Christ is King
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of leading our confirmation class. The topic of discussion I was assigned (thanks Hannah) was “Is the Bible true?” I know, an easy topic for the second week of confirmation. For those who do not know what confirmation is or are new the Methodism, confirmation is an intentional time of study and discernment for teenagers, typically 8th grade, who are discerning for themselves whether or not to confirm the baptismal vows made on their behalves as infants or to decide for themselves to be baptized. We tell students that the decision they will make in June is their’s to make. It is not something for me to decided for them. Their parents cannot force them to be confirmed. The truth they discover during confirmation cannot be forced upon them. Manipulating them with false claims about Christianity or salvation is the wrong way to share the Gospel and explain what exactly Christ did and why.
The prompt, “is the Bible true?”
The question Hannah gave me is not much different from the question Pilate left Jesus with at the end of our reading this morning. “What is truth?”
Jesus had been handed over to the Roman governor by the religious leaders of Jerusalem. Jesus had been found guilty of blasphemy. Blasphemy is speaking in a way that “injures the reputation of” G-d or with contempt or a lack of reverence for G-d. This would include claiming divinity for oneself. Our confirmation class can tell you that one of the truths held by Christianity is that Jesus was fully human, 100%, and fully divine, 100%. Not a 50/50 split but instead fully both, human and divine. A scene from John 10 confirms the charge brought against him and when the religious leaders tried to arrest Him, Jesus “escaped from their hands.”
Blasphemy is a serious offense. This offense was (is?) punishable by death - “One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer.” So if the Law required Jesus to be stoned to death by “the whole congregation” why go through the trouble of handing Him over to the Romans? Why not deal with it themselves and leave Pilate out of it? After all, in verse 31, Pilate tells the religious authorities to “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The answer lies in the upcoming Passover Festival. Killing Jesus would render the priests unclean and that would mean they could not take part in the Passover Festival. So Pilate is left with Jesus, having broken no Roman law and all he can do is try to ask the correct questions to find the truth he needs to resolve the situation without leading to an uprising.
“Are you the king of the Jews?”
“What have you done?”
“What is truth?”
Our confirmands began their time with me discovering the difference between truth and fact. There is a difference between something you believe to be true and a fact.
“It is nice outside” may be tru for some of you but for me, as soon as it drops below 50 degrees I wold not affirm your truth. Now, “it’s 40 degrees outside,” that is a fact we can agree on. We can measure it. Together, we can prove facts, but truths, these are much harder because they depend on the traditions you have been a part of, your experiences, and the way you reason all these things together. The facts and truths around Jesus’ Messiahship shaped the interactions He had with the religious authorities and with Pilate. The fact is that Israel was living under Roman occupation. This would have resulted in years of decline and disappointment. Looking back on the history of Israel we see years of occupation, exile, and slavery. Israel expected the Messiah to overthrow their occupiers and restore the nation to what was believed to be its place of glory. Another fact, Jesus did not match this expectation because the truth He proclaimed was non-violent, socially restorative, and inclusive of those the religious authorities had kept out of the religious life of Israel. Jesus’ truth did not match the truth expected by the religious authorities of the day and because it did not there was not way Jesus could be heralded as King of kings and Lord of lords.
A truth for us today is that we struggle with the kingship of Jesus. We struggle with kingship language in general. As a nation, we threw off our monarchy in 1776. Because of this, our truth as a nation means that kings are something of the past. Kings are something to be weary of.
If Jesus is to be the King of kings and Lord of lords, that means there can only be one King, which is problematic for Pilate because the truth for Pilate is that Caesar is Lord. The religious leaders who handed Jesus over affirmed this as well when they said, “We have no king but the emperor.”
The Son of G-d, Immanuel, the Word made flesh, the King of kings and Lord of lords was standing in front of them and they did not see it. G-d, fully divine had taken on human flesh, was standing and testify to truth in front of them and they could not see it because their circumstance said this truth wasn’t the truth at all.
Today is the end of the liturgical year. Its is New Year's Eve and next year we begin a new year in Advent. Advent is usually a time for preparation and anticipation as we await the birth of the infant Messiah but the reality of the season is that the church is beginning a new year awaiting the second-second-coming of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Fleming Rutledge points out that many of the hymns we will begin singing next week are written when an eschatological lens, looking to the second-coming of Christ.
For us, when a ruler (king or not) is removed from power their authority ends. Whether killed, forcibly removed, or voted out democratically a leaders authority begins and ends with the office they hold. The end of the Christian year is Christ the King Sunday. We end the year by declaring that Christ is Lord, and as Stanley Hauerwas so eloquently puts it, everything else is something I can’t say in church.
When we are baptized, named and claimed as beloved by our Creator, we proclaim Christ as our Savior and promise to serve Him as Lord. That was a bold profession to make 2000 years ago and it continues to be so today. It is a declaration that Christ is Lord and everything else is secondary. Our allegiance lies with Christ, because of the promises made at our baptism which means the truth for our lives looks different from those who do not make the same proclamation.
Christ the King Sunday is relatively new when compared with the totality of Christian history. Created in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, the Feast of Christ the King was a response to growing secularism and nationalism in Europe and around the world in the aftermath of World War I. The economy was sluggish, the situation for the world was bleak, and the Feast of Christ the King was a reminder to the truth Christ proclaimed Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world… 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.”
This morning we point to Christ’s Lordship over all things and proclaim that we will live as a witness to His Lordship, pointing to the time when Christ’s kingdom will be established to its fullest. You have heard me say over and over again that we have other gods, lower case gods, competing for our attention and loyalty. We are faced with these gods and our Lord, and time after time, like Pilate, we do not see the truth standing in front of us. We do not recognize the One we confess to be Lord and choose the safety and comfort of the gods that do not offer us the same truth as the King of kings and Lord of lords. On this day when we proclaim Christ to be Lord over all and everything else to be what it is, the truth is that in our rejection of the King of kings and Lord of lords the unmerited grace of G-d is ours, given to us to the fullest by the One who came to proclaim truth and was rejected.