Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King, October 29, 2017
“His dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible.”
THE SCENE is at the center of everything, the courts of heaven. The Apostle John finds himself standing close to God’s throne, with marvelous creatures crying out God’s praises, and wonderful beings worshiping Him. Seated in a circle around their God are 24 seats with elders in white raiment “and they had on their heads crowns of gold.” Thunder and lightning emanate from the throne and the 24 elders “fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” Rev 4:1-11 They cast their crowns at the base of God’s throne.
Nothing more is said of the identity of these elders and we are left to speculate. They are certainly people. Twice twelve hints that these may represent all the tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles, Old Covenant and New, yet it may be 24 entirely different people. But mankind is surely represented in the heavenly court by God’s design and invitation. They are clothed in purity. And God has placed on all their heads golden crowns, bestowing royalty, the royal priesthood spoken of many times in Scripture. Their seats might be thrones as well, but as the worship of God goes up, they can’t keep the crowns on their own heads, but cast their crowns at His feet and prostrate themselves.
One is sought throughout heaven who is worthy to open God’s book that details His plan for the judgment of the cosmos and man’s ultimate end. None is found to open it, except God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who appears as a Lamb pierced with many wounds, yet He is alive. He is worthy to breaks the seven seals that bind the scroll, and a new song arises from these elders: “’Thou art worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.’ And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped Him that liveth forever and ever.” Rev 5
The representatives of our human race sing in wonderful words the worship of the Lamb, and they cast the crowns of their royalty before Him.
We each live here our own portion of a century; our years crawl by in a narrow and limited timeline. We may learn what’s important, eventually, or not at all. We may live our lives entirely for ourselves, or for others, and some adding a claim to be doing it all for God. In all lives, however, a kind of gravity holds us down to earth as our thoughts return us to mundane matters of food, labor, rest, provision, personal pleasures, likes and dislikes, the latest thing, our latest earthly lovers. Our sins mount up in accusation, and rise like a giant over us, too heavy, too large to oppose. It’s human nature, man’s fate, the way of all flesh, the mortality we’re up against. It would appear that we will never win against it. Gravity crushes us with its invisible hand.
That giant opposing us was portrayed in the lyrics of a song by the Christian band Casting Crowns. They sing “Oh what I would do to have The kind of strength it takes to stand before a giant With just a Sling and a stone Surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors Shaking in their armor Wishing they’d have had the strength to stand But the giant’s calling out my name and he laughs at me Reminding me of all the times I’ve tried before and failed The giant keeps on telling me Time and time again “Boy, you’ll never win! You’ll never win…” But the stone was just the right size To put the giant on the ground.” Casting Crowns – The Voice of Truth
It’s the Feast of Christ the King. Our American heritage has little to say about kings except that we reject all earthly kings taking power over us. The Declaration of Independence shocked our world by its indictment of King George and of England usurping the God-given rights of the American colonists. But this wasn’t the French Revolution, either. Instead of beheading the nobles and killing our king, we simply traced our own nobility back to the headwaters of all noble families, and when the signers of our country’s new Constitution were done creating a government for a free people in a free land, they crossed the street and knelt before an altar, the throne of their real king, Jesus Christ. Every founder of our nation, beholden to no other human king, held in common the faith that the true King of the American nation was Jesus Christ.
St. Paul reckoned this same dynamic in his own day, praising God the Father for making us worthy “partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” Colossians 1:12-18
Jesus never sat on any throne this side of heaven. But wherever He placed His foot was the Kingdom of God. He brought heaven with Him. None of us approaches His holiness, none of us claims any of His titles, His accomplishments, His nobility. But do you know what? He gives these to us, lavishes them upon us, and makes us over. He means for us to share in His dignity, to be meet partakers of His glory. He doesn’t jealously guard His own majesty, but rather He wants us to share in it.
He is making us His bride. The bride of a king is the queen. The bride of the King of the Universe reigns with Him in splendor. I can’t imagine it, nor do I aspire to such glory, but that’s the deal. We will not be gravity-bound any more. Part of us is already with Him there, as He is with us here. Heaven is another kind of gravity, but it lifts us up. No giants here may stop us from attaining to those lofty seats in God’s throne room. Nothing can forbid us from receiving the love from Jesus to us.
The founders of this nation knew that a free people might rule and govern their own lives and affairs, and do it well, so long as they were a people who might rule their own lives well. No one, however, can accomplish that who does not first acknowledge the Supreme Being. Alcoholics Anonymous says as much. You can’t defeat your own shadow unless the light by which it is cast comes from God. A free people have to worship Christ the King, or they will enslave themselves once again to cruel masters. We live in a land being crushed by giants, brought low by raging waves, its people again sinking beneath their own weight pulled down by gravity. Without the heavenly King, they claim lesser kings and meaner gods. Even their religions betray them.
Christ Church, the Episcopal congregation in Alexandria, Virginia, George Washington’s own parish, is removing a plaque that honors our first President. He owned slaves. Of course, in the eyes of history, that was a fault, and most of the Virginians who founded our nation were a part of that remnant of the English economy. His many contributions to our nation are today being overwritten by one post-modern philosophy that anachronistically draws such men villains who once set most men free, but could not free all.
Washington worshipped King Jesus and he slayed the giant red-coat armies of England, dealing them a bitter defeat. But his own church says now that we can’t celebrate him. The honor due to him supposedly makes some people feel “unsafe or unwelcome.”
History records many injustices. At the top of the list is the scene depicted in St. John’s Gospel, read today. Pontius Pilate is the Roman governor, sent by the Emperor to establish the puppet king Herod and set down all rebellion. A battered man enters his halls, covered in his own blood, the priests of the Temple shouting accusations at his back. “Are you really King of the Jews?” Pilate asks. “Did others say this about me?” Jesus responds. “Look at me: am I a Jew? It’s your nation and your priests who accuse you. What terrible thing have you done?”
Jesus then tells Pilate a wonderful truth and it’s good for us to hear it, and note for ourselves. “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight for me, so that I should not be delivered to the will of the Jews: but now my kingdom is not here.” Pilate is looking for a reason, either to release his prisoner, or to clearly condemn him. He catches Christ’s words and shoots back, “You are a king, then?”
Jesus responds, “Your own words have called me a King. Then, may I say, it is to this end that was I born, and for this cause I entered the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Every one that is of the truth hears my voice.”
We hear His voice today and we have our king. He went on to the cross, the greatest injustice ever done, yet by that evil act by men who knew no better, the King of our universe won our freedom. And we are now subject to a place where the gravitational pull is upward, defeating this lower sphere.
Bishop Robert Sherwood Morse felt that upward force and he founded the Anglican Province of Christ the King forty years ago. He chose that Name above all names because it removes all other names and titles, and slays the giants who wish to loom above our heads. But their heads are crushed under our feet. A postmodern church may stand on the shoulders of midgets and dismantle the achievements of nobler men. But we are the antidote to modernity and the postmodern mindset. We prefer eternity.
Heaven’s most honored men and women cast their crowns at His feet, and worship the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of our world. Great injustice was overcome by our King’s sacrifice and we are free today because of Him. He is making us kings and queens, a royal line of priests. Let’s live as denotes this honor, and give glory back to Him.