Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Christ the King
November 25, 2012, 6:25 pm
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at Holy Nativity, Knowle, Sunday 25th December 2012

When the Israelites first asked God for a king, so as to be like other nations, the prophet Samuel was not pleased. God is your only king, he told them. The reigns of Saul, David, Solomon and their successors proved his point. Human rulers always fall short of the ideal. Nevertheless, from then on Israel was constantly reminded by the prophets, firstly, that the true King is God Himself; and, secondly, that earthly kings (at least in Israel) reign as God’s representatives, answerable to him and most especially as anointed by him. Samuel anointed both Saul and David with oil to set them apart for their task, and even when David was persecuted by Saul, he refused to take up arms against the Lord’s anointed. When David himself was dying, he commissioned Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet to anoint Solomon king. And all the people (at least in Handel’s version) cried, “God save the king! Long live the king! May the king live for ever!”

“Christ” and “King” are, in Biblical terms, virtually synonymous. The kings of David’s line reigned in Jerusalem, many of them (alas!) thoroughly bad lots, until Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed, and the royal line was deported to Babylon. In the centuries before the birth of Jesus, two ideas were in creative tension: the belief that the line of David would endure, and that the monarchy would be restored; and the belief that God alone is the real king and shepherd of Israel. “The Lord is my shepherd, therefore can I lack nothing.” “Hear, O thou Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep!” These two strands crystallised in the belief that God would send a definitive “Anointed” or Messiah who like Saul would save his people from the hand of their enemies, who like David would be filled with the Spirit of the Lord, who like Solomon would be blessed with the Wisdom of God.

When we celebrate the Kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ, all these Biblical themes should be in the background. Jesus is King precisely because he is Messiah or Christ, the Lord’s Anointed. His anointing is not with material oil, but with the Holy Spirit. According to Luke, he opened his ministry in the synagogue at Nazareth by quoting Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” [Is 61.1] When he sat down, he said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [Luke 4.18-21]

Jesus is the fulfilment of Israel’s hope, the Anointed of God, because he is not power-orientated like earthly kings, but comes to help the poor and the prisoners, to bring light and life and liberty. He does this by making himself the object of human hatred, the victim of earthly tyranny, so as to deserve to be the recipient not simply of our obedience, but of our love. We love him, because he has first loved us, and has sacrificed himself for us. “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” [John 10.11]

When Jesus stood before Pilate, he did not look much like a king. But even Pilate knew that someone may be the rightful ruler, even if he is a prisoner. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked. Jesus knew that Pilate was thinking in earthly terms. “My kingdom is not an earthly one,” he replied, with soldiers and armies to defend it. My mission is to bear witness to the truth. Strange words! Nowadays we associate government with “spin” rather than with truth! But what he meant, I think, was this. His mission was:

  • to tell the truth, to tell us how the world really is- what matters, what doesn’t.
  • to be true- that is, wholly reliable, loyal and trustworthy.

We can have faith in him, because he will not deceive us or let us down.

True authority is shown not in power, but in mercy; not in destruction, but in labouring to bring new life, even at the cost of one’s own life. That is the kingship of Christ.


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