November 25th, 2018 (Christ the King Sunday), Pastor Galen
2 Samuel 23:1-7 and John 18:33-37
A King Unlike Any Other
Today is “Christ the King Sunday,” the final Sunday of the Christian liturgical calendar, the last Sunday before we begin our season of advent.
It is fitting that we begin and end the Christian year with a focus on Jesus as King. During Advent we will prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of our King Jesus. Today during this culmination of our worship calendar, we acknowledge the fact that Jesus is already the King.
In truth, Jesus is a King unlike any other king this world has ever known. While kings are usually concerned with grasping and holding onto their power, Jesus intentionally gave us his power to come down to this earth, to be born as a baby, to live among the poor and powerless. Rather than amassing worldly wealth (as most kings strive to do), Jesus left the splendors of heaven to be born in a lowly manger. And rather than using military might to enforce his will, Jesus taught and modeled turning the other cheek and loving his enemies.
So it makes sense then that Pilate would be confused as to Jesus’ royalty. Many people were, and continue to be, confused to this day. Standing there in the early morning light in front of Pilate, shackled in chains, clothed in modest apparel, and with the haggard look of a purported criminal who had been questioned all night long, Jesus probably looked anything but kingly. A wise teacher? Perhaps. A prophet? Most likely (after all, prophets were often a little crazy). A healer? It was possible. But a king? A rather ridiculous suggestion to those present.
And yet, whether or not Pilate recognized it, and whether or not he appeared to be such, the truth was and is that Jesus is a King. And not just a king, but the King of kings and the Lord of lords (see Rev. 17:14). In other words, even though it very much appeared as though Pilate was the sovereign and Jesus was his subject, in actuality the reverse was true. Jesus was very much in control.
Like the Light of the Morning at Sunrise
The words that the Holy Spirit spoke through King David 1,000 years before the birth of Christ (recorded for us in 2 Samuel chapter 23) provide an illustrative and poetic
depiction of the coming reign of King Jesus:
‘When one rules over people in righteousness,
when he rules in the fear of God,
he is like the light of morning at sunrise
on a cloudless morning,
like the brightness after rain
that brings grass from the earth.’ (2 Samuel 23:3b-4)
Although David liked to think that the rising sun was an apt description of his own righteous rule, the reality is that David’s monarchy, as well as Pilate’s and that of every other earthly leader, falls very much short of the sun’s brilliance and magnificence. The reigns of even the most righteous earthly rulers are often clouded by greed and corruption. Even the most well-intentioned leaders so often fall prey to the darkness of self-deception and deceit. And even the most judicious kings render unjust judgments from time to time.
The rising of the morning sun is an appropriate and powerful depiction of Christ’s Kingdom, however.
The rising of the sun is peaceful, yet persistent.
It’s mundane, and yet magnificent.
It’s vital to our survival, and yet we rarely give it a passing thought.
If you’re someone who prefers to experience the rising of the sun from the comfort of your bed, underneath your covers, fast asleep, you know that the sun is invasive. No matter how tightly you might draw your curtains to try to seal out the light, the sun seems to seek out and permeate even the smallest crack and crevice.
Every time I watch the sun rise, I’m amazed. It’s a beautiful and magnificent sight to behold. And yet it happens every day. it’s occurrence is so frequent that usually we don’t even think about it, yet our lives are very much dependent on its recurrence.
Jesus’ Kingdom is very much like this. It’s so pervasive and comprehensive that we might miss it. It’s all around us and we live in the midst of it and yet so often take we it for granted, but when we really stop to think about it, it’s stunningly magnificent.
Our lives are very much dependent on Christ’s rule and reign, and yet we often go about our days with little thought for what would happen if Jesus were not in control.
The Reign of King Jesus
Because the Kingdom of King Jesus is so pervasive and yet so unlike any other that this world has ever known, it’s important for us to draw out some specific points of comparison.
You see, often we don’t imagine Jesus as a king walking this earth delivering kingly decrees. And yet Jesus did issue rules for his subjects to follow. He commanded us to love God and to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:37-39), and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Matthew 7:12). He charged people to repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17) and to let our lights shine before others, that they may see our good deeds and glorify God (Matthew 5:16). He commanded us to live at peace with one another (Matthew 5:23-24), to love and pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44), not to judge others (Matthew 7:1), and that when we are giving a banquet we should invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind (Luke 14:13). He directed his followers to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 238:19).
Although Jesus did not raise up a physical army, he demanded absolute allegiance from his followers. He said that if anyone wants to be his disciple they “must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). He decreed that we should to seek God’s Kingdom above all else (Matthew 6:33).
And although we don’t often think of Jesus going around pronouncing judgments, Jesus did utter stern warnings and rebukes to the Pharisees and religious leaders (see Luke 11:42-52) and anyone who heard his words but failed to put them into practice (Matthew 7:26). And Jesus told of a time when there would be a final judgement, when even the nations would be judged for how they treated the least of these (Matthew 25:31-46).
But Jesus didn’t only issue decrees and demand allegiance. He also transformed people’s hearts. Just like the warmth and glow of the early morning sun, the wisdom that came from Jesus’ mouth illuminated people’s hearts and minds, so that they came to understand things they had never understood before. Jesus’ deeds of power shed light into the deepest and darkest strongholds of the enemy. Jesus’ love radiated forth and touched even the innermost places of despair.
Only a King who was so holy, so perfect, so just and so righteous could, by his very presence, draw people into the warmth of God’s loving embrace, could cause people to freely give up all they had to follow Him, could transform people’s hearts and souls so that they willingly chose to pledge their allegiance to Jesus as their King.
An Invitation to Bask in Christ’s Glory
When I was a senior in high school our class took a trip to Ocean City. For several of my classmates it was the first time they had been to the beach. I remember my friend John was so excited to see the ocean, that as soon as we pulled up next to our hotel on the waterfront John jumped out of the van and ran towards the water. He climbed up on the wall separating the boardwalk from the sand and just plunged face first right into the sand.
I had seen the ocean before, but one thing I had never done was watched the sun rise over the water. I was determined to do so on that trip. And so I woke up early the next morning before everyone else and went out to the beach just as the sun was coming up over the horizon. And it was indeed a glorious sight to behold.
But I wasn’t content to just watch it from a distance. I had to get as close as possible. And so I plunged into the water and swam out as far as seemed safe (given the fact that there were no lifeguards around yet), and just watched the morning sun glisten on the water all around me.
There are no words that can encapsulate a moment like that, no picture that can adequately describe the ephemeral beauty of the sun rising over the ocean. I had no camera with me to record it, no one there to share that experience with me. All I could do was bask in the beauty and enjoy it.
This morning as we meditate on the kingly rule of Jesus, throughout Advent as we anticipate the birth of our Lord Jesus, and all throughout this upcoming liturgical year, I want to invite us to just bask in Christ’s glorious presence. His Kingdom is unlike any other kingdom. It’s hard to describe it, impossible to depict it. You just have to experience it.
At the same time, I know that there are so many unanswered questions. If Christ is reigning on the throne, why is there so much evil and pain and suffering in the world? If God is in charge, why do bad things happen?
These are of course the perennial questions. All I can say is that, although Christ has instituted his rule and reign, His Kingdom has yet to come to completion. Although Jesus is sovereign, not everything that happens on this earth is in accordance with God’s will. There are forces of evil at work in the world, and as people we make our own decisions, many times not in in line with what Jesus has decreed.
And yet each one of us are invited to live into the reality of Christ’s kingdom, to simultaneous hope and long for the ultimate fulfillment of the Kingdom, while praying, serving and working for his Kingdom here and now. That is why we pray for Christ’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
So this morning I invite us to pray, to dream, to work, to long, to bask in the reality of Christ’s Kingdom, and at the same time to roll up our sleeves and get busy. Let’s acknowledge Jesus as King, even as we anticipate and await the arrival of the ultimate fulfillment of Christ’s Kingdom. Let’s acknowledge Jesus as Lord of our lives and as the rightful King of this world, and let’s invite others to do the same.