Note on today’s liturgy: November 25, 2018 is Christ the King (or Reign of Christ) Sunday. It concludes Ordinary Time in the liturgical calendar, marking the end of the worship year (Year B in the Revised Common Lectionary). Next Sunday (December 2, 2018) we enter a new worship year (Year C) with Advent Season. Our focus today is the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, whom God exalted to rule over the whole universe. On this Sunday, we look back to Jesus’ transfiguration, resurrection and ascension and forward to his appearing in glory as King of kings and Lord of lords.
Scripture Readings: Dan. 7:9-10, 13-14; Ps. 93; Rev. 1:4-8; John 18:33-37 Sermon by Sheila Graham (from John 18, Daniel 7 and Revelation 1, drawing on Expositor’s Bible Commentary and Anchor Bible Dictionary)
All Hail King Jesus!
People in many countries, the U.S. included, seem fascinated with Britain’s royals. They enjoy the pomp and ceremony surrounding the Queen and her family. In the U.S., everything the royal family does (marriages, births, even divorces) makes the news. That’s a bit ironic, given that Americans are quite adamant about not wanting to be ruled by a king or queen. Perhaps they should rethink that position though, given that Americans (and all the people of the earth) have a king—one whose kingdom is not of this world. We’re talking, of course, about King Jesus.
Early in the morning of the day on which he died on the cross, Jesus affirmed his kingship:
Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “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 18:33-36, NRSV)
Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea, was curious as to why the Jewish religious authorities had brought Jesus before him. Jesus didn’t look or act like the other rebels he had seen. And, Jesus’ answers bewildered him.
Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “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 18:37, NRSV)
It became clear to Pilate that Jesus was not a dangerous revolutionary. When Jesus said he was born to be a king of some other-worldly kingdom, Pilate probably thought Jesus was a philosopher or eccentric visionary—certainly not a threat to the Roman government. But Jesus was speaking the truth! He truly was (and is) a king! He does have a kingdom!
Jesus’ kingship is well established in the prophecies of the Old Testament. The book of Daniel tells of the prophet Daniel’s strange visions. Though they are full of symbolism, their message for us is clear: Jesus was destined to be a king.
As I [Daniel] watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13-14, NRSV)
Who is this that Daniel sees being enthroned as king? It’s a person “like a human being,” or “like a son of man” (NIV). This glorified being, who as king will rule over all the earth forever, is human, yet divine. This person, the only one both fully human and divine, is our Savior. Jesus often referred to himself as “the Son of Man.”
But there’s more: Israel’s King David recorded that God had made a covenant with him. David said it was “an everlasting covenant.”
The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me: One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire?” (2 Sam. 23:3-5, NRSV)
What was this everlasting covenant that God made with David? Note what it says in Psalm 132:
The LORD swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: “One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne. If your sons keep my covenant and my decrees that I shall teach them, their sons also, forevermore, shall sit on your throne.” (Ps. 132:11-12, NRSV)
Jesus, who was born from David’s lineage, will be king.
“There I will cause a horn to sprout up for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed one. His enemies I will clothe with disgrace, but on him, his crown will gleam.” (Ps. 132:17-18, NRSV)
The prophecies were true: Jesus was born of David’s line in the town of Bethlehem. He was Lord and God in the Old Testament and his kingship was celebrated throughout the Psalms:
The LORD is king, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he is girded with strength. He has established the world; it shall never be moved; your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.” (Ps. 93:1-2, NRSV)
The psalmist declared that the Lord (the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus) is not only king over the world but also its creator, who “established the world.”
Jesus is proclaimed king throughout the Old and New Testaments. We’ve seen a few of the Old Testament references; let’s now look at a prophecy of Jesus’ return as king in the book of Revelation. As we do, we must remember that the book of Revelation was written by John to early Christians. Some of it sounds strange to our ears, but the original readers were accustomed to its literary style, called apocalyptic, which is highly symbolic. John likely used this style in order to hide the message of the book from the Roman authorities. That should not be surprising, given that a major purpose of the book is to show that God is sovereign over the governments of the world, the government of Rome in particular. Note this from Revelation chapter 1:
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. (Rev. 1:4-8, NRSV)
Christ is Lord, capital L. Unlike the British royals, who are basically more symbol and tradition than rulers, King Jesus will rule. He is not only a king, he is the King of kings. He will be in charge over all. He will make dramatic changes in this world and how it is run.
Americans fought the Revolutionary War to end the rule of a British king over them. Americans wanted to rule themselves—to choose their own leader. Ever since, Americans have had mixed feelings about kings and queens. Some even feel that the U.S. President should not bow to the royalty of another country.
Be that as it may, the decision has already been made—for Americans, and for people in all countries. Everyone, everywhere already has a king and his name is Jesus. Not only will all people in all nations bow before him, the Bible says all will kneel before him as Lord. When he returns to earth bodily, King Jesus will be recognized as the universal Judge with absolute dominion over everything and everyone.
For us who are disciples of Jesus, that reality is not something we fear or resist. We understand that his rule will bring about welcome change:
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert….
No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:5-6; 9-10, NRSV)
What a beautiful picture of Jesus’ kingdom! Certainly the world has not experienced anything like it on this side of Eden.
It’s not likely that any of us will meet the Queen of England. But if we ever do, we’ll have to endure all sorts of protocol. You don’t just go up to the Queen and give her a friendly hug or pat on the back, or even shake her hand. If any handshaking is going to happen, she must first extend her hand to you.
In contrast to how the Queen of England is approached, our King—King Jesus—invites us into a personal relationship with him. He welcomes us with open arms. He treats us like family. Jesus isn’t like any ruler, royal or not, that we’re familiar with. Our King is a champion of the poor and helpless, the widow and the fatherless. He is our healer and protector. King Jesus is forgiving and merciful. When he ushers in the fulness of his kingdom there will be no more death or sorrow—only joy and gladness, forever. Who wouldn’t want that?
All hail King Jesus! Come soon!
Here is a video that could be used to introduce or conclude this sermon: