Today is Christ the King Sunday. This Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays to preach because the preacher has one job this morning: 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. Maybe it left you wondering what Jesus is doing between his ascension and that last, great day when he will return, and the dead in Christ will rise, never to die 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
We might be tempted to look at how 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 not how the Bible thinks about the kingship of Jesus.
In the Bible, Jesus was enthroned twice, and please 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:
And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”Matthew 27:29 (ESV)
The king was lifted up, enthroned on a Roman cross, and the same words hung above his head.
And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”Matthew 27:37
This is Jesus, the King of the Jews. On that day, Jesus was crowned as the King of the Jews, and if he was King of the Jews, then as the Psalmists and Prophets had always said, he was 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.
After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.Hebrews 1:3
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,Hebrews 10:12
Even the more extended ending of Mark, which I don’t consider to be canonical but 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.Mark 16:19
Do you know what Old Testament chapter is quoted or alluded to 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.”Psalm 110:1
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 what Paul refers 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.1 Corinthians 15:24-26
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 actively putting all these enemies under his feet by destroying every rule, authority, and power opposed to his kingdom.
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, bringing the world into subjection under his feet. But here’s point number two, which must be said alongside point one.
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.Mark 10:42-44
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 imagine 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 but certainly not with the tyrants and would-be kings; instead, he identified with the outcast, the forgotten, the imprisoned, the sojourner, the hungry, the poor, the thirsty, 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 “the hands and feet of Jesus.” I assume this comes from the idea of being the body of Christ. But if we take Matthew 25 on its own, we must recognize that when we care for the least of these, we are not being Christ to them. They are 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.’Matthew 25:40
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.’Matthew 25:45
Notice who is talking: the king. Our king so identifies with those who are hungry, thirsty, 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 Has No Clothes,” except it’s not a 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 sisters, we care for him.
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 Holy Spirit 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.Matthew 25:34