Christ the king is one of the newer festivals of the church year. It’s a powerful challenge to the other kingdoms of the world which compete for our allegiance. Of course, this is precisely what was intended when the Feast was declared. This sermon is actually from our advent series on Jesus as prophet, priest, servant, and king. However, I used the Lectionary readings for Christ the King. This is a slightly edited version.
Christ the King Readings: Luke 23:33-43; Colossians 1:9-20
When you hear the word ‘King’ what do you think of? A person? A particular image? A crown? Elvis? During Advent we’ve been looking at Jesus, Jesus as prophet, priest, servant, and now Jesus as king. So, what do people think of when you say the word king?
Well, I’ve no idea. But I did an image search on Google, and these are some of the top images that come out. King John, King Arthur, Henry VIII, Tutankhamen, the King of Hearts, and, of course, Burger King!
There was also a picture of Jesus as king in the top images, although not one that I found particularly helpful image. For me, a much more powerful image is this one, which shows Jesus dressed as a king but on the cross. Christ on the cross, but crowned and clothed in royal robes and with arms almost outstretched in blessing.
It wasn’t anything like this of course, but it is a powerful image of what Christ the king is like; suffering and enthroned, to bring us holy, pure and faultless into God’s presence. And it’s an important part of what the gospel reading points us to. Both the readings we’ve heard were written, in part, to answer the question ‘What sort of king is Christ?’ And the answer is, in part, not what you expect.
Jesus has stood on its head the meaning of kingship, the meaning of the kingdom itself. He has celebrated with the wrong people, offered peace and hope to the wrong people, warned the wrong people of God’s coming judgement, been born in the wrong place, a stable. Now he’s finally hailed as king, but largely in mockery. His royal cupbearer is a Roman soldier offering him the sour wine that the poor people drank. His royal placard announces his kingship to the world, but it’s also the criminal charge that explains his death on a cross. His enthronement for all to see is being nailed to a cross.
And it carried on looking foolish and incomprehensible. One of the earliest known pictures of Jesus being crucified isn’t an ikon, or a picture used in Christian worship. It’s this piece of anti-Christian graffiti. As you can see, it’s a crudely scratched picture of a man praying to Christ; to Christ being crucified on a cross, with a human body but a donkey’s head. The caption reads “Alexamenos worships his god.” Alexamenos worships his god. A god to be mocked and despised, for he did not come in power, he was put to death as a criminal, a rebel, a traitor, and many of his followers were slaves and servants. What sort of king is that?
So, as often in Jesus’ ministry, it is left for the outcast, the despised, the downtrodden to recognise who Jesus really is. “Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King!” cries the crucified criminal. He, somehow could see the truth of this image, that Jesus on the cross was coming into his kingdom. And he shows this by praying that his persecutors will be forgiven and tells the criminal “today you will be with me in Paradise”.
Over the next week we’ll be hearing the words that the angels said to the shepherds: “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” This is what the Lord looks like, hanging on a cross, declaring salvation, saying that we can share in, can inherit, God’s kingdom.
In the passage we heard from Colossians, Paul talks about what we share with God, what we have inherited from Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. We have, Paul says, been rescued from the power of darkness and brought safe into the kingdom of God’s Son.
What sort of king is Christ? He is the king through whom everything was created and through whom God has brought the whole universe back to himself. The very time when Jesus appeared to be least like a king was precisely the time when he was actually fulfilling the role. On the cross he was defeating the enemy forces, the forces of darkness, and was bringing God’s kingdom to earth, to be over all nations. It just didn’t seem like it then and frequently doesn’t seem like it now…
And Paul knows that. The language he uses in this passage is meant to remind hearers of the Exodus, when God brought his people out of captivity and into his kingdom, the Promised Land. But, first, there was a hard trek through the wilderness. Paul prays in the reading that the Colossians will receive God’s strength, so that they “may have great endurance and patience”.
This passage is also a hymn of praise to Christ, whom Paul calls “the image of the invisible God”. When people looked at Jesus, he is saying, they were somehow seeing God. People saw God as he was born in a stable, as he walked with people, healed them, forgave people’s sins, welcomed the outcasts, challenged those in power and led people into a greater understanding of God’s love for them.
But, God also created us to reflect his character, just as Jesus showed us to do. And, more than that, he enables us to do this, through the power of his Spirit. Indeed, this is the reason why Paul includes this hymn of praise. It is there to encourage the Colossians and hopefully to encourage us as well, to continue faithfully and not to be shaken from their goal; the new creation, where God’s kingdom is finally revealed in all its full glory.
So what does that look like? Well, a couple of days ago, David Cameron gave a talk about the King James Bible. During this talk, he said “we are a Christian country.” What he meant, he said, was that “the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.” A set of values and morals. As far as it goes that’s something to celebrate. As Christians we’re called to live a life worthy of the Lord, to bear fruit in every good work. That’s what Paul says in the passage. We’re to work for good, for the good that God’s kingdom here on earth brings.
But, Paul says much more than that and this is where I think Cameron got it wrong. He encourages us to grow in the knowledge of God, to give joyful thanks to the Father, to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. A set of values and morals doesn’t make anyone a Christian, or a country, a Christian country. What makes someone a Christian is a relationship with God, an acknowledgement of Christ as King, following Jesus’ footsteps, aligning our lives with his. That’s not something you can legislate for. But, that’s what king Jesus calls us to.
As Paul says, through Christ, God reconciled to himself all things, whether things in heaven or on earth. That’s what Christ’s kingdom looks like. Following Christ as king, is about living a life worthy of the Lord, about having our whole lives focused on him. That means our lives bearing the fruit that Paul talks about: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It means that each part of our lives is under his kingly rule: our money, our time, our relationships, our hobbies, our reading, our shopping, our music, our TV viewing. This isn’t ‘stop doing everything that isn’t explicitly Christian’ but it is about asking God to help us live whole lives that are worthy of the Lord. We can’t do this on our own. We don’t have to do it on our own, we have God the Holy Spirit to help us. But, we do need to keep on coming back to king Jesus to seek his kingdom in our lives, to get to know him better, and to get to know better how much he loves us. For God has brought us into the kingdom of the Son. Amen.