What Kind of King is Christ?
25 November 2018
Preacher | Penny Bird
What Kind of King is Christ?
Sermon for Morning Worship Sunday 25th November 2018
Feast of Christ the King
Psalm 93, Daniel 7:9-19, 13-14, Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37
Christ the King.
What kind of King is Christ?
Do you see him as like the Ancient of Days in our first reading?
Do you visualise Christ on the cross?
Or the risen Christ?
Is your picture of a king someone in a state coach opening parliament?
Is a king a great leader?
Does a leader demand service or taxes, or lead by example?
Does a leader reward cronies, or take care of the vulnerable?
What kind of a leader would you like to follow?
This is a live topic for our country.
What kind of a leader do we want?
Someone who will lead us into splendid isolation
or someone who will co-operate with our neighbours?
The Israelites were told to have no king but God.
The Old Testament tells us how they coped with that.
They were clear it was God who freed them from slavery in Egypt.
God led them through the wilderness into the promised land.
When they became prosperous there and had territory to defend
they asked for a king.
That was Saul.
But when he began to ignore God, his power failed.
David succeeded him,
but he too found power went to his head
and he committed both murder and adultery.
David repented and turned back to God.
He was forgiven but not allowed to build the temple.
His son Solomon did that.
He recognised the huge responsibility of leadership of God’s people.
He asked for wisdom and was granted many other blessings as well.
No- one could follow in his footsteps.
On his death the kingdom was split between his sons –
divided into Israel and Judah.
Each in turn was captured the temple was destroyed and the people exiled.
The returning exiles turned back to God and a second temple was built.
Centuries later, that was refurbished by Herod the Great
and he was king at the time Jesus was born.
But he was a vassal king.
It was the Romans who ruled.
This is the background for the arrival of the magi in Jerusalem
asking; ‘Where is he who is born ‘King of the Jews?’
Herod’s position was insecure and he was terrified of being usurped,
so he ordered the slaughter of the innocents.
The Holy family heard of Herod’s death while in exile in Egypt.
Upon Herod's death, the Romans divided his kingdom
among three of his sons and his sister.
They were known not as kings but as tetrarchs.
So, who was Jesus?
Was he a king?
If so, what sort of king?
That was the problem for the Jewish authorities,
for Herod the Tetrarch of Galilee,
and for the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate.
Was he a threat to them?
Luke’s gospel tells us that the Jewish authorities asked him:
“Are you the Son of God?”
Jesus answered: You are right in saying I am.
Herod asked him many questions, but he gave no answer.
In the passage we read this morning we find Pilate asking
‘Are you the king of the Jews?’
Jesus’ answer unnerves Pilate.
He replies, ‘My kingdom is not of this world
… my kingdom is from another place.’
Pilate’s political antennae perk up, “So you are a king.”
He completely misses the point.
Jesus is bent on redefining the very notion of king and kingdom.
Jesus has in mind not the king of a particular race of people
or parcel of land,
but of “truth”.
This is the truth of God,
to which Jesus’ whole life bears witness.
This is a kingdom whose citizenship is open -
Open to all who acknowledge him as Lord of all truth.
Some see our era as the “post truth” age.
We are beginning to see what happens when truth counts for nothing.
In an era of “Fake news”, what kind of justice is possible?
In “post truth” politics we are deceived and manipulated
by the eloquent and powerful
and it is the most vulnerable who suffer.
Jesus stands for truth.
Now Pilate has to decide whether Rome is threatened by this kind of king.
Initially he says that he finds no case to answer.
He does all he can to find ways of releasing Jesus.
But the chief priests reply, ‘We have a law,
and according to that law he must die
because he claimed to be the Son of God.’
Pilate is perturbed and questions Jesus again.
They have a discussion about power,
about who has the power of life and death over whom.
When Jesus says,
‘You would have no power over me if it were not given you from above …’ Pilate is even more determined to release him.
But when the crowds shout,
“If you let this man go you are no friend of Caesar.
Anyone who claims to be king opposes Caesar.”
Pilate has to choose between his fear of the Emperor
and of seeing a riot develop,
and his fear of the supernatural power he has glimpsed in Jesus.
He hands Jesus over to be crucified.
But he has not quite finished.
To the fury of the chief priests,
he has a notice prepared and fastened to the cross.
It reads, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’.
Is Christ enthroned on the cross?
What is going on here?
Jean Vanier sees what is happening like this:
“The death of Jesus is one of the most dramatic events in the history of humanity.
The innocent one,
the one who came to announce universal love and peace,
the one who came to give us life, the fullness of life,
is pushed down into a pit of hatred and rejection,
is condemned to death on a cross.
The one admired for his miracles becomes an object of ridicule.
His life appears to be a horrible failure.
Hate seems to have conquered love.
But we will see that the conquered one,
the one who apparently failed,
opens up a new source of life,
a new vision for humanity,
a new road to peace and unity. ….”
Vanier continues: “After being unjustly condemned to death,
by a frightened and perverse Pilate,
condemned also by the frightened religious authorities of the time,
Jesus walks alone,
carrying on his shoulders the huge log of the cross.
He walks to his death serenely,
with dignity and in freedom.
He is fulfilling the mission given him by the Father;
to take away the sin of the world,
to break down the barriers that separate people from each other,
from what is deepest within each one.
He is witnessing to the truth: the truth of love,
the truth of the love of God and the God of love,
the truth of the importance of each person.
Evil screams and roars.
Truth is a light that shines in the darkness.
Silent, it draws forth what is deepest within us.
In his final hour Jesus lays down his life for those he loves,
and for the unity of humanity.
He goes freely to his death,
free to give his life,
free to give us life.”
We come back to the question, ‘What kind of a leader are we looking for?’
Could we follow, can we follow, a leader like that?
How much of a hold does the love of security have over us?
Or the love of power?
Would we have followed Caiaphas or Pilate?
I think most of us would have been swept up in that crowd,
fearing the Romans
and clinging to our old ways of worshiping.
It is easy for politicians to make us fearful
or to whip up jingoism.
It is hard to see clearly the hope Jesus offers.
But if we are really looking for a leader who will love us,
just as we are,
and free us from the consequences of our own stupidity and greed;
if we are looking for a leader who will help us to be the best we can be,
for the sake of making the world a better place for everyone;
if we are looking for a leader we can respect and revere
and follow whole heartedly,
then Jesus has the only claim.
This man who hangs on the cross,
who gives up his life willingly for the sake of his people,
is Son of Man, fully human, just like us,
but also, Son of God.
He is showing us what the love of the sovereign really looks like.
His reign is not founded on shedding the blood of others,
but his own.
God has been the King of the Jews from the beginning
although they did not always recognise it.
God has kept his covenant with them in full.
He promised “I will be your God and you shall be my people.”
That promise is for us too.
As he rescued them from slavery in Egypt,
leading them on dry land through the waters of the Red Sea,
he now leads us all through the waters of death,
rescuing us from the slavery of sin.
As our Revelation reading says:
“To him who loves us
and has freed us from our sins by his blood,
6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father –
to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.”