The Emperor Has No Clothes
Today is Christ the King Sunday. This Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays to preach because the preacher has one job this morning, and that is to talk about the kingship of Jesus Christ.
A few weeks ago I preached about the end of the biblical story, which is not disembodied life up among the clouds but rather the return of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of the dead. That’s the end, so to speak, although even that isn’t precisely the end but rather the beginning of the fullness of the new creation.
But perhaps that sermon left you wondering. Perhaps it left you wondering what Jesus is doing in between his ascension and that last, great day when he will come again. This Sunday is the answer to that question. Jesus Christ is King; he is Lord of Heaven and Earth, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That’s the first point I want to make this morning.
Jesus Christ is King Now.
Jesus Christ is King Now.
We might be tempted to look at the way the world is today and say, “I can’t wait until the day Jesus is King.” There are whole eschatologies, beliefs about the end time, built around precisely this idea. They cannot fathom that Jesus Christ is King already, and so they push his kingship out into the future. This way of thinking is quite simply not now the Bible thinks about the kingship of Jesus.
In the Bible, Jesus was enthroned twice, and notice the past tense. He was enthroned twice. The first time he was enthroned he was dressed in purple, a crown of thorns was placed upon his head, and a reed was put in his hand as a scepter. And before the soldiers took the reed from him, beat him with it, spit on him, and ripped the garments from his body, they unknowingly spoke a truth that would change the world:
Matthew 27:29 (ESV)
And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
The King was then lifted up, enthroned on a Roman cross, and above his head hung the same words.
And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
This is Jesus, the King of the Jews. On that day Jesus was enthroned as the King of Jews, and if he was King of the Jews, then as the Psalmists and Prophets had always said, he is also the King of the whole world. Jesus was enthroned as the King of all the earth on Golgotha, but then he died, rose, and ascended, and this is his second enthronement.
When Jesus ascended on high, he sat down at the right hand of God. We see this in several places.
Hebrews 1:3 (ESV)
After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,
Even the longer ending of Mark, which I don’t consider to be canonical but it does summarize well certain early Christian traditions says,
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
Do you know what Old Testament chapter is quoted or alluded ti the most in the New Testament? It’s Psalm 110.
The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Jesus was enthroned at his ascension. He took his seat at the right hand of God as the Lord of heaven and earth. And notice that little bit right there: “until I make your enemies your footstool.” That last bit of the verse is exactly what Paul is referring to in our epistle reading this morning when he writes:
Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
If the question is, “What is Christ doing now between his ascension and his second coming?”, that’s the answer. He is reigning as the Lord of Heaven and Earth, and he is actively in the process of putting all this enemies under his feet, of destroying every rule, every authority, and every power.
And the reason that the last enemy to be destroyed is death is because death is not fully and finally destroyed until the day Christ returns and those in Christ rise again to eternal life. But that’s what Christ is doing. He is bringing everything opposed to his rule in subjection under his feet, and nothing is more opposed to his rule than death.
Jesus Christ is king now, and he is bringing the world into subjection under his feet. But here’s point number two, and it really needs to be said alongside point number one.
A Different Kind of King
A Different Kind of King
Jesus is a different kind of king. Jesus said:
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.
Jesus is a different kind of king. He is not the kind of king who is enthroned with great pomp and circumstance. He is the kind of king enthroned upon a Roman cross. And so, when we think about what it means for him to bring the whole world into subjection under his feet, if we’re imagining power, military might, and great pomp and circumstance, we’ve got the idea completely wrong.
Our king identified not with powerful rules of this world and certainly not with the tyrants and would be kings; he identified rather with the outcast, the forgotten, the imprisoned, the sojourner, the hungry, the poor, the thirst, and the naked. He identified with them so much that he called them his brothers and said that whatever we’ve done to the least of these, we did it to him.
Think about that for one moment. We often describe our ministry to the poor and needy with language that places us in the role of Christ. We will say we’re being “the hands and feet of Jesus.” I assume this comes from the idea of being the body of Christ. But if we just take Matthew 25 on it’s own, we must recognize that when we care for the least of these, we are not being Christ to them. They are being Christ to us.
And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Or even worse.
Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
Notice who is talking: the King. Our King so identifies with those who are hungry, thirst, strangers, naked, sick, and imprisoned that however we treat them, for good or for ill, is how we treat our king. There’s no ambiguity about this. They are Christ to us, and how we treat them is how we treat our king. I titled this sermon “the Emperor had no clothes,” except it’s not joke. Our king was stripped naked. Our king is hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison. He has no clothes, no food, no water, no money, no health, and no freedom. And every time we care for someone in the same situation as him, his brothers and his sisters, we have cared for him.
This is how our king intends to bring the whole world in subjection under his feet. Not with the sword. Not with power. Not with weapons. Not with violence. Remember. He was enthroned upon a Roman cross as he emptied himself and was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Our king intends to bring the whole world in subjection under his feet by pouring his spirit out into his people and enabling them to love others with that same self-sacrificial love. That is why he tells his people to take up their cross and follow him.
The poor and outcast are not there for us to be Christ to them; they are there to be Christ to us. And our king says that how we treat them will have eternal consequences. Treat them like Kings and Queens, and our King will say to you,
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.