What Kind of King?

 

2 Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm 132:1-12
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

 

1:4b “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. (Revelation 1:4b-8, NRSV)

 

18:33 “Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  (John 18:33-37, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Most High God, majestic and almighty, our beginning and our end: We pray that you will rule in our hearts and guide us to be faithful in our daily actions, worshiping the one who comes as Savior and Sovereign, and who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

 

It seems like an election year already in the United States. We have had multiple debates that have been heated and vicious. Both Democrats and Republicans have gone off the rails by attacking each other, their backgrounds, their college applications, their religious affiliation and even their fantasy football league records.  And we have almost a full year to go.  All of this has me thinking about leadership and what it takes to be a ruler, president, a king.  Today is Christ the King Sunday (or Reign of Christ).  It is the end of our liturgical year. We are on the threshold of Advent, the season of hope for Christ’s coming again at the end of time. But before we start the journey to Jesus’ birth, we end this year with Jesus as king, exalted to rule over the whole universe.

 

So, we can just imagine Pilate’s frustration as he is trying to understand that Jesus is a different kind of king.  Pilate, a governor of a remote Palestinian outpost of the Roman Empire, was a long way from Rome, so he worked very hard to placate Caesar. So, he certainly knew what it was like to deal with a king.  But this Jesus, this “King of the Jews,” was different.  No earthly king would dare to stand in front of a governor in chains with any measure of defiance, nor would an earthly king ever be willing to face the fate Jesus knew was coming.

 

It started out as any other Friday evening begins in the city of light.  But this Friday evening would be anything but ordinary.  This was Friday the 13th of November.  Beginning at 9:20 PM in Paris, there were three separate suicide bombings outside of a stadium, followed by four mass shootings in central Paris, and then four separate suicide bombings at four different locations. The deadliest of those attacks took place at a theatre, where a large crowd was gathered for a concert.

 

According to news reports, over 130 innocent victims were killed and a further 415 were admitted to hospital with injuries sustained in the attacks, including 80 people described as being seriously injured.  In addition to the victims, seven of the extremists’ attackers died.

 

Fear abounds all across the world and I am tired of the violence that is carried out in the name of God or Allah, or Yahweh! I am tired of trying to understand extremists who give a religion a bad name.  Where is a leader to take decisive action and put an end to this terror and violence?   I am tired of waiting for an all-powerful king to come.  There is a part of me that really wants that king to come now and seek vengeance on those who go against his will.  I am ready for a powerful and vengeful God to redeem his name.

 

But that is not how God works.

All of this has me thinking about leadership and what it takes to be a ruler, president, a king.  So, I wonder what we would do if we were in charge of the world today?  If we were faced with making some of the difficult decisions our world faces in these days.

 

Here is Pilate, who knew all about difficult decisions.  It is up to him to choose whether Jesus lives or dies.  You almost get the feeling that Pilate really liked and respected Jesus.  He kind of, sort of, thought he might be the King of the Jews and he apparently couldn’t quite understand why the crowds wanted to kill Jesus.  The crowds just want him dead.  You get a sense that Pilate, this governor, this man of power with the mighty empire of Rome backing him, is anxious and agitated as he wonders what to do with Jesus.

 

So, he takes Jesus into his inner chamber to try to understand him. Just for a moment at least it appears that Pilate has a conscience and is confused about what to do.  You get the sense his heart was telling him one thing but then there were those crowds, the noises from outside, the pressure to be what people expected him to be.

 

A professor I had in seminary describes Pilate’s behavior as “typical of a person or institution who is confronted with a critical decision who has instincts in one direction but is pressured by the circumstances or a crowd to move reluctantly in the opposite direction.”  (Charles Cousar as quoted by Kate Huey on internet sermon).

 

What strikes me about Pilate is that he knew that Jesus really didn’t deserve to die, but he didn’t have the guts to say it and to stand up for what he believed.  The crowds would have been furious.  But even still, Pilate knew and he didn’t have the guts to live it.

 

We see politicians do it all the time—base their decisions not on their conscience but instead on what will get them the most votes.

 

We see kids do it all the time—follow the crowd who is doing something they know they shouldn’t be doing because it is so much easier to just go along and fit in rather than buck the crowd and say no.

 

And we do it in our own lives.  Don’t you sometimes get that knot in the pit of your stomach when you see that something is clearly wrong but you just can’t quite bring yourself to take a stand, stand up and say something?  It’s easier to just keep quiet and not disrupt the status quo and go with the flow. All of this has me thinking about leadership and what it takes to be a ruler, president, a king

 

So here are these two men, Pilate and Jesus.  One a ruler and the other a king. One filled with the power of this world, caught up with success and maintaining order and gaining power and pleasing Caesar.   And the other, calmly, quietly, knowing what is coming, standing there speaking of a different kind of kingdom.  In a strange twist they are now both on trial.  What will Pilate do with the information he has?   What will Pilate do with what his heart and his conscience tell him?  What will he do with what his heart tells him?  Will he listen to his heart or to the crowds?

 

God does things differently. Our God does the unexpected — sends his son, Jesus born to an unwed virgin, in a manger, raised by a carpenter.  Lead people to believe and follow him. He taught that servanthood and love and justice are much more important than riches, power and strength.  He is the kind of king who comes riding in on the back of a donkey, who befriended prostitutes and sinners, who cares about the least, the last, the lost.   Not exactly the kind of leadership, president or king we are looking for today. Can you imagine how Jesus would do in a political debate?

 

So here we are on Christ the King Sunday, looking for a leader, a Savior, a King…Come, Lord Jesus.  We just can’t wait.  Christ is King, but not the king we expect.  The King with a crown of thorns.  The King with non-violent followers.  The King of gifts of love.     May we have the strength and the courage and the faith to put all of our lives subject to this King of Kinds and Lord of Lords.  All of this has me thinking about leadership and what it takes to be a ruler, president, a king

 

We pray, Come Lord Jesus, Come.  Amen.

 

Let us pray:

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