Scripture: John 18:33-37
I am in a point of my life where I am once again watching a lot of Disney things, and I kind of forgot just how much Disney movies are obsessed with royalty. In the Disney movies that do not feature animals characters, two thirds of the female leads are either a princess or end up a princess by the end of the movie, and princess is their primary occupation. Even the Disney movies without fairy godmothers like Robin Hood, the Lion King, and the three Mouseketeers still heavily feature or deal with the idea of royalty. Disney kind of created the whole concept of “princess culture”, where every little girl wants to be a princess. In recent years, there have been a lot of criticisms of this idea of pigeon holing little girls into being the princess but if anything Disney has only doubled down on promoting princesses. I am going to go out on a limb and guess that many of you do not watch Disney Junior as much as I do right now, but one of their popular shows is called Sophia the First. This show that is a bit more girl-centric and follows Sophia who is a common girl that becomes a princess when her mother marries the king. To be honest, this show makes just a touch uncomfortable, because the show producers do not shy away from the show’s royal family acting like a royal family. There are always castle servants in the background doing their chores. Members of the royal family, including the children, regularly give these servants orders. They always comply with a formal deference. They always bow and respond with “yes your majesty” or “yes your royal highness.” It bothers me a little bit, for the same reason that it bothers all of us a little bit. We have been raised in a culture that admires both rugged individualism and humility. We like it when people pull themselves up by their boot straps, but we also want to make sure that people do not get too big for their britches or forget they put their pants on one leg at a time like everyone else. The thought that someone is inherently better or worthy of more respect just because of the family they were born into, is something that we have a deep cultural opposition towards. I have mentioned it before, but this cultural bias against having a king or a sovereign ruler is one of the big roadblocks we have to overcome in our faith.
Today in the life of the church is Christ the King Sunday. In many Christian denominations across the world the focus of worship today is on the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Unlike other special days in the church like Epiphany, Palm Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday Pentecost, or All Saints Day this day of special focus is fairly recent addition to the church calendar. Christ the King Sunday was not added to the church Calendar until 1925 by Pope Pius XI. Even though the first world war was over, and the world was technically at peace, the pope observed that national tensions and identity worldwide still ran high. He instituted a celebration of Christ as king, to serve as a global reminder that our first allegiance as Christians is to Christ, not to a flag. Even though, the celebration of Christ the King started as a catholic initiative, protestant denominations like ours quickly adopted it and added it to the church calendar.
Jesus said my kingdom is not of this world and that he came into this world to be a king that testifies the truth. The subjects of King Jesus are the ones who are on the side of the truth. What exactly does that mean though? What does it mean to be on the side of truth, and if Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world how do we relate to it? The primary question that we need to ask ourselves on this day, is how exactly do we relate to Jesus as king? What is the relationship between the king and I?
When it comes to relating to Jesus as king, I think we have to first consider the ways that we can get it wrong so we can better know how to do it right. There are three ways of acting we can fall into that are probably not the best way to relate to Jesus as king. The first way we can get it wrong is that we do not relate to Jesus as king at all. As already mentioned, as Americans we do not like the idea of someone having full authority over us, so we just get rid of that part of following Jesus. I think a phrase from about twelve years ago best sums it up. At that time I was just getting started in youth ministry, and there was a notion creeping into youth ministry, a way to promote Jesus to teens at the time. There was branding and T-shirts (one of the youth in my group even had one) that stated “Jesus is my homeboy.” I think homeboy is about as far away from King as we can get. The implication is that Jesus is just another friend, another acquaintance, another part of our large social circle. Jesus as homeboy might be the most egregious example, but there is a large push to emphasize Jesus as our buddy. The problem with this is the implications. A common phrase from the 1970’s and the 1980’s sums the problem up well. At that time it was popular to say that “God is my co-pilot.” The ridiculous notion is that Jesus is our equal, or that we are the ones in control and we just hang out with Christ when it is convenient for us (like Sunday mornings at 10:30). Now we absolutely have an amazing friend in Jesus. We have a savior who does understand us, who has walked our path, and who will listen to our every trouble in prayer. However, our relationship with Jesus must be more than a friend. We should not simplify Jesus to being a friend, even a good friend. To do so does not value Jesus for who he is. For it is at the name of Jesus of that every knee should bow. He is sitting at the right hand of the Father, he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and End. He is the prince of peace; He is the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings whose kingdom is not of this world and had no end. Jesus is not our homeboy, he is our King.
The second way that we can get it wrong is the opposite reaction, and that is to relate to Jesus as a distant king. In the middle ages, for the vast majority of people, the king was a bit of an abstract. Some people lived their entire peasant lives with barely any knowledge that a king ruled over them. By the 1700s or so the kings were more like celebrities. People were aware of them, but they were admired from afar. Just like people today will line up for hours to catch a glimpse of their favorite movie star, commoners in London would do the same thing to see the king from a distance. We need to make sure that we do not relate to Jesus in the same way. It can be come easy to do this once we acknowledge that Jesus is fully God we can lose sight of the fact that Jesus is also fully human. Jesus can become some sort of abstract idea, a symbol or ideology that we hold to. The concept of Jesus might provide some general direction to our lives, but he does not really influence it because he a distant concept, not an everyday reality. We become less of a devoted subject of Jesus’ kingdom and we act more like a causal fan. The problem with this viewpoint is that Jesus told us “Surely I am with you to the very end of the age.” Jesus is not some distant monarch who has little involvement with our everyday lives. Jesus is with us. He will continue to lead us and guide us if we come before him and not keep our distance.
The third way that we can get relating to Jesus as king wrong, and the way that I am perhaps most guilty of, is relating to Jesus as some sort of order giver. The mental image here is we approach Jesus at his throne, get orders to go do something, and then we go out to do it. We only come back into the presence of our king to report the job is done and then get our next assignment. Reducing our relationship with Christ to the things we do in His name, can very comfortable for us. Many of us are “do-ers”. If there is work to be done, we are not comfortable sitting still. This is especially true if we feel like the work is important or worthwhile. The problem with this approach is it turns our faith into a faith of works not a faith of relationship. We make it all about what we do, not what Christ did for us. In the end, going this route we end up treating Jesus more like our boss and less like the king of glory that died for us.
Those are the ways that we get it wrong, but how can we get it right? In all honesty, the way that we relate to Jesus as king is unique. There really is not an equivalent anywhere in the world. He is the king of the universe, through which all things are made, yet we can fully relate to him as a friend. He is the sovereign who one day stand in judgement over all, yet he sacrificed his life on our behalf. In some ways this is part of the mystery of faith, how Jesus can be the friend of sinners and be the Holy Lord of all. We may not be able to fully grasp the full scope and grandeur of that mystery, but I think there is an analogy that can help define our relationship to Jesus as our King. If Jesus is our king then perhaps one of the ways we relate to him is as an envoy or ambassador. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, but we are. Jesus’ kingdom is one of truth, and we can be his envoys that bear truth in the world.
In the times of kings, the envoys were some of the most trusted of advisors. The envoy needed to be completely loyal to the king. The envoy needed to know the will, the desires, and the heart of the king so that the envy could accurately represent the king on foreign soil. The envoy was truly meant to be the hands, the feet, and the words of the king outside of the king’s kingdom. As envoys of Jesus, we continue his works in this world. Jesus himself said this, when talking to his disciples. John 15:12 records, “Very truly I tell you whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” This is different, than approaching Jesus as a boss who gives orders, because to truly know the will and heart of Jesus we must approach him as a friend.
To serve as the envoy of Christ, we must do the work that he was doing. That work can best be summed up in two ways. First the work of Jesus was to love. Specifically, Jesus loved the unloved. He cared for those that others were afraid or uncomfortable to go near. Jesus showed compassion and mercy to the least of these. To do the work of Jesus we must feed the hungry, bring water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, show care for the oppressed, and welcome in the stranger. To be the envoy of Christ we must show the same sort of radical, fearless love that Jesus showed us.
The second work we need to do as the envoy of Christ, is preach the gospel Jesus preached. The gospels tell us the good news of Christ was this: “Repent for the kingdom of God is near.” The good news, is that Jesus is the king of God’s kingdom and citizenship to the kingdom is open! We should share this great news in the same way that Jesus did: with love and grace. Jesus was firm when he needed to be, but his message was never condemning. He did not say “sin no more or you are going to fry.” No he said, “You are forgiven. Go and sin no more.” In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven! As envoys of Christ, we need to share that good news, the good news that there is forgiveness for sins, that there is grace enough for do overs, and there is love for all.
Jesus is king. His kingdom is not of this world, but it is a kingdom of goodness, a kingdom of light, a kingdom of truth. The list goes on, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. May we worship Jesus as King. May we worship him, not just as a king from a distance but as the Lord of our lives and the king of our hearts. May we know him, just as we are known by him. Taking it one step further though, may we make him known. May we serve our lord and king as his envoys. May we love as he loved and proclaim the good news. In doing so, may the kingdom of God be known upon this earth.