When you think of a king what image immediately comes to mind? We have recently had the coronation of a King – King Charles the third and there were lots of images of what we call “pomp and ceremony” associated with that occasion. The image that usually comes to mind is that of a person wearing a crown and royal clothing, living in a royal palace, with lots of servants.
Now think of Jesus and the image that we see of him as King. He wore no royal clothes and when he did it was to mock him. They mocked him, spat on him, whipped him and put him to death in the most cruel fashion. He didn’t wear a golden crown but a crown of thorns. He wasn’t born in a royal palace but in a barn – in a feeding trough for the animals. It’s no wonder that his own people didn’t accept him and called for his death.
The Jews of Jesus’ time were longing for the day that their new King would come – a messiah to deliver them from their enemy and restore the fortunes of Israel. They had heard of their glory days under King Saul and then King David when the mere thought of Israel would bring fear to the nations around them. And then came their King – Jesus – born of Mary and Joseph with rumours abounding of an unfaithful mother. From a town not known for royalty – Nazareth – can anything good come from Nazareth?
The people of Jesus time had unfortunately misunderstood the prophecies of Isaiah and the other prophets of the new King that was coming. They focused on the dreams of a military style victory over their enemies. The news of a newborn king brought fear into King Herod to the point where he was prepared to kill all infant boys in the hope of it including the new “King of the Jews” threatening his position as King. Jesus, a carpenter from a small town with questionable parentage, could hardly be confused with being a king. Yet, for a brief moment, his followers dared to dream that he may indeed have been the long-awaited messiah – blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
There was nothing Kingly about him to the naked eye. Even his followers were from the lowest classes of society – fishermen – tax collectors. He attracted Samaritans, lepers, people with unclean spirits, tax collectors, women of ill repute, the poor, and those put down by the ruling class of religious leaders. Everything about Jesus did not suggest royalty.
And, likewise, his death – Jesus was condemned to death by crucifixion, a form of punishment reserved for the lowest classes of criminals and traitors. There was no royal casket paraded around town with royal servants by his side.
In fact, his own followers all fled the scene and left him to die alone. The sign on the cross – “This is the King of the Jews” was not to honour him but to mock him as were the royal clothes and bowing down to him Jesus hung with criminals on the outskirts of Jerusalem – a pitiful sight to signal a warning to the Jewish population if they tried this stunt again.
To the naked eye, Jesus was no king. But through eyes of faith, Jesus’ journey to kingship begins on the Cross. And the first of his royal pronouncements, an exoneration – ‘forgive them father for they know not what they are doing. And he ushers in the first of his royal subjects – again to the most unlikely – a thief crucified by his side – “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
So what does this mean to us today from this event that happened 2000 years ago. It means exactly the same that it meant then. That to the naked eye Jesus looks nothing like a King. The church, his body, looks nothing like a Kingdom. Christians, you and me, look nothing like royalty. But to the eyes of faith we read a different story. Paul talks about that in Philippians Chapter 2 –That by his death on a cross, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Every knee and every tongue must submit to Jesus Christ as King and Lord of all whether they recognise him or not.
Today the derision of Jesus continues. The derision that we saw as he hung helpless on the cross – He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
Even in his dying breath the other thief hanging on the cross mocked Jesus – “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The world laughs at any attempt to suggest God can make a difference in a person’s life. If he’s God why doesn’t he stop the wars – stop the floods – stop all the suffering. Fix the world and we’ll believe in you. That’s the life of the church.
That’s the life of a Christian. To be mocked and I’m sure I don’t need to convince you of that. But that’s where our strength comes from.
Remember that Jesus said this would happen – the world will hate you because of me but remember it hated me first. This is how God works. Paul says in First Corinthians – God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are. We see an example of that when we worship. The foolish things – a piece of bread and a sip of wine where we hear those same words from Jesus – Forgive them Father. A few splashes of water and we believe that it makes a difference. The weak things of the world – a church that seems to be crumbling with age and relevancy. But a church that Jesus says not even the gates of hell can overcome – where 2 or 3 are gathered I am there in the midst along with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. The despised things – just think of the hatred our mere presence can bring – think of the Essendon CEO recently who was sacked because he belonged to a church – and he is not alone.
Listen again to the words of St Paul today to remind yourself of the Kingdom you belong to – May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; In him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, In him all things hold together. In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
That sounds like a King even if he doesn’t look like a King to the world. And that’s what faith is all about. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
As we prepare for Christmas this year with Advent starting next week, let us remember that there are reasons God chose this way to be our King. He is a King who identifies with the ordinary person. He is a King who was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He is a King who experienced true life including suffering, rejection and death. He is as King who invites us into his presence – into his family – to touch him, like doubting Thomas – as we reach out to receive his body and blood. But he is also a King who is, as Paul said, the first born from the dead. And he assures us that he will also raise us to eternal life with the assurance that whoever believes and is baptised will be saved.
Not every knee bows now. Not every tongue confesses now. But there will be a day coming when everyone will shout “Look, he is coming with the clouds, And “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him” And when he appears – then you also will appear with him in glory.
So until then may you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father.