This is the text of the message I prepared for the people of Kaniva & Serviceton Shared Ministry for Sunday 25th November 2018, the Sunday of Christ the King in Year B.
2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-12; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
Good morning Church.
About a month ago I asked the members and leaders of Kaniva Youth Group who were gathered at Serviceton what they thought the world would be like if God was its boss. We talked about how the world would be different if Jesus was in charge and President Trump, Prime Minister Morrison, Premier Marshall of South Australia and then-Premier Andrews of Victoria were not. This is a particularly relevant question for today, the first day of the final week in the Christian year, the Sunday of Christ the King.
In 2 Samuel 23 we read the dying words of David and what we read is a psalm and a set of proverbs about kingship and about David’s experience of being a king. In his last words the king praises how God spoke through him to the nation of Israel, a nation for whom God remains steadfast and secure as Israel’s hope. According to 2 Samuel 23:2-3 the good king is not just a governor; he is also an oracle, prophet, and intercessor. God says that the good king is like the dawn of daylight in a bright sky. Like the psalms and proverbs of later Hebrew writing we see the common theme that the good men are blessed and succeed for generations and the evil men are cursed and die quickly. So, is this what David sees as he looks back over his reign, his life, on his last day? I wonder whether this is how the nation will remember David, was he like a bright sun on a dewy morning? Is this how they speak of him already? Is this how he was thought of back in the day, not with the damp eyes of hindsight and eulogising but in the cut and thrust of palace life, battle ground, and village life far from Hebron or Jerusalem three decades previous? David says in 2 Samuel 23:5 that he does have such a reputation, and he is confident that his house, which is to say his dynasty, will have the same relationship with God and with the nation. Sadly the history of the family of David will not be so great, and the stories we read in the books of Kings and 2 Chronicles sadden us when we recall who David was and the covenant that God made with him. Indeed those kings seem to fit better inside 2 Samuel 23:6-7. Jesus, a descendant of David was perhaps a good king. I say “perhaps” because on earth Jesus did not have the power of governance; but he certainly was a prophet and intercessor, and God prospered Jesus in his work.
So, a faithful king is God’s blessing to the people, and God’s faithfulness is a blessing to the king. Today’s psalm provides an example of this where David promises to establish a permanent home for the Ark in Jerusalem, and God promises to establish a permanent kingship in Israel through one of David’s sons. One of the commentators I read this week suggests that Psalm 132 might have been a celebration psalm, sung as part of a ceremony of remembrance and thanksgiving to God for David and for David’s capture of Jerusalem and his bringing the ark into the capital city. A good king is to be cherished and celebrated.
John in his letter to the seven churches calls Jesus the ruler of the kings of the earth; you can see that in Revelation 1:5. As I said a few weeks ago when we heard about Christians who suffer extreme persecution in our day Revelation was likely written at a time when Christians were being murdered for their faith under the emperor Domitian. For the writer to claim that Jesus is ruler of all the kings is a big and dangerous claim in a world with a Caesar. It’s a big and dangerous claim in a North Korea with a Kim and in a China with a Communist Party. It was a big and dangerous claim in the Soviet Union with Stalin, Germany with Hitler, Uganda with Idi Amin, and Cambodia with Pol Pot. It was and is, and always will be a threatening idea anywhere where there is a tyrannical president, a local drug boss, or a warlord. This is why it is good to remember that Revelation actually is a letter written to seven specific cities in the Roman province of Asia at the turn of the first century. It is a personal note of encouragement from a friend of Jesus to a group of specific, unique, neighbouring congregations. This is not purely doctrine; it is not just theory it is application and pastoral care; and the whole thing was to be read to each congregation in the place where it met. In other words the news that Jesus is the king of kings is not something to be filed away as a Christian belief; it is supposed to be an encouraging word in the moment. In this verse, and the next one, so Revelation 1:5-6 we see Jesus described as the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, him who loves us and frees us from our sins by his blood, him who made us to be a kingdom, him who made us to be priests serving his God and Father, the one to whom be glory and dominion forever and ever. So, Christians of Asia, do you remember him? Yeah him, well that’s the him who is on our side. So, what were you saying about Caesar and/or the local procurator? This is not to say that persecution isn’t painful, or that martyrdom is pleasant, there is no sugar-coating of the world against us here; but it does ask us to lift our eyes and to remember the one to whom we belong and the one whom we serve.
In John 18:33-37 we read where Jesus is speaking to Pilate immediately before the crucifixion. Do you see in John 18:35 that Pilate asks Jesus what crimes he is guilty of, “what have you done?” Pilate asks because it seems that Jesus’ accusers cannot get even that straight. In view of the confused accusation the two speak about kingship and Jesus says that his kingdom is not from this world but that if it were then his loyal armies would have prevented their king from being handed over to the Jews. Interesting that, so is the kingdom of Jesus is not a Jewish kingdom either? Is Jesus claiming that he is not King of The Jews, and that he is innocent of the accusation of promoting insurrection? Or was this story written by an anti-Semitic man who wanted to distance the Christian saviour from the rabid mob of circumcised blasphemers at Pilate’s door? Regardless, Jesus’ kingdom is not from here he says in John 18:36. Jesus’ power comes from God, not from conquering armies nor cabinet-room shuffles. Jesus’ kingship is theological, so his kingdom is too: Jesus’ authority is his power to speak and define truth.
So that’s how the Bible reads, but what do we think; what is “the Kingdom of God”? In our twenty-first century world where absolute monarchy is seen as a bad thing, and most first world nations are parliamentary democracies with elected heads of government and heads of state, it can be challenging to speak of a kingdom. Perhaps we’d prefer to use words like “realm” or “sovereignty”; maybe “zone of governance”, “area of authority” or even “arena of control”. God’s kingdom is not about there being a place with demarcated border walls to keep the foreigners out and the citizens in, so much as it is the experience of God’s control. When Pilate asked Jesus whether he was a king Jesus’ responded yes and no; yes I have authority to reign, no my kingdom is not a place on earth and I don’t have an army. Jesus refutes the militaristic claim to be King of The Judean people. Jesus does not offer an earthly challenge to the Herod family or the Roman Empire occupying and colonising the land; nonetheless his cross is adorned with the famous “INRI” sign as an accusation, Jesus from Nazareth who is King of the Jews.
Like Pilate we must acknowledge who Jesus is when we speak of the Kingdom of God. We cannot speak of God’s influence without speaking about Jesus, there is no kingdom without a king and the king of God’s kingdom is Jesus. Our conversation is not about power for its own sake, but about the power of Jesus: the miracles of Jesus are the display of his power, pointing toward God’s expectation of what the Lifestyle of God-followers looks like. Where John the Baptiser proclaimed that the Kingdom was coming Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom had begun to arrive. And that tense is important, “begun to arrive” is what we see. The Kingdom is among us in present and future tense, the reign of God is underway but it is not yet complete for fulfilled. The power of God, the influence and equipping of the Holy Spirit upon the Church and each disciple was “inaugurated in the incarnation”, in other words it started when Jesus was born as a human child, but it continues through the Church as we get amongst the work of faithful ministry carrying the authority, the blessing, and the equipping of Emmanuel.
So the concept of a Kingdom of God, and of Christ as King, need not be a scary nor outdated idea. We are not mediaevalists for thinking and speaking in these terms, and we don’t do ourselves or anyone else any favours by updating God’s identity as “President of Presidents”. Instead we can use these phrases to enhance our excitement at what is underway, God came to earth and lived amongst us, sharing divine secrets and authority with all of Creation. God likes us and wants to be near us; God has no intention of “watching us from a distance” and does not sit on a lofty throne. King Jesus is not Louis XIV, Henry VIII, or Ivan the Terrible.
The question therefore is not what our ideas of monarchy and democracy are, but what we think God is like. When I asked Kaniva Youth Group what the world would be like if God was the boss they responded with words and ideas about God. “The world would be more kind,” was one response, presumably because the girl who said it thought that Jesus was kind or is kind. Her thinking was that with Jesus in charge kindness would become the way things are done. What do you think? What do you think the people of the West Wimmera and The Tatiara think? If the world under God’s authority would be like God, then what if God is like the Christians we heard about from the Royal Commission? What if God is like some people’s Old Testament ideas of God? What if God is like some people’s New Testament ideas of God? I wonder whether when we talk about a Kingdom of God people think not so much about a world operating under the broadly beneficial ideas of The Sermon on The Mount, but a world of Trump’s Evangelical America, or the modern State of Israel, or something like Saudi Arabia, or Iran, or North Korea, with the pope in charge. Is that what they think?
God said to David that the good king is like the dawn of daylight in a bright sky – is that how we see Jesus? Is that how our neighbours see Jesus? Is that how strangers to us living in the district see Jesus? Are the Kanivans and the Servicetonians as stoked at the idea of Jesus as the Ephesians and the Philadelphians? Would they be prepared to swap ScoMo for Jesus? Okay maybe ScoMo, but what about Elizabeth? QEII or JC, place your bets.
The last Sunday before Advent is a good time to rethink our ideas of Jesus. In five Sundays’ time we’ll be welcoming “Christ the newborn king” – so it’s good in this time before we get tinsellated to ask what sort of king we think he is. Is a king who is like God in character and power truly welcome? First century Christians might have said that anyone is a better option than Domitian; we might think the same of Trump, Putin, or Kim. But if King Jesus is really a compromise candidate, or the lesser of two evils, is Christmas really worth celebrating? Really?
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.