The Stodden Churches

The Sunday before Advent is known as the Sunday of Christ the King, when we reflect on Jesus’ title as King of Kings. In addition Jesus is Prince of Peace, Saviour, Emmanuel (God with us), Son of God, Son of Man, and of course Lord.  Jesus does not have as many titles as the Queen, however his titles have real meaning, and they will never cease or be passed on to successors because Jesus is risen from the dead and lives for ever as King of Kings. Jesus is not a constitutional monarch like the Queen. There is no democracy in the Kingdom of God: which means that if we give our loyalty to Jesus as our King we cannot vote him out as our Leader when we find his call on our lives inconvenient. When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Ephesus, part of which we had as our first reading, he reflects on the absolute lordship of Jesus Christ whom they and he both serve. He wants those Christians at Ephesus to have a clear picture of their true king. Paul writes of how God the Father has made Jesus overlord of all by “raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come” (Eph.1:20-22).In the days of the New Testament, and for centuries before, the right hand place in the throne room was the place of highest honour and executive authority. Paul give a picture of Jesus that is one of a powerful, reigning King whose word is law, and who has the power to back up his word.  

 In the days when the Apostle Paul was writing his letter there was one obvious earthly comparison and one real challenge to Jesus’ divine kingship: Caesar and the Roman Empire. Caesar ruled absolutely and claimed to be a God. Caesars often took divine titles, but their power could not match that of the eternal kingdom of God – eventually even their power and authority with their army of Legions crumbled away.

However that comparison with Caesar does link the titles “lord” and “king”; for in Greek “Lord” is “Kurios” and in New Testament times in the Roman Empire only one person and god could be called “Kurios” and it was Caesar. So when Christians called Jesus “Kurios”, “Lord”, they were proclaiming Jesus to be even greater than Caesar, and that their ultimate loyalty was to Jesus, King of Kings, and not Caesar. That was a risky thing to do for those early Christians: they faced persecution and death for saying “Jesus is Lord”. So to give our loyalty to Jesus as King of Kings recognises Jesus’ divine authority over our lives. However when we think of Jesus as King of Kings we should not think of an absolute dictatorship crushing all before it so that the King’s will is done; Jesus is no “Man of Steel” Stalin.

Jesus’ kingdom is different because at its core is the very nature of God, which is love: John puts it succinctly in his 1st letter: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God lives in them” (1 John 4:16). Jesus’ kingdom is about the outworking of the love of God the Father, in his Son, and in us, whom he has called to follow him. As his followers, who accept his lordship, we are to follow his example and live lives of self-giving love. Jesus is an absolute King but he is also the Servant King. Jesus has exercised his kingship by putting aside his authority in the heavenly throne room as Co-Creator and eternal judge where he sat on the throne of glory, but instead shared in our human vulnerability by choosing to be born in a stable; it is his Servant Kingship that the Christmas story is really all about.  Jesus’ Kingship is a different kind of lordship to that of humanity, be they Kings, Queens or Presidents, it is a kingship of love, a love that is not about self-adoration, but self-giving. It is a kingship that is cross shaped. Kings and Queens have banners and their coats of arms, the US President has his Seal of Office, to proclaim their authority, but Jesus has a Cross as his banner; the mark of sacrificial love.

So what about us as his Church today; what does it means for us, as those who accept Jesus as our Lord. It means that we are ambassadors for the King of Kings. We are to be messengers of his peace and love. When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth he put it this way; “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Cor.20). But how do we live as Ambassadors for the King of Kings?

That is the point of Jesus’ story that was our 2nd reading today about the Son of Man separating the sheep from the goats. It is a picture of the King of Kings at the end of time judging how well his church has performed as his ambassadors; and it all comes down to how well they have practically loved like Jesus: “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me!” And that was loving the hungry, the thirsty, keeping the vulnerable safe, clothing those in need, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison. That is a picture of people loving as Ambassadors of the King of Kings.

Bless you all,

Stephen

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