November 23, 2014 Series: Lectionary
Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 25:31–25:46
Christ the King / Last Sunday of the Church Year
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
It’s too soon – at least, that’s the way it feels. (But now that I say that, it is the week in which our nation celebrates our Thanksgiving holiday.) I know from firsthand experience of at least one shopping mall in our area that had put up their Christmas decorations at least a week ago, complete with a “North Pole” area where kids can have their picture taken with Santa Claus or one of his helpers. And right at the center of these displays is Santa’s chair. It’s not just any chair, though: it’s more like a throne.
What about you? Do you have a throne? You might have a favorite chair, someplace where you can kick back and relax and take the time to read a book (or a tablet, or an e-book) or watch something on your big screen at home. Your favorite chair could be at your school or office, or maybe it’s just your place at the dinner table! While I’m thankful for the great chair that I have in my study here at our church, I don’t know if I’ve ever really sat in an actual throne. Have you? And if you did, did you really belong there?
Certainly, a throne isn’t just an ordinary chair. It’s a place of honor. If someone’s seated at a throne, it means that they’re important. But it’s more than that. When you think about those people who would legitimately be sitting on a throne, they’re kings and queens and other kinds of authorities who have a specific role. Generally speaking, they rule. And when a ruler is on his throne, he’s not primarily there to be honored or entertained: that’s not what a throne is for. The ruler is there to get things done. A throne is a seat of power.
Occasionally, I give a little present to the students in our congregation’s Confirmation course, and I thought they might like another this week as we close out the church year. As part of St. John’s Confirmation program, we require our students to complete a number of sermon & worship notes each year to help them focus on what’s happening when we gather together in the Lord’s house. The longest question on these notes asks you to summarize the main points of the sermon in three or four sentences. So this Christ the King weekend, here are the points you’ll want to write down!
First point: Jesus is God. This is the last Sunday of the church calendar, with a new year and the season of Advent starting next weekend. The Bible passages you heard this weekend point us all ahead to the end of time itself, where Jesus will be recognized as God and King of all.
When we join in speaking the Apostles’ Creed – which we’ve been studying in Confirmation this year – we affirm that Jesus of Nazareth is God: specifically, the Person of God the Son who was came into our world to be born, live, die, and rise from the dead as a human being. So we don’t say that we believe in “Jesus and God;” rather we believe that Jesus is God. Yes, it can be kind of confusing when we read about Jesus alongside God the Father, like in today’s text from 1 Corinthians 15. But even though the Son faithfully serves the Father, they are both still equally God. Along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Jesus is God – not three gods, but one God. Jesus is 100% divine and 100% human. That’s really important as we come to the next point for this Christ the King Sunday.
Second point: Jesus is our King, and he is at work. Just as most of us have never sat on a real throne, most of us probably haven’t spent much time thinking about what having a true king really means. Jesus isn’t a figurehead. When we say and sing that Jesus is our King, it’s more than just pointing to Jesus as someone who’s sitting on a throne as a kind of decoration for our lives. Jesus is the King who has authority, and he puts it to use. Look back at today’s Scripture readings from Ezekiel 34, Psalm 95, and 1 Corinthians 15 to get a better sense of the kind of King that we have, one who has power over all creation, even over every other power. Everything is under his rule, including you and me. If we had a bad ruler, like an oppressive dictator or a tyrant, that’d be a really bad thing. If we had a lazy or uncaring prince who was just cared about the attention and praise of his subjects but stayed far off from them and their needs, that’d be terrible, too. But Jesus is the best King, better than any king that our world has ever known. He knows his people: the God the Son became one of us, just like you and me but without rejecting his Father, as you and I have done. And Jesus cares about his people’s needs, even giving up his life for us – the cost of our sin and self-rule – so that we could truly live.
That brings us to the third point: Jesus rules among his people (that is, you and me). In the third of Jesus’ parables in Matthew 25, the final one Matthew records before Jesus’ death and resurrection, we see the glorified Son of Man enthroned on the Last Day. As the great, good shepherd, he separates all people into one of two groups, sorting the sheep to his right and the goats to his left. But here’s the thing: his sorting isn’t done according to the standards that we might expect.
This is a significant detail: Jesus says that the dividing of the two groups has happened before any mention is made of what distinguishes them. It’s not until after that the Lord speaks to who they are. Those who are called sheep didn’t become sheep through the things they’ve done: in fact, they’re surprised when King says that they have served him. You see, their Lord was reigning right among them, not distant and removed but present in their day-to-day life. They were serving the King by serving their neighbor. And they weren’t serving to gain the Lord’s favor, for they were unaware of what was really happening. Their identity – and now, their place of honor at the King’s right side – came as a blessing from the Father. The Last Day brings vindication as Jesus delivers his people into the fullness of his kingdom.
Here at the close of the church year, you are the people that the King has called as his sheep, and that’s a very good thing indeed. The life which have in the world right now is not the end-all-be-all for people who Jesus has called to be his own; we know there’s far more that waits ahead for us. But the life we have now, and what you and I do with that life, is still hugely important. It’s important because Jesus is here with us. He is even now your King and my King, actively working on our behalf. And we, his people, give him the honor and service that he is due as our King as we serve the people around us. Think about that: you are serving God as you show love, compassion, and care to friends, neighbors, and strangers in each and every day. Again, it’s not to earn God’s favor; it’s simply a matter of living out your identity as a citizen of Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus rules and serves his people through you, too: you are the hands and feet of the one who is sitting on the throne of heaven.
Today at the close of the church year as we celebrate Christ the King and look ahead to his return in glory, remember: Jesus is God. Jesus is our King, and he is at work. Jesus rules among his people (that is, you and me). In the months ahead as we gather as his people, we’ll hear again the good news of how God the Son was enthroned in his mother Mary’s womb and then the manger in Bethlehem, going years later to the throne of his cross to get everything done for us. He is on the throne of heaven now, for us. And his return can never be too soon.
Come, Lord Jesus, Christ our King!