Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 24 November 2019.
Old Testament: Jeremiah 23: 1-6 (I will raise up for David a righteous branch)
Epistle: Colossians 1: 11-20 (He has rescued us from the power of darkness)
Gospel: Luke 23: 33-43 (Today you will be with Me in Paradise)
The preamble to the constitution of the United States starts with the words ‘We the people …’ and in Scotland we have an unwritten doctrine that sovereignty abides with the people – or their collective will, expressed through the ballot.
Now the US constitution’s writers’ idea of ‘The people’ essentially meant male landowners with means and education. At that time there was no suggestion that it would include slaves, criminals or juveniles.
And how times change as there are discussions in our lands on extending the franchise to criminals and those aged 16.
When we look at the bible we see sovereignty as abiding in God, and lawmaking as the province of Moses and his successors in the temple.
But here also Jesus raised objections to the excessive sense of lawmaking driven to needless and trivial extremes. The people of old time had said, but ‘I say to you …’
When Jesus was using the term ‘I AM,’ then he was drawing from the words of God to Moses in the Burning Bush, ‘I AM THAT I AM’, and them applying it to the present:
‘I am the way, the truth and the life; I am the good shepherd; I am the door to the sheepfold’, and so on.
So Jesus was claiming an authority and a kingship without raising an army, passing any laws or removing the Romans or the Jewish authorities.
But, What kind of king?
Jesus went to the cross, charged with blasphemy by the Sanhedrin, who then denounced Him to Pilate as a seditioner.
Pilate crucified Him under the notice of being King of the Jews, and yet Jesus had said that His kingdom was not of this world: if it were, then His followers would fight.
Yes, He was a king but not as Pilate would recognize one. And today we speak of Him as Lord without any kind of embarrassment or irony.
But more than that, Jesus also said that He would come back and then the kingship of King of Kings and Lord of Lords would be seen upon the earth.
So yes, Jesus was and is a king.
So, what kind of kingship?
Our lessons today point to the crucifixion as one place where Jesus did indeed rule.
He had the authority – even when bearing the sins of the world – to forgive His executioners. He could commend His mother into the keeping of the beloved disciple. He could promise paradise to the penitent thief.
In a strange way, even while he who knew no sin had become sin, His word still carried authority. Yes, it was a crucified authority and in the resurrection His authority would always be a wounded authority, but it was there all the same.
In His ministry, Jesus had the authority to forgive sins, to touch those who were highly infectious and instead of being contaminated, to drive away the infection.
He had authority over death and over all kinds of demonic activity.
He had the authority to pronounce mercy when others were looking for judgment, such as with the woman caught in adultery, and even that upset some of His accusers.
What kind of kingdom?
If that was the manner of Jesus’ kingship, then what about the kingdom itself?
Here we have the sense of the already but not yet. The creeds speak of His coming again in power and great glory and this is an unfulfilled expectation.
But there is also an authority in the present, and this His has placed on His church.
But there is a world of difference between a sanctified bureaucracy and the fullness of the Body of Christ.
Paul writes of the church as the Body of Christ with many members, many gifts of the Holy Spirit and many ministries in the Holy Spirit.
The things that Jesus did are things that the church can and does do: it pronounces the forgiveness of sins, it announces the gospel message of Jesus, as it is commanded to do and it celebrates and relives the death of Jesus on the cross.
It heals the sick and delivers from demonic activity.
More than that, when it is being true to Jesus’ command, it loves its members with the same commitment and determination as Jesus had Himself.
In short, the evidence of Jesus as King should be there in His own disciples in every era and on every continent. That includes you.