This sermon is based on Christ the King and the gospel reading, Luke 23:33-43. Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon on November 20, 2016, at Trinity and St. Jacob’s Spaders.
Grace, mercy and peace to your from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!
Christ the King is the theme for this last Sunday in the church year. Today, we remember the biblical image of kingship and do our best to understand what it really has to do with Jesus and with our relationship to Jesus. Christ the King is a pretty new festival in the church calendar, actually. Its roots go back to the late 1800’s when the world’s empire were vying for power: British, American, Spanish, French, German, Russian and Japanese. Do you remember your history? All were either at war or about to go to war. The pope at the time wrote a letter in which he dedicated the world to Christ the King. In the letter he reminded the empires that God is present with the whole human race, even with those who do not know God. After World War I, another pope designated the last Sunday in October as Christ the King Sunday, a day to remember that Christ received power and honor from God and was thereby made ruler of the universe. Eventually Roman Catholics moved Christ the King Sunday to the last Sunday of the church year, a time they were already accustomed to reflecting on Christ’s return at the end of time to rule over creation. We Lutherans and numerous other denominations have followed the lead of our Catholic brothers and sisters.
Did you know that Jesus never called himself a king? Others called him that. The closest he comes is speaking about “his kingdom” or “the kingdom of God.” Mostly Jesus presented himself as a servant and a teacher. And he expected that those who follow him would be of the same mind.
In our gospel reading today, we are reminded of the crudely written inscription over Jesus on the cross: “This is the King of the Jews.” It was put there to ridicule Jesus, of course.
Remember what took place earlier in the day when Jesus was brought before Pilate. Picture the scene: Pilate in regal attire, with trappings of Imperial Rome about him, possessing the power of life and death over these subjected people; and Jesus, under arrest, having been tortured, probably with the crown of thorns still on his head. Now we begin to understand something about the difference between the kingship power of Pilate and the kingship power of Jesus. One is about earthly force, another is about heavenly love.
Pilate asked a question of Jesus, one which seems appropriate for Christ the King Sunday. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked. It was the charge of the Jewish High Council. This is what they said was the chief reason he had to be put to death. This was heresy. This was blasphemy. He was claiming to be divine. The expectation of the Jews was that God would send them a King who would restore the nation of Israel to the glory they had known under King David. The Jewish title “Messiah” had been bestowed upon every King of Israel and Judah in hopes they would be this long-awaited king. Prophets like Isaiah and Micah said God has promised to send a Messiah to save God’s people…Matthew tells us that at the birth of Jesus, Wise Men brought gifts to the baby Jesus, gifts fit for a king. Christ the King Sunday is a good time to ponder this truth: God often confounds the expectations of people. The Bible gives us evidence over and over again that God does it God’s way. If Jesus is to be a king, it is God who will decide what kind of king.
Here’s a story from the 1940’s. When Hitler’s forces occupied Denmark, the order came that all Jews in Denmark were to identify themselves by wearing armbands with yellow stars of David. The Danes had seen the extermination of Jews in other countries and guessed that this was the first step in that process in their country. The King did not defy the orders. He had every Jew wear the star and he himself wore the Star of David. He told his people that ex expected every loyal Dane to do the same. The King said, “We are all Danes. One Danish person is the same as the next.” He wore he yellow star when going into Copenhagen every day in order to encourage his people. The King of Denmark identified with his people, even to the point of putting his own life on the line.
Isn’t this a wonderful story with a powerful point? The only problem is: it isn’t true. It’s an urban legend. It’s been around for a long time and told thousands of times over. And now with the internet and social media we are getting a lot of these legendary stories retold. That’s too bad. What an image for a king, identifying with his people.
Then we think of Jesus. We don’t have to go to other examples. This is exactly what Jesus did,
Identifying with us and taking on our pain and suffering and being willing to give his life.
What difference does it make to you and to me that Jesus died on that cross? Perhaps a practical story will help us understand. A pastor went to the hospital to visit an older man. They had never met before, and the man told the pastor that the pastor that the cancer that had been in remission for 3 years had returned. He thought he was going to die. He concluded tearfully, “I’ve always tried to live a good life. But I just don’t know if I’ve done enough.”
Dear Friend in Christ, how would you have responded to this man? Some folks in other denominations of Christendom would want to see how this man measured up. Was his understanding precise enough, did his good works outweigh his sinful deeds? Christians with an understanding of “Sola Gratia” or “Grace Alone” will trumpet the good news that Jesus Christ came to earth to pay the price in full. There is no measuring up in order to get to heaven. All our sins are forgiven. We believe wholeheartedly in Jesus Christ.
Remember, it’s not how good and righteous we have been. It’s how good and righteous Jesus is. This is the good news of the gospel for this Christ the King Sunday. Amen!