First Reading: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
9As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
10A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.
13As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
14To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.
Psalm: Psalm 93
1The Lord is king, robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength.
The Lord has made the world so sure that it cannot be moved.
2Ever since the world began, your throne has been established;
you are from everlasting.
3The waters have lifted up, O Lord, the waters have lifted up their voice;
the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.
4Mightier than the sound of many waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, mightier is the Lord who dwells on high.
5Your testimonies are very sure,
and holiness befits your house, O Lord, forever and forevermore.
Second Reading: Revelation 1:4b-8
4bGrace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
7Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.
8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
Gospel: John 18:33-37
33Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “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 to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. 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.”
Queen Elizabeth 1 famously said, “I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.” Turn to your neighbor and share how you would describe a king.
PRAYER: Lord, May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.
We have come to the end of the liturgical church year. Next week we start Advent and tell our faith story looking through the eyes of Luke. But today we stand in Pilot’s palace and listen to the trial of that babe in Bethlehem who has grown to be a man and is being brought to trial. Who is Jesus and what has he done? Is he a king? We say today is “Christ the King” Sunday but what does that mean?
Somehow this trial feels a bit similar to cases being described blow by blow on our news today. Is Steve Bannon guilty of defiance of a congressional summons and hiding information pertinent to January 6? The trial of Kyle Ritttenhouse is having closing arguments as I write this sermon. Did he act in self-defense or did he entice the victim into the confrontation? Then there is the continuing debate about who is guilty for global pollution and what should be the penalty? My head spins listening to the news each night and listening to the cases being tried in the court of public opinion. I suspect Pilot might have had similar feelings. The Jews have come to Pilate wanting him to crucify Jesus, that is to say they are accusing Jesus of treason, a capital offense deserving death. We know the Jews can kill Jesus because later they stone Stephen. There are many things in their laws that can result in death by stoning. But John specifically says that prophecy is being fulfilled. The Messiah will die a horrible death. The Jews must have claimed Jesus was calling himself King of the Jews. The Jews don’t want just death. They want death on the cross by the Romans. Crucifixion is a public death by public law for public offense. Pilate turns and confronts Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Are you the King of the Jews?
Jesus turns the question back to Pilate and suddenly roles are reversed. Jesus is questioning Pilate. “Who says so?” Who actually called Jesus King of the Jews? Who is accusing?
I looked up where Jesus was first called “King of the Jews.” Do you remember who first called Jesus “King of the Jews”? Jesus did not use that title for himself. It was the wise men who passed through Jerusalem those decades before and asked Herod in Matthew 2:2, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Did you catch that? Kingship and worship are connected. Herod did not call his politicians to answer the wise men but called his priests. Herod called his priests and teachers of the religious law and asked where the Messiah, the Christ, was to be born. They quoted Old Testament Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
Who says Jesus is King? Prophecy and prophecy known by the wise men. Prophecy predicted Jesus’ birth as a King. Isaiah 9:6 also predicted the birth and a whole list of titles. In fact, many believe going back to creation and the entrance of sin that the arrival of Jesus would crush the head of the serpent even as the serpent would bite his foot. Foreigners, the wise men, called Jesus “King of the Jews” and now the Jews have claimed he called himself a king. Our psalm today declares that from eternity “the Lord is king” and nature rises up like waves of the sea to acknowledge him. Our religious history is full of clues to this claim.
But ultimately it does not matter “WHO called Jesus King of the Jews.” It matters what you call Jesus. What do you call Jesus today? This is Christ the King Sunday and we are all accountable for whether we acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, and the Sent One from God, our Savior, and Our Lord or do we see him as one of the great Gurus like Buddha or Mohamed or Confuses. Who is Jesus to you today? Is he your king? We have journeyed through a liturgical year welcoming Jesus during Advent as the prophesied one who will come again, whose life we studied during Epiphany, with whom we walked to the cross during Lent, and whom we celebrated as resurrected and ascended during Easter season. During Pentecost we focused on how he changes lives even today. So now we come to Christ the King Sunday and we bow. Who says Jesus is King of the Jews? Christians confess Jesus was not only “King of the Jews” but he is also our King, the Son of God, who rules our everyday actions and who will rule our lives for eternity. “Who says so?” We say so!
Pilate now responds with a question for Jesus. “What have you done?” Has Jesus done something that has brought about the legal accusation and has he thus lost the right to claim self-defense. Is he a victim of “the system?” Is he a victim of a mob or is he guilty as charged? What set this process in play? We know his death was prophesized, though “lamb of God” was not so understood by the disciples. That may not make Jesus, himself, the prophesized one, though. The disciples were excited about a Messiah to overthrow Rome, but maybe they were wrong. The Passover feast, the snake raised on the pole by Moses, the scapegoat killed for sin all pointed to a death but sometimes it is not easy to draw a line from A to B. Do his actions convict him? As we traveled through the Liturgical year we could have predicted a confrontation as spies were sent to listen to Jesus teach. Others were engaging Jesus in trick scenarios. If a woman were married to seven brothers, to whom would she be married to in eternity. Really??? They asked about paying taxes? All these encounters built up tension but his actions of teaching and healing do not necessarily point to kingship. John shares the beginning of the plot to kill Jesus in John 11 when Jesus raised Lazarus from death.
“Then, the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. ‘What are we accomplishing?’ They asked. ‘Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation. (John 11:47,48)’”
What did Jesus do? He threatened the security of the religious system. What does Jesus do today? Jesus threatens the rule of culture in our lives and threatens those structures in which we place our trust. If we acknowledge Jesus as “Christ the King” today we face a new political and spiritual authority in our life! Ouch. We do not jump to our feet and say “AMEN!” to that.
Do we really want to live forgiving that guy who cuts us off in traffic? Do we want to live sharing our wealth with the church? Or the government? We do not want to give up sleeping in on Sunday morning to listen to a possibly boring sermon. We do not want to share the truth of our lives, those personal spiritual moments, with others who might laugh at us and reject us. The temples of our lives will be threatened. Health, wealth, and prosperity may be false idols that faith does not guarantee. In fact, we might have to experience persecution, torture and death. We don’t mind youth programs and fun events and great praise music for our faith but when it comes to living by the rules of the kingdom Jesus is King of, we begin to feel a rub.
Jesus assures Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world. It is in eternity that we will truly see Jesus ruling as THE King. Jesus returns to prophecy and his mission statement. “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” The truth is that Jesus is the Messiah that God and Scripture prophesized. God says so. What has he done? He has preached, healed, freed, and resurrected those needy people who came to him. We know he has died to demonstrate that he is the King who will walk with us through death that has no eternal power over us. What has Jesus done? He has acted as God and threatened the Romes of our lives.
Jesus closes our text today with the identification card of those who live in the Kingdom he, the Christ, reigns over. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Now that is a mouthful. Jesus is not claiming to be “King of the Jews.” He is claiming to be king of “everyone.” That is you and me, not just the Jews. It includes people from all tribes and nations who come to him. Jesus is bigger than the U. S. American government, the U.N., and the global summits we hear about today. I also feel a tear coming to my eyes for it does not say he is king of the perfect, the good guys, those who do good for he was the king of the thief on the cross who pleaded, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus said, “TODAY you will be with me in Paradise.” Our deeds do not qualify us because it all depends on what Christ did on the cross. It depends on his actions…for “everyone who belongs to the truth.” And what did Jesus say? “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
“Listens.” This is an active, present verb! Salvation is not like our drivers license that we keep in our wallet. It is not a decision we made at camp in our youth. It is a relationship. Listening is different that hearing. Listening implies to me a two-way conversation that I am actively involved in. I think it is more than putting in our prayer requests as if we were at McDonalds, our Christmas gift wish for what we would like God to do. If I am truly listening, I am willing to submit my will to the other. It does not mean I always obey making the other a dictator but it does imply I am open to the other’s wisdom for issues in my life. I open my heart to Christ’s kingship in my life.
“My voice.” To me that implies it goes beyond obedience to the commandments. Just loving my neighbor and doing good to others is not the same as listening to Christ’s voice in my life. Going to church can be like going regularly to Thanksgiving family feasts but we know that meal does not guarantee relationship or love of family as many families have deep issues and conflicts but gather for events. Listening implies an openness and relationship.
I go back to the quote by Queen Elizabeth the 1st, “I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.” Jesus stood before Pilate as a humble human being, not at all looking like a king. Jesus did not embody anything our world would consider kingly.
But he had “the heart and stomach of a king.” God proclaimed that Jesus was the embodiment of all it meant to be God. He had the heart, the love of his creation and would even walk through death for it. He had the stomach, the guts to do that which was so contrary to human thinking and admiration. He would walk through death for “everyone..” And unlike Elizabeth, he would not just be “King of the Jews” but would be the Christ, the King of everyone who belongs to the truth and listens to his voice.
WHO SAYS SO? We do!
WHAT HAS HE DONE? Saved us broken people in a broken world.
We need a savior and a King. We listen to his voice as truth.
Christ is our King! AMEN!