Sunday, November 25, 2018

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

I saw in the night visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. There was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

Come, Lord Jesus.

This is my battle cry, especially when I see something in the world that reminds me how upside down and topsy-turvy it has become. I want Jesus to return when I hear politicians that don’t know history or pastors that don’t know the Bible. I look forward to the Day when I see one of those videos of college students who are more familiar with the latest superstar but can’t name their Senators or Representatives. Up is down and down is up and good is bad and bad is good.

Come, Lord Jesus.

I make this cry and I want Jesus to come, but is the world really so bad? Is it worse now than it has ever been? I read an article that reports that scientists have come to the conclusion that the worst year in the history of mankind was 536 A.D. They came to that conclusion based on the conditions that were pervasive in the northern hemisphere that year. At the very least, 536 A.D. was the beginning of a very bad time in human history. It all began with a huge volcanic eruption in Iceland which covered a landmass from Europe to Asia with a cloud of ash that made it dark for eighteen months. Bubonic plague and an incredible cold snap made life even worse. The lack of sun and cold led to devastating crop failure resulting in starvation. The economic downturn caused by this devastation lasted a century. In the end, it was the lead in the ash that spurred a transformation, thus saving the people who survived when the cloud and disease disappeared. Lead was vital to the production of silver; more lead meant more silver which meant more commerce and better conditions for all.

We might think that things are terrible today, but are we struggling with eighteen months of darkness due to a volcanic eruption? Are we dying from the plague? Are we struggling to find food for our tables?

Yes, the world has gone mad, but we aren’t the first generation to have political and religious problems. Consider Henry VIII. The most famous, or infamous, king of England reigned from 1509 to 1547. Henry enjoyed pleasure and power and was a very fickle king. He changed his mind on a whim, and no one knew if they were on the right side or the wrong side of an issue at any given moment. Everyone had to tread very carefully around him, as if walking on eggshells, because they could lose their favor in a heartbeat. They could even lose their heads. It was a hard time to be a member of the court because he was not often pleased and he was displeased so easily.

The state of the church in Henry’s day was a mass of confusion. 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 managed to survive their games for thirty-eight years, but did so by defeating his enemies (or perceived enemies.) Some have suggested that he executed more than seventy-thousand people; 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. Israel had a king, but they wanted a man who would rule over them so they could be just like everyone else. They thought they needed to have a man who could lead them, provide for them, and protect them from enemies. They rejected God, but He gave them what they wanted and they learned very quickly that earthly kings are imperfect and can be dangerous.

Thankfully earthly 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 like to point out her failures. She’s human, after all, and we are all sinners in need of a Savior. While earthly kings can do good things in this world, we all need to look to the one King who has done that which is necessary for life.

Sunday we celebrate Christ the King. Next week we begin the journey of Advent, watching the coming of the light in the darkness of our world as we approach Christmas and the birth of the King.

The two days - Christ the King and Christmas - are very similar in many ways. They both herald the coming of a king. It is a time of rejoicing in the power of God to overcome the darkness. They both demonstrate the authority of God over Creation, as He accomplishes the impossible. At Christmas, the God of the Universe is born in the flesh of a man. At Christ the King, the Messiah is given authority, glory and sovereign power so that all nations will worship Him.

As I look around this topsy-turvy world today, I see so many who do not believe. Human beings have rejected God as He is revealed in the scriptures, choosing instead to believe in false gods and self-centered ideology. There seems to be nothing that can convince them that salvation is found only in the Lord Jesus Christ, for He is the God they seek to worship. Instead, they look for other ways to fulfill their needs and desires, the stuff their bellies with good things and their hearts with warm fuzzies. They do not want to commit to the life that is expected of those who believe in the One true and living God. They want what they think is best, to have control over their own destiny, to grasp on to their own faith.

They have fallen for the lies of the enemy. They think that they will be able to stand on the works of their own hands on the Day of Judgment. They do not know their own sinfulness and inability to stand before the Creator's wrath. They do not know they need Jesus to stand for them on that day, to be the advocate before the righteous judge. In that day, “one like a Son of man” will approach the Holy One on our behalf, and His righteousness will cover our unrighteousness. That One is our Lord Jesus Christ. Only through Him will we see the glory of God. He is worthy to be worshipped.

The Church year calendar follows the same pattern every year. We begin at Advent, a time of rising light in the darkness. The birth of Christ ushers in a new age. During Epiphany the light reaches out to 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 on which He died for our sake. At Easter we are resurrected with Him, experiencing the joy of God’s 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 returned 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. On Christ the King we look forward to the Day of Judgment, when Christ will rule over all things and when all things will be under His rule.

In this world, we worship a whole lot of other junk. We demand other kings to rule over us, rejecting the God who is King of kings. We have faith in the gods of this world, and though we do not worship the Baals or the other gods of history, we do put so much ahead of our God. Our jobs, families, relationships, material possessions and our selves are more important than our relationship with our Creator. While we do not get down on bended knee to worship these things, we do worship them when we put them ahead of God.

The Church year is ending and we expect Advent to begin again next week. We follow a calendar, but God does not; when the Day of Judgment comes, there will be no tomorrow. Tomorrow may never come, Advent may never begin again. Are we ready to face the King? This question is not meant to bring fear into our hearts, but to cause us look today at the One who is our advocate. We can’t wait until tomorrow to get to know the Lord Jesus. We should not wait until He comes in glory because now is the day of salvation. Now is the time to praise the God who saves through faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus lived in a time when the Israelites were oppressed by a nation that was stronger and much more powerful than they. They had once been a great nation, but when Jesus walked they were nothing but a doormat on which the Romans could hang their hat. The kings that ruled were puppets of the Roman Empire, more interested in what they would personally get out of the deal than what the people needed. They were more interested in the status quo than in ensuring the well-being of Israel.

The people looked forward to a day of deliverance, as they had experienced throughout their history. They looked forward to the day the Messiah would come and set them free. They looked forward to the day when they could live freely without fear and without tears. They looked for that Savior that would defeat the Romans and avenge so many years of oppression.

Some thought they found that in Jesus. The people who had heard Him talk were sure He could be king. They thought He could defeat the oppressors and set them free. Jesus talked about justice, about mercy and about the kingdom of God. He talked about God’s care for the poor and suffering. He healed people and set them free from the bonds of their physical ailments. He fed people in large groups. He turned water into wine. He brought hope and peace to the hearts of those who believed. They saw all these things as signs that Jesus should be crowned King. Jesus even had to go into hiding to avoid their mob expectations.

Jesus allowed the accolades on Palm Sunday. He allowed the people to throw palm branches under the feet of His donkey as He triumphantly entered into Jerusalem. They did not know that in just days Jesus would be undergoing a time of passion and death. They did not know He would be arrested and taken before the Roman leaders as a threat to Roman peace. They did not know that He was in control every minute, from the donkey to the cross. Jesus was walking a path that no one would understand. They wanted Him crowned King of Israel. He would be given the mocking title of King of the Jews and killed on the cross to which that title was nailed.

The cross was His coronation throne. There was no pomp and circumstance, at least none that did honor to Jesus. There was a crown, but it was roughly made of thorns ripped from a bush. Royal robes were given to Jesus not to do him honor, but to make fun of Him in front of the crowds. He was covered in blood from the scourging He faced at the hands of the Roman soldiers. There were no willing attendants to carry His things; He was forced to carry His own cross up the long hill until He could not carry it no more. There were no royal or political visitors to witness the coronation except those who came to jeer at Him. There were no parties or fancy balls. Yet that coronation changed the world.

Jesus did not rule to set the Jewish people free from the oppression of the Romans, but rather the oppression of the sin that has kept humankind bound and separated from God since the beginning of time. Sin and death, oppression and injustice have been around for a long, long time. But God is, was and will be. He is greater than our sin and He had a plan from the very beginning of time.

In Roald Dahl’s story “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” Willie Wonka created a confection that was meant for children with “very little pocket money”; it was a candy that would last forever. The Everlasting Gobstopper was not even destructible. Real gobstoppers take a long time to create. Layer upon layer of sugary goodness is slowly added for two weeks until the ball is an inch in diameter. It has over a hundred layers. These candies don’t only take long to create; they take a long time to eat. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten one in a single sitting. I usually tire of it and so I put it aside for another time.

In the story, everlasting meant that the candy would never be finished, but we know that nothing created can actually last forever. Though Nestle’s Willie Wonka Candy Company has created a treat that lasts a long time, even Willie Wonka can’t do the impossible, except in books. I thought of this candy when I was reading our text for this week because there are several references that God is everlasting. In Daniel, the promise for Jesus is that He will be given everlasting dominion over a kingdom that will never be destroyed. The psalmist talks of Jehovah as the everlasting God over everything, including the storms on the sea. John writes in the Revelation that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end and God is He who is, who was and who is to come. Finally, Jesus told Pilate that His Kingdom is not of this world, implying that no act of Pilate will ever destroy it. Jesus’ kingdom is something that we cannot even imagine.

There are moments in my life when I have been truly awestruck.

I remember camping with Girl Scouts in the mountains of Pennsylvania. Our campsite was on the top of a mountain, far away from the lights of the city. It was rough in the beginning; we had rain that ran like rivers on the ground under platform on which our tent was set. But when the storm passed and the clouds cleared, I saw the night sky as I had never seen it before, with millions of stars twinkling above.

I remember the first time I saw the giant redwood trees in northern California. No matter how many pictures you see or how many television shows you watch, there is no way to know the magnificence of those giants unless you stand at the base of one. I might have been embarrassed by my stance; I nearly fell over as I leaned back to look up to the very tops of the trees. My mouth was wide open in amazement. I might have been embarrassed by this stance if there weren’t a dozen other people standing exactly the same way.

I remember attending the Evensong service at York Minster in York, England. It had been a cold and dreary day, drizzle falling during most of our trip. Though we’d enjoyed our sightseeing, we were cold and tired by the time we reached the church. We planned our day around the service as we often did when we spent a day as tourists in a new town. We were pretty tired by the time we sat down in the pew, but that soon passed. Though it was cold and dark outside, inside the cathedral there was an unearthly light that cast a warmth over us all. When the choir began to sing, I could almost imagine the voices of heavenly angels singing praise to God, an image that was enhanced by the carvings of angels above our heads that seemed almost alive. That worship service was, to me, as close to heaven as I will ever get in this world. We were drawn into the presence of God and we caught a glimpse of His glory that day.

I can remember other moments when I was awestruck: watching the sun rise over a deserted beach, in the midst of a storm when pounding rain and thunder that rattled the walls, the first time I held my babies, experiencing those ‘God-incidences’ when the events made it very clear that something miraculous had happened that could not have happened without the hand of God Himself.

Yet, no matter how awesome those experiences might have been, no matter how awestruck I was at seeing those stars or trees, or worshipping in that beautiful place, no matter how often I see God’s hand in my everyday living in this world, nothing will compare to that which I will see in that day when I come before the throne of God. The most beautiful things in the world will pale in comparison. The most furious storms will seem calm. The largest trees or stars or mountaintops will seem small compared to the majesty of our God. In that day we will be truly awestruck, beyond anything we can even imagine.

We wait for the day when the King will return. In that day we will see the heavens and the earth as we’ve never seen them before. Even though I have been awed by the redwoods of California and the majesty of the heavens, I have not witnessed what Daniel or John saw in their visions. They have given us a glimpse, as well as human words can describe. However, it is like the awe I knew at the redwoods and seeing the stars: there are no human words to truly make us see what it will be like. All we know is that the biggest, the best, the most beautiful, the most inspiring things will pale in comparison. In that day we will be awestruck, beyond anything we can imagine.

Come, Lord Jesus.

We might have a million reasons why we want Jesus to come today, but we are reminded that He will come not to save us from our earthly woes. He came to save us from sin and death. That work is complete. Now we wait until the Day of Judgment when He will finish what He started on the cross.

It is frightening to think of what will happen in that day, especially when we consider the images found in the apocalyptic texts like Daniel and Revelation, but God is not waiting to turn His wrath upon the world. He longs for all to know His mercy and grace, to find peace in the knowledge of His love. We do not fear that day because God has made it possible for us to live through His righteous judgment by the blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus now stands as a witness to the world, and He transforms us into a kingdom of priests. Though by our own ability we are unable to stand before God, Jesus makes us able by His power and grace. The faithful throughout time are among those who minister to the Ancient of Days. One day we will be with them because of the cross of Christ.

We do not know if we will ever have a tomorrow. John wrote in Revelation, “To him who loves us, and washed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us to be a Kingdom, priests to his God and Father; to him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever.” Christ is King. This is a future promise, but it is also a present reality. We are called live in His reign now as we wait for that Day when He will reign forever. We are part of the kingdom, priests in His temple, made and freed to give Him glory from now until the end of days.

Come, Lord Jesus our King forever and ever. Amen.

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