Summary: A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday preached on 11/22/2009 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Audubon, Iowa.
Today is Christ the King Sunday, the final Sunday of the church year, so it would seem appropriate to sing the great hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns”, and in addition, to talk about kingdoms. Today in our Gospel reading, we are taken into a conversation between two different kings. And it is true that one king is mightier than the other. But which one is the mighty ruler? Which one represents the true kingdom? That’s what we are going to spend our time talking about on this Christ the King Sunday.
The first ruler we encounter is Pilate. Pontius Pilate was named Governor by the Roman Emperor, Tiberius in approximately 26 AD. He lives in the Governor’s palace, needless to say, a rather ornate residence. He has servants to wait on him, and armies under his command. A criminal could live or die by the word of Pilate. Needless to say, in the eyes of the world, Pilate has quite a bit of power. He looks like a real ruler.
Then, we have Jesus. A man bound in chains, having just been interrogated by the High Priest, and now led to Pilate, in the hopes of securing Pilate’s approval to put Jesus to death. The crime Jesus has committed? He has claimed to be “King of the Jews.” As far as the Jews were concerned, this blasphemy, an offense punishable by death. The Romans would give local governments the freedom to rule their own people by local law, but since this was a capital offense, it required judgment by Roman authorities, which is why Jesus is standing before Pilate.
In the eyes of the world, it appears that Pilate is a mightier ruler than Jesus. Pilate is wealthy, Jesus has only the clothes on His back. Pilate has followers, soldiers, and others who would prevent such treatment, Jesus’ own disciples deny knowing Him when it might be dangerous to their own well being. Pilate has the authority to say whether Jesus lives or dies, Jesus is bound in chains, helpless if Pilate decides to end His life.
Yet, what Pilate doesn’t know, is that standing before him is Immanuel, God in flesh. Pilate’s creator stands before Him, the One who holds all things under His feet. While His authority is hidden by human flesh and a crown of thorns, that doesn’t change the fact that the King of Creation stands before Pilate that day. Jesus says of His kingdom: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” Later in the text, when Pilate asks Jesus point blank “are you a king?”, Jesus responds “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world-to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (v. 37) While Pilate doesn’t realize that Jesus is truly a King, in reality, Jesus’ kingdom is much more powerful than any kingdom of the world. Those who listen to Jesus’ words recognize Jesus’ kingdom, those who don’t, do not.
As we look at this picture, it’s easy for us to think about today being Christ the King Sunday, and say that Jesus is our king. But a good question to ask this morning is this: do we really understand how His kingdom comes to us? In the Second Petition of The Lord’s Prayer, we pray: “Thy Kingdom Come.” In the Small Catechism, we learn about this petition: “What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also. How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” Okay, so what does that mean for us today?
It seems that any number of groups are claiming that they are a part of the Kingdom of God. Some of them seem to be pretty popular. Others not so much. Some churches seem to grow every week, boasting attendance figures in the thousands each week in several services, have numerous people on its paid staff, meet in state of the art, spectacular buildings, have members who dress in the finest clothing, and have so much worldly success that they just have to be proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Other churches struggle to meet their budget, are holding their own or declining in numbers, and are looked down upon as “dead churches” or “dying churches.” On the surface, it would seem that the churches that fit the first category are the ones that are truly part of the kingdom of God, right? After all, they got all the bells and whistles we’d put together with that, right?