November 21st, 2021 homily on 2 Samuel 23:1-7 and John 18:33-37 by Pastor Galen
Reign of Christ Sunday
Once there were two neighboring nations. The people of these two nations generally got along with one another, and the boundaries between the two kingdoms were somewhat fluid. There was no national border per se, and the people often lived interspersed with one another. The problem, because there was no fixed national boundary between the two nations, was deciding who paid taxes to which king.
Eventually the kings of these two nations came to an agreement. They realized, you see, that although there were a lot of similarities between the two groups of people, if one looked closely one would discover several subtle yet significant differences between the life and customs of the people who belonged to these two nations. The people of one kingdom, for example, tended to eat short-grain rice, and they built their houses on stilts, while the people of the other nation ate long-grain rice and built their houses on the ground. Looking even more closely, they recognized that the people of the first nation tended to decorate their houses with Indian-style serpents, while the people of the other nation decorated their houses with Chinese-style dragons.
And so it was decided that anyone, no matter where their house was located, who ate short-grain rice and built their houses on stilts and decorated their houses with serpents would pay taxes to the first king, whereas anyone, no matter their geographic location, who ate long-grain rice and built their houses on the ground and decorated their houses with dragons would pay their taxes to the other king.
The kings recognized that the exact location of a person’s house was not what determined his or her nationality. But rather you could look at the way a person lived their life and know to which nation they belonged. The worldview and internal values of a nation are expressed and embodied in the lifestyles of its citizens.
The same is true for followers of Christ. We live in the world, interspersed among people whose allegiance is to the nations of this world, and yet our ultimate allegiance as followers of Christ is to Christ’s kingdom, and therefore we are to embody the worldview and values of the rule and reign of God. Others should be able to look at our lives and know to whom we belong. Our allegiance is to Jesus. He is our king.
A King Unlike Any Other
Now when Jesus walked this earth, it was difficult for many people to recognize him as a king. In John 18:33, for example, Pilate questioned Jesus as to whether he was really a king. And it’s no wonder that Pilate was confused as to the nature of Jesus’s royalty. Standing there in the early morning light in front of Pilate, shackled in chains, clothed in modest apparel, and with the haggard look of an alleged criminal who had been kept awake for questioning all night long, Jesus probably looked anything but kingly. A wise teacher? Perhaps. A prophet? Most likely (after all, people thought prophets were often a little crazy). A healer? It was possible. But a king? A rather preposterous idea to those standing there in Pilate’s court that day.
Pilate was most certainly a magistrate. Standing there in a royal palace, clothed in royal garments, bodyguards and soldiers at his side, backed by the authority of the Roman emperor. Pilate issued decrees and they were carried out. Judgements, and they were executed. Pilate had power and authority. But Jesus? For most of the people watching these court proceedings, there was little evidence to suggest he was a king.
In truth, Jesus was a King unlike any other king this world has ever known. While most kings are 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 living in a palace and amassing worldly wealth (as most kings strive to do), Jesus left the splendors of heaven, born into the most humble of circumstances, laid as a baby in a lowly manger. Throughout his life, rather than using military might to enforce his will, Jesus transformed people’s hearts and minds through love, offering grace and compassion to those who recognized their need for healing, restoration and renewal. And when he faced resistance, rather than enforcing his will with military might, he turned the other cheek, and willingly gave his life on the cross, to demonstrate his great love for the world.
None of these seemed very kingly to Pilate or to those present in Pilate’s court that day – and in truth it may not sound very royal even to those of us living today. And so it makes sense that Pilate was confused. Many people were, and continue to be, confused about the reign of Christ even to this day.
The Values and Precepts of Christ’s Kingdom
But Jesus was and is very much a king, whether or not Pilate recognized him as such. Even while he walked this earth, Jesus issued 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).
Jesus pronounced judgments, delivering 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 day when there would be a final judgement, when all the nations of this world would be judged for how they treated the least of these (Matthew 25:31-46).
And as a king, Jesus declared that his followers live according to the principles and values of his rule and reign. Rather than pledging our ultimate allegiance to the nations of this world, our ultimate allegiance is in heaven. As Jesus told Pilate, “’My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here’” (John 18:36). And then a little later, “’You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice’” (John 18:37b).
“Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” In other words, even though we may live in and among the people whose ultimate allegiance is to the nations of this world, as Christ’s followers our ultimate authority is Jesus Christ. We follow the rules and directives of Christ’s kingdom above all else.
The Power of Love
But being subjects of Jesus’s kingdom is not just about following a list of rules and commandments, however. As I mentioned before, Jesus came into the world to transform hearts, minds, and lives. Being subjects of Christ’s kingdom, then, is about allowing Christ’s love to transform us, to mold us and shape us, so that we become the type of people God wants us to be, and so that our lives demonstrate the values of our sovereign ruler, and the kingdom of Heaven to which we belong.
In fact, we cannot and do not enter into Christ’s kingdom through following all the rules and getting everything right, but rather through opening ourselves up to Christ’s powerful and wonderful transforming work in our lives.
Now we might wonder, if Christ’s kingdom is so peaceful, just how powerful can it be? In a world where the leaders of nations so often exert through authority through violence and force, how exactly does Christ’s love bring about such change and transformation?
The Wind of the Sun
Well, one of my favorite of Aesop’s fables is the story about a contest that took place between the sun and the North wind. Both claimed to be more powerful than the other, and so they looked for an opportunity to settle the dispute by proving their power and might.
As the sun and the North wind gazed down from the sky, they saw a man walking along a road wearing a coat. The North wind challenged the sun to see which of them could remove the man’s coat. The north wind tried first, sending at first a gentle breeze, then stronger gusts of wind, and then finally the north wind blew with all his might, but each successive and more powerful gust of air only caused the man to wrap his coat even more tightly around him.
When the North wind finally gave up, the sun began to shine, radiating her gentle warmth more and more intensely until the heat of the sun forced the man to remove his coat altogether.
This to me is a beautiful picture of the peaceable yet persistently powerful kingdom that Christ proclaimed. Christ’s rule and reign produces change and transformation, not with violence and force in the way that the nations of this world exert their authority, but rather through the gentle but transforming power of love.
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 Christ’s sovereign reign. David said,
‘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)
No doubt David liked to think that the rising sun was an apt description of his own righteous rule. And yet 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 rule and reign of even the most righteous earthly rulers are often clouded by greed and corruption. Even the most well-intentioned leaders fall prey to the darkness of self-deception and deceit. And even the most judicious nations render unjust judgments from time to time.
But the rising of the morning sun is an appropriate and powerful depiction of Christ’s Kingdom. 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 we take it for granted. But when we really stop to take it in, it’s stunningly magnificent.
An Invitation to Bask in Christ’s Rule and Reign
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 to watch 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, 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, of swimming in the midst of the beams of light shimmering off of the water all around me. There was no camera that could adequately capture that moment, no words to describe the beauty I was experiencing, no one to share it with me. All I could do was bask in the beauty and enjoy it.
Friends, the sovereign rule and reign of Christ is like that. No words can adequately describe the beauty and majesty of Christ’s kingdom. All we can do is to bask in it, and allow the powerful, gentle, and transforming love and grace of Christ to transform us, so that we can become agents of love and grace and transformation in this world. May we be so transfixed by the beauty and wonder and majesty of Christ’s rule and reign in our own lives, that our lives would so exemplify that love to those around us. May we allow Christ the King to rule and reign in us, even as we await the final fulfilment of Christ’s kingdom. And may others look at us, and see by the way we live and extend love, that we belong to Christ. Amen.