There are essentially two types of kings throughout history. There are those kings who believe they are above everyone else. They believe their servants and their subjects are there solely to give them honor and praise and fund their opulent lifestyles. These kings demand total obedience and if such obedience is not given, then brute force is often the rule used to enforce a king’s command. History is replete with such rulers. On the other end of the spectrum are those kings who also demand obedience; however, their approach is vastly different. Instead of thinking themselves better than their subjects, these kings work for the well being of their subjects and their realm. They work to improve the lot of the kingdom so that everyone finds a measure of happiness and contentment in what they do. These kings know that their subjects will loyally follow them if their king protects and cares for them. Many of these rulers throughout history are lifted up as the ideal models of leadership. Mind you, these two poles represent extremes in kingly leadership, and there are those who fall all along this spectrum.
I find it rather fascinating that throughout history, no matter what kind of king you have, there is always someone ready to seize the throne. There is always someone who is ready to topple the king. Be it a good king or a bad king, someone always wants the power. Someone else always wants control. Someone always is ready to put themselves on the throne to call the shots. And there have been numerous ways invented to topple a regime. Assassination. Military coup. Peasant revolt. Most of the actions taken to remove a king are bloody, violent, and cause great upheaval.
These are important points to remember as we think about the history of kings in the world. They help us understand the dynamics at play when it comes to leadership and power and the reality of this world that our Lord Jesus Christ entered into as the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the church year. It is the Sunday where the Church celebrates Jesus as the King of the Universe who came and who will come again in power and glory. We longingly await that day, for then God’s Kingdom will be fully established, and God’s beneficial reign will once and for all demolish evil and suffering and death. It is something we truly look forward to and set our hopes on.
And it is with fascination that on this Chris the King Sunday, we turn to our Gospel lesson which does not show Jesus throned in glory. It does not show Him triumphant. It does not show Him crowned with power and honor and might. It does not show Him surrounded by scores of angels and apostles and martyrs bowing before Him. No. Not at all. Our Gospel lesson takes us to the point of utter humiliation. Our Gospel lesson takes us to the point of utter defeat. It takes us to the point of utter suffering and death. Our Gospel lesson takes us right to the cross where a sign hung above Jesus which said, “This is the King of the Jews.”
That sign was meant to be an insult. That sign was meant to convey a warning to everyone who proposed to think of themselves as a king. The roman procurator Pontius Pilate hung that sign there in effect saying, “If you want to be the king of the Jews, we, the Romans will decide who gets to be king. Any other attempts at kinghood will land you in the same place as this man.”
For, you see, my brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus made enemies with His proclamation that the Kingdom of God was at hand. Jesus made enemies with his teaching that He and the Father were one. Jesus managed to make the principalities and powers very, very twitchy with the things He said, taught, and did.
Jesus managed to get under the Jewish religious leaders’ skin with His proclamation that He was the Son of God and that He and the Father were one. The Jewish faith did not allow for any such proclamation. Not at all. The first commandment was very clear, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, you shall have no other gods before me.” God was one and one alone. Sure, one day God would send the anointed one–the Messiah–to return and establish Israel to its former glory. Just about everyone hoped for the Messiah’s coming, but no one expected a carpenter from Nazareth to fulfill that hope. No one expected an itinerant rabbi who gathered a bunch of marginal fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, and farmers to restore the Kingdom of Israel. No one expected a person like Jesus to handle such things.
Until Jesus started healing the sick, raising the dead, and feeding multitudes. Until Jesus started forgiving people of their sins and proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand. Until Jesus started performing deeds and wonders not seen since Elijah and Elisha. “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The common folks realized something wonderful was at hand. The religious authorities knew their positions of power were threatened. This self-appointed anointed one must be disposed of, and they knew they could accuse Him of blasphemy–a charge worthy of death.
The Romans felt the same way. They were in charge of Israel. They had their puppet-king in Herod. They tried to keep the peace as best as possible; however that was no easy task in Judea. The Jews were always seemingly ready to revolt. They needed just a slight excuse to try to cast off those who were ruling over them. Their belief in a messiah–a deliverer who would send the Romans back to Rome kept tensions on an edge. And now, here was a man proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand–not the kingdom of Caesar. Here was a man proclaiming to be the Messiah–the anointed One–the Son of God. A king? This could indeed send the people into revolt. In order to squash such a rebellion, you cut off the head. Jesus, the leader, must die.
Little did these two opposing forces know, they were playing right into Jesus’ hands. For Jesus was not simply concerned with the kingdom of Israel. Jesus’ kingdom was much, much larger. Jesus’ kingdom consisted of the entire world. It was the world that Jesus had in mind; for He was there to reconcile the world unto God.
Remember what I said earlier about the difference between two types of kings? Remember how one believed he was to be lifted up by the people and the other was a servant of the people looking out for their best interest? Which category do you think fits Jesus? That’s what the call a rhetorical question. We know the answer. Jesus is a good king. Jesus is the king who looks out for the best interest of His subjects. Jesus wants them to have life and have it abundantly.
But how can they do that when they are separated from God? How can they do that when their sin keeps them apart from the one who can truly offer them life, peace, love, joy, happiness, and fruitfulness? How can they have such life when grief, sorrow, suffering, and hate prevent them from knowing the One who created them and looks after them?
Jesus knew He had a job to do. He must reconcile the world to God. He must take everything that separates us from God and conquer it. He must defeat suffering, evil, sin, and death. And so, Jesus gathered it all up into himself. Jesus took everything that separates us from God into His own being.
• Every evil thought.
• Every evil deed.
• Every word of anger or spite.
• Every act of bullying.
• Every tear shed in hopelessness.
• Every tear shed in grief.
• Every broken heart.
• Every disease and illness.
• Every cancerous tumor.
• Every sense of abandonment and failure.
• Everything that has, does, and will ever put a wall between us and God.
These things, Jesus carried with Him. Justice must be served. A good king knows this, but rather than punish His people, Jesus allowed Himself to take the punishment. And the punishment must fit the crime. All of that pain and suffering; all of that illness and hopelessness; all of those tears and hurts; and even death must be reckoned with. And the punishment was the cross–a horrible death sentence. Why? Because a good king is willing to die for His people to bring them life and life abundant. Jesus died that you may live.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world may be saved through Him.
Look to the cross, my brothers and sisters. Here is the King. Here is the one who dies for you and for me. Here is the one who offers Himself so that we may live. Let us live in obedience to Him for what He has done for us. For that is what it means to Live God’s Word Daily. Amen.