Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christ the King Sunday
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

Jehovah reigneth; he is clothed with majesty; Jehovah is clothed with strength; he hath girded himself therewith: The world also is established, that it cannot be moved.

I read a lot of historical fiction about the Tudor age in England. While historical fiction is not a history book, it is often well researched and factual even while including people and conversations that are invented.

The most famous, or infamous, of the Tudors, of course, is Henry VIII. Henry was king from 1509 to 1547. Henry enjoyed pleasure and power and was a very fickle king. He could love the people on one side of an argument today and hate them tomorrow while embracing those on the other side. Everyone had to tread very carefully around him, as if walking on eggshells, because they could lose their favor in a heartbeat.

Most of his wives discovered how fickle he really was. He married six women. Two of the marriages were annulled and two of the wives were executed. The third wife died during childbirth and she became like a goddess to him because she gave him his only legitimate son2. The last wife outlived him, but she nearly lost her head, too. It was only her willingness to humiliate herself and his fickleness that saved her life.

He was particularly grievous as he aged. He was ill so much of the time, and he took his pain out on those closest to him. He was embarrassed by his incapacity, and so often hid in his rooms, allowing only those who pleased him in some way. It was a hard time to be a member of the court because he was not often pleased and he was displeased easily.

He was so disagreeable that he often said yes to an action and then arrested those who carried it out. His last wife, Catherine Parr, was a theologian, unusual for women in that day. She authored several books that were published, including a book of prayers that were commissioned by Henry himself. Yet, it was her interest in theological things, her writing and translations that brought Henry's wrath upon her. She had to become like a church mouse after she was saved from death until she was truly saved by his death because he refused to honor the very things about her that attracted him in the first place.

The state of the church in Henry's days is confusing and to reiterate the history here would take too long. We know, of course, that he chose to reject the Pope and the Catholic Church for the sake of divorce and that he was egocentric enough to believe that he was more than capable to be the supreme leader of the church in England. There may have been some very positive effects of the reformation in England, but the trouble with the state of the church at that time was Henry. He was so easily swayed by those closest to him that he changed his mind constantly. One day he wanted the people to have a bible translated into their own language, the next day he had them all removed from the churches. One day he hated the rituals of the old church, the next day he was calling for them to be done again. No one ever really knew what was legal and what was illegal because they had not yet heard Henry's opinion for the day. Many died at his hand because they were doing what they thought he wanted, but they were following yesterday's laws.

Henry is not completely to blame, of course. He was surrounded by many people who wanted to control the course of events and they took advantage of his fickleness. They knew that if they could be the one whispering in his ears, then they could sway the direction of the laws. They also knew that it didn't take much to lose favor with the king, so they played dangerous games in and around the court to ensure their place forever. It didn't work, of course, because Henry did what Henry wanted to do and if he discovered their games, he changed sides and executed them.

He was king for thirty-eight years, during which time he managed to defeat those who were determined to undermine his rule, of which there were many. Some have suggested that the number that he executed is more than seventy thousand; although exaggerated, Henry certainly did use the chopping block as a way to control his kingdom, especially when he felt insecure. Unfortunately, the only times that the nation really prospered during his rule was when others were at the command of the government, while Henry was busy satisfying his need for pleasure. He spent money as if it grew on trees, covering his women -both wives and lovers - with furs and jewels. He built and decorated palaces to extreme. He went on long progresses (summer vacations) from castle to castle, filling the halls with courtiers and eating until he could no longer stand on his own. He held tournaments and masques, dinners that lasted hours with tray after tray of the most expensive dishes and wines. He fought wars that the nation could not afford and raised taxes to the point of destroying the economy of his people.

Opinion on Henry is diverse. Whether you love him or hate him, there is no doubt that Henry VIII will long be remembered. He is the perfect example of why God warned His people that they should not put their trust in an earthly king. In 1 Samuel, God's people were afraid because Samuel was old and his sons were not trustworthy. They went to Samuel and said, "Give us a king to judge us." God did so, but told them, " This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them unto him, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and they shall run before his chariots; and he will appoint them unto him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties; and he will set some to plow his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your men-servants, and your maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks: and ye shall be his servants." (1 Samuel 8, ASV)

They had a king, but they wanted a man who would rule over them in a way that was visible not just to themselves but to the world. They thought they needed to have a king who could lead them, provide for them, and protect them from enemies. They rejected God to take upon themselves an earthly king no matter what he might do to them. They accepted the consequences of their choice, and the ultimate consequence is that God gave them a king to lead them, provide for them and protect them. It didn't take very long for the people to realize that an earthly king is imperfect and even dangerous.

They faced difficult times, particularly when the earthly kings turned away from God. But God never completely abandoned His people. A good king would come along every few generations and God would bless His people with safety and prosperity. The suffered at times, too; defeat from enemies and exile were the consequences when they turned from God, led by the kings who did not have faith. Henry VIII may have called himself the head of the Church, but his actions certainly did not glorify God and he often led his people away from the God he claimed to serve.

Thankfully these kings are temporary. While we might want a good ruler to last forever, even the best fail to be perfect. England's current Queen Elizabeth has done many great things both for her country and for the world. She hasn't been perfect, however, and there are those who have pointed out her failures. She's human, after all, and we are all sinners in need of a Savior. While earthly kings can do good in this world, we all need to look to the one King who has done that which is necessary for life.

It is hard to believe we have reached the end of another Church year. We begin the year at Advent, a time of expectation as we wait the coming of Christ. It is a time of darkness leading to the Light. The birth of Christ ushers in a new age. During Epiphany God shares His grace and his Son with the entire world. In Lent we look within ourselves to realize that we are sinners in need of a Savior. During Holy Week we journey with Jesus to the cross. At Easter we are resurrected with Him, experiencing the joy of Godís gracious mercy and love. During the Easter season we are reminded of why God sent His Son as He completes the teaching He began during His life. The Church is born at Pentecost, ten days after Jesus returns to the right hand of the Father. During the season of Pentecost we learn what it means to be the Church. In the last weeks of the Church year we look forward to the second coming of Christ, to His glorification and rule. We look forward to the time when the promise is made complete, when Jesus is Christ is truly Lord of all forever. On Christ the King we look forward to the Day of Judgment when all things will be under His rule. On this day we get a glimpse of the everlasting. We always close the year with a look to the future and remember the promise of our Lord that He will come again in glory. He will come as King, not a temporary king over the perishable earth, but as the eternal King who will reign forever and ever.

But how do you describe the eternal? Human beings from every time and every place have tried to find words to express their expectations of what it will be when God truly reigns above all. Daniel shares a vision of heaven in todayís Old Testament lesson, a vision of an Ancient One that could bring terror to the witnesses. Imagine the scene, a room of thrones for a court of judgment with the throne of the Ancient of Days standing out from the rest. He was beyond compare: whiter than white, purer than pure. His throne was like a fiery chariot, and flames flowed out from His presence. He was surrounded by thousands and tens of thousands of servants. This is not a judge we would want to meet.

While this image is terrifying, there is also a message of hope, because one like a human being came with the clouds of heaven. We understand this Son of Man to be our Lord Jesus Christ, presented to the Ancient of Days as a mediator between the heavens and earth. Jesus will be the steward who will rule Godís Kingdom, given the dominion and the power and the glory above all else. All earthly kings fall short, even if they are humble and wise. Only Jesus can rule the kingdom that will never end.

John writes in Revelation "Grace to you and peace, from him who is and who was and who is to come." God is not sitting around waiting for the Day of Judgment to turn His wrath upon the world. He longs for all to know His mercy and grace, to find peace in His love. We do not fear that day because God has saved us from the deserved wrath by the blood of Christ. Jesus bought our salvation from His righteous judgment; even though by our own ability we cannot stand in His shadow Jesus has covered us with His own righteousness so that we can join the multitudes that will minister to Him forever.

The faithful throughout time - the saints of Christ - are those who minister to the Ancient of Days. One day we will be among them because of the cross of Christ.

Christ the King is the day when we look beyond the rest of the story from Christmas to Easter to Pentecost so that we will see what it will be like in that day when Christ fulfills His promises. John describes the scene like this, "Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him. Even so, Amen." In that day, our divided hearts will see the truth of the One true and living God, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." He will reign forever and ever.

In today's Gospel lesson, Jesus stands before Pilate. Pilate asked, "Art thou the King of the Jews?" Pilate saw that Jesus was not a threat to anyone; He had no earthly power that should cause such a commotion. Jesus asked him, "Sayest thou this of thyself, or did others tell it thee concerning me?" Jesus was testing Pilate's faith. Was he seeing Jesus as the King, or was he just repeating what he'd heard others say. Pilate thought it was a ridiculous question. He was not a Jew. The politics of Israel made no difference to him as long as they did not do something against Rome. He threw it back in Jesus' face, "It is your own people that are trying to put you to death." Jesus then told him that His Kingdom is not of this world. Pilate was shocked that he would admit such a thing. "Art thou a king then?" Pilate asked. Jesus answered, "Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice."

We who have heard His voice will see Him again. We don't know when it will be. The Day of Judgment might be tomorrow or it might be in a thousand years. It does not matter. Our impatience is God's patience. It will happen in His time, just when He promised. It cannot happen until the full measure of God's people have heard and believed. We will never know what that means; what is a full measure? It is every person whom God has chosen. The final one might just be that person with whom you have shared the Gospel message today.

What a difference we see between the King that stood before Pilate and the One who will reign forever and ever: a submissive servant simply does not become the powerful ruler, unless God does the impossible. Of course, we know that God does do the impossible. As a matter of fact, His Son came in flesh, died on the cross and is seated at the right hand of God until the glorious day when He will come again in glory. We long for the day when we will see the King on that throne of fire, but until that day we are sealed with the promise with a guarantee, the Holy Spirit. The King dwells in our hearts. The Lord Jesus Christ, the one like the Son of Man, who stands before God gives us the grace to walk in faith daily until we will dwell in His Kingdom forever.

Yes, this Sunday is the last day of the Church year and as we enter Advent we are faced with the darkness of the world in which we live. But for this day, let us join with the multitudes in heaven praising the God who has promised us eternity. He is worthy to be praised. As the psalmist writes, "Jehovah reigneth; He is clothed with majesty; Jehovah is clothed with strength; he hath girded himself therewith: The world also is established, that it cannot be moved. Thy throne is established of old: Thou art from everlasting." He is from everlasting and will be forever and ever. He will never be like Henry VIII or like any of the human kings that have ruled on this earth. This King has saved us from the darkness and has promised that we will join Him in His Kingdom for eternity.

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