Festival of Christ the King – Last Sunday of the Church Year – Sunday of the Fulfillment Series B
This Sunday presents the preacher with a bit of an identity crisis. Just looking at the many names of this Sunday is evidence enough. Our lectionary system provides us with a couple of options. The more widely observed option is that of Christ the King, a peculiar celebration in the church calendar in that it observes an event which has not happened, the day when Christ in Glory appears. This festival is relatively recent on the liturgical calendars, really a child of the 20th century when many scholars rediscovered the eschatological dimension of the New Testament There were a whole series of books and articles which declared that we had finally figured out who Jesus was: an eschatological prophet. The famous theologian and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer is perhaps the best exemplar of this in his important text The Quest for the Historical Jesus. The feast was also championed by the much larger liturgical renewal movement inside of Catholicism which saw something of a high water mark in the events of Vatican II. The feast was formally declared in Catholicism in the 1920’s.
Lutheran revisions of the Lectionary present the preacher with a second option which is in essence a continuation of the readings from last week, and which often is called the Sunday of the Fulfillment. There is a measure of sense to this. The whole Christ the King thing can be a bit odd and has at times been abused, especially when one considers some of the higher critical roots of the festival. At the same time, one has to wonder how much of this insistence on an option is not rooted in a measure of anti-Catholicism that has often infected the Lutheran movement. Do we have a Lutheran option here or do we have a “not-Catholic” option?
I have elected this year to treat the readings for Christ the King. Many of the Sunday of the Fulfillment themes were addressed last week in our presentation so will happily refer you there.
As already noted, this festival looks ahead to the day when the tribulation is over, the Lord has reappeared for all to see and the whole world acknowledges the kingship of Jesus. This is the day Paul sees in Philippians 2 when he says that every knee will bow and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord. This is what John sees in Revelation 20-22 when Jerusalem descends adorned like a bride. Last week was the moment when we dwelt on the tribulation piece. Today we focus on the glory of Lord’s reign, a reign in which we live today and know by faith, and then will experience and know by sight. It is the same kingdom, not a new kingdom, but a revelation of the current kingdom which is hidden in God’s mercy. This is something Lutherans love to do, a tension – an oxymoronic statement – the kingdom is now and not yet. That tension is not something which we necessarily expect to resolve, but one which gives energy and focus to our ministry. We are now fully citizens, fully the children of God, and yet we minister in a world which does not fully experience that. What is the greatest challenge for us? Our eyes tell us that the kingdom is not yet, it is faith which accesses the kingdom right now. That will likely be our preaching point. Our culture has primed us to trust our eyes far more than any other way to discover truth. Do we need to think about the assumptions that are behind that? 2
Today we hear Jesus’ exchange with Pontius Pilate about kingdoms and kings, we hear Daniel’s prophecy of the Son of Man descending on the clouds, and Jesus himself will define himself through the words of Revelation to us as he expresses his eternal, divine nature.
The real question is how shall we celebrate an event that is anticipated, but not yet seen? How shall we proclaim a kingdom which is right now and which our eyes tell us is not-yet? It is a strange disjuncture for us. We cannot truly point to the effects, to the emotions, to the blessings of this reality, at least not fully, not yet. Who can say that he has seen clearly what that day will be like? While Christmas and Easter and Pentecost, and even secular holidays like July 4th and Memorial Day all can hold up an historical event, this one really holds up a promise for us to believe. The fact of the party itself is an expression of faith, a trust placed in God who keeps his promises. If it has an historical piece, it is in the Gospel lesson as Jesus wears a crown of thorns and dies for the sins of the world. What makes this a promise and a good day is that the one who returns has holes in his hands and feet.
But contra the more penitential nature of the season of Lent and Good Friday, this is a day to sing muscular and powerful hymns, to imagine what it might be like to stand before the throne of God that day, surrounded my untold millions, and find him smiling at you. It is a day to look forward to the undoing of all that is wrong with me and this world. It is a day to remember that the cross was for me and that means that on the last day when all shall appear before God I already know the outcome of that meeting, the verdict has already been pronounced.
What would a liturgical recognition/rite for this day look like? We have Christmas trees for the nativity, lilies for Easter.
1. A trumpet might make a great addition to a church service – we read that the appearing of Christ will come with the sound of a trumpet.
2. Do we mark the transition from one Gospel to another? We will move from reading Mark to the reading of Luke the following week? Do we bring in one copy of the Gospel and carry the other out?
3. Give the whole parish a burger king crown? Have as many as possible wear acolyte robes? Do we show all the pictures of confirmation classes past?
4. Is there special music which we really ought to sing? “A Mighty Fortress” is for the day of Reformation. What do we sing this day? “Crown him with many crowns?” Should it be “Thy Strong Word” or “For all the Saints” or another excellent hymn? This does not see like a good day to be somber.
5. Do we have a parade with anyone who will join us? We like to call them processions in Church, but they are really parades. Do we all parade in to remember the great gathering of all the living and the dead which will happen that day?
6. Jerusalem is a city which needs no lights because Jesus is its light. Is light something we could use to observe this day?
How do we celebrate the victory of Christ in light of the profound evil which people have experienced in Paris and other places in which terrorists have killed scores? Do we celebrate anyway because we are citizens of a city that needs no light? Do we preach a light that shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it?
Collect of the Day
Lord Jesus Christ, so govern our hearts and minds by Your Holy Spirit that, ever mindful of Your glorious return, we may persevere in both faith and holiness of living; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
The prayer asks the Lord Jesus to govern our hearts and minds by the Spirit. First note that it the Lord who is asked to exercise governance. For Christians “Lord” is a richly loaded term. The Lord is the God of the Old Testament, the one who parted the waters of the Red Sea so Moses and the people could cross, the one who went with the boy David when he confronted the giant Goliath. The Lord is the one who spoke and created the universe but who also stooped down to the dust and formed the man from the clay. He spoke through prophets and brought the rebellious people to brutal exile and returned the penitent and wholly changed by that experience.
We confess that this Lord and this Jesus are the same, there is only one subject of the verbs here. It is not the Lord and Jesus, but Jesus is that Lord. We ask him to govern our hearts and minds through the Spirit. What do we imagine that means? Is that something we imagine, experience, or know? Our own experience and God’s own revelation of himself in Word and Sacrament suggests that God’s governance is subtle; it does not make some sort of robot or automaton of us. Yet, God does govern. What is that governance and what do we expect when God hears this prayer and does it?
A wise king does not tell me what to have for dinner, his governance, if well done, provides the peace and security so I can earn my living and buy my bread and eat that for which I hunger. I suppose he can slap a tariff on Brazilian beef or Chinese rice which might impact what I can actually eat, but governance is not telling me everything I must do. Governance is about defending from enemies, providing opportunity, seeing into the future as able and anticipating threats. Governance is about the implementation of large values to big systems and providing solutions to real problems. Good kings make sure that there is food for the hungry and safety for the little people. As Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 5:9 “this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.”
The goal of all this is that, governed in heart and mind, I am able to persevere in faith and holiness of life. I am not sure that the return of Christ impels or leads most folks to holiness of living like it should. What would life look like if we got this prayer answered? What exactly is the 4
good governance of God which extends to our hearts and minds? I would hold for you that the ministry of Word and Sacrament is the good governance of God. Here the authority of the King and His kingdom break into this sinful world which is otherwise ruled by our enemy. A sermon is a proclamation of the righteous rule of Christ. Do we not speak the words of an absolution authoritatively? Do we not feed the poor from the hand of the king when we make our way down that communion rail? Do we not feed the poor out of the food pantry with the gifts of the king? Do we not enroll refugees in the ranks of citizenship when we wash them with the waters of Baptism?
Perhaps though, this is not the whole story. Does that preceding paragraph shortchange the guidance/control issue which is also at least part of the governance? Does Jesus also have something to say about how we live our life? How does he exercise that sort of governance? Am I just weaseling my way out of obedience?
Truly the governance of God is by the Holy Spirit, he does not govern like the government, through manipulation and coercion. God governs wholly differently. He governs through his gracious gift of His Son and the Spirit who makes me holy. This sort of governance is positive, not negative, it is through empowerment, not through threat. There are no angelic police with red lights on top of their halos ready to arrest the miscreant. This is Christ and the Spirit raising up from the waters of baptism a wholly new person, defined by God’s love who simply is different and therefore under the governance of God. Our sinful nature does not understand this. Our sinful nature only understands power.
In the sacraments sins are washed away and holiness of life is restored. That governed reality may be really lived out in everyday life. Here faith is fed which empowers that holy life. Here the saints are strengthened for this day and that day of glory. At the end of “The Voyage of the Dawntreader” C. S. Lewis depicts a ship full of people approaching the edge/end of the world. It grows brighter and brighter as they draw near and their eyes cannot bear it until the drink the water of that place. It fortifies them, it strengthens their eyes so they can bear the intensity of its light. The water becomes their very sustenance, they hunger for nothing more. As they coast through the Easter lilies which mark the end of that journey, the sailors on that boat come to meet a lamb, standing by the shore, Jesus, who is behind all the best stories like this. So too are we strengthened in the little ship called Church, eyes made more clear, stronger, able to bear that terrible and awesome light.
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
9“As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, 5
and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. 10 A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.
11“I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.
13“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
I do find that the parts they leave out are often really interesting. I can see why they just don’t want to wrestle with the whole apocalyptic literature thing. It is a bear to preach and this is one of the really wild elements of the genre. Yet, I cannot help but wonder if by doing this don’t actually pull some of the tension and energy out of this text and even worse open the door for the modern reader who is not going to go look up the intervening verses to come to a conclusion about this text which is significantly off the mark.
The text is hot. In fact the ancient Jews of Jesus’ day forbad anyone under the age of 30 to read this stuff. It was just too prone to misunderstanding of the wildly political and violent sort. Indeed, this very verse will be the death of Jesus in a way. For his whole ministry he had been calling himself the “son of man.” But the rub was there were two OT prophets who used the term very differently. When Ezekiel used the term, he meant that he was just another human being, nothing special, a son of mortal and regular human beings. But when Daniel uses it here, he 6
means something much more, he means the Messiah; he means the coming king, the revelation of God himself. It appears that throughout his ministry Jesus simply kept them guessing about which one he meant. The crowds of Galileans who strewed his way on Palm Sunday obviously thought he meant it like Daniel does here. They had long expected that the Messiah would come over the Mount of Olives and would be riding a donkey.
But the ambiguity of the phrase meant that the religious leaders could not convict him of using the term. It was also a phrase which could be an expression of humility. Was Jesus asserting his messiah-ship with the term or was he saying that he was nothing more than a human. It would be at his trial, after they could not find enough witnesses and a capital offence that Jesus gives them all they need by identifying himself as this figure. When he says “son of man” he means it like Daniel, not Ezekiel, on the clouds. The High Priest ripped his clothes, declared blasphemy, and the council convicted him on the spot. In terms of proximate causes, Jesus died because of these words.
But the image of the last judgment here and the description of the Son of Man needs to be understood as deeply embedded in the apocalyptic genre. This should give us a little pause here. If we would understand verses 11-12 symbolically, as they clearly must be understood, then we have to also be circumspect in our reading of the other verses. Attempts to take them literally are fraught with a certain danger, indeed it was just that danger that caused Jesus to be killed. This is why the very patriarchal Jews of the time thought this was too hot for a young person to handle. They needed seasoning before they could really appreciate some of this.
Daniel sees a vision of the judgment. Thrones are set in place and the ancient of days takes his place. His hair is white and his throne is fire. Is this perhaps saying more about the purity and the power of God than it is about his actual appearance? Who are the multitudes before him? People? Angels? The book is opened, judgment is rendered on what is written there. Do we really have the idea that God has a book somewhere with names and a naughty/nice list in it? Does he need that sort of a thing? This is imagery which is designed to say something about that day and time. For a people who were largely illiterate and hence most often did things from memory, that books were open surely would have said something about the completeness and exactitude of this judgment.
In the second part of our text, clouds are parted, dominion is given, the son of man rules in an eternal dominion. What is that? What does it mean to us? What do we think that will be like? Can we even imagine it? Perhaps this apocalyptic literature is the only way to describe it. In some ways this genre most resembles a comic book, but unlike a comic, this artist draws its pictures with words. The bad guys always look bad, they are monsters, but in the end, as happens in this verse, the good guy wins. It was a potent message for folks who were undergoing persecution.
How does the modern preacher take this text and proclaim to his people? What does he say that won’t sound like a bland undoing of the text? What can he do with a text written in a genre of 7
literature that is so alien to our people? We have a hard time getting them to read poetry, let alone this stuff.
Perhaps we need to ask what made this text so hot in the days of Jesus. The Jewish zealots of Jesus day used this text and others like it to justify their terrors. The divine entitlement which this suggests. The rhetoric they used sounds very similar to what we hear issued by ISIS/ISIL today. They believed that God had promised them victory and a kingdom which would not end. They believed that if they just took up arms against the Roman Empire that God would come to their side and fight with and for them. He would rain hailstones on their heads like he did in the days of Joshua. The angel of the Lord would slay their foes like he did in the days of Hezekiah. The Islamic terrorists of today say things like this. Just watch, they say, and you will see all Muslims come streaming to their banners and they will establish a caliphate which will know no humiliation or end.
But Paul also seemed to use this text. In his first and last chapters of Romans he speaks of calling Gentiles to an obedience of faith. Is this what verse 14 is talking about when it says that all languages, nations, and peoples will serve this one who is like the son of man, this one to whom God has given an eternal kingdom? Are we really any different when we evangelize? Do we not call people to this obedience – is it done with the zeal of the Lord? Are we zealots of another kind? Are we engaged in a battle of another sort?
1 The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. 2 Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.
3 The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. 4Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty!
5Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore.
Interestingly enough, this Psalm is chosen for both sets of readings. It is the emotional state of the person standing on that last day. It might make a great launching point for the sermon. I get the picture of a person standing on some cliff or head overlooking the sea. The waves crash and rise around him/her. “The floods have lifted up, O LORD” If you have ever done that felt the 8
power of those waves, you get some sense of what the psalmist is talking about. God’s power is mightier. If you have a projection screen, I am sure that there are many pictures on the internet which show a person looking over the crashing waves.
The psalm ends on a note of trust. God’s words are trustworthy. Holiness befits the house of God. God will make me holy to fit in that house.
1The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
4John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
This is really a statement of who Jesus is. It is almost a doxology of sorts, or a resume.
The first thing John says is that he speaks on behalf of the eternal one, who was, is, and will ever be. The seven Spirits will show up later in the book, they are the seven angels who guard the seven churches, or perhaps they are the seven pastors of the seven churches. In any event, they are part of this greeting as well. This greeting is also from Jesus himself, and this is where the resume starts.
He is the faithful witness. Witness to what? I thought we were witnesses to him? I thought he was the judge? I thought he was the defense attorney who would get us off? Now he is the witness too? What role in this courtroom does he not occupy? Jesus bears witness in his body to the fact that he has paid humanity’s price. He is a witness to the love which God has for us. He speaks eloquently of our place in the kingdom when he sits at God’s right hand. Because he has taken on flesh, he really can sit. 9
He is the firstborn of the dead. That title really says a lot. To be the first implies that there is a second, third, and more. Jesus’ resurrection is not a singular event, but it is an event which has broken death’s bonds and released the cords which would bind us all. He is the first born, but not the last born, of all the dead. For the persecuted Christians to whom John wrote this would be important. Their family and friends had died for their faith in Jesus. Jesus is the answer to that problem. We often make a great big deal of Good Friday. And it is a worthy of everything we say about it. But the early Christians actually made a much larger deal of the resurrection of Christ.
He is the ruler of the kings of the earth. This is a critical piece for John to assert. At the time he wrote the Roman Emperor was horribly persecuting the Christians. The governors of Asia Minor in particular were afraid of the burgeoning Christian presence and they sought to contain it, and extirpate it. One of the temptations of the Devil in that situation is to suggest that God is not in control. Perhaps he is good, but he is not strong, not strong to save his people, there are other forces which are out of his control, like the emperor who is persecuting us. But John asserts that Jesus rules over all the kings of the earth. This means he will have to find other ways to explain this, and he does. The suffering is part of Jesus’ plan. It is part of his kingdom. This is normal. Look at how Jesus suffered. But this does not mean that Jesus is not ruling.
The next sentence is about our relationship to this Jesus. First John simply asserts that he loves us. For persecuted people this is hard to see. For people in a shrinking church body, for Christians in a nation which has not seen an increase in its Christian population in decades, it might also be hard to see sometimes. We often want to locate the love of God in our success, the success we define for our institutions and structures. But God’s love is not expressed that way, at least not all the time. It will also be a love expressed in and through suffering.
He has freed us from our sins by his blood. Jesus’ love is real and tangible. It dripped red on Calvary’s hill. He has set us free from a much larger enemy than Roman soldiers and governors and emperors. He has freed us from death, he has freed us from sin. These other things are small in comparison to that evil. They can only kill us once, but sin and death ensnare us for an eternity.
But he has not simply saved us and moved on to his next superhero adventure. His redeemed creation is doubly precious to him. We are now his priests. We have his ear, he listens to us. We are his nation, he rules us as our king. This is a current reality.
He is coming, as Daniel saw, in the clouds and as Zechariah saw the ones who pierced him shall see him and wail. Surely they are the very Roman soldiers who stood guard over his crucifixion but all the Romans who pursue and persecute Jesus’ people. Remember when Saul was confronted on that road to Damascus, Jesus did not ask why he was persecuting his people, he asked “Why are you persecuting me?” The persecutors, the bad guys of your life will get their just desserts. It comes. He comes. 10
John wraps that up with a statement from God himself, the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, the one who was, is, and will ever be, the almighty. That God.
The preacher who is attracted to this verse might simply read and explain each of the verses as a description of the ruling Christ. It might be fun, but not entirely necessary to compare and contrast with the situation of the original audience. Perhaps you will, perhaps you don’t need to. How are all these same things applicable to us? We still die, we are still harassed and helpless before sin and death. We still are afraid of all the wrong things and insensitive to the real threat to our eternal life. This still has legs to preach.
Sermon Idea – Christ has made us a kingdom of priests, he did that by redeeming us with his blood. That is a great way to start a sermon – Christ’s blood always is a great place to start a conversation about who He is and who we are. A priestly kingdom would serve as intermediaries between God and this broken world. We are the priests who pray for the world and who bring the message of God’s grace to this broken world. The time is short, the consequences are huge, and the joy of seeing someone believe and made into a fellow Christian/priest of Christ is beautiful and good. As Gerry Kieschenick used to say “Time is short and hell is hot!”
33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
What do we do with this text? There is so much in here. Why does Pilate ask this question? Why does Jesus give the answer he provides?
1. Is this the Messiah versus the Governator?
2. The one who looks powerful is nobody, the one who looks like a failure, holds the very universe in his hands.
3. Is this about the “True King – the King of Truth?” What does that mean? Pilate will wonder what Truth is. What does it mean to the Christian? What does it mean to the folks we see and hear around us? Does the world have a warped sense of truth? Post-modernism at times will deny even the possibility of truth – at least a truth which is meaningful beyond me and you. There are no universally true things, only my perceptions/opinions/perspectives.
This familiar scene of course takes place during Jesus’ trial. John gives us a much more intimate and detailed account of Jesus trial proceedings. As an eye witness to these events, he seems to have been close by, yet this is not strictly history, he is shaping his telling of these events for theological reasons.
John is writing in a context when his readers have already read the circulating stories of Jesus trial and death. Here he wants to add something to those stories told by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Jesus death and his suffering on that cross are a breaking in of the very kingdom of God, the salvation which God has worked for this world is tied up with the events that are about to transpire.
The Gnostics against whom John writes this Gospel want to say that the real salvation is in the knowledge which Jesus imparted, but Jesus is here talking kingdom, claiming to be of another kingdom, the very language of the Gnostic, but he is talking to the man who will slay him. This is exactly the moment in which the kingdom shines brightest. This is the moment Jesus meant in chapter 3 when he said that the son of man must be lifted up and glorified. That is a cross-shaped glory.
For us who celebrate this day the feast of Christ the King, this of course is part of the theology of the cross, it is the kingdom defined for us, but it also has that marvelous and tantalizing piece, the kingdom is hidden here, but not everywhere. This kingdom of Jesus is not of this world, and yet even Pilate’s authority derives from the kingdom of Jesus somehow. It is not easy to sort out. Part of the sermon today is the assurance that one day it will all be sorted out.
Jesus is beaten, scourged, finally crucified on the day that this exchange takes place. Yet he is the king. His kingdom obtains while ancient Rome lies in ruins. Long after this nation falls, should judgment day not come before, Jesus’ kingdom will still stand. We are citizens of that kingdom. We have a king.
When the Jewish people of Palestine revolted against Roman rule in 68 AD, Jesus’ words about the destruction of the temple we heard last week came true. It was utterly destroyed, no two stones were left on one another. Today, all that is left of the Temple is a foundation wall for the platform on which it stood. We call it the Western or Wailing Wall. The Jews at the time became very angry with their Jewish Christian brothers because the Christians said that they already had a king and did not need another one. John is showing his people how that sentiment went all the way back to Jesus. His kingdom is not of this world, it never has been of this world.
What does this mean for Christians today? It is very easy to wrap our faith and our patriotism into one thing. It often happens in times of national conflict or disaster. It is so easy to see the soldier and the nation as the forces of God. Is that a very dangerous mingling of church and 12
state to which we are prone, especially American Christians? There has been a lot of talk about whether the US flag should be at the front of the church. That could certainly be part of this, but I have to tell you that such a sermon will not win friends, no matter what side you take. One might also adopt the whole motif of pilgrimage to describe the Christian life, strangers in this world, citizens of another more glorious kingdom which is yet to come. That still has legs to preach.
1. This “not yet” thing really stinks and at times it really hurts. It is hard to wait and it is worse to wait in pain. While there is some comfort to the words “the doctor will be with you shortly” if the pain is acute, “shortly” is “late.”
2. The pain of this world is significant, and it also hits me. The glorious kingdom of God can sometimes seem like a cruel thing to say. The death rate among Christians remains stubbornly at 100%. The suffering, persecution, and other problems we face don’t seem to be going away.
3. I remain terrified of the last day. Daniel and John both describe God in rather frightening terms today. What if I am not really ready? What if this thing I believe is faith is just so much gas? What if I am on the wrong side of that dividing line God draws through the human race and I am herded onto the down escalator to the large warm room in the basement? My life doesn’t reflect heaven very much. Have I listened to the Truth of which Jesus speaks?
4. How do I get some of that serenity and peace which Jesus had? He looked torture and death in the face and could calmly tell Pilate that he was ruler of another kingdom, not of this earth. I, on the other hand, go ballistic if someone scratches my car.
5. How am I supposed to celebrate an event that hasn’t happened yet? How does one do that and not be a fool? Isn’t this just ignoring the old “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” proverb?
6. Jesus speaks the truth, do I really want him to do that? My life has not always been so truthful, it has not always been something that I would truthfully like to be know. A good whitewash on it would probably be the best option.
1. While the day in which we reign with Christ for all to see is future to us, it is present to Jesus. What is more, not all of that day’s glory is future. The absolution which we speak is a heavenly reality, the Spirit who empowers that absolution is a present reality. The citizenship of heaven which is ours, is no future thing to say, but a real and present thing to say about us. The Word of God says that this is enough for this day.
2. The solution to the world’s problems who is Christ is sufficient for all of them. No death is beyond his reach, no pain beyond his touch, no injustice greater than the righteousness which he won upon Calvary’s cross. While the problems of the world often beset us, they also are a strange witness to the glory of Christ’s work. The bigger they get, the larger his salvation appears, for it is always larger than the problem.
3. Jesus spoke of his kingship on the day he was about to die for the sins of the whole world. John tells us that God loves us and he has freed us from the bondage of sin. The terrible fire which streams from the throne of God is not for our destruction, but the purification of God’s people that they may live eternally in his presence.
4. God gives – the Spirit poured out and the faith which he engenders makes real change in the hearts and minds of people. I cannot tell you that it will be easy or simple, but I can tell you that crabby and uptight people have been transformed by the presence of God in their lives.
5. This day is really a day to trust, and that trust is based on God’s faithful keeping of promises made and kept in the past. He is a great keeper of promises, he is good at it. Today we hear a promise that Christ will one day reveal his kingdom for all to see.
6. Jesus bears witness to the truth. He has come to die for the sins of the world, and he did. That objective reality is truth, no matter what the world says is “truth for me.” He has died for my sins and the sins of every sinner. That is truth.
1. “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (That the hearer would joyfully sing and confess the kingship of Christ today and that day.)
This sermon is simply a teaching sort of sermon in which we talk about what it means for Jesus to exercise real authority in our lives and the world. In a world in which we have witnessed the slaughter of so many and in which we are also still fighting the wars that boiled out of 9/11, it seems that the kingship of Jesus is far away. The preacher will want to work this tension. There are strong voices which are claiming another rule, another kingdom. We are proclaiming a kingdom which seems a little oxymoronic sometimes. We may have to deal with the doubt of our parishioners in this sermon. It doesn’t feel like Jesus is exercising any authority right now.
This can happen on a personal level as well. Jesus the king means he gets to set the rules and the old sinner within us naturally rebels against those rules, but the kingdom of God is not punitive that way. That all happened on the cross. Rather it is all remedial now, it is 14
all restorative. The gracious rule of Christ our king means that he gently and patiently restores the sinners to his favor. The discussion we had about governance under the collect of the day would be helpful here.
It also means that I am a citizen of his divine kingdom. Yes, I still pay my taxes to Uncle Sam, but I do so for a different reason now. I do it in obedience to this higher kingdom, not because I fear an audit and jail. I am a member of two kingdoms, one of the right hand of God and one of the left hand of God.
Best of all it means that I can bring every problem and every tear, every joy and celebration and lay them at the feet of my beloved king. He hears them, he weeps with me and points me to his cross, and that day when every wrong is righted, when every hurt is healed, when every tear is dried, except the tears of joy.
Jesus the King himself bears witness to this truth. The world would have us disbelieve, have us consider only the things which we can see and feel in this life and give us over to despair by telling us that this is all there is. But the kingdom of God breaks into this world through the word spoken, eaten, splashed, and sung this day. We can celebrate because this is real, and it only gets more real as we draw closer to that day.
Here is a video to use to illustrate how the world trusts the wrong things… http://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2015/11/17/father-explains-paris-terror-attacks-to-young-son-orig-updated.cnn
2. “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (That the hearer would live out his/her citizenship in the Kingdom of God by living out the truth.)
The texts today speak a great deal of disturbing truth to us. Daniel speaks of a God who comes in purity and fire and thousands of servant angels. That is truth. Can we confess it? In Revelation, John speaks of King over all the rulers of the earth, a Jesus who loves us and has freed us from the bondage of sin. Do we believe it? What would be different if we acted on that truth? It is so easy to get caught up on life and lose sight of Christ’s kingdom. So often we live as people of this world and not people of that other world and kingdom of which Jesus is King. Jesus has declared that we are in the world and not of it, but too often we have gotten backwards. We are too often disconnected from the world and yet thoroughly living out its rules and authority in our lives.
The world in which we live today sees truth relatively. It is a foolishness. The truth is only operative in what I think it to be. I can speak of no genuine and objective truth. The Muslim sees the Koran as his truth, the American cafeteria Buddhist picks and chooses from various eastern religions to arrive at what she thinks is truth. 15
But we proclaim a truth, a real and objective truth that is true whether we believe it or not, whether we understand it or not, whether we are willing to accept it or not. There is an aseity to God, he is true whether you acknowledge him or not.
Philippians tells us that every knee will bow before this king. Some bow in love, others in fear, and we are given to be part of making that difference, one repentant sinner at a time. This lends a certain urgency to our lives. This too is truth – Jesus bears witness to it.
But there is more to this truth. The truth exists outside of our belief. It is bigger than me. The kingdom of which Jesus is the truth telling king is outside this world. But this still is not Gospel, it is the bridge that gets us there.
The Gospel here is that the one who speaks these words of truth, the one whose kingdom is out there, is the one who came in here, and faced Pilate that day of his trial, crucifixion and death. Our king wore a crown of thorns. He was enthroned on a cross where he bore the sins of the world. There is a real truth here: the one who reigns over all, has holes in his hands and feet where he died for me. The truth is that I am liberated from my sins by Him. I am resurrected from my grave by him. I am no longer a thrall of Satan because he has done this for me.
This enables me to join in the hymn of praise which John sings to him in Revelation, I can rejoice in Daniel’s depiction of him and cheer when the son of man descends on the clouds and appears before the almighty judge, the ancient of days.
Jesus comes that day to bear witness to the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. And the truth is that he has died for me. This liberates me. The world when it sees my death and suffering and proclaims me a loser does not have the truth. When the doctor announces that I am terminal, he does not have the truth. When the culture and the society chastise me for the audacity to proclaim what I believe in like it actually matters, does not have the truth when it says that I should not do that. My king is witness to the truth, they cannot change that truth for all their clamoring. And I too, because he is my king, can bear witness to that king. John tells us that Jesus has made us a kingdom of priests, the folks who bear the prayers of people to God and the word of God to people. I am a citizen of the kingdom whose king is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!
This sermon needs to proclaim the current kingship of Jesus – not some future kingdom. To be a current citizen of Jesus is a very good thing to be. It is very holistic and healthy. The Spirit’s loving power, the authority of Jesus, and the fellow citizens of this kingdom, empower a beautiful life. Of course this is a first commandment issue too. God makes a claim in his Cross over my whole life. There is no room for another God in there.
That life is lived with great urgency – the time is short, the consequences are great. We will not be judged for our failures, but we are given to be at the very center of the kingdom. Jesus saves the world. 16
3. He shall come again to judge both the living and dead. (Creed/OT – That the Spirit of God would set the hearers mind at ease and fill his/her heart with a joyful anticipation of the last day.)
This sermon is addressed to the people who are afraid of the end of the world. It will see the Law development as the fear which grips our hearts whenever the topic comes up. If it is just not on the radar of your folks, you won’t want this sermon.
Daniel sees this glorious vision of the end, God attended by myriads of angels, the court is established, the books are opened….and then he says nothing. It will really be the Gospels which speak to what happens on that day. Jesus comes to answer the cry for justice, not by taking the pound of flesh from us, but by letting the Roman whips and the cross’s cruel nails extract justice’s toll from him.
For the Christian this is profound. It has taken the fear out of the end of the world. Jesus comes to judge, yes, but the judgment he renders is really the judgment of his own deed. In our own trials the judge is not the one who determines guilt or innocence. It is the jury who does that, it is the evidence which convicts us or which acquits us. The judge determines what punishment is sufficient for the crime. When Satan takes his best shot and lays all your sins before the judge and when the judge considers your case, he will roll up his sleeves and look at his hands and say, “Enough.” My death is enough punishment for this life. There is nothing more required.
Now Jesus does not want you to fear that day, but to anticipate it, and to that end he has poured out his Spirit on you in baptism. As sure as your head was wet and as sure as you taste and swallow this holy meal, you can know that your sins are forgiven. You will stand on that Day of Judgment. There are many who want you to fear that day. But they are for the most part interested in using fear to open your wallet. Do not listen to them. Jesus is the witness to the truth you need. He bears witness to the truth – he has died for you.
Fun fact – Do you know why we stand up in Church sometimes, especially when we hear the Gospel or when we pray? Most people will tell you that it is about showing respect to God. But this is not why we stand. In the Roman world when someone important walked into the room, you bowed, and the more important they were, the lower you bowed. Think of the Moslem with his face on the ground in prayer. That is what respecting God in the ancient world looked like. We stand because Jesus has died and rose again and our sins are forgiven. We stand because we are the children of God. We stand because we believe the Gospel message and what it says about us and to us.
That same faith gives us to live this life in a joyful anticipation of that last day. We don’t want to minimize the tribulation, but when all is said and done, we will stand on that day 17
too! That empowers us to live this life right now differently. Your sermon will want to explore how that life looks different in your place.
4. Your word is trustworthy – holiness befits your courts (Psalm – The Holy Spirit would give the hearer to rejoice in his/her citizenship in Christ’s kingdom.)
The psalmist stands in awe of God’s power and immediately turns to the trustworthy Word of God. This is a good place for a Lutheran preacher to be found, it fits us rather well. The Law drives us to the comforting promises of God – the Gospel.
The psalmist first speaks of the power of God. He imagines standing on that last day when angels and archangels conquer the evil beast of our foe. The power and destruction will be beyond even Michael Bay’s imagination. (Michael Bay is the director of many of the movies that have huge special effects – he likes to blow things up. Godzilla was one of his recent products.)
But where do I fit into that picture? I cannot blast the devil. I am a pathetic creature, really. One foot in my physical and frail mortality and another in a spiritual realm in which spiritual forces beyond my comprehension will be fully exerting themselves. Am I just one of those silly people who ends up getting stomped on like fleeing Tokyo-ites in some Godzilla movie? Am I just a little mote of humanity in a great cosmic conflict?
Our people are likely feeling somewhat powerless today in light of the terrible events which fill our world. I was at a meeting some time ago in which my colleagues and students were concerned that they did not know what to do if there was a shooter on our campus. They were afraid and they did not know what to do with that fear. The forces of evil are often really frightening and before them we often feel so powerless. The raging waters could also be an image of great problems and evil. The feeling is very unsettled right now. It is hard for the preacher to get a handle on and he will want to pay attention to his flock. Here is where it really helps to know them well. The economy, the politics, the world events, the health, and much more seems to have us all on edge. I heard a commentary listening to the radio the other day in which the commentator was lamenting that in New York all the good places for lunch were gone. There were only food carts. One bought lunch and went back to the office and worked because there was someone gunning for your job. Taking time to go to lunch and eating with colleagues was a sign that you were insufficiently committed to your job. That is a razor edge to be living on, when you cannot even eat lunch. No one could stop and rest for a bit over a meal with friends.
Here is where the promises bit comes. The preacher wants to remind the hearer of what it is that the psalmist trusts here. God has numbered the hairs of your head. God has considered your life from before you were born. He knit you together in the womb, he teaches us to number our days because he has numbered them. He knows when a cup of cold water is given to a thirsty child and promises that things will not go well for those who harm his people.
Most of all he makes another set of promises the psalmist is really focused on. Holiness befits the kingdom of God. It belongs in his courts. God’s most important promise to us that he creates that holiness in us. That is why the Holy Spirit is the “holy” Spirit. Not only is he holy in and of himself, but he imparts holiness on those in whom he dwells. The baptismal promise is key here. When the water was splashed and the Word spoken, God looked that child in the eyes and wrote that name in his book of life. God knew them and he never forgets.
Yes, like a person standing on a headland with waves crashing all about us, we will be surrounded on that last day by forces which we cannot imagine, much less control. But that is not an occasion to fear. With the psalmist we turn to God and remember that his promises are trustworthy and true. Holiness, the very holiness he has planted in my heart and life, that holiness belongs in his courts.
Famous wave crashing against lighthouse photos for you projectors – https://www.google.com/search?q=french+lighthouse+wave+photo&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8