A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First and Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Christ the King – November 23, 2003
Text: John 18.33-37
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last day in the church’s year; next week we will turn our eyes toward scripture and prophets whose words foretold a tiny baby who would be called Emmanuel and who would save God’s people. Today, though, we acknowledge that that tiny Christ child was and is the king of the universe. We praise him as Christ, our king, with our finest words and our gladdest songs.
What kind of king is this Jesus? To call him the king of everything that was, and is, and is to come is a pretty lofty claim. How can we know that he is who we claim him to be? How can we know that in Jesus Christ the highest of kings has truly visited us?
I remember during my years at Concordia that the king and queen of Norway came to visit the campus. Or perhaps it was Sweden. Or Denmark. The truth was, I’d never even heard of these royal guests before, was not aware that their nation even had a king or queen, to be perfectly honest. In the great scheme of things, these royals were small potatoes. They wore the crowns of a small nation, and exercised very little of the power of their forebears, even from a century or two ago. They could have probably sat down for lunch in the Normandy with all of us Cobbers and no one would have wondered much about the older gentleman in his business suit or his smartly-dressed wife.
But even these small-time royals received, well, the royal treatment when they arrived. Their visit was marked by fanfares and convocations, and as much pomp and circumstance as Concordia could muster. The news media were there, of course, and there were plenty of photo ops for the papers and the alumni magazine. I doubt that the king and queen ever tasted authentic Dining Services eats while they were in Moorhead; no doubt they dined on the finest catered meals the college could find.
As big as this visit was for our little campus, it was, as I’ve mentioned, rather trivial compared to the treatment given the most powerful kings and rulers of this world.
Consider President Bush’s trip this week to Britain – the first official state visit by an American president since the teens. Although President Bush is not royalty, at least in the traditional sense, if you happened to be in London these last few days, you might have good reason to wonder. The president arrived for his visit accompanied by a small army of staff and security personnel – no less than three jumbo jets were required to get them all safely across the Atlantic.
A detail of 250 secret service agents headed up the president’s security detail while he was abroad. 200 officials from various government departments tagged along to participate in this major visit. 150 national security advisers were there to make sure that the president was never out of the loop on maters of concern to our national defense. And 50 White House aides tended to the president’s personal and political needs during his trip. Top this troupe off with 15 sniffer dogs, five cooks, the president’s personal, 24-hour-a-day chef, and a British police force of 14,000 officers assigned to protect him, and you begin to realize how powerful this one man is. Just like the greatest kings of old, the American president requires hundreds or thousands of people to follow him along. You can bet that the people of London knew when this man was driving through their neighborhood. His presence was marked with all the signs of royalty you might expect.
And what about Jesus? What signs of royalty do we find in his life? Is he, as Pilate found himself wondering, really a king at all?
Let’s look at the facts.
Jesus was born into a poor family. Mary and Joseph may have been descended from kings, but they didn’t live like them. Joseph, a carpenter, probably managed to scrape out a livable wage, but in the grand scheme of things he was powerless, just like all the other Jewish peasants. As a matter of fact, he and his wife welcomed their first child into the world among the hay and livestock of an overcrowded inn. Hardly what you would call a royal birth.
Jesus showed a great interest in religion, but little interest in politics. That’s a recipe for failure as a monarch. Even a church ruler like the pope must have one foot firmly planted in the world of the political, even while the other stands on the rock of scripture. But Jesus seemed entirely consumed with what was right before God, even when it was both political and literal suicide to follow those convictions. Overturning the tables in the temple may have been pleasing to God, but it was hardly likely to lead to Jesus’ kingship in Jerusalem!
Jesus wore a crown only once, and then it was woven of thorns. He wore a purple robe only one time in his life, and it was slapped on his bloodied back by arrogant prison guards. His throne room was a barren place high outside of Jerusalem, lined with skulls and visible to all who passed into or out of the city, and the throne to which he ascended was an ugly “t” of rough wood, spattered with human blood. The only banner to honor this king was a mocking little sign written by his judge, and the only crowds to attend him shouted “Crucify! Crucify!”
Compared to President Bush, or even to the anonymous rulers of some tiny Scandinavian nation, Jesus was a spectacular failure as a king. From what we have seen so far, we would be hard pressed to say that anyone royal at all had visited us in the person of Jesus Christ, much less the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
But Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, as he reminds Pilate – and us – in today’s Gospel; it’s not of this world, so don’t look for it in the signs of earthly power. Look instead for signs of heavenly power, and you’ll see that Jesus is truly worthy of our praise as the highest king:
Look, and you’ll see angels singing for joy when that poor little child was born in a stable.
Look, and you’ll see not just a passion for God but the very passion of God in every word Jesus said and in every action he took.
Look, and you’ll see that in his humiliation and suffering, in his utter loss of dignity at the hands of his executioners, in his powerlessness on the cross – in these things his true nobility and power are revealed, the nobility and power of one whose entire life bears witness to the greatest truth imaginable: that God is love.
Christ the King, you see, is not concerned about security details or personal chefs. He doesn’t desire a throne or a crown, or any other worldly sign of power, although he is entitled to all these and more. Titles are meaningless to him. The only thing that matters to him is that you might be saved from your sins by the kingly power of his love for you.
And so we finally understand the heart of Christ the King Sunday. It is not that Jesus is the great and might king of all that exists – although he certainly is! The heart of this year-end celebration is that Jesus is our king, the king over our hearts and lives. We know he is our king and that he is with us because he has promised us so, and because we have experienced the deep love of God in our lives. That love, the amazing truth that Jesus witnessed to, will never fail, not even on the day in which we see him seated on his proper throne.
May we, on that day and every day before and after, praise him – Jesus our mighty and loving king! Amen.