Sermon given at Gordon Chapel on 20 Nov 16 by Jeff Lowndes
I suppose it is inevitable that people will be divided about the monarchy, and the media tend to shape our opinions, especially with talk about the next in line and the younger royals. But – what do we really understand about the nature of monarchy, What shape should it take, how should we relate to the dignity and majesty of the office of our, or any King and Queen. Today in the church calendar we focus on Christ the King. What do we understand about the nature of Christ’s kingship.
When Jesus lived on earth, Israel was in decline. The king was placed and kept in position by the Romans. Religious power was exercised by the Sanhedrin, even they split into factions such as the Pharisees and Sadducees. In many ways the situation was similar to that described by Jeremiah 600 years before – a time when the kingship of Israel was also held at the whim of a foreign invader.
Jeremiah had strong words for the people who should be exercising leadership, but abdicated their responsibilities. They didn’t unite or protect but scattered the nation and a sense of national identity was lost. It’s sad that some of Jeremiah’s complaints could be aimed at our own world today.
Nevertheless Jeremiah does have a message of hope. That God will raise up faithful shepherds to restore that lost identity, bring back a sense of belonging and security. They’ll bring the nation to a point where it is ready and able to recognise the coming of the Messiah, because at last, they will be able to understand the justice and righteousness that Jeremiah spoke about.
Now, lets leap forward nearly 700 years to Paul’s letter to the Colossians. They’re well on the way in that journey of recognition and reception. They can recognise the rule of God, and Paul can begin to speak to them about the nature of Christ, and what his authority and power means.
Paul says that Christ is the image of the invisible God. When we want to know what God is like, we look at Jesus. For Christ who is our king, is also God. God created everything, including all who rule on earth and exert power in the world. But God is in charge. Christ is king over all the systems and governments and ideologies.
They may think that they are in control, but they’re wrong. Whatever power they hold is subject to God, and just as in Jeremiah’s message, those who rule unjustly will come to an end and their authority will be dealt with in God’s own good time. Look at the great empires and dictators that have come and gone!!
But the disciples had some way to go on their journey. They saw and recognised Jesus’ power and kingship when he made the storm stop, raised the dead and healed the sick. They recognised the authority in his teachings. But sadly all that only fed their expectations of a political revolt. They still see kingship in a political way – expecting the new king – the messiah – to throw the Romans out of the country and restore the old relationship with God. They’re looking for a revolution, but don’t realise that they are in the middle of it already – not until much later will they comprehend this.
The disciples were late in understanding. But we have the advantage of hindsight and scripture and much more – though perhaps our modern ways may be a handicap. So we too need to recognise Jesus’ authority, not just in the power of stopping a storm and raising the dead, but also in the power laid aside in washing the disciples’ feet, in the way he treated women, the poor and outcast and in the humiliation of the crucifixion – because that too is part of the reconciliation to which we are called.
And so let’s look at Luke’s account of the crucifixion. Luke shows us the irony of God’s great love, hanging on the Cross. Has it all gone wrong? Was it all a mistake? But no, because through all the noise of the scoffing leaders and mocking soldiers comes the voice of the penitent thief; “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. A very special moment for him – and for us! That man noticed and recognised Jesus.
Pilate didn’t really notice the man he had condemned to death when he had that notice: “this is the King of the Jews’ nailed above Jesus head. The Sanhedrin didn’t notice, because however righteous they might be individually, collectively they were blind. The soldiers didn’t notice because it wasn’t part of their culture and they simply obeyed orders.
Notices on a cross were normal, informing passers by of the criminal’s offence. While the notice is intended as a statement of warning and condemnation, we know that it actually confesses who Jesus really is. Perhaps that notice may have been the first thing about Jesus committed to writing, and probably the only thing concerning Jesus actually written during his lifetime.
So Pilate, the Sanhedrin and the soldiers didn’t notice but – the crowd noticed – they stayed silent and watched. The penitent thief noticed, proclaimed his belief, and received that wonderful reassurance: ‘today you will be with me in Paradise’. What was it about him that he recognised Jesus’ power and authority, at a time when almost everybody else had turned away.
Perhaps he instinctively grasped what everybody else has to learn – a sense of God’s mercy and justice. He acknowledges his own guilt and recognises Jesus’ innocence. It is that ability to recognise God which makes him fit for the kingdom.
These differences in peoples recognition of, and reaction to Jesus – and his to them, seem to reflect a typical emphasis by Luke. That is – forgiveness and concern for all but especially the poor, the ignorant and the outcast.
Jesus was rejected, taunted and tempted from the beginning of his ministry. Remember the temptations when the devil taunted him saying:- ‘If you are the Son of God, turn this stone to bread, if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, if you will worship me, it will all be yours’.
At the crucifixion almost everyone mocked Jesus. The Jewish leaders said, ‘He saved others, let him save himself – if he is the Messiah’. The soldiers put that notice above his head and shouted, ‘if you are the King of the Jews, save yourself’. The thief mocked Jesus saying ‘are you not the Messiah – save yourself and us’ – that doubting again – another ‘if’. If, if, if. They had killed Jesus and that was that. Or was it?
You wouldn’t think there was any power in that – dead means dead and gone – game over. That’s how they all saw it, those involved in the crucifixion. But today Pilate, those religious leaders and soldiers are dead and gone – but Jesus is alive.
Notice the common elements to those mockeries. Each of them made some great claim for Jesus – that he was the Messiah or King. Then – all called on Jesus to save himself. Well that makes sense doesn’t it? Except that he didn’t save himself – so he couldn’t possibly be a messiah or a king – could he? After all a king belongs on a throne not a cross, he’d wear a gold crown not one of thorns. So, was it all some kind of hoax that went badly wrong.
Can we blame those people for their views? Based on the evidence, it seemed obvious that Jesus was neither messiah nor king. But sometimes what seems obvious isn’t really true. For example, for centuries it was believed that the Earth was flat and was the centre of the universe and yet even the church refused to accept that the earth was round and revolved around the sun. But we know that what seemed obvious was not true – we know about the sun and the earth.
It’s no wonder that most of the crowd watching the crucifixion failed to understand that Jesus really was the Messiah – really was a king – because it was anything but obvious.
It was such an unreal turn of events that no human could have invented such a story – but God could. And like the thief on the cross, for over 2,000 years people have been drawn to Jesus – drawn to him because of his death on that cross – no matter how strange it appeared.
So, is it a hoax – does our faith hinge on what took place on the cross or not. Or, in the words of Jesus – ‘who do you say that I am’? It’s a question for us now.
We are members of the Christian family – brothers and sisters in Christ. And we are required to do all that we can to help each other recognise the character of God, to help each other to recognise God’s reign in our world and in our lives – to live it and to speak out about it.
How do we do that? I think that we need to follow the example of the Colossians, and the penitent thief; to seek Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God, to look for him day by day – until he finds us – and we can recognise his love and authority – recognise our God who sent his son to die for us – it was God’s way of saying – ‘this is how much I love you’! Perhaps our minds are too small to deal with it. But there is something we can all recognise – that is the reality and outcome of love.
Around the world today, in great cities, remote villages, wonderful cathedrals and little house churches – and here in Gordon Chapel, we worship Jesus.
And the reason we worship Jesus is that he loves us and shows us a new way. He has given us hope and something to live for. And so we love him, worship him and acknowledge him as our king.
Who do you say that Jesus is?
At the end of this service you will be invited to go forth to love and serve the Lord. You’ll respond by agreeing to do so ‘in the name of Christ’.
An old German proverb says;- “if God were not willing to forgive sin, then Heaven would be an empty place’.
Knowing that, will you go in the name of Christ and tell the Good News – that Jesus, who saved that thief upon the cross, came to save us too! Amen