CHRIST IS KING!
Ephesians 1: 15-23; Matthew 25: 31-36
I plan to take people from this congregation for a final time to the Holy Land on July 9, 2019. The first time I took a group was in February of 1998, almost 20 years ago! I keep going back not just because it’s where Jesus was born and performed miracles, but because I also saw evidence of why Jesus is called “Christ” and “King of kings!” I was moved when I saw the empty tomb, an I imagined what it was like to have Peter and Mary and the others peer inside and find no body! Wow! He is a “Risen Savior!” He really is King of kings and Lord of lords as Handel put to music in his masterpiece “Messiah.” Jesus’ fateful journey started on a cross at Golgotha. You can see Golgotha outside of the walls of Jerusalem, even today. Churches around the world have crosses; sometimes they are silver, sometimes gold, and sometimes wood. Sometimes they are plain and other times ornate. They can be at the top of steeples, on walls or tables, or on a necklace around one’s neck. The cross, no doubt, is most recognizable symbol of Christianity. But the cross symbolizes an event that brutally ended one’s life. One person once said he could not imagine people wearing little electric chairs around their neck to remember someone who was put to death. Yet the cross is our symbol because the cross was not the end of Jesus! His body was lovingly taken down, placed in a gifted tomb, and he arose from the dead! He was alive again—the Christ—the King! Still, there is another way to say you are a Christian than with a cross. It is the fish! Early Christians used that symbol in secret, because living a Christian life was difficult. If a Christian came up to another person and wasn’t sure the other was a Christian, the first one would nonchalantly draw an arc on the ground with a foot as they were engaged in conversation. If the other person was not a Christian, the gesture would be meaningless. If the other one was a Christian, their foot would draw a second overlapping arc in the dust of the ground, creating the sign of the fish like I described to in today’s Children’s Sermon. The sign of the fish—a reminder of the man who called us to be fishers of men—of people—is another symbol for people who call Jesus Christ. It sets apart Christians from non-Christians. But wouldn’t it be nice for buildings and bumper stickers to have depictions of an empty tomb, the main sign that God was doing something big? That is a great symbol! But we use crosses, maybe because an empty tomb is hard to depict. On that first Holy Land trip, our group went to the Garden Tomb next to the place of the skull called “Golgotha” in Hebrew, or “Calvary” in Latin. The life-changing event that Jesus gave was not just that he died for us. That is noble, and it is sacrificial, but it is not unique. People have died protecting our country or protecting their family. The unique, life-changing event that happened to Jesus was that he came back from being dead! Three days dead! Rising from the dead is called resurrection! That Sunday morning, the tomb was empty and Christ had risen from the dead! That is, I believe, the most important and unique aspect of our faith. Sometimes the world gets it wrong. The story is told of a new boy coming up for a children’s sermon one Sunday. That pastor asked, “What do you think happened when Jesus came out of that tomb?” That new little boy thought and timidly answered, “He saw his shadow and there were six more weeks of winter?” On the other extreme, there were some disbelievers who have suggested that Jesus’ followers stole his body to make it seem like Jesus’ predictions came true. That is known as “The Stolen Body Hypothesis. But Matthew 27 records that the Pharisees were afraid just such a think would happen, so they asked Pontius Pilate to allow them to guard the tomb. Pilate agreed. There was no robbery of that tomb.
The apostle Paul wrote about the resurrection in his letter to the Ephesians, to solidify their faith, and to answer the questions of seekers. In chapter 1, verse 20 and the following he declares that “Christ was raised from the dead and was directed to sit at the right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come; and [God] has put all things under his feet and made him head over all things for the church.”
One Easter, the late William Sloan Coffin preached this:
[After] 2000 years … it looks more like a Good Friday than an Easter world. In totalitarian countries, politicians have yet to hear [as Pilate heard] “You are not Caesar’s friend,” and away they fall like autumn leaves, while in more democratic countries, politicians seek to minimize their responsibilities, washing their hands and thereby plaiting the crown of thorns. Like Peter, most of us follow our Lord halfway, but not the other half. As for the majority of citizens, are they not like the crowd that gathered at Calvary, not to cheer the crucifixion, but also not to protest it? Failing to realize that compassion without confrontation is hopelessly sentimental, the people go home, beating their breasts, preferring guilt to responsibility. (W.S. Coffin, “Easter and Forgiveness”)
We are not filled with the new life Jesus offers if we just use the church to be sprinkled with water, sprinkled with rice, or sprinkled with dirt. There is more to church than rituals and more to Christ than prayer. What a difference there is between being a Christian through rituals, and being a Christian because you are doing what Jesus would do! We can become his hands, feet, and heart! We can actually feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, and help the homeless find a home or work alongside of them building it! We could fulfill Matthew 25! For some, that means putting legs on their faith. We in Volusia County, and even in this congregation, have opportunities to do any of those activities; to do what Jesus would do. If you are unable to do those things, then you can support the missionaries and outreach programs of our church so you can do them through someone else. Or come next Sunday to our Christmas Market and buy a gift of mission, empowering someone else to be the hands, feet, and heart of Christ for the world.
Let me close with these thoughts by Dr. Bill Carl, Professor of Homiletics and President of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary:
Christianity is not merely a religion that was marketed well with just the right political spin by gifted writers. It is a living, breathing, ongoing conversation with God, humanity, and all creation, empowered by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without the resurrection, there would have been no Christianity, no Christendom, no hymns, no seminaries, no churches, and no nativity scenes. Jesus lives, not in the sense that King Lear or Hamlet or [even] Handel’s Messiah live on in the hearts and minds of people, but in the sense that something totally new has happened and keeps happening [!] The resurrection is the ultimate breakthrough of God into our world that transcends all nature and history!”
By God’s will and action, Jesus arose from the dead! His name is above every other name! And Jesus Christ is truly King of kings and Lord of lords! If he is Lord of your life, as he is of mine, don’t just say it; let your life and your actions reflect it.
Jeffrey A. Sumner November 26, 2017