Sermon for Christ the King Sunday – November 25, 2018
Revelation 1:4b-8, John18:33-37
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and from Christ our King.
Today is Christ the King Sunday. On the last Sunday of the church year we celebrate Jesus as our King. We celebrate that Jesus is the ruler of the kings of earth, as it says in our reading from Revelation. To him be glory and dominion forever! We celebrate that he is the Alpha and the Omega, the A to Z, the beginning and the end. We celebrate that he is the one who is and who was and who is to come. The reading from Revelation paints a glorious, triumphant picture of our King. It speaks of his authority, his power, his eternal reign.
But that isn’t exactly the picture we have in our gospel reading.
In our gospel reading for today we see Jesus not looking much like a king at all. Jesus is bound, his hands tied up like a criminal. Jesus is roughed up after having been struck by a soldier, a foretaste of much worse to come. Jesus is under the authority of the brutal and widely-feared Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who is subjecting him to an intense interrogation. Jesus seems so weak, so powerless. He doesn’t seem like a king at all.
On the surface this gospel reading seems like an odd choice for the Sunday we celebrate Jesus as our King. We might wonder: couldn’t the people who designed the lectionary come up with a better gospel reading for this day? But this gospel reading is actually a brilliant choice, because this interrogation reveals to us exactly what kind of king Jesus is.
Pilate begins his interrogation with a simple, straightforward question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus reply, however, isn’t exactly straightforward. “Who’s asking?” Jesus says. “Do you really want to know, or are you being put up to this by others?”
You can sense Pilate’s irritation in his response: “I am not a Jew, am I?” The last thing Pilate wants is to get caught up on some inter-Jewish squabble! “Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me,” Pilate said. This is an admission of sorts. Pilate admits that he is responding to their charges, their concerns. He doesn’t really see Jesus as a threat. Pilate just wants to get this over with. As governor he has more serious matters to deal with. He wants to wash his hands of this whole thing, which he soon will. And so Pilate continues his interrogation with the question that gets right to the heart of things: “What have you done?” Why are these chief priests so eager to get rid of you? “What have you done?” This is the real question.
The chief priests were trying to make the case that Jesus was inciting a political rebellion. But this wasn’t true at all. In fact, at one point the people tried to do that. They tried to make Jesus their earthly king. They came to him and tried to make him be their political leader. They wanted him to lead their political rebellion. They wanted him to lead the charge against the Romans and bring Israel back to its former glory
But Jesus wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t let them turn him into that kind of king. When he got wind of their plans, he got out of there! He left! He withdrew to a mountain by himself.
So what exactly had Jesus done? Why did the chief priests want to get rid of him?
There is only one real answer. The chief priests, and eventually just about everyone else too, wanted to get rid of Jesus because Jesus claimed to be God. Jesus openly forgave sins, something only God could do. He taught with the authority of God. He said things that sounded an awful lot like he was claiming to be God, or at least that he was from God in a way that no one else had ever claimed before.
Back in John 10 the Jewish authorities were going to stone Jesus to death. Jesus said to them, “I have done many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” And the Jewish authorities replied: “We aren’t going to stone you for your good works, but for blasphemy, because you are claiming to be God.” Jesus told them that the Father was indeed in him and he was in the Father. This did not help him. They tried to arrest him right then, but Jesus escaped.
But this time Jesus hadn’t escaped. He had been arrested and now stood before Pilate, who asked him, “Why did your own people hand you over to me? What have you done?” And Jesus replied by saying, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
Jesus points out the obvious – that if he was seeking to build an earthly kingdom his disciples would have fought to keep him from being arrested. But Jesus put an end to that by telling Peter to put away his sword. Jesus knew that his kingdom wouldn’t be established by the sword, but by the cross.
Pilate’s interrogation succeeded in one way, though. He got Jesus to admit that he was a king, or at least that he had a kingdom. “My kingdom is not from this world,” Jesus said. Pilate latches on to this. “Ah, So you ARE a king?” he says.
Jesus responded by saying, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Jesus has a kingdom – but it is not from this world. Jesus has a kingdom that has come into being through him, as he was born – becoming incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. It came into being as he came into the world. It comes into being as he speaks, as he testifies to the truth. This kingdom comes as people listen to his voice.
Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. It doesn’t work in the usual ways that earthly kingdoms work. Jesus had all kinds of parables about this, didn’t he? Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a large bush which provides a home for many. Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is like yeast that is worked into the dough unseen, but leavens the loaves, making them rise. Jesus taught that the kingdom isn’t something you can point to, saying, “Here it is!” In Luke 17:20 Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is within you.” Jesus told Nicodemus that the only way you can see the kingdom of God is to be born anew of water and the Spirit. Jesus taught his followers to pray that this kingdom would come. Jesus has a kingdom – but it is not of this world!
In a sermon Martin Luther preached on this text he wrote that Jesus didn’t come to launch a political rebellion, but a spiritual rebellion. Jesus didn’t come to pick a fight with Pilate. He didn’t come to drive out the Romans. He didn’t come to restore the earthly kingdom of Israel. He didn’t do any of that because he had much bigger fish to fry. Jesus came to conquer the forces of sin, death, and the devil. And he did all of this not by fighting and killing for an earthly crown, but by suffering and dying while wearing a crown of thorns.
Luther went on to say that the battlefield for this spiritual rebellion Jesus is leading is the human heart.
This spiritual rebellion continues to be fought as Jesus seeks to build his kingdom in our hearts. He does this as he speaks his Word to us, as he testifies to the truth about who he is and what he has done for us: He is the incarnate God who has saved us by his death and resurrection! It continues as we listen to his voice. It continues as he says to us, “Your sin is forgiven.” It continues as he says, “This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you.” It continues as he reminds us that through water and the Spirit, through Holy Baptism, he has claimed us for his kingdom. Through all of this Jesus overthrows the power of sin, death, and the devil and establishes his kingdom among us and within us. He establishes his kingdom in our hearts as he fills us up with his saving love and raises us up to new life with him.
And so in the end the Christ the King we meet in our gospel reading is the same Christ the King we find in Revelation. His kingdom is not of this world, to be sure, but he is indeed our King. He is the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of earth. He freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father.
To him be glory and dominion forever and ever.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church