From Another World

November 22, 2009 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lectionary

Topic: Biblical Verse: John 18:3–18:37

The Festival of Christ the King
John 18:33-37
November 21-22, 2009

 “From Another World”

 He was born Gaius Octavius Thurinus in 63 B.C., but his name changed when he was adopted by his great-uncle in 44 B.C., who was murdered in that same year. With the death of his adoptive father, Gaius Octavius Thurinus came into his inheritance. He would later assume the seat of world power in the west as the first Emperor of Rome, a position he held from 31 B.C. until his death in A.D. 14. Gaius Octavius Thurinus is better known to us as Caesar Augustus. Under his long  rule, the Pax Romana, the “peace of Rome” was established; a period of peaceful stability that lasted for more than two hundred years. “He proclaimed that he had brought justice and peace to the whole world; and, declaring his dead adoptive father to be divine, styled himself as ‘son of God.’ Poets wrote songs about the new era that had begun; historians told the long story of Rome’s rise to greatness, reaching its climax (obviously) with Augustus himself. Augustus, people said, was the ‘saviour’ of the world. He was its king, its ‘lord.’ Increasingly, in the eastern part of his empire, people worshipped him, too, as a god. Meanwhile, far away, on that same eastern frontier, a boy was born who would within a generation be hailed as ‘son of God’; whose followers would speak of him as ‘saviour’ and ‘lord’; whose arrival, they thought, had brought true justice and peace to the world” (Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone, S.P.C.K., 2001, p. 23). This boy is Jesus, whose coming we rejoice in and whose return we anticipate on this Christ the King Sunday. The message for this day, rising up from today’s Gospel reading, is entitled, “From Another World.” May the Lord’s rich blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake.

 That Gospel lesson for this final Sunday of the church year may seem strange with Jesus on trial standing before Pontius Pilate. Pilate was a servant of the Roman Empire, and was Prefect, or governor, of the Roman province of Judaea from A.D. 26-36. The representative of the mighty Roman Empire comes face-to-face with power of a different sort; power not manifested with regalia and court protocol, with armies and weapons of war. Jesus tells Pilate: “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). From outward appearances, Jesus doesn’t look like much of a king. Later, Pilate would order Jesus to be flogged. To add insult to injury, Pilate’s soldiers would come up with a makeshift crown of thorns, jamming this down onto Jesus’ head. They would also put a purple cloak on Jesus – purple being the color of royalty. But even in their mockery and ridicule, they were unwittingly testifying to the truth – the truth that Jesus is, in fact, a king, but a king from another world. What does this mean for us?

 Marcus Borg writes in his book, The Heart of Christianity: Discovering a Life of Faith (Harper Collins, 2003, pp. 135-136): “Jesus is Lord” is the most widespread early Christian affirmation, and it is an affirmation with striking political implications. The key to seeing its political meaning is realizing that ‘lord’ was one of the titles of the Roman emperor: Caesar was called ‘lord.’ To say ‘Jesus is Lord’ is to say ‘Caesar is not lord.’ To affirm the Lordship of Christ is to deny the lordship of Caesar. Indeed, several of the ‘titles’ of Jesus in the New Testament were also titles of Caesar. On coins and inscriptions, Caesar was referred to not only as ‘lord,’ but also as ‘son of God,’ ‘savior,’ ‘king of kings,’ and ‘lord of lords.’ Caesar was also spoken of as the one who had brought peace on earth. Early Christians used all of this language to refer to Jesus… Thus the familiar affirmation ‘Jesus is Lord,’ now almost a Christian cliché, originally challenged the lordship of the empire. It still does. To use examples from more recent times, it is like Christians in Nazi Germany saying, ‘Jesus is mein Furher’ – and thus Hitler is not. Or in the United States, it would mean saying, ‘Jesus is my commander in chief’ – and thus the president is not. The lordship of Christ versus the lordship of empire is the same contrast, the same opposition that we see in the kingdom of God versus the kingdom of this world.” Given all of this, we can understand how early Christians were accused and tried for treason against the Roman Empire. Their first allegiance was to Christ, rather than the emperor. Christians today are called to submit to earthly authorities, and to pray for the city in which we live, but always bearing in mind that we answer to a higher authority – that of Christ our King.

 In a sense, we are all Pilates: rulers in our own realm or house, with the kingdoms of the world before us – the kingdom of culture and custom, the kingdom of politics and power, the kingdom of money and prestige. These kingdoms vie for our allegiance and loyalty. Where do we stand? Like Pilate, we find ourselves shuffling back and forth, trying to figure out what is going on, who is really in charge, feeling confused. Like Pilate, we question this Jesus, because we’re not really sure what his kingdom will mean for us. In fact, we may not even be sure we want him to be our King. And yet, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer and get to the Second Petition, “Thy kingdom come,” we are, in fact, praying that Christ and his kingdom would rule our lives and the world.

 Christ the King came “to testify to the truth” (John 18:37). The ugly truth is that we are fair-weather subjects of our King, and we are prone to run after other gods. The ugly truth is that our actions don’t match up with our words about who is really Lord in our lives. The ugly truth is that we willingly accept that free grace of God in Jesus but we are unwilling to accept the cost of discipleship. And yet our faithlessness does not trump God’s faithfulness. In spite of everything, the greater truth is we have a King whose crown was not gold, but thorns; whose throne was the wood of the cross. We have a King who willingly laid down his life as payment for all our shortcomings and sins. Through his blood, we declared holy and righteous for Jesus’ sake. On that last day when Jesus comes again, we’ll see a different King than the one in today’s Gospel. No longer will he be bloody and bruised, but shining with heavenly glory and power. On that last day, the whole world will have to confess that Christ is King, whether they have acknowledged him as such in this life or not. And so, we have work to do in the time that remains. We have the incredible blessing, the golden opportunity, to assist in the coming of God’s kingdom by telling people who Jesus really is – not just a good man, a wise teacher, but the living Lord and Savior who gave his life for them. And so by God’s grace, people who ask that question of Pilates, “Are you king?” may answer with joyful faith: “Yes, Jesus Christ is my Lord and King.”

 Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.

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