Christ the King. A feast day which was instituted by the Roman Catholic Church in 1925. Pope Pius XI decided that a special feast day was need to remind Christians that their first allegiance was to their Spiritual Ruler, Jesus; the one whose authority we have accepted and who rules over us. So not really what you would call a feast of long-standing in the church but perhaps a good thing to have a set time when we remind ourselves of Jesus’ authority and to reaffirm our acceptance of his rule over us. Jesus is Christ the King.
‘Christ’ is the Greek word for the Hebrew ‘Messiah,’ meaning chosen one, the anointed one. Anointed because it was traditional for those chosen for positions of spiritual or political leadership (priests, kings) to be anointed with oil as a mark of God’s choice.
And, of course, this tradition continues to the present day in this country where monarchs are anointed with oil at their coronation. Jesus wasn’t anointed with oil – he was anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism. Though there are instances of Jesus being anointed with oil when visited various homes – but this was essentially an act of hospitality for an honoured guest.
The messiah, the Christ, then, was the one the Jews were waiting for. The Old Testament prophets predicted that God would send his chosen one to save his people from sin – to turn back to Him; to bring them back into his kingdom; back under his authority. However over the centuries the Jews understanding of this prediction had drifted away from the vision of a people called back from their sinful ways and now they looked to a Messiah (a Christ) that would rid them of their enemies. And whilst we Christians accept Jesus as Messiah they are still looking!
The OT reading appointed for today from Jeremiah 23 speaks of God sending a righteous king to come and save Judah and allow Israel to live in safety. Thus they were waiting for a king to come and rescue them from all those who had marched over their land time and time again subjecting them to foreign rule. 2000 years ago when Jesus was on earth it was the Romans who were in charge. So again with this prophesy too many were reading the top line and paying less attention to the small print!
You are the Christ
So, when Jesus came along speaking of God’s kingdom and challenging the authorities (though it was essentially the teaching of the religious authorities he challenged not the political rulers – the Romans.) was it any wonder those who heard him – especially his disciples – came round to thinking that Jesus was the one God had sent – that he was the Messiah.
In the gospels when Jesus asks Peter “who do you say that I am?” Peter replies “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus does not deny this claim but warns the disciples against spreading that opinion around. May be he wasn’t quite ready for that to be made public. Though at other times Jesus did seem quite prepared to announce it – like when he was talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. The woman says to Jesus “I know that the Messiah is coming. He will explain everything to us.” Jesus says to her “I who speak to you am he.”
Anyway, the wider public did get to know. And the more the news got out the more the religious authorities in particular got worried. They felt their earthly authority was being undermined. Jesus was rocking the boat. And there was a fear that talk of a messiah / a king to save God’s people could soon rattle the Romans. The Romans were always alert to any sign of rebellion/uprising and came down very heavily on anyone involved. The last thing the religious leaders wanted was to be associated with Jesus and his talk of God’s kingdom. The upshot, as we know, was that Jesus ended up hanging on a cross; crucified with two others as a common criminal. Which brings us to our reading from Luke.
King of the Jews
In our Gospel reading we heard that a notice written in mockery on his cross read “This is the King of the Jews”. One of the criminals shouts at Jesus “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
Yes, Jesus was the Christ; yes, he was the head of a kingdom but not the Christ or king that so many in Israel were looking for. As was said earlier so many in Israel had moved their understanding of Messiah from expecting a spiritual saviour who would bring them back to God’s ways to a more secular, earthly leader who would clear their land of oppressors.
Jesus proclaimed a kingdom where hearts and minds would be subject to God’s rule. Not a kingdom won by the sword. So what kind of a king was he? Where did he get his authority? And what kind of authority did he exercise?
At the start of his public ministry Jesus is goes out into the desert where he is tempted by the devil. One of the temptations being offered is power and authority over all the kingdoms of the world. Worship me, says the devil, and all this can be yours. Jesus resists this offer of domination, the power that exalts itself and exalts in itself – it is not his way. Jesus tells the devil “worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”
Jesus also tells his followers to be wary of the religious authorities of his day. Those who spent their time inventing new rules and regulations with which to burden the people. Those who enjoyed swanning around in religious finery and receiving adulation from the crowds. And those who build their own authority rather than deferring to the authority of God and his kingdom. In Luke 11 Jesus lists the shortcomings of the religious leaders among which he says – “woe to you Pharisees because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the market places.” And “woe to you because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry” – a reference to the increasing number of rules which had become impossible to follow.
Rules and regulations
Perhaps this is a lesson for us today when we see the same thing happening? When we can often find ourselves bound by rules and regulations of an institution which can so easily divert our attention away from the real work of God’s kingdom. In our reading from Colossians this morning Paul reminds us that it is Jesus who is head of the church – “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”
Because the authority of Jesus was not conferred on him by this world, no one can take it away. Many times during his earthly ministry his authority was challenged, especially by the Pharisees and religious leaders. Every time Jesus told them his authority came from his Father.
Mark 1:22 The people were amazed at his teaching because he taught as one with authority – not as the teachers of the law. Matthew 28:18 Where Jesus commissions us all to make disciples of all nations – the Great Mission Statement – Jesus says “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” Jesus authority came from his Father, who endowed him with the Holy Spirit and thus with power. He didn’t need any other induction or ordination.
Time for others
Jesus’ kingdom is one that looks out for people who are ignored in every other kingdom – the poor, the broken, the wounded. Jesus’ kingdom proclaims forgiveness. That it is not too late to repent of your sins, to turn yourselves around, to change your life direction, to be born again. It proclaims God’s authority.
So, it is perhaps fitting then that as we heard in our reading, Jesus ends up between two criminals. Between two people who he sought out in his ministry to tell the good news of God’s kingdom. In his agony and in his dying moments Jesus shared his forgiveness. He reaches out to the distressed on either side of him. He still had time for others.
Christ the King
Jesus the king wore a crown of thorns; his throne was a cross; his royal banner a scribbled sign. This, then, is the gospel image of royalty; the king and a criminal going together into paradise. This is the king we believe in; the king we celebrate and whose values we are pledged to live by. May his kingdom come. May we be accepting of his authority in our lives and may we serve him. Jesus – Christ the King.
‘Christ the King’ was a talk given by Nigel Silvester at Christ Church Walmersley on 24th November 2019. It’s based on Jeremiah 23:1-16, Colossians 1: 11-20 and Luke 23:33-43. For Nigel’s last talk, please press here. For more by Nigel please go to the archive.