Christ the King
A sermon preached by Reader Penny Tapp on 24 November 2019
Today we celebrate ‘Christ the King’
I have been looking at a book called ‘the face of Christ ‘by Denis Thomas full of paintings of Jesus. Of course it is openly acknowledged that there is no description or picture of Jesus and all these works are imaginative. They reflect cultural, theological and political interpretations. He is depicted as having long hair and beard of a Jew, or the soft curly hair of a cuddly child. He has a purple robe and resembles Roman and Greek God’s such as Zeus, Jupiter or Apollo. He is seen as a suffering victim, tortured on the cross in a dark landscape or as the resplendent conqueror seated on a heavenly throne. And one, by Frederick James Shields, a pre Raphaelite artist, illustrates Christ the Good shepherd holding two lambs; this would have appealed to me as a child. One lamb looks blissfully at Jesus’ face; whilst the rest of the flock are drinking from a stream. In Johns Gospel Jesus often refers to himself as the good shepherd. We know that shepherds were lowly members of society; however everyone would have understood the importance of a good shepherd; who led the sheep to good grazing ground and protected them from predators.
Our readings remind us of Israel’s history. Jeremiah the prophet warned Israel of Babylonian defeat and witnessed the suffering and exile of the Jewish nation. He reminds the people of the shepherding role of all leaders. David, the Shepherd boy, who became the anointed King of Israel, had provided this model of a Shepherd as protective ruler and guide.
Jeremiah says that Israel’s prophets and kings have failed to be good shepherds. They have scattered and driven their flocks away and have not attended to their needs. God promises to intervene, to punish these shepherds and help his people – his flock. We are reminded of the prophet Samuel‘s original reluctance to appoint a King in the first place all those years before, because, by putting their trust in such earthly leaders Israel was doomed to experience disappointment and misrule. Yet Jeremiah now offers the hope of a new just and wise King; a descendant of David who will be the ‘Lord of righteousness’. This is a ruler whose ethical conduct will be exemplary and in total accord with God’s will. This shepherd will bring them to a place of safety– not one of them shall go missing. Jeremiah draws attention to the shepherd‘s love of each individual. A theme Jesus takes up in the story of the lost sheep we know so well. Even though Israel experiences defeat and exile God is still in charge of everything; he is still their God and will help them and provide a future for them if they pay attention to him. And even when they forget God; as often we do today, God reminds his people of his presence, forgiveness, power and love.
Luke’s Gospel reading speaks about Jesus’ execution as a criminal between two thieves. This ‘King of the Jews’ is ridiculed and abused although entirely innocent. He is, however, quietly shown to have mastery of his situation when he grants entry to the Kingdom of God to the repentant criminal crucified beside him implying it is never too late to turn to our merciful Father for forgiveness and reconciliation.
Paul in his letter to the Colossians tells his readers that this Lord Jesus Christ, who reveals God ‘s nature to us so fully, is able to rescue from darkness, save us from sin and as the first born of all creation is one with God the creator. He sustains life. Through his blood shed on the cross he has reconciled us to God so that we can live in peace with God and man.
All such pictures of Jesus in scripture reveal the unexpected and subversive nature of God’s revelation and intervention. The good shepherd is a different kind of ruler. Man’s expectations for a powerful leader, a conquering hero or spectacular deliverance from oppression and pain are not God’s way of doing things. Jesus is seen in his temptations in the wilderness to reject human models of leadership linked with selfish gain and greatness. He is called to listen and be obedient to his Father’s will. He is called to serve and bless people; the poor and social outcasts in particular. He is definitely not a popular figure amongst the religious leaders, even though they profess faith in the God of Israel. Obedience to God leads to suffering, the cross and death before his resurrection and new life.
The different pictures we see of Jesus, both in scripture and by later artists are all man’s attempts to understand this unusual and amazing man – the Son of God, who ushers in his Father’s kingdom. This good shepherd gave his life for his sheep; he is the sacrificial lamb without spot or blemish that takes away the sins of the world
I believe that God was at work in Jesus, revealing his loving and sacrificial nature; his generous and compassionate heart for all who felt rejected by society or bowed down by suffering and loss. We read in the New Testament about the powerful impact on the people who witnessed his healing miracles, the post resurrection appearances and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We read about the early church and the egalitarian society it endorsed. These people believed that God’s Kingdom; proclaimed by Christ was being established on earth as it was in heaven. Jesus was the promised Messiah; God’s anointed shepherd –teaching us to love each other because:
‘He who does not love his brother whom he has seen can hardly be able to love God whom he has not seen.’
The love of God revealed in Christ calls us to extend our imagination beyond our intellectual and comfort boundaries, to question our judgements and opinions. It challenges us to look beyond our pain and loss into the divine purposes ahead of us. It calls us to step away from our comfort zones and venture into new modes of being. To have Christ as king is align ourselves with this King of love.
This means so much for our world. Love is not about gaining more possessions but about sharing what we have. It is not about thinking about immediate gain and advancement and ignoring the future of our world and the needs and rights of all other the species. It is not about status and power for a few but neglecting the rights of others. It is not about ignoring the plight of the destitute, the homeless and ignoring the stranger. We live in this world together; we need to value each other as we all have unique qualities and gifts. We all have the potential to be God’s children. God loves us all.
So can we become followers of Christ? Can Christ be our King?
Another painting comes to mind That of Holman Hunt with Christ knocking at the door- a symbol of the human heart. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:20,
Each of us has to welcome Christ as King into our lives so that his will comes before our will; his agenda has priority.
This takes me back to a particular time at school when I was going through searching and turmoil. I would go and spend a short time talking with our school chaplain. On one occasion I noticed that he habitually sat on a small chair whilst leaving me the larger more comfortable chair. This observation made me realise how I was treating God. I was on the throne in my world and he was not.
I remember understanding my utter stupidity in getting things so wrong. And Immediately I felt God’s unconditional love and acceptance of me. I had to learn to listen to Jesus and his ways of righteous thinking and living, to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and remember which chair – figuratively speaking – was for Jesus and which was mine – An on going process as I journey on.
This is true for all of us I believe. We need to allow Christ the King to sit on his throne in our hearts and step down to our rightful place, in order for things to work out for the best. Jesus reminds us that God wants to restore and have a relationship with us and this is the way that issues of ethics, purity and right living can sort them selves out. Jesus reminded people of the centrality of relationship in all human conduct. To love God and neighbour was to keep the whole law. He describes the prodigal son as ‘coming to his senses’ when he remembers his Father and his home and the possibility of returning to ask for forgiveness and the chance to begin again
Some words from a poem by Brendon Kennelly come to mind:
‘Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
That always seems about to give in
Something that will not acknowledge conclusion
Insists, that we forever begin.’
It is never to late to restore Christ to the central place in our hearts and lives and then step out in faith trusting that the Holy Spirit will lead us . We don’t need to rely on our own knowledge and perspectives; although we can exercise the good sense and intelligence we have- they are gifts.
Life may not be easy; Jesus didn’t find life easy, but God’s potential blessings abound.
The prophet Jeremiah proclaimed ‘
‘This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ (Jeremiah 31; 33)
The time of advent provides opportunity to think about what Jesus has shown us about his heavenly Father and then to put him- Christ the king at the centre of our lives and pray that the Holy Spirit will stir up our hearts and wills with fresh zeal and determination to follow in his footsteps. Life will be full of surprises and unexpected challenges and choices; some we wouldn’t venture to think of for ourselves.
God’s spirit beckons us forth to new horizons, new places, in his emerging Kingdom of truth and love drawing us towards further restoration, peace and streams of living water.