Christ the King

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Sermon Date: 
21 Nov 2010
Bible Base: 
Col 1:15-20 and Luke 23:33-43
Preacher: 

David Jeans

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Hans Christian Anderson told a story of the Emperor’s new clothes.
There is something a bit malicious in all of us which like it when someone in authority is shown up to be not quite as powerful as they are pretending to be. We like to see authority undermined. That’s what that story is about – and actually it is also something that our Bible readings today connect to. We also like it when authority positions are turned upside down. We have enjoyed seeing power and authority turned upside down in Burma. The interviews of the Burmese political leader N showed clearly that whereas the military rulers of Burma had physical power and authority over her in keeping her under house arrest, in reality she has moral power and authority over them through who she is and through her refusal to give in to their power over her.
The dreadful act of crucifixion was intended to humiliate its victims, to demonstrate that they were totally helpless before the power of the Roman state, and to remind the onlookers that they had better not resist the state and risk the same fate happening to them.
Jesus had gone around Palestine healing the sick, befriending those looked down on as sinners, and preaching the Kingdom of God. But he had also challenged the religious leaders of the day. If you tend to think of Jesus in terms of gentle Jesus meek and mild have a look at the passage in Luke 11 we read a few Sundays ago in which Jesus pronounces woes on the religious leaders and denounces them in very strong terms. Think also about his anger at the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable by the Temple traders. He said and did provocative things.
The response was an unholy alliance between Rome, the most efficient and powerful Empire there had ever been, with the leaders of the most profound religion there had yet been. The purpose of this alliance was clear. They wanted to expose and humiliate this upstart would-be King of the Jews. They wanted to show that his clothes of spiritual authority were imaginary. They wanted to reveal his nakedness (and of course crucifixion did that).
We see this in various aspects of the story. Dressed in a purple robe (the colour of Emperors); given a crown of thorns. The sign saying ‘King of the Jews’. All deliberate attempts to show up what they saw as his pretence to authority and power; all designed to show that this new king had no new clothes. They offer him a parody of wine. The religious leaders sneer at him. You have claimed to be the Christ, the anointed one of God – show that you are by coming down from the cross. You can’t do it can you – the would be king has no clothes.
Behind this unholy alliance there is something else going on. The forces of darkness and evil are at work. Matthew’s Gospel shows this in the way that Matthew reports the temptations that Jesus had in the wilderness and in the challenge to Jesus at the cross.
If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.
If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the Temple.
If you are the Son of God, come down from the Cross.
 
By the end of Good Friday, the view of the onlookers would have been that the one with no clothes, the one with no authority or power was Jesus.
 
The religious leaders and the Roman Empire were the ones with the power. Evil, sin and death had triumphed over this righteous man. Evil, sin and death have the power. Jesus seemed to have no power. His followers had fled through fear. This new movement which had brought many hope was over. Nice idea to love your enemies, nice thought that God was a God of love and compassion, nice thought that good would triumph over evil – but look at the results. Normal service had been restored. The way of the world had one – they wore the real clothes of power, Jesus had none.
 
BUT thirty years later, Paul could write that majestic first reading that we heard today from Colossians that speaks
of Jesus as the head of all things, the one with the ultimate power and authority. 
A reading which speaks of Christ the King of the Universe .
A reading which can even speak of this figure humiliated on Good Friday being the image of the invisible God in whom all the fullness of God dwells.
 A reading which puts all the powers and authorities in their place. In their place because all thrones or powers or rulers or authorities were created by him.
A reading which claims supremacy for this Jesus.
 
Something had happened to show that far from having no clothes, Jesus had real clothes. The other forces appeared to have all the power, but Jesus actually had the power.
 
There are glimpses of that power at the Cross. The power demonstrated by Jesus’ willingness to forgive his executioners – ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’. The power demonstrated by his words of hope to the other prisoner. The power demonstrated by the calmness and faith of his final words – ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’. A power recognised by the watching centurion whom Mark reports as saying truly this was the son of God.
 
But if Good Friday was all there was – then those glimpses of power through service and compassion are illusory.
If Good Friday was all there was, the beautiful character of Jesus is nice, but just a dream.
If Good Friday was all there was, the real power remains with the ways of the world, with superpowers like Rome, with sin, with evil, with death.     
 
But Good Friday was not all there was. Because on Easter Sunday morning God demonstrated who had the real clothes by raising Jesus from the dead. And Paul could write a little further on in Colossians that Jesus, having disarmed the powers and authorities made a public spectacle over them by the Cross.
 
The forces of political and religious power wanted to show that Jesus had no clothes, but Jesus reversed that, showing that they were the ones with no clothes, they were the ones with no lasting power. So who has the power today?
 
There’s a story that in communist Russia a group was being taught by a state official that Christianity was a lie, that Good Friday was the end for Jesus. And someone shouted
 
Alleluia, Christ is risen! And the whole room responded He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
 
Tyrannies and superpowers come and go. It is Christ the Servant King who millions still follow today.
So what about us? Do we follow the way of the world? Or do follow the way of the servant King. The way he sets out for us in the Sermon on the Mount, where real blessing is about being poor in spirit, about hungering for righteousness and justice, about being merciful, about being peacemakers.
The way of seeking God’s justice before our own comfort, the way of loving our enemies and returning good for evil. The way that he himself put into practice.
 
Unrealistic? But who has been shown to have the real clothes of a King, and who has the false clothes that you can see through?