Nov. 21, 2021 Christ The King The text is John 18: 33-37.
33 Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 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?” 36 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.” 37 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.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Christ the King Sunday is one of my favorite days in the liturgical calendar, when we proclaim Jesus as the ruler of all creation and confess our allegiance to the Son of God as our sovereign. And, like Palm Sunday, Reformation Day, and Pentecost, we Lutherans have been observing Christ the King Day for untold generations, right? Martin Luther himself likely preached more than a few sermons on Christ the King Sundays back in Wittenberg, no? Actually, this day of celebration is very new, as far as the liturgical calendar goes. It was instituted in 1925, fewer than 100 years ago, by Pope Pius XI, and the Lutheran church has adopted the festival day into our liturgy. Pious had noted that a shift toward secularism was increasing in the early 1920’s, in the time when the world was still recovering from the devastation of WWI.
He established Christ the King Day in an attempt to counter a declining respect and reverence for the Christian church, the rise in power of emerging dictatorships in Europe, and the trend toward the faithful being told that their allegiance was to be to the government, and not to their Savior. And, as time passed the celebration of Christ the King Day came to fall on the last day of the liturgical year. Next week we begin the new church year with the First Sunday in Advent, as we await the birth of Jesus to once again come into the world as its king. So, it’s only fitting that after a year of witnessing Jesus’ miracles and listening to his words that the end of the year should be set aside to proclaim Jesus’ sovereignty.
What made this special day so appropriate in the 20’s, and not quite as relevant today is the fact that we in America don’t really have a great understanding of what life under a king is like. In 1925 Italy was declared a dictatorship under Benito Mussolini and Hitler published Mein Kampf, which was to serve as the basis for the rise of Nazism. Stalin had taken over control of Communist Russia from Lenin, and fascism was on the rise in several other countries. In many parts of the world, people were living under the rule of quite a few so-called “kings”. And none of them could be considered benevolent toward those they governed. So, what did it mean when Pilate asked Jesus if he were a king, and what does his answer to Pilate tell us about Jesus’ kingship?
“My kingdom is not from this world”. So, we have to ask ourselves, if not from this world, then, where? We could take the easy way out and answer, from heaven. After all, Jesus spent an enormous amount of time explaining to people what the “kingdom of heaven” was like. You know them; “a pearl in a field”, “good seed versus weeds”, “a tiny mustard seed”, etc. And while all this is true, the aspect of Jesus’ kingship we celebrate today is that while it is “not from” here, his reign on earth in fact began as soon as he lay in the manger. Jesus’ sovereignty as king of all creation broke through into this world at his incarnation. While it began in heaven his rule as Christ the King endures also on earth. Through his sacrifice and by the grace of God we are promised life enteral in the heavenly realm where Jesus is king. Also, we pray “thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”. We acknowledge that Jesus is our earthy king, in spite of Pilate’s disbelief and the perceived threat Jesus posed to the power of the chief priests.
Jesus may have answered Pilate with the statement that his kingdom didn’t originate through earthy means, but he certainly didn’t outright deny that his sovereignty over the earth was unquestionable; “for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth”, Jesus proclaims. Whether Pilate, or the Pharisees, or even many of the common people liked it or not, Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the king of all. This we confess and this we celebrate on this day. But this pronouncement brings about two important points that may need clarification. What kind of king is Jesus, and what kind of subjects are we?
Earthly rulers of nations require that their subjects bow down to them, to swear allegiance even at the risk of their personal freedom and well-being. Worldly kings have often ruled with the prospect of their overthrow looming. Many dictatorial sovereigns have lived opulent lifestyles while their people have experienced poverty, hunger, and squalor. The holding on to power is the driving force behind the reigns of many kings. Jesus is the king who is willing to lay down his life for the salvation of his people, whose goal is to secure a righteous relationship with God for his followers, who declares the worth of all people, and who lifts up the lowly and downtrodden. It’s no wonder he told Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world”; these actions are certainly not those of a worldly king. Only the king of heaven and earth is able to rule as Jesus does. And our king doesn’t force us to obey, we are invited by the Holy Spirit to follow this Son of God and to be heirs of the promises he has secured from God. And if we do disobey, if we sin, and we do, we are forgiven through the selfless act this king performed on our behalf.
How then do we respond as subjects, no as willing followers of Jesus, of Christ the King? By the simple act of being here we proclaim Christ as our king through our voices; in prayer, in song, by Creeds, through our public worship. But do we always back this up with our actions, by the way in which we live our lives? Do we truly accept Christ’s authority over all that we do? And do we respond with actions that mirror those of our king, do we show mercy to others as he shows toward us? Do we reach out to the downtrodden and lowly and offer of ourselves on their behalf? Do we spread the Good News of the Gospel so that those who have not yet come to honor Christ as their king might be encouraged to do so?
If we were in servitude under the regime of a despotic king, we would have no choice but to be subject to the whims and requirements of such a ruler. But as people of God our actions are not dictated by law, but we act out of thanksgiving for the blessings our heavenly king bestows upon us. We know that our king departed the heavens, the kingdom that is not “from this world” in order to bring his resign of love, mercy, and grace to us. It is out of gratitude for these blessings that we proclaim Jesus as Christ the King, and we express our faithfulness to his rule with lives devoted to reflect his life in this world.
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and Holy God, we give you thanks that the king of heaven has come down to earth to proclaim his reign over your people. We confess that Jesus is the divine ruler over all creation, and we ask that you help us to live lives that demonstrate our obedience to his rule. And we pray these things in the name of Christ the King, the One whose reign will never end. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.