November 24, 2019
Radford Rader. D.Min
Westminster by the Sea, Daytona Beach Shores, FL.
Today we are celebrating Christ the King. It may not be the image of the Christ with which we feel very comfortable. It is not politically correct. King is anachronistic, autocratic and male.
1) We got rid of George III a long time ago for good reason, and we aren’t interested in kings and kingdoms.
2) We don’t buy into undisputed, unquestioned authority. We know how it leads to tyranny.
3) Male dominance is no longer a divine right. Those who have suffered abuse by men cringe at such a male, power image. Some fear that this image perpetuates gender injustice.
“King” carries a lot of baggage; but it always did!
King had a checkered history in the Bible. Rare was there a king that any would wish to have rule over them. When Israel asks for a king so that they can be like other nations, Samuel tells them all the reasons they don’t want a king. Kings impose taxes and wage war. They take the brightest and best to serve them. They live regally while oppressing the people. Kings like to become gods and, too often, people listened to them instead of God. (I Samuel 8). With rare exceptions, kings in Israel’s history concurred with Samuel’s warnings.
Rulers in the New Testament times were no better. Of the Herod of Jesus’ birth, it was said, “It was better to be his pig than a member of his family” because he was so paranoid and mad that he killed everyone he thought was a threat to him, even his wives and children. The Pax Romana was still a time when Rome ruled with an iron fist. Any threat was met with violence. King in Jesus’ day did not elicit good thoughts. King never meant justice, compassion, equity, self-giving.
It is true that his judge and executioners label Jesus King. They did it for ridicule, not respect. They were laughing at him, mocking him, challenging him. The elegant robe, the crown of thorns, the inscription “king of the Jews” were all insults to Jesus and anyone who believed in him. They declared that Jesus was without power! He had no armies! He was no king! Herod is king of the Jews; Caesar is king of the world while Jesus is crucified as a common criminal. He is sold for 30 pieces of silver and there is no one to ransom him. He dies powerless, he can’t even save himself! The idea that Jesus is king was a joke to those in power. The idea of a Messiah-the Jewish hope of a new Davidic king-the very promises of God-are nailed with him to the cross. Those who crucified him were agreeing with the crowd, who cried “We have no king but Caesar!”
Surprisingly, the Christians didn’t abandon Christ the King. The kept it because it was subversive language. It was blasphemous. There was only one king and that was Caesar. Caesar declared that he was not only king but god. Caesar demanded ultimate loyalty. All must fear him, bow before him, worship him. Christians responded with “CHRIST IS KING! He is King of kings!” They refused to fear, to bow, to worship. As much as Pilate’s inscription over Jesus was a denial of him, the church’s continuing claim of Jesus’ kingship was a denial of Caesar, the empire and emperor worship. They claimed another king, a greater loyalty. They in effect said that Caesar was not really a king, he was the pretender. Above Caesar stood another before whom even Caesar had to bow.
For the Christians, Christ the King was not a symbol of the status quo. Never was it meant to prop up men who ruled with earthly power and might. It always subverts them. There is another ruler; his name is Jesus. I serve him and him first above all. Martin Luther used it when he said, “I must obey God and not man.” Our revolutionary founders used it to undergird their Declaration of Independence against George III. The Confessing Church of Germany in the Barmen Confession bravely and defiantly stood against Hitler and said, “No! Christ is King!” Christ the King stands in opposition to early powers and every attempt by rulers and governments to control our minds and hearts. It is always subversive because it makes us loyal to the Lord Jesus; it makes us free thinkers; it makes us see more than human law; human authority, human power. We are citizens in another, greater kingdom and we are always comparing.
Christ the King does not mean that we understand Christ by comparing him to those who would rule us but that we compare them to him. Christ the King is not “do as I say as he does differently”. We do not find him to have feet of clay or loose morals. He does not live for himself, seeking security from our sacrifice. Rather he refuses to grab divinity for himself and humbling himself, becomes servant of all. He refuses to save himself so he can save others. He calls us to costly sacrifice only from the cross. He leads not for his advantage but for our salvation. King is not what we have seen from managers, leaders, executives and rulers but is the Shepherd who cares for his flock and lays down his life for the sheep.
Christ is what king is supposed to be. He rules in love. He rules in God’s way. Here is one we have hoped for, one we can trust, who rules in justice and righteousness and does not disappoint. Here is the one whom we may love, give ourselves to without restraint, because he will not harm us, will not misuse us, will never desert us. Christ died for us, rose for us, reigns in power for us, prays for us. Alone he stands as one to worship and serve.
As Christians we promise and challenge others to love Jesus above all, follow him without reservation, and serve him alone. On this Christ the King Sunday, the question is again asked of us, “Are we letting Christ rule in our lives – all of our lives – every aspect, every hour, every day?” “Who is on the throne of our lives – our own selves, another person, earthly things or he whom the Lord God Almighty has found worthy and given all dominion, glory and power – he who is King of kings and Lord of lords!