His Gracious Sovereignty
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King, October 27, 2019
“Everlasting God, who hast exalted thy beloved Son to be King over all worlds, and hast willed in him to make all things new: mercifully grant that the kindreds of the earth which are wounded and dispersed by sin: may speedily be knit together under his gracious sovereignty.”
IT WAS the crime of the century, the crime of every century. Imagine this offensive, treasonous behavior. Here: a carpenter’s son, an impoverished country preacher, a backwaters prophet around whom rumors of strange deeds, wild claims, fantasies, and revolutionary language have passed through streets, homes, the temple, the holy city: building a legendary fame that the powerful can’t accept. The title of His crime, a crime none of them can tolerate, of which he now stands accused and convicted, is carved onto a wooden sign written in three languages so that all men everywhere may see the outrage, and declare the justice in what we’ve done. Over the head of the executed criminal is nailed this sign. He is hanged beneath it. The words declare a crime so unacceptable to two races that they set aside their differences for one day and bring their criminal to justice. The sign reads Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.
Jesus the King. This is the accusation, and such a ‘crime’ is enough to send him down. For the Jews, this lordly idea mixed with words from their prophets conjures up the mythic figure of Messiah. He is supposed to be a giant among men, a conqueror like David, wiser than Solomon, a lawgiver like Moses, a deliverer like Joshua, a powerful prophet like Elijah, and one to overthrow wicked foreign powers as did Judas Maccabee. Anyone coming dressed in all those, the Jewish nation’s historic forefathers, would be powerfully unifying. Sinners would be threatened by him. But this man! for Him to arrive from Nazareth? to address the priests as whitewashed tombs? for Him to traffic with Gentiles, touch lepers, befriend prostitutes and make disciples out of tax collectors! It makes Jewish blood boil.
For the Romans, whose laws are the highest achievement of the human mind, whose highways, bridges, aqueducts and coliseums are wonders of engineering, whose armies crush all armies, whose language orders thought and defines human existence: the very idea that a Jew—and this Jew of all people—might be spoken of as a King! It can’t be borne. That he should further explain that his kingdom is not even of the world alone, but from God above, with angels at the ready to fight for him—such a man is mad, surely, and he is dangerous to the Pax Romana, and must be silenced immediately.
So, it’s not a surprise that the Son of God, now a man, could be hated and exterminated for the crime of being, of even saying, he is king. It’s the perfect set up—the way God could be assured that a cross lay in the path of His Son. It’s tragic all around, but inevitable. Send this One, the real King of Creation into the earth, let it be noised about that this is His true caliber, His unique title, and you know the outcome: that humans would not be able to resist using lethal force to stop this ‘pretender’ for a human throne. Ironic, for He never intended nor asked for an earthly throne, unless it was the throne of the cross itself.
It was the crime of the first of all centuries, however long ago that was, when a man and a woman set God, their maker and their friend, off His throne over their lives and took the throne themselves—or thought they did. Bite the forbidden fruit, open your eyes, know that ye are gods and take the universe into your own hands. That was how the snake put it to Eve. And she tried it. Adam tried too. And what happened? Theologians today use big words and concepts: the Fall of creation, sin entered the world, original sin was the inheritance of all men thereafter, and so on.
But what did that sound like in Eden? How did the opening of their eyes appear to the ageless couple? Stephen Spielberg might be useful here. Stand naked in a field surrounded by perfect, gorgeous fruit trees with shining trunks and all animals tame and friendly. That’s one moment.
The next second, with a howl, those tree trunks are twisted, the branches like long dead arms reach out long fingers to grab you, the sky darkens and swirls, owls hoot ominously, wolves prowl, lions look hungrily in your direction, the heavens beyond earth realign and magnetic north tilts awkwardly. If the worlds were broken in that moment, imagine every part of creation making its complaint toward the guilty pair. No wonder they went and hid in the leaves! They knew they’d done it now. And look: on the throne that they’d attempted to take away from God, now sat the serpent, with legs now and a nasty smile on his face.
The world already began to show signs of aging, of trouble and danger: earthquakes and volcanoes, sudden death, tornados and tsunamis. People die today in tens of thousands, and we call it an Act of God. Insurance policies name natural calamities that. We wonder how a God who is good can run a universe this way. We see children die in a bus accident, war-torn streets, mad bomber attacks, and genocide: and we lay even our own obvious atrocities at His feet. How could you allow this, God? Why didn’t you stop this? We attribute evil to God, even while we know the true story. He made this world perfect. He called it good. He was done creating. And the most godlike part of His masterpiece talked back to Him, using the fantastic gift of free will to oppose Him. We can’t blame God for breaking the universe. We did that by trying to take what we already had. The throne.
God gave Adam that throne already. “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Gen 1:28 We didn’t have to disobey in order to be like gods. We were like gods already. What a shell game the serpent played before poor Eve! She and her husband were vying for a possession they already had, and in reaching for it, they lost it.
It was the same at Babel. Did mankind really have to build a tower to reach God? God was available to anyone who called upon Him in a humble spirit and an honest need. What would a tower get mankind except a kind of crushing forced recognition of power that Nimrod sought. Reaching too high, mankind fell again.
Jesus came, not to take away the dynasty of mankind’s true royalty, but to restore it. Caesar was not god and certainly didn’t merit human kingship, nor did Herod Antipas. The Gentiles kings lorded power over their subjects, but Christ came to set up a new order. The servant shall be the master. The world will turn over and set the pauper on the throne. What we lost in Eden, we would now gain back and more.
But we have to stop fixing our eyes on the world we know in order for the balances to be reset in our favor. This world is broken. We broke it. It’s still lovely, in many respects, and holds a fractured beauty of that original artistry that Christ Himself is the author of. But this planet shall not be the throne of the new mankind. A new heaven and a new earth will bear that chair of authority, and seated with Jesus, our King and God and bridegroom, we shall see what it truly means to be a royal priesthood. Crowns will be on all our heads and they will be ours to throw at His feet in worship.
We know so little of what rulership ought to be. We raise up rulers and immediately begin to hate them. Call them emperor, or president, or general secretary, or chairman, or pope: when first they sign an order to be obeyed, someone will gripe. What else is new? Rebellion against order is in our DNA. That was why God could be so sure that Jesus would die in Jerusalem. All corrupt human power was there: the kingdom of the Jewish God, Jehovah, and His anointed kings, once dignified by David; and the empire of a self-deified Roman God, Tiberius Caesar. Add yet another king, and Boom! One king too many.
What do we know of rulership, true leadership, in a world so lost in the quest for power and selfish pursuits? In our 21st century homes, we live in a splendor that Solomon would have envied. Running hot and cold water, electric lights that come on with a finger, big screen TVs channeling hundreds of stations in from all over the world, food that cooks itself: we’re spoiled, and yet we want more. Wait ‘til Christmas brings ads for the next great thing. We live like kings and queens, and complain that we have to take out the garbage. Unhook your mind, for a moment, from the familiar and just see what your future holds.
Even with the riches we enjoy in America, we live like urchins in mud puddles when compared to our destiny in the True King. We are children of that king. Jesus told that to Pilate, if the man could only hear Him. “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” Everyone who is coming from the place of truth can hear the voice of the King, born for us in this world, who came to tell us the truth. And the truth is that we have a future.
Jesus promises to any that overcomes the challenges of this life through faith in the true king: to eternally eat from the tree of life, to receive a crown of life and live forever, to be given a white stone with our new name upon it, to receive power over the nations, and the morning star, to be clothed in pure white garments, to be one whose name is written in the Book of Life, to become a pillar in God’s heavenly Temple and have Christ’s new name inscribed on us, and to dine with Him as we are seated with Him in His throne. Rev 2-3
This is not the heaven of wispy clouds, silvered wings and golden harps played by smiling, mildly sedated worshipers. This is God’s restoration of a glory that will someday be revealed in us. Christ’s throne is His by right. Our thrones become ours by His gracious sovereignty. He has declared it. He will have nothing less as His subjects than kings and queens found in Him.
There is nothing wimpy about a saint. Clothe him or her in sable, bright armor and high coronets. This is gallantry. This is dominion. This is our future. It could have once been our past, yet it was lost, but now look ahead: it’s what we were created for, and God will be sovereign. We will be a royal line with the blood of the lamb running through us all.
We’ve been translated. That means to go from one state to another, and I don’t mean California to Kentucky. This is from earthly life to resurrection life, temporal to eternal. And it begins now, not later. We already live in His kingdom. The rebellion is ended. We submit to His authority.
Thrones, dominions, principalities and powers, all that He created, fall before Him. The devils fall down and must submit, even to their eternal banishment. “The Lord God Omnipotent reigns.” “The marriage of the Lamb has come and His wife has made herself ready.” Rev 19:6-7 Christ was offered up once, for being a king. Now He is lifted up in our praises, as we are made kings and queens in Him. Hail King Jesus!