1692) Christ the King (part one of three)

Christ the King Sunday sermon, November 26,2017.

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John 18:33-37  —  Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”  …  “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” …  “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”  …  Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”  …  “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king.  In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

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            In Matthew 20 there is this story: “The mother of Zebedee’s sons (James and John) came to Jesus with her sons, and kneeling down, asked Jesus for a favor.  ‘What is it you want?’ Jesus asked.  She said, ‘Grant that my two sons may sit at your left and at your right when you come into your kingdom.’  (It was clear by then that Jesus was going to be a king of some sort, and she wanted her sons to be at the highest places of authority, in the seats right next to the king.)  And Jesus said, “You don’t know what you are asking.”

          Remember that line.  I will be coming back to it.

            From the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, many people had high expectations of him.  It is not surprising that they looked for him to be some kind of earthly king.  They hated Roman rule, and they hated the cruel King Herod who the Romans had put over them.  They had heard about the glory days of good King David, and the prophets seemed to have foretold the return of such a kingdom of peace and justice, free from foreign rule.  And when Jesus arrived, the first thing he said was, “The kingdom of God is at hand.”  The people’s plans for Jesus are made clear in John 6:15 where it says, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”  Jesus had something else in mind.

            Those words are near the beginning of John’s Gospel.  This morning’s text (above) is from near the end.  Pilate is questioning Jesus about this very thing.  The Jewish leaders, who want Jesus out of the way, accuse him of claiming to be a king.  That would be treason, and if guilty of that, Pilate would have to have him executed.  So Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king.  Jesus, unconcerned about the power this Roman governor has over his life, gives Pilate the run-around and never does give him a direct answer.  But what Jesus does say, and what was at the heart of his message, is in verse 36; “My kingdom is NOT of this world; my kingdom is from another place.”

            The conversation continues.  Pilate, the most powerful man in the region, seems weak and confused before Jesus, the handcuffed prisoner.  Pilate first declares Jesus innocent; but then caves into the pressure of the crowd and the religious leaders to have him killed.  And that very afternoon, Jesus is sent out to be executed by crucifixion, and, to be named the King of the Jews.  John 19:19 says Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross.  The notice read; “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.” It was written in three languages so everyone could read it.  Today is Christ the King Sunday.  It was on the cross that Jesus was first declared king.

        Think back now to the words of Jesus to James and John, whose mother wanted them to be at Jesus right and left when he became king.  Jesus had said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking.” Well, it is here that Jesus was proclaimed king.  The sign said so; that sign posted over his broken and bleeding body, hands and feet nailed to a cross.  And who was on the right and left of Jesus?  Not James and John, (lucky for them), but two thieves, also nailed to crosses, bloody and battered, with the life draining out of them.  I wonder if the brothers were then thinking back to their mother’s request, a request they were in full agreement with.  They might have thought it was a good idea at the time, but not anymore.

            We don’t know what prompted Pilate to put that sign over Jesus head, declaring him King of the Jews.  It was probably just to irritate the Jewish leaders.  They were irritated and asked Pilate to change it.  He refused.  Or perhaps it was just in scornful derision of the whole business, declaring a dying man king over a people he despised.  But then again, Pilate really did seem intrigued by Jesus, and perhaps putting up that sign was a statement of Pilate’s respect for this good and courageous and noble man, with whom he had one powerful conversation.

            But for whatever reason the sign was put there, it did proclaim the truth.  Jesus was, and still is, the king of the Jews– and the Romans, the Africans, the Americans, the Russians, the North Koreans, the Arabs, and everyone else has ever lived.  We now know what those at the cross that day did not yet know, that Jesus, though dying, was only beginning his rule, and would rise from the dead triumphant over death and over all creation.  And somehow, by that death on that cross, we are forgiven or our sins, made right with God, and promised eternal life in heaven; all, if only we will believe it.  The cross was not the end of the story, but only the beginning of all what it would mean that Christ is King.  I’ll get back to that.  (continued…)

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