Message Manuscript for Christ the King 2013 Sunday Luke 23:33-43
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Audio of this sermon is here.
King Henry VIII has always been fascinating to me. I can’t help but think of the most familiar image of him, his obese body crammed into tights, his head donned by a bejeweled hat, his rosy cheeks standing out from his dense beard, his hand holding a turkey leg that is on its way to his mouth. Ah yes, it’s good to be the king. I was able to expand my stereotypical image of him the other day while flipping through TV channels looking for something to watch, stopping on “Secrets of King Henry VIII’s Palace” on PBS. The show provided a glimpse into his life beyond just what is most commonly know about him and his marriages. They, for instance, showed the tennis court at his castle and provided stories and information about his skills at tennis, playing and winning against kings and royals of other nations. It turns out that he won all his matches. You would lose too if you knew there was a guillotine or the Tower of London waiting for you after your victory. The show provided interesting things I never knew about the king, giving me a more rounded understanding of this more than rounded king and the effect he had on his kingdom.
Though we are purposefully not familiar with having a king for our nation, it is good for us to consider our need for having one for our church and our individual lives. This is, after all, Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year. It is also the beginning of a week of Thanksgiving, leading us right into a season of Advent, a time to focus on what it means to prepare for a king. Our text for this morning, Luke 23:33-43, provides us with an opportunity to get a better glimpse of the greatest of all kings. Taking a look at him here, through the lens of Luke, we see what this king was really like and the effect he had–and still has–on his kingdom.
Luke, throughout his Gospel and not just in these 10 verses, shows what makes Jesus a different kind of king. His readers were accustomed to kings, some good and some bad. They understood that they were subjects of their king, living in his kingdom and by the rules of his reign. Their history was full of examples of kings who misused their powers, who denied them justice, and who turned away from the God who had enthroned them. The harsh reality of living under bad, or just ineffective, kings deepened their longing for a king like David, one their prophets had told them about; the Messiah who was coming into the world to reign victoriously over their enemies and to usher in God’s kingdom in the world. The word of the prophets, mixed with their longings, and fueled by their constant state of captivity, created a certain image of this Messiah they would use as they looked on the horizon of their future. Many a person had claimed to be that Messiah, but no one fit the picture yet. Not until Jesus came along.
As we see in our journey with Jesus to his cross in Jerusalem each year, Jesus had a huge fan base. By the time he is ready to enter Jerusalem, via Jericho, people are cheering him on with palm branches and with their highest hopes and faith that he will make right what has been wrong; that he will crush their Roman captors; that he will fulfill all that God had promised them in blessing and land. He fit their view of what king ought to be. He fit it perfectly until they saw what we have seen in our text today—a bloody and violent crucifixion. Jesus on the cross no longer fit their image of what a king should be. God’s answer for them surely would not be hanging helplessly on a Roman cross, condemned to die with criminals. Yet, there was their king, a very different kind of king.
Author Philip Yancey, in his book Disappointment with God, writes about how,
Henri Nouwen tells the story of a family he knew in Paraguay. The father, a doctor, spoke out against the military regime there and its human rights abuses. Local police took their revenge on him by arresting his teenage son and torturing him to death. Enraged townsfolk wanted to turn the boy’s funeral into a huge protest march, but the doctor chose another means of protest. At the funeral, the father displayed his son’s body as he had found it in the jail—naked, scarred from electric shocks and cigarette burns, and beatings. All the villagers filed past the corpse, which lay not in a coffin but on the blood-soaked mattress from the prison. It was the strongest protest imaginable, for it put injustice on grotesque display. Isn’t that what God did at Calvary? … The cross that held Jesus’ body, naked and marked with scars, exposed all the violence and injustice of this world. At once, the cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: a world of gross unfairness, a God of sacrificial love. (source)
We are invited on this Christ the King Sunday to consider what the cross of Jesus reveals about God. We see it in Jesus’ kingship, in how he differed from every other king.
First, Jesus is the kind of king who was willing to suffer and die not just for his kingdom, but for the people of his kingdom. This king of ours was willing to take on the evils, injustices, and enemies of the world with an arsenal of love. As we can see, he was not only suffered for us, but with us. What you and I can know today is that we have a leader familiar with suffering; one who understands our suffering. What looked like weakness in him was strength. What looked like defeat was victory. What caused people to walk away with complete disappointment at his cross was overshadowed by what led them to run from the empty grave with extreme celebration. This is good to remember as you consider where Jesus is in your life right now. Your disappointments, pain, problems are not unfamiliar to Jesus. You have a king who was willing to enter into your world with reckless abandon to provide you with full access to the treasure of God’s kingdom. You have a king whose arsenal of love and grace could not be blocked. The evil and injustice of our world, are nothing new for him. He has seen them before and is working now to put closure on his victory over them.
This past week was the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination. The nation, and much of the world, paused for a day to mourn the tragedy of what took place in Dealey Plaza. The media was full of articles and shows about his contribution to our nation. Almost lost in the news this week, as well as when it happened 50 years ago, was the death of C.S. Lewis. His contribution to the world is also great, even history-shaping. What we all probably recognize him for the most is for writing the Chronicles of Narnia. He was a prolific writer, but the Chronicles seem to stand out the most. Whatever our age, we are drawn into the story, understanding the battle between good and evil, finding hope and salvation in the lion, Aslan, the king. His writings creatively provide us with a powerful reminder that there is another kingdom, with a king who has ultimate victory.
What we also see about God in Jesus, this different kind of king, is that he is reigns with forgiveness. His last words before death were ones not threats of vengeance, but of mercy and forgiveness, saying with what little breath he had left, “Father, forgive them, for they know do not know what they are doing.” I’m thinking that is not what any of us would say had it been one of us, humiliated and falsely accused, left to die. Why not, as the Son of God, call down the wrath of God on them and save yourself? Jesus knew that’s not the kind of God he represented as king. The radical message he took with him to the cross was that God was providing forgiveness and reconciliation for the world. What a powerful message for the soldiers, for the religious rulers, and for the world to hear.
Have you heard that radical message for yourself? Are you fully aware that you are forgiven; that these words of Jesus the king are the same for you today? We are all guilty of living for another king, for living for our own kingdom or that of someone else. Jesus was willing to forgive his enemies, even as they nailed him to the cross, so how could you ever think he isn’t willing to forgive you? May you and I hear these words of forgiveness today, claiming them for our own sins and allowing them to free us from guilt and condemnation.
Finally, what Jesus does as king is to invite us to paradise. The words, Today you will be with me in paradise, have been a source of comfort for many a sinner ever since the day Jesus uttered them to a thief of the cross next to him. The man could see that Jesus was a different kind of king. And, once again, Jesus shows the heart of God for all humankind, even for hardened criminals. How incredible to hear those words in the bloody misery of that scene. What a contrast there is between the Place of the Skull and the place of Paradise. Jesus was headed to paradise, a much better place, a kingdom reality not so far away, desiring to take a notorious sinner—and anyone else willing to go–with him. This desire of his still continues. His promise still stands. We may be staring at the filth of our sin, surrounded by the darkness of evil and violence in our world, beaten down by the powers against us, but Jesus reminds us that there is a paradise. And he, as its king, shows us the way there. Are you going with him there?
As we enter this week of thanksgiving, may we take with us the words we sang at the beginning of today’s service hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns”, Crown Him with many crowns, the lamb upon his throne; hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but it’s own: awake, my soul and sing of Him who died for thee, and hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.