Christ the King (Luke 23:27-48)

Last Sunday of the Church Year – 11/20/2022

Today, we have come to the end; the end of another church year, that is. Yet, today we are confronted with a great paradox. For today, the end is the beginning! You see, the focus of this last Sunday of the church year is on Jesus Christ's second coming, when He will return in all His glory as King of Heaven and Earth, ushering in the eternal age of glory. As Christ the King, He will bring to fulfillment all His promises, as well as an end to all things as we have come to know them in our physical existence. It will truly be the end of one epoch and the beginning of another.

When the Lord does return, the angels will announce, "Behold Your King!" All eyes, even those who have persecuted and crucified Jesus, will see him coming in the clouds of glory as the Christ the King of heaven and earth. Jesus will truly reign visibly among His people in all glory. Writing of the vision he saw of this day, the apostle John writes: "And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and he shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new" (Revelation 21:3-5).

However, in our Gospel reading today, it is not the vision of Christ the King in all his glory that is held before us. We are made to behold Jesus as anything but a glorious king. Instead of being praised and praised by His subjects, He is mocked by his enemies and derided by his people. Instead of sporting a crown of gold, his weary head is adorned with a crown of thorns. Instead of processing to a victory celebration, he processes to his demise.

The cry goes up today, "Behold your King!" The ruling Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, made sure everyone would behold the crucified Jesus as king. He hung a sign above Jesus' battered and bloodied head, proclaiming in Latin, Greek, and Aramaic, "The King of the Jews." Rest assured that this inscription was in no way meant to bring praise to Jesus, whom Pilate both feared and loathed for his unwillingness to defend himself. Rather, being the shrewd politician that he was, Pilate used this inscription to both humiliate Jesus as well as the Jews: "See what kind of king you have!" "What a pathetic disgrace to your whole nation!"

The mockery of Christ the King did not stop there, however. The onlookers gawked at him and hurled insults at him. The soldiers made sport of Jesus. "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself." The religious rulers of the Jews taunted him with this insulting challenge: "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One." Luke says literally, "They turned up their noses."

Such disgraceful treatment of God's chosen Anyone who has read the Messianic prophecies should not be surprised. The prophets of God had for centuries foretold that when God would reveal His chosen king, the people would despise him and treat him disgracefully. They expected the King to lament, "But I am a worm and not a man, a reproach to men and despised by the people."All who see me sneer at me; they separate with their lips; they wag their heads, saying, "Commit yourself to the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him because he delights in him." (Psalm 22:6-8).

It is hard not to be appalled by the terrible treatment Jesus received. Even if people were not ready to accept Him as their Messiah and King, you would think that certainly, all the good Jesus had done for people—his merciful healings, his compassion toward the down and out, his teaching of loving one's neighbor—would have garnered some respect. But, for all of His righteous and loving actions, Jesus was treated worse than the most heinous criminal in Pilate's prison.

Things would have been much different if we were there, right? Certainly, if Jesus had preached in front of American audiences, he would have received much better treatment... If He had the freedom of expression that we now have... if He had the chance to experience our modern legal system!

Who are we kidding? I'm afraid it would be hard to substantiate that Jesus would receive any more kingly treatment today. Especially given that the same in-your-face ridicule, "Behold Your King," is being leveled against Jesus in many corners of our society even as I speak. Novels, movies, and television, like the notorious "Davinci Code," more often than not portray Jesus' willingness to succumb to the cross as a completely misguided, perverse, and desperate act to simply attract followers to His cause. In the arts, movies, and fashion worlds, he is at best lampooned as misguided and at worst as a pathetic loser. Crosses are worn as nothing more than fashionable jewelry.

But it is not just our culture that mocks Christ the King. Even today, even Jesus' followers blaspheme him. In many quarters of the church, the message of the cross is all but silent. Consider Joel Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, which claims to have one of the largest Christian congregations in North America with 30,000 members. Instead of using his pulpit to preach the cross of Jesus, by which Jesus alone saves and reigns, Osteen has become very successful and wealthy by proclaiming a message of how you and I can reign in our own lives—by being successful and masters of our fate. His motto is "Discover the champion within you." His books like "Become a Better You" sell like hotcakes.

Osteen is not alone, of course. Neither is he alone. The now retired TV preacher, Robert Schuller, in his "Gospel of Success," spoke of Jesus' passion like this: "Jesus knew his worth; his success fed his self-esteem... He endured the cross to sanctify his self-esteem. And he bore the cross to sanctify your self-esteem. And the cross will make the ego trip holy. (The Seduction of Christianity, p. 15). Talk about mocking the real Jesus!

The new Emerging Church movement has developed its concept of Jesus the King. Those within this movement have shied away from orthodox and strictly Biblically-based doctrine to speak to our post-modern culture in ways that allow for more conversation about the message the church preaches. Instead, they make allowances for the hearers to think of Jesus and the way of salvation in ways that make them feel more comfortable. They are trying to be, as some have said, "a kindlier and gentler church."

The real crucified king who sits in judgment, however, seems to get lost in the conversation! One critic of the movement has written: "When it comes to issues such as the exclusivity of the gospel, the identity of Jesus Christ as both fully human and fully divine, the authoritative character of Scripture as written revelation, and the clear teaching of Scripture concerning issues such as homosexuality, this movement simply refuses to answer the questions." (Leaders call the "emerging church movement" a threat to the gospel.)

But, of course, let's not forget our denigration of Christ as King. When, within our hearing, others defame or mock Jesus as crucified or make false statements about His person or teaching, and we, in our embarrassment, remain silent, are we not mocking Him? Likewise, don't we profane our King, who bears the cross for us, when we continue to live in sin, knowing what is right but choosing not to do it, or when we make light of our Savior's sacrifice, choosing to stay away from the church in favor of other things? "For if we continue to sin willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there is no longer a sacrifice for sins... (how severe a judgment one deserves) who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and insulted the Spirit of grace?" writes the holy writer. (Hebrews 10:26, 29).

Jesus' reign as king is marked by the cross. But do we want Jesus to be a king like the world sees a king? The world's concept of a king rules with power and affluence. His reign is characterized more by his subjects' sacrifice than by his sacrifice for them. The worldly king is surrounded by pomp and circumstance, often on the poverty-stricken backs of his subjects.

Listen to God's warning to Israel when they complained to Him that they wanted a king as everyone else had. He said, "This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen, and they will run before his chariots. He will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves and give them to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants, your best young men, and your donkeys, and use them for his work. (I Sam. 8:10–18). Does it sound like a king you would want?

God's paradigm for His king stands in stark contrast. God's King is characterized by humility and self-sacrifice for the sake of his subjects. "Despite existing in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men..." He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross," it is said of Jesus (Phil. 2:6–8). And likewise, He came "not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."

Neither does Jesus Christ the King, need worldly weapons to wage war against evil and defend His people. Jesus rules by the sword of his mouth. The first visual portrait of Jesus offered to the reader in the Book of Revelation pictures Him having a two-edged sword extending out of His mouth. It is the word of the gospel; that is, the word of Christ is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16).

Conversely, those who reject that word will feel the condemning edge of Jesus' sword.

The prophet Isaiah wrote: "But with righteousness, He will judge the poor and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips, He will slay the wicked" (11:4).

Jesus truly is, then, some kind of King to behold! He is the King who wants us to put our trust in Him rather than in ourselves. He is the King who is willing to be humiliated, spit upon, tortured, and even killed so that He might save every one of us from the humiliation and punishment due us for our sins. He is the compassionate King who, even in His pain, cries out for the forgiveness of His enemies, saying, "They know not what they do." And yes, He is a King Who brings pardon, peace, and paradise to all who believe in Him, as we hear him say even with His dying breath to the penitent sinner on the cross next to Him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

The word "paradise" is loaded with meaning and eschatological hope. It is the Greek word for "garden," the very same word used to describe the perfect place of existence Adam and Eve enjoyed in the beginning. Jesus, as King, leads us back to the garden, His paradise. Just as paradise was destroyed by a tree, our King restores paradise through a tree, Jesus' cross. (The Greek word for "cross" can also be translated as "wood" or "tree.") Jesus, the King, has made His tree the Tree of Life that sits in the middle of the garden for all who repent of even their blasphemies against Him and believe.

Accordingly, people of Miles City, "Behold your King!" Sure, Jesus does not fit the world's idea of a king. But thank God for that! For He speaks a word of absolution to you through His servant, opening Heaven's doors for you, and serves you through the Table of His Body and Blood, a true foretaste of the heavenly banquet. He will serve you when He returns at the end of time. Today, dear friends, Behold your King!

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