us from him. That death can’t, nor devil. That all dominion and power lives in him. That the strongest empire of the day only had the reign it did at the bidding of the Lord who granted it so. That his kingdom is one of truth, where all other kingdoms, shadowy rulers, must bend a knee and realize all their work for domination was for not because One is coming whom even death fears.
That is the craziness of this Sunday for us. This Christ the King Sunday. There is no reason for us to take it as worldliness. As political prowess or power. That is the danger of an overly-politicized Christian faith. The Kingdom we tend to think of is the world we think Christ should form here on earth. Up to our specifications. What Scriptures bring to us is a different of King. A different kind of Lord. One, which Paul says in Philippians, that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow in heaven (so a world that is above and beyond us. Different than us.), and upon earth (so every ruler and authority, every politician and celebrity, every farmer and worker), and under the earth (Death itself) will bow. Every enemy will be vanquished and put in their place, most importantly – death. That we all die is true, but that death lies dead at the name of Jesus. That this Jesus we must confess as Lord of all, not because we need a Lord to rule us, but because we need a Lord for that victory we can’t win, as one whom death obeys. Whom death has lost to. The destroyer is defeated and Christ now is on his throne for us to trust that he has won, and will win over all that might terrify us. Over all the apparent losing we do. Christ being victorious, and to the victor go the spoils – us. His people. All glory and honor be unto his name. Thanks be to God. Amen.