Summary: Preached on the Sunday of ’Christ the King’, this sermon addresses the question-What do we understand when we call Christ King? How does his Kingdom impact our lives?
On this Sunday, the last before Advent, we used the pray that God would stir-up our wills and affections. It was sometimes known as ’Stir Up Sunday’, we now remember in our church calendar this as the feast of ’Christ the King’, that the Christ for whose advent we are going to prepare is the King. It’s perhaps not inappropriate that on this day we should pray that God would stir up our wills and affections; to stir up our wills and affections to serve the King.
When we speak about Jesus being King, just what do we mean, what do we understand? What sort of a King is Jesus? Today, in this country, the King, or at least the Monarch- the Queen, is just a titular head. The Queen wields no real authority or power, though in the Constitution she is the head, Parliament is her parliament. In actual fact she is just very much a figurehead. As in most western societies, certainly, and which retain a crowned Monarch then again the King or Queen is equally just a figurehead. Historically and in human society, the King is the person in control, the person who is head, the person who makes the laws. That is what we mean when we call Christ the ’King’.
The Kingdom of God, the Kingdom or Heaven, was part and parcel of Jesus’ message. He was the King, even if he never outwardly claimed it. It was a fact recognised by James and John, and they asked a favour of Jesus. It’s recorded in both Matthew and Luke, and in Matthew’s account we read this (The request was actually put for them by their mother), and she says:
May one of my sons sit at your right and the other on your left hand when you come into your Kingdom
So- clearly, they recognised Jesus as the King of that Kingdom at the heart of his teaching, and with the additional sense of the pomp and power that a King had at his disposal, and she wanted her two sons to have the places of honour. The other disciples, quite understandably get quite annoyed when they hear about this, and they complain to Jesus. Thet got indignant, Matthew tells us, indignant with the two brothers. So Jesus calls them all together, and what he says to them is this:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exersise authority over them. Not so with you!
The way of the Kingdom Jesus is instituting is a very different sort of Kingdom to the Kingdoms of this world. It is not a Kingdom where the King and top authorities exercise authority over the King’ subjects.
Whoever wants to be first, says Jesus, must be your slave, just as the Son of Man did not some to be served, but to give his life a ransom for many.
In this morning’s Gospel reading, we see just this: Jesus giving his life as a ransom; Jesus hanging on the Cross. And it was here supremely that he was being King. No wonder that Paul said the Cross was an offense, a stumbling-block, for it went contrary to the logic of the Greeks. They would never understand this sort of King, this sort of Kingdom, they would never understand the way of the Cross. The way of the Cross is the way of the Kingdom. It is from the Cross that the king reigns.
It’s rather apt, that if you stand in Southwell Minster and look up top of the Crossing archway there’s that modern sculpture of Christ reigning from the Cross: the Christus Rex.
The placard which Herod had put on the Cross. So, how then , supremely do we see Jesus as King as he hangs on the Cross?.
Let’s take a few clues from that account of Luke’s which we read a little while ago.
First of all Jesus is nailed to the Cross. The Roman soldiers, just as part of their duty, as they did countless times drove the nails through the wrists and the feet of the victims. It would have been common knowledge that crucifixion was a particularly painful form of death. How does Jesus react? How does he react as those nails are driven in? Jesus says:
Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
Jesus, the King, is the one who forgives. If a King has his Law broken, then normally he would have seen to it that the culprit was brought to justice. That he paid for his crime. The King saw to it that justice was done. But what sort of justice did Jesus see done? Forgiveness! That is the way of God’s justice. Jesus exercises his kingly authority by putting people right with God. That is the way of God’s righteous rule; that is the divine logic of forgiveness. In Jesus we have a King whose desire is to forgive those who come to him in penitence and in faith. Many of course refused him, many still refuse him. Wherever a heart is open to him, he welcomes that one.