Luke 23: 3-43
3 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[a] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the Jews.
39 One of the criminals who hung there, hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
- Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
IS CHRIST KING?
In preparing for this service, I thought it would be interesting to see what other preachers in other churches have to say about Christ the |King. So, I read some sermons on the internet and quickly found a general sense of awkwardness about the idea of Christ as a King, which seems to have two sources. One is political, the other anti-monarchical.
Many Christians seem to be naturally on the left politically. As we have seen in recent months, this country has become increasingly republican and anti-monarchical.
The past leader of the Labour Party UK, Jeremy Corbyn, refused to sing the National Anthem or to kneel before the sovereign. There are plenty of people in the Church who share these views.
I used to work with a URC minister who was very anti-Royalty. In a sermon, he admitted that he disliked royalty so much he would leave the country to avoid a coronation. He also thought we should celebrate ‘Christ as a democratically-elected President’ rather than ‘Christ the King’, and attested that Jesus was a pure communist.
Whatever view we hold, whatever happens on this wordy plane, monarchy or not, our Jeremiah reading looks forward to the day when Christ is King of heaven and earth, and justice will reign forever.
Jeremiah 23: 3-6
3 “I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.
5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up for David (who was a King) a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely, and do what is just and right in the land.
6 In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Saviour
JESUS’ KINGLINESS WAS ALWAYS EVIDENT
In the gospels, the life of Jesus is framed by kingship. At his Nativity, three kings are seeing the newborn King of the Jews. And at the Crucifixion, the notice hammered onto the top of his cross ironically echoes the same unfulfilled promise – ‘This is Jesus, King of the Jews.’
What kind of King begins his earthly life in a stable and ends it as the victim of a cruel public execution? His reaction to whether he was a king is, at least to Pilate, elusive. ‘Art thou the King of the Jews?’ demands Pilate in John’s Gospel. ‘My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight so I should not be delivered to the Jews“.
Here is Jesus the friend of the poor, the non-political figure who proclaimed that every human being is equal in God’s sight.
Jesus, the rebel who defied authority and overthrew the money changers’ tables in the temple.
Jesus, born in a stable, entered Jerusalem on a donkey and died the death of a common criminal for our salvation.
This Jesus, who promised the thief hanging next to him that he would be in paradise with him.
But Christ has not always been thought of as a king. In the first century, you wouldn’t find any representations of Christ in physical form at all, but only in signs – groups of letters. Or the sign of the fish. Other early representations are of Christ as the lamb, the true vine, and the Good Shepherd – but not a King.
To the early Christians, the King was the Emperor of Rome, a figure of worldly power who persecuted them, martyred them, and forced them to worship false gods. So, it would have been strange for them to think of Jesus as resembling a Roman Emperor – a King.
So instead, they imagined Jesus as more like themselves: the suffering servant who was obedient even till death and surrounded themselves with images of the lamb, the dove, the vine, the fish, and the shepherd.
WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGED
It was in the 4th century when Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity and the image of Jesus as King.
The head (Pontiff) of the Church, Jesus Christ, and the Emperor shared majesty in a typical ‘maiestas‘. The figure of worldly power, the emperor, and the figure of Christ the King were merged into one.
Now, this is a very interesting moment in the history of the Christian Church. But, first, Jesus clarified that he wasn’t a king and never sought worldly authority.
But in the 4th century, Emperor Constantine, the most potent King on earth, not only legalised Christianity but became himself a Christian. The spread of Christianity between the time of Constantine and 600 AD is astonishing and the map of the Christian world began to resemble an empire.
Though Christ Himself refused to be a King, the earthly kings protected and spread his gospel by acting on His behalf. The religion of the powerless became the religion of the powerful.
CHRIST THE KING
The important thing to remember is that Christ the King was not introduced by the early Church to promote or support worldly authority but to challenge it, where it is unjust, divided, and discriminatory. It was hoped that the kings of the earth would live by the example of Christ.
The image of Christ in majesty is an image of authority, but the authority of the dove, shepherd, lamb, and vine denotes love and peace and justice.
The image of Christ as King stands as universal, inclusive, merciful, reconciling, and more loving than any earthly Kingship can ever be.
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
16 For in him all things were created. Things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities have been created through him and for him.
17 He is before all things; in him, all things hold together.
18 And he is the head of the body, the Church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead so that he might have supremacy in everything.
19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
20 and through him, he reconciles to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.