Christ the King Sunday

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

In 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted a new liturgical observance, the Feast of Christ the King.

He felt that Christians were being tempted by the increasing secularism of the world. Christians were choosing to live in the “kingdom” of the world rather than in the kingdom of God.[1] Jesus’ trial before Pilate in the gospel of John focuses on Jesus’ kingship and Kingdom. The first question Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus doesn’t respond to Pilate immediately.

Initially, Pilate does not want to deal with Jesus because he assumes that Jesus' crime had to do with the law of the Jews. He asks the Jews to judge him according to their law. But the Jews claim that Jesus’ crime calls for the death penalty. Only the Roman governor had the power to administer capital punishment. John does not explicitly explain how Pilate got the idea about Jesus kingship. The kingship of Jesus is important in the gospel of John. At the beginning of the gospel of John, the apostle Nathanael calls Jesus “the King of Israel” (1: 49), after feeding the 5000, the crowd wants to make Jesus a King (6:15), when Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowd welcomes him shouting: “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!” (12:13).

It is highly possible that Pilate was aware of Jesus identity as the King of Israel. If Jesus admits being a king, Pilate will consider him as a threat to Rome. “Anyone claiming on his own to be king would be a rival to the emperor and thus an affront or threat to Roman imperial rule.”[2]

Jesus responds to Pilate’s question “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Jesus' statement is the most misunderstood and misused statement about our duty to our country and relation to it as Christians. Some Christians interpret Jesus statement “to suggest that Christ's gift of life and freedom does not have implications for the quality of life here on earth.”[3]

Jesus’ statement “My kingdom is not from this world” does not mean that we should ignore our duty toward our country. The purpose of Jesus' statement is to assure Pilate that Jesus rejects the role of political Messiah. His kingdom is not from this world, which means he will not rule like the Emperor of Rome. Jesus distinguishes his Kingship from the emperor’s. He does not establish his kingdom through violence and invasion of other countries. While Rome expanded its hegemony through warfare, Jesus’ kingdom expands through peace and righteousness. His kingdom operates in a manner that cannot be understood in earthly kingdoms or governments’ terms. “Jesus is not saying that his kingdom is absent from the world or has no bearing on worldly realities. Rather, John’s Gospel teaches that heavenly realities, such as communion with God, are genuinely enjoyed by believers, who live presently in the world.”[4]

There is a considerable difference between the Kingdom of God and earthly governments. “The incompatibility between the operations of Christ’s kingdom and those of an evil world continue to produce opposition and misunderstandings to this day.”[5] Faithful Christians live both in the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of earth. Since Jesus is our King, our loyalty is to him alone not to earthly king or president. The apostle Paul advises us “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Our calling is to transform our world to be the Kingdom of God on earth, where Jesus rules over his followers. Christ’s Kingdom is "not of this world," though it is in this world, through you and me. Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21). This kingdom does not mean politics, laws, or boarders but righteousness and peace. The kingdom of God does not expect us to form a Christian political party, but it about discipleship. Jesus Kingdom is the treasure found in the field. It is the pearl the merchant gets by selling all his property (Matthew 13:46). The Kingdom of Jesus is so valuable that losing everything on earth, but getting his kingdom, is a joyful trade. It is worth to leave everything behind you for the sake of the Kingdom of God. It is worth having Christ rule over you, for you, and over everything else because he is the righteous King or in our contemporary terms, Jesus is the only righteous President.

 

[1] Lucy Lind Hogan, “Commentary On John 18: 33-37,” Working Preacher, November 25, 2018, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3885.

[2] Francis Martin and William M. Wright IV, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015),303

[3] Charles Villa-Vicencio, “Christianity and Human Rights,” Journal of Lutheran Ethics 4, no. 3 (March 2004), https://www.elca.org/JLE/Articles/776.

[4] Francis Martin and William M. Wright IV, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015), 304.

[5] Alastair Roberts, “The Politics of a Misunderstood Kingdom—john 18: 28-38,” Political Theology Network (March 24, 2014), https://politicaltheology.com/the-politics-of-a-misunderstood-kingdom-john-1828-38/.

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