Sermon for November 20, 2022 Christ the King Sunday

Christ the King

Luke 23:33-43


    Today is Christ the King Sunday, and our reading for this day sends us to the Good Friday image of Jesus dying on the cross. At first this may seem a bit asynchronous. Are we not supposed to be getting ready for advent and the birth of Christ and now here we are recalling his death. How does this help us to begin our arrival toward the Christmas message?

    Well, the answer to that question rests within the reason for the day. Today we are to remember not the Christmas story, but the outcome of why Jesus was born. Before we celebrate the lovable image of Jesus as a newborn baby, we are to remember the mature message of who Christ is to us; otherwise we may lose sight who Jesus is. Jesus becomes less than what he should be to us, and we may end up traveling along a wrong understanding of life.

    This reminds me of a scene from the Will Ferrell movie, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” from 2006. The movie is a rather inane comedy about a NASCAR Driver named Ricky Bobby. In the movie there is a scene of Ferrell’s character saying grace. (the whole clip isn’t good material to use in a church, but parts of it make a point.)

    This scene is funny, ridiculous, and yet a little thought provoking. How do you see Jesus? Can you make Jesus anything you want him to be?

    This takes us to the scriptures. The gospels overall make use of irony within the story of the crucifixion. Luke perhaps is doing this more than Mark or Matthew. This is to point out that with every denial of who Jesus is the words being used are pointing us to the truth. Jesus was taken to a place of execution, called the Skull, and the people stood watching. Then we have commentary. The leaders watching began to scoff “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, … saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” At this point three times Jesus is named as being the Messiah or King of the Jews. Pontius Pilate himself had a sign placed over Jesus’ head representing the crime for which he was being executed. In John’s gospel the ruling Jewish sects went to Pilate and complained that the words should say that Jesus claimed to be King of the Jews. Pilate simply responded, “What I have written I have written.” The point to all of this is that yes in the derisive and hostile words the people make and in what Pilate wrote, Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the King of the Jews. He is exactly that person. From the Gospels perspective, even his enemies could not speak of him without proclaiming the truth. This is an example of irony within the scriptures.

    The Jewish rulers, the soldiers, and Pilate all have told us exactly who Jesus is, and that is why Luke in particular let us hear all the voices that seem to speak against Jesus. It is not that we may appreciated Jesus suffering more but rather so that we might understand that these words are revealing the truth to us. Jesus is King.

    Also, if Jesus is who even his enemies say he is then he is also accomplishing what they believed they were chiding him for not doing. “He saved others, let him save himself.” In Luke’s gospel even one of the criminals got into the act and likewise added, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” Luke answers all these hateful words as the other criminal dying next to Jesus responds: “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” What was this, that came from that man anyway? An act of faith? Did he really see something in Jesus, a helpless dying figure. Or perhaps a hopeless hope? We are all dying so we might as well believe anything we want. When you are on a cross, what does it hurt to believe that the man dying next to you is a king? Or perhaps an act of compassion? Sure, Jesus if you want to think you are a king than I will go along with it, we all will be dead soon.

Then there is Jesus who responded, “So be it, I tell you, in this day you will be with me in the kingdom’s gardens and courtyards.” Without picking the Greek apart piece by piece, that is what I think is the gist of what Jesus was saying. This is the day that forgiveness is to be found and the time of salvation. This is the day not in the manner of calendar time and space but the day of God’s grace being poured out on to all who turn to Jesus with even the least bit of faith.

Christ our King died so that all may live. In the mystery of the cross life is given, and to this end Jesus staying on the cross made him to us who he is. His enemies argued that if he was the messiah that he should save himself and come down off the cross but being on the cross is what proved him to be the Messiah, our savoir, and Lord and King. Jesus indeed saved his own identity, and saved us by being on the cross. Behold the irony, life comes through death, joy comes through suffering, and strength is found in the deepest weakness, riches abound in absolute poverty. Two men dying on a cross, and one possesses the ability to forgive the other and deliver him into eternal life, because the one dying man dared to voice that the other dying man could yet be so much more. Where does faith come from? We may never know, but even the smallest amount of faith is enough. Jesus once said with smallest of faith mountains can be thrown into the sea and trees uprooted.

This is the hard work and nature of Jesus’ life for us. Jesus was born as a helpless babe in a manager to two young and rather hardworking and poor people. But his identity is that of the Messiah, King, Lord, and Savior of our lives. Jesus can be nothing else than this for us, to us, and we are not honoring him in life if is anything less.

Historically the feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XII. His reason for emphasizing the Lordship of Christ at that time was the rise of Fascism, particularly the regime of Benito Mussolini in Italy.

Nearly a decade later, a group of dissenting Protestants in Germany, the Confessing Church, refused to join the collaborationist “German Christians” in their effusive praise of Nazism. Instead, they issued the Theological Declaration of Barmen, which courageously asserts: “We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords.” Written primarily by Karl Barth, the Barmen Declaration was grounded in Barth’s theological conviction that God cannot be made to serve nationalistic interests, God can only rule the nations. Among the original signers of the Barmen Declaration were Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller.  Bonhoeffer is known for speaking about such ideas as ‘Cheap Grace.” Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Bonhoffer saw the need for Grace to have an effect upon our living and our dying. True grace leads us to the Lordship of Christ. Bonhoffer was executed in a Nazi concentration camp by hanging at 39 years of age, but his words still resonate with us to this day.

Niemoller was known for describing the Nazi regime by saying:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Niemöller’s view of society changed, largely due to his imprisonment. At first he was not so much against the Nazi rule, but he came to realize the awful price that is paid when God is displaced from our lives. Later he was liberated at the end of the war.

The message of Christ the King is still timely. It stands against any secular movement that claims exclusive influence over the hearts and minds of God’s people. Sometimes we see politics being enmeshed with religion until one is blurred into the other. I believe that religion should inform our politics but not become it. Often when that happens faith becomes nothing more than a political tool to be used for gaining and holding power. Faith becomes empty of its true message. The answer to so many of our questions and needs is for us to remember that we do not get to define who Jesus is. Faith does not flow from a human design, but rather from a divine source of which Jesus is King. Then “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Where Christ is truly honored and understood there is the true outcome for every nation and person small or great. Amen.


Published by Rev. Russell

Pastor at the Lake City United Methodist Church in Lake City, Michigan.

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