Christ the King Sunday
(The Last Sunday After Pentecost) November 20, 2011
1 Corinthians 15:20-28
537, 604, 757 [TLH alt. 361], 341
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
In 1930 the famous baseball slugger Babe Ruth was asked by a reporter what he thought of the fact that he had made more money that year than the president of the United States. Ruth answered, “I know. I had a better year than he did!”
At the end of each year there are those who seek to evaluate presidents, governors, and other leaders. Often they try to answer the question, “What kind of a year did ______ have?” Did the senator have a good enough year to be reelected? Did the mayor have a good year or is the town worse off now than it was?
This Sunday we come to the end of the church year. Our year has taken us from the celebration of Jesus birth and Epiphany through His suffering, death, and resurrection, on to the coming of the Holy Spirit, and then into the weeks after Pentecost where we looked especially to grow in our Christian knowledge and maturity. Next week the calendar turns anew and we begin it all again with the season of Advent and our preparation to greet the Savior in Bethlehem.
So at the end of our religious year, we have an opportunity to evaluate our great ruler, King Jesus Christ, and ask: “What kind of a year did He have?” Was it an “up” year or a “down” year for Jesus? What was the year like under His leadership? What were our King’s activities and actions? Were they for the benefit of those whom He rules? Should we be glad to be His subjects for yet another year?
Let’s start with the complaints. You know, people always complain about those in charge. No matter what a leader does, someone will be unhappy. King Jesus has most certainly taken His share of abuse too in the last 52 weeks.
We don’t need to look around very hard to find the usual suspects: Last Christmas there were all the printed pages and television programs that tried to teach about the “real Jesus”—hopefully you missed them because most ended up being mockeries of the Biblical record. Then at Easter time there were those out there who questioned the resurrection saying things such as, “Really?…Could something like that ever happen?”
Jesus’ name also received the typical abuse from the actors and actresses in Hollywood who threw it around on the big screen and elsewhere as carelessly as ever; and there were the false religious teachers who tried to say that Jesus had revealed to them when the end of world would come and they were wrong…again.
Then came the usual complaints overheard when disasters and tragedies strike such as, “If Jesus is really in charge, why isn’t He doing anything about this?” “If Jesus is a King, how about Him cleaning up some of these messes and giving us some peace?” “I don't believe in Him anyway.”
The criticisms and abuses directed toward Christ have not really been any different than before. The Devil isn’t much on originality, after all. Jesus wasn’t welcome in His hometown of Nazareth 2000 years ago and there are those this past year who tried to run Him out too whether by their words or by their actions.
This is not even to mention the trouble we have given Him. We who are part of His spiritual kingdom—who recognize and want His rulership in our hearts and in our lives—we have not been completely loyal to Him either. What complaints and criticisms has Jesus heard from our own lips? Has He observed doubts and fears when there should have been complete trust and absence of worry on our part? Has He given His word to us only to see us ignore it, or fail to be guided by it, or be less than glad at times to hear and learn it? Has He heard us lie? Has He seen our not-so-polite thoughts about others? Has He witnessed our bad attitudes?
We have not always acted like children of God have we? It has been a year of mistakes and missteps, of missing the mark, of sin. King Jesus has surely taken it on the chin from us too.
What is the reaction of our King to all of this? It is not what you might think. The patience and compassion He has shown toward sinful mankind has been truly remarkable. Upon the unbelieving and blasphemous He has continued to shower blessings. The rain has fallen, as it is said, even on the unrighteous who have despised Him (cf. Matthew 5:45). He has provided food and shelter, good health and good times even to nations and peoples who do not yet know Him or who have to this point rejected Him. Furthermore, He has given them a time of grace in which He has placed His Gospel before them and He continues to reach out with the forgiveness of sins, with news of His mercy, and the promise of eternal life.
Jesus really does want all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, and to that end He has sent His Word out into the highways and byways—the Word that announces the cleansing of mankind’s guilt, the full payment made on the cross to cover all. His Word has gone out to Nepal, to India, to Nigeria, to states and cities and homes in our own country. Christ has done this so that people will repent, turn to Him, and live.
To us, His believing children who have at times been rebellious in our own right, Jesus “does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:10-12 NIV). The sacrificial death of our King has cleared the record of wrongs that stood against us. By standing in as our substitute, Jesus endured the sentence that was ours. Nor has He ruled over us with an iron fist, pressing us to do good works under a black cloud of threatening judgment. Rather, with the sunshine of His kindness He has warmed our hearts to produce good fruit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
So…a good year for King Jesus? If you measure it according to His love and mercy, according to His great compassion displayed in the face of His enemies, it has certainly been a good year for Him—and for us.
What about by the numbers? Was it a good year for our King that way? Has His kingdom grown? One chart shows that in North and South America Christians are in the majority while in Africa, and especially the Middle East and Asia, only a very small percentage of people consider Jesus their King.
The trouble is, it is a little hard to measure the growth or success of Christ’s kingdom just by counting heads. Why? Because Jesus’ kingship is first and foremost an inward ruling—that is, it’s a matter of the heart. Wherever there is a person who in his heart and mind considers Jesus to be the highest authority and listens to Him and trusts in Him, there Christ is the actual ruler no matter who the civil rulers of that region may be. Whenever someone thinks, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), that person’s real ruler is the Lord. Whenever someone trusts in God rather than in kings and princes (cf. Psalm 20:7 et al), then it is Christ who holds the real position of authority in that person’s heart. Thus Jesus’ kingship extends into the tribal regions of India and into the deepest jungles along the Amazon. It extends into dwellings in China, Iraq, and Iran—places where if Christians would stand up to be counted they would be killed.
Even for us, although attendance records mark how many attend church each year, we recognize that such statistics are not the only measure of Christ’s kingdom. Those numbers don’t count the neighbors, friends, and even strangers that you may talk to over the course of time in whom the Word of God takes root and eventually grows into a living faith—maybe even long after you are out of the picture. Those numbers don’t count the children to whom your children might speak about the Savior, children who may learn to love the Lord and grow to Christian maturity.
Do you remember the time the prophet Elijah looked at the numbers and came to the very wrong conclusion that he was the only Christian left? He could not see what God saw, and God told Him that there were 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. The Lord had a better year than Elijah had ever imagined!
Was it a good year for our King? Did His kingdom grow and flourish? Well, we do know what God said through Isaiah (55:10-11 NIV): “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish…so is My Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” We have God’s own promise that wherever His Gospel goes, there He will also find homes in people’s hearts. There His kingdom will be.
We also have this parable from Jesus’ own lips (Mt 13:31-32): “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”
So yes, Christ promises that His Word will move hearts. He guarantees that there will be success in turning people to Himself.
What kind of a year did our King have? Most certainly new souls were brought into the company of believers, loving and following the One who died for them; and we know that there is rejoicing in Heaven over even one sinner who repents. It was a good year.
Jesus our glorious King has been both a gracious and compassionate ruler as well as a successful one. He has ruled us in love and faithfulness and not as some selfish dictator. His kingdom-work has been successful as many have come from the east and the west and sit at the feet of salvation (cf. TLH 415).
Here then is the question: “What about next year?” Will our King remain in office even as the world around us gets more hostile to Him? Will He still be gracious to us when we come to Him in repentant faith? Will His kingdom still prosper even when it might appear to us as though it does not? Oh, we pray that it may be so! And so it will be for it stands written: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.