Each year on the Christian calendar, the Sunday before the Advent season is celebrated as The Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday. It is a day that focuses our worship on the fact that Jesus reigns over the entire world. It is a proclamation to everyone that everything in all creation must submit to King Jesus. And it is an invitation to actively and joyfully submit to his rule. Jesus’ rule and kingship is not like any other kind of leadership because Jesus rules all creation through being a servant and using his power to move toward people in relationship.
God is not a distant and detached ruler. Jesus came to this earth in order to bring intimacy and closeness to God and humanity. We all most likely have relationships in which we want to be closer to someone. There are parents who are not satisfied and are sad that one of their kids is estranged from them, and they want intimacy. A spouse may want to be closer to his/her wife or husband, having been distant for too many years. Teenagers or twenty-somethings might want to get closer to that special someone. There may be a friend that keeps their distance. And although you have conversations with them, they only let you in so far. We want to go deeper, and it just isn’t happening because the other party is not willing.
In this we reflect the image of God within us because God feels that same longing and desire to move deeper and closer to us. He desires intimacy, but we might keep treating him like he is some untouchable monarch like Queen Elizabeth – as if there is no chance of really getting close, and we wonder if there is any real power there to make a difference. But God is not some figurehead, and he does not want a casual superficial relationship with us. Christ’s kingship is based on moving closer to people, not further away. Everything Jesus did on this earth was to bring people closer to God, because God wants a personal and familiar relationship with us. God does not want us estranged from him, and he has gone to the greatest lengths possible to make that close relationship possible and real through the cross, resurrection, ascension, and a kingly reign that is near to us. The kingdom of God, with Jesus as King, is a kingdom of intimacy and fellowship with the divine.
Christ as King appropriately challenges us to think: What does it mean for us to say that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our lives? It means much more than God calling the shots and issuing commands; it means he uses his lordship to satisfy his longing to be with us.
When Jesus of Nazareth was brought to Pilate the morning of his crucifixion, he must have looked a mess – clothes stained with dirt and blood, his face bruised, and haggard from having not slept all night. Pilate has heard of Jesus, and so he is curious to make a personal evaluation of him. Jesus looks nothing like a king to Pilate. Pilate, in contrast, looks the image of a leader with his power suit on and all the strength of Rome behind him. He hardly has time for this pathetic presentation of leadership in front of him. Jesus looks like nothing more than a kingly wan-a-be. There is nothing from Christ’s outward appearance that seems he is qualified to be any kind of leader. We can almost picture Pilate rolling his eyes, saying “so you are the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33-37).
Jesus made it clear that his kingdom is not of this world. Two thousand years have passed since that dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, but the same issue remains. The issue is simply this: Jesus is calling all of us to follow him and to put his Kingdom first in our lives.
Earthly power, like Pilate’s, seeks its own ends in order to hold onto control and call the shots; but Christ’s kingly power is used to serve, to wash feet and meet needs, to move closer to people. Earthly kingdoms use violence to conquer and maintain order and control its subjects; Christ’s kingdom uses love to transform and unify people around Jesus so that the subjects are with the king and enjoy his rule and reign.
Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. It is counter-cultural, and counter-intuitive to how every other leadership structure works. It is an upside-down kingdom that seems like it won’t work or make sense. The way up is down; to be great is not to work for a high position and kiss up to the boss and climb the ladder of wealth and success, but to embrace humility and be a servant. The way to pursue truth is not in forming original ideas and expressing opinions, but truth is found in a person. Truth-seeking disciples will listen to this one voice of Jesus, and filter-out all others. It is a voice calling for us to submit to his lordship, and to do so because it brings us into an intimate relationship with God.
Black Friday is almost here. This time of year demonstrates for us a contrast between two kingdoms. The Kingdom of this world calls on us to demonstrate our worth and gain meaningful relationship through getting what we want and deserve. We put pressure on ourselves, because of earthly power structures, to seek that perfect gift at the perfect price in the hope that if we can have the perfect family Christmas with everyone acting perfectly that we will get what we want. But does that ever really happen, even when we pursue it and cajole and manipulate for it?
In contrast, the kingdom that Jesus describes assures us that we do not have to prove our worth through endless accomplishments and generous gifts. We don’t have to have the perfect Christmas experience in order to gain our deepest relational needs. As followers of Jesus, we are sons and daughters of the living God and we do not need to achieve greatness because King Jesus has already gained it for us.
When we say that Jesus Christ is our King, we acknowledge that we are his subjects and that we march to the beat of a different drum. The heart of this relationship is our dependence Jesus who came that we might have life and have it in abundance. We can boldly state our confidence in this season that at the end of time Jesus will come again as King and Ruler of all.
Blessed are those who can say ‘Jesus is King, Lord of Life’ without their fingers crossed behind their backs, but with a sincere conviction that they are in touch with Jesus and want to be ever closer to him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.