St Mary, Rotherhithe
26th November 2006
Christ the King
In one of A.A. Milne’s poems from When We Were Very Young, his son, the five-year-old Christopher Robin tells us what he would like to do if he were a king. He says:
I often wish I were a King
And then I could do anything
If only I were King of Spain
I’d take my hat off in the rain
If only I were King of France
I wouldn’t brush my hair for aunts.
I think if I were King of Greece
I’d push things off the mantelpiece.
… and so on. In his mind, as in many other people’s, the idea of Kingship meant "being able to do what I want, when I want, free from restraint and criticism."
However, if you were to ask an actual King or Queen whether their life was like this, you’d be told that being a monarch isn’t at bit like that. Real kings and queens, as opposed to imaginary ones, find they are hemmed in by having to do, and say, and think, what their people expect of them..
To understand the Kingship of Christ, we must have a more grown-up attitude to kingship than Christopher Robin’s – and there’s nowhere better to look than the New Testament to discover what for Jesus kingship means.
In St Matthew’s Gospel, for instance, the Wise Men at the Epiphany asked Herod the King to tell them where the King of the Jews might be found. Now Herod himself was the King of the Jews, and he always made it clear to everyone, at any cost to them or himself, that he alone was the King. He not only beheaded his wife for plotting against him, but killed all the innocent children in and around Bethlehem to rid himself of this new so-called King that the Wise Men came to talk to him about..
In any Kingdom there can only be one king. The others are called Pretenders. So wherever Christ is acknowledged as King there will be resistance amongst those Pretenders who see their claim being threatened. Of course the Kingdom of Christ, so far from threatening a genuine kingdom, will, if his Kingship is recognized, make that earthly kingdom more secure – those who lay down their crowns at his feet have nothing to fear.
Born King of the Jews. Some kings become kings by conquest or political manipulation. Herod the Great was one. He’d got where he had by shrewd double-dealing, ruthlessness and bribery. But Christ’s kingship doesn’t depend on what he has done but on who he is. The Wise Men recognized instinctively that, infant or not, their first duty was to fall down and worship him before ever they got onto the business of present-opening.
The next mention of Kingship comes in St John’s gospel where Jesus, realising that those whom he had fed with the loaves and fishes were about to come and make him king. He quietly withdrew and hid himself until the mass hysteria had subsided. Being Jews under enemy occupation by Rome they desperately desired a warrior-King who would kick the Romans out. Who better than this man Jesus? He was a charismatic, powerful, devout, miracle worker – what better candidate to fill the post of revolutionary leader?
Jesus thought otherwise. At the risk of disappointing them he refused steadfastly to be the sort of king they were looking for. "My kingdom is not of this world" he said to Pontius Pilate a few months later having been arrested and tried by the very people who had earlier wanted to make him their king.
It was, in fact, during those days which led up to his death on the cross that Jesus said most about his Kingship. On Palm Sunday He entered Jerusalem meek and sitting upon a donkey. The time had at last come to reveal himself as their king, but he was to be the sort of king that his Heavenly Father wanted – a king who is the servant of his people and a king of peace, rather than the all-conquering military hero his fellow-Jews, wished him to be. But Jesus, in answer to Pontius Pilate’s question said quite plainly that his kingdom was "not of this world", otherwise his servants would fight to set him free.
Ironically, of course it was for claiming to be a king that Jesus was put to death. The accusation written over his head by Pilate – much to the annoyance of the Jews – was This is the King of the Jews.. "You mustn’t say that, screamed the Chief Priest; write ‘this man said "I am the king of the Jews"’. "What I have written I have written", was Pilate’s tart reply.
Christians from that day forward have seen the Cross as the Throne from which the Son of God reigns over those who put him there. Of course it was the resurrection that proved that the final word lay with God and not with Man. By his rising from the dead Jesus showed he was more powerful than the last enemy, death. So whilst death itself will not be destroyed till the end of time, it has been transformed by his resurrection into the gateway of eternal life. Good Friday appeared to be the end of the story – but it wasn’t. In the ‘determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God’ the death of the Prince of Life was to be the very means whereby mankind would be able to overcome death and partake of eternal life.
But there’s another most important reference to Jesus as King in the Bible. In the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus is mentioned alongside Melchizedek, King of Salem, the priest of the Most High God. He came to meet Abraham bringing Bread and Wine with him. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The name Melchizedek literally means ‘King of Righteousness’; ‘King of Salem’ means ‘King of Peace’. Peace, Righteousness and Bread and Wine all came together two thousand years before Jesus in the time of Melchizedek and in the presence of Abraham, who is referred to as "the father of those who believe."
Doesn’t it all begin to look extremely suspicious? It looks as if some powerful Being, existing from all eternity, has been involved from the dawn of creation in a plan to transform that creation, in the fullness of time, into something different – the Kingdom of God. The Book of Revelation tells us that at the end of time ‘the Kingdom of this world will become the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ and he shall reign for ever and ever… and of his Kingdom there shall be no end."
Meanwhile we live in a world which refuses to recognize Jesus as its King and Lord. and part of us would, if we were honest, admit that we only half-heartedly want to acknowledge him as our King.
When life’s going well it’s rather nice to believe we have a King ‘somewhere out there’, ‘beyond the bright blue sky’ who approves of whatever we do; we certainly don’t want anyone coming closer than that and interfering with our own ambitions, plans and pleasures. And when things start going badly then the last thing we want to be told is that it’s because we have been in fact ignoring him. We want his help and comfort, yes; but we don’t want to admit that we have failed to be loyal and obedient subjects when, like Christopher Robin in our childish way we saw ourselves as the undisputed king of our own lives!.
But how much more grown-up it would be to acknowledge that true maturity consists, not in doing what we want to do, but in doing those things which God has prepared for us to do. If we submit themselves to his rule, we shall find that, so far from becoming enslaved by Him we are becoming more and more free. By getting to know God we discover eternal life – and it’s only in our service of His Son, Jesus Christ the King, that we shall ever find perfect freedom.
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