St Peter's Bexhill
November 23rd, 1997
Christ the King:
King Ė or pretender?
Most of you will know the hymn Christians awake! Written by the 17th century poet John Byrom as a Christmas present for his little daughter, Dolly in 1745.
What you may be less familiar with is the verse by the same poet which goes as follows. It's dedicated by the way To An Army Officer.
God bless the King! I mean the Faith's defender,
God bless (no harm in blessing) the Pretender;
But which Pretender is, and which is King:
God bless us all, that's quite another thing!
When we use the word "to pretend" or call someone a "pretender" we're referring to an action or a person deliberately intending to deceive us: a fraudster in other words.
But in John Byrom's day the words had another and more common meaning. They meant by a "pretender" someone who whether sincerely or deceitfully, rightly or wrongly, laid claim to something of which they were not at the present moment the possessor.
Now this has to do with the feast of Christ the King precisely because John Byromís little rhyme refers to the fact that, when he wrote it, two different people laid claim to the throne of England.
Today, as in every age, the claims of our Lord Jesus Christ to be the rightful King of Creation is being challenged by a number of Pretenders.
That's nothing new. What is new is the fact that people today no longer examine the claims of each side carefully but tend rather to be swayed by soundbytes and impressions: in other words they base their allegiance not on the truth or validity of the claims of those making them, but throw in their lot with the one they think is going to do the most good in the short run.
In a moment we shall be looking more closely at what these Pretenders have to offer, and the word Pretender in this sense, remember applies equally to Jesus as it does to his principal rivals: King Mammon, King Sex and King Power.
But first letís be clear that in such a conflict as this it's impossible to be a neutral observer. Sooner or later we've all got to decide whose side were on. That's what Kingship is all about. We either submit to the Sovereignty of God and his Son Jesus Christ or else we find ourselves the willing or unwilling accomplices of one of the other Pretenders who is claiming the world for himself.
Christian people's failure to look clearly at the claims of Jesusís rivals has been responsible for landing us up in the moral morass in which we presently find ourselves. Christians have tended to be so blasť about the fact that we know ourselves to be in the right, that we never bother to ask ourselves why we believe our case to be such a strong one. And by the same token we have been so dismissive of the other Pretenders that we've never been in a strong position when challenged to say why the other Pretenders claims are wrong.
The result is depressingly familiar. It's only needed the other Pretenders to take a little more trouble about the way they present themselves to the popular mind, what make-up they wear, what accent they speak with and above all how they package the goods they have to offer (the all-important "gift-wrap" factor) and those people who have got out of the habit of asking the question "is it true?", and into the habit of asking questions like "is it meaningful?", "what good will it do me?", have eagerly bought into many of the attractively packaged exciting-looking offers that King Mammon, King Sex or King Power dangle in front of their noses.
So let's look at what each of these four rival kings says:
King Mammon tells us that if we'll only serve him then we shall be secure. Most of us, after all, could do with a bit more security and the quickest fix to this is to change oneís job for a more highly paid one. So far King Mammon has not said anything untruthful. But then, little by little he adds the words "for life" on the end of his promise so that it reads "serve me and I will make you secure for life".
And there of course he gives the whole show away. Firstly because financial security for life is a very rare thing, depending as it does on economic circumstances quite outside our control; but also because promising "security for life" prompts the question "and what about for death?" for if people are agreed about one thing it is that you can't carry away anything when you die: and what use will riches be beyond the grave? King Mammon has no answer to that one. So King Mammon has one enormous hole in his armour: he has nothing to say about death.
Now turn to King Sex. He whispers in our ears that "stolen waters are sweet". He guarantees us instant satisfaction and meaningful relationships. And perhaps best of all he offers them instantly and without too much preliminary effort. Serving King Sex is a doddle compared with some of the demands made upon us by King Mammon which require hard work, studying for exams and the self-restraint of saving what we've earned rather than spending it.
So far King Sex too has spoken nothing but the truth. Instant satisfaction and meaningful relationships are there for the taking. But there is a fatal flaw. He has been very careful not to mention the price of what he offers.
Well, would you buy a second-hand car from a dealer who said nothing about the price, even if instant delivery and satisfaction were guaranteed?
Probably not. But look at the costs the service of King Sex entail. Here are just a few of them. Broken promises, broken marriages, broken relationships, broken hearts, broken homes, broken trust. It's impossible in practice to become a servant of King Sex without involving a lot of deceit. It entails telling lies to parents, to spouses, to children, and often to the Someone Else who is our accomplice. Worse still perhaps, because it ends up with deceiving ourselves into believing that satisfying our most immediate desire is something worth paying almost any price for.
King Power, by contrast is a relative newcomer to the scene for most people. For most of history he has been beyond their reach. But now with the advent of the media and television in particular he has become available to many more. He offers empowerment through the use of spin doctors and pressure groups to name but two of his lieutenants. What as individuals we cannot hope to achieve becomes a possibility, for good or ill, if we throw our lot in with King Power by ganging up with others of like mind.
But King Power also exacts a price. Serving him may require that we stop thinking for ourselves and think in terms of the slogans or newsbytes which he deals in. Like most of our organs, the mind will in the end stop thinking for itself if we let it. Our judgments, our thoughts and our wills become the property of King Power whom we have chosen to serve.
These three Kings then, Mammon, and Sex and Power all have, at first sight, attractive things to offer. That's why so many people today become the servants and eventually their slaves.
Now contrast with this the fourth Claimant or Pretender to our allegiance: what has King Jesus got to offer us?
Firstly he offers us the Truth: the truth about God and man, ourselves in particular. He tells us the truth, not only about to the things we want to hear about ourselves but the ones we don't want to hear as well. He is the Light of the World who shines on the darkness of our lives to reveal those things that are wrong with them.
Then he offers us forgiveness - but a forgiveness which has to be accepted with repentance if it is to have any effect: and accepting forgiveness in practice involves admitting that we have done things wrong, with all the humiliation that admitting that entails.
Thirdly he offers us his Cross as a way of life. As someone has pointed out a cross is nothing but a capital "I" crossed out: "not my will but yours be done" is its guiding principle.
You can see, I'm sure are, how superficially unattractive are the things which King Christ has to offer in contrast King Mammon, Sex, and Power, the other three claimants or pretenders to our loyalty. And it's small surprise isn't it that people by-and-large go for the immediate rewards which the other three Kings have to offer without thinking too hard about the lies they tell, the deceit the practice or the price which in the end they exact.
However King Jesus rewards his servants too. But the difference is that in his case he doesn't start from that point. Serving him begins, as we have seen, by the bewildering process of Repentance, Forgiveness and Self-denial.
Then (and only then) do we discover the reality of what we have let ourselves in for, which can be very simply stated in two well-known phrases: "whose service is perfect freedom" and "he who believes in me has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day".
Itís not easy for people today to choose which of the four Pretenders they will give their lives to. But the choice is made rather easier if we seriously examine their respective claims rather than go for the one which appeals to us most immediately.
For the claims of the three will be found on inspection to be false: they are "pretenders" in the modern sense; the claims of the fourth King, Jesus Christ, the King of Glory. will be proved by experience to be true. He is no Pretender Ė he is God incarnate!
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