Christ the King
‘…We have no King but Caesar…’ (John 19, 16)
The nature of monarchy is such that the monarch is chosen for us. Whether we like it or not, there is a line of succession that operates. We have no choice but to be subjects of the monarch. The fact that we are subjects may matter little to us and the monarch may have little if any effect on the way we live. It is as it is. But what happens when there are competing claims?
“It is no great hermeneutic feat to recognize that Rome crucified Jesus because of His claim to be king. The charge was posted over His head, after all. What is often overlooked, however, is that it is precisely because of their allegiance to that king — Jesus — that Rome persecuted His followers. That the God of the Jews should father a son with magical powers was no more offensive to the Romans than the idea that Zeus should father Hercules. But what was intolerable was the fact that Jesus’ followers did not stop with recognizing Him as divine; they had the audacity to claim He was their actual sovereign. In short, while the Jews preserved their religion by shouting, “We have no king but Caesar,” the early Christians sealed their fate by unabashedly declaring, “We have no king but Jesus!” ― (Christopher Gorton).
Today is the last day of the Liturgical year. It concludes with the affirmation that Christ is King, or more straightforwardly, that Jesus is Lord. The Church declares that in the light of all that has been learned, experienced, lived out in the life of the believer, whatever else may be happening in the world around, still, Christ is King: Jesus is Lord. But if Christ is King, what then of His Kingdom? He declared before Pilate that His Kingdom ‘was not of this world’. Ultimately, the Book of the Revelation tells us that ‘The Kingdoms of this world shall become the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ’. But for now we live according to the rule of two kingdoms. Relatively easy for us so to do given that the present monarch is essentially sympathetic to the Gospel and that the two kingdoms find themselves assimilated with each other courtesy of the established church. Not so easy for Christians living in Muslim countries, atheistic countries So easy to be tempted to declare ‘We have no King but Caesar’ – or the Ayatollah, or the Party – How jarring it must have been for those Jews, followers of YHWH, descendants of Abraham, the children of Israel, to be heard proclaiming their fundamental/ultimate allegiance not to their God but to Caesar; no wonder Pilate was contemptuous of them. In all of Scripture, the very worst of humankind is seen displayed in an act of denial – Peter’s of Jesus on the night of his arrest – and before that, an act of Betrayal perpetrated by Judas. There is no greater crime than treason. As Christians we are called out from the world, set apart to herald the emerging presence of the Kingdom of God.
“If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.” ― (Frederick Buechner).
But there is a cautionary note to strike, be it concerning our own personal allegiance, be it of the fidelity of the Church, be it of the consistency of our ministry, be it of the effectiveness of our mission. It is all too easy to allow the ‘Kingdom of God and of His Christ’ to become as the Kingdoms of this world. We are comfortable as we are and have no desire to be made to feel uncomfortable.
“The kingdom is not an exclusive, well-trimmed suburb with snobbish rules about who can live there. No, it is for a larger, homelier, less self-conscious caste of people who understand they are sinners because they have experienced the yaw and pitch of moral struggle.” ― (Brennan Manning).
We are on the threshold of the Advent season, as one year ends, so another is about to begin. ‘We have no King but Jesus’ was the clarion cry of certain members of the nineteenth century Church of Scotland as they sought to distance themselves from the established church of their day; they demanded the right to be ‘set free’ from their obligation to defer to the Sovereign in all matters temporal and spiritual. In our day we are being called to affirm the priority of God ‘s Kingly rule in every aspect of our lives: in the home, the school, the workplace – boardroom and shop floor, the parliament, the church…but this can only be if each one of us is prepared to say ‘I have no King but Jesus’, to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ by being prepared to subject ourselves to His judgement, to defer to His guidance, to ask for His forgiveness, to respond to His love.
“We would like a church that again asserts that God, not nations, rules the world, that the boundaries of God's kingdom transcend those of Caesar, and that the main political task of the church is the formation of people who see clearly the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay the price.” ― (Stanley Hauerwas).