Christ the King

Saint Barnabas, Downham

Sunday 25 November, 2001


In one of A.A. Milne’s poems from When We Were Very Young, the five-year-old Christopher Robin tells us what he would like to do if he were a king. Amongst other things he says:


I often wish I were a King
And then I could do anything
If only I were King of Spain
I’d take my hat off in the rain
If only I were King of France
I wouldn’t brush my hair for aunts.
I think if I were King of Greece
I’d push things off the mantelpiece.

… and so on. In his mind, as in many other people’s, the idea of Kingship meant "being able to do what I want, when I want, free from restraint and criticism."

However, were Christopher Robin, or anyone who thinks this, to ask an actual King or Queen whether their life was like this, he would be told, in no uncertain terms, that being a monarch isn’t at bit like that. Real kings and queens, as opposed to imaginary ones, find they are hemmed in at every turn by the need to do, and say, and think, the thoughts and words and deeds which their kingship obliges them to.

So in order to understand the Kingship of Christ, we must have a more grown-up attitude to kingship than Christopher Robin’s – and there’s nowhere better to look than the New Testament to discover what Jesus and his disciples understood his kingship to mean.

The first mention of kingship in connection with Jesus comes in St Matthew’s Gospel. The Wise Men at the Epiphany ask Herod the King to "show us him who is born King of the Jews". Now Herod himself was the King of the Jews, and throughout his reign he had made it very clear to everyone that he, and he alone, was so. For instance he not only beheaded his wife for conspiring against him, but was prepared to kill all the innocent children in and around Bethlehem to rid himself of this new rival king about whom he understood the Magi were telling him.

In any Kingdom there can only be one king. The others are all what is called Pretenders. So we can expect that wherever Christ is acknowledged as King there will be a good deal of strife as a result amongst those who see their own position threatened. Of course those who, like the Wise Men, realise that the Kingdom of Christ, so far from threatening their kingdoms, will actually make them more secure and valid, and if they cast their crowns before him will have nothing to fear.

Born King of the Jews. Some kings become kings by conquest or political manipulation. Herod the Great was just such a one. He got where he did by shrewd double-dealing, ruthlessness and bribery. Christ’s kingship doesn’t depend on what he has done but on who he is. St Matthew doesn’t say what the Wise Men expected to find when the set out on their journey following the guiding star; it certainly wasn’t an infant in his mother’s arms.. But they instinctively knew that, infant or not, their first duty was to fall down before him and worship him before ever they got onto the business of present-opening.

The next mention of Kingship comes in St John’s gospel where Jesus "realising that they were about to come and make him king" quietly withdrew and hid himself until the mass hysteria of those who had seen what he did with the loaves and fishes had subsided. Now we know for a fact that those people, like their fellow Jews were desperately looking for a King who would overthrow the Roman occupation. So Jesus must have seemed to fill the bill nicely: hew was a charismatic, powerful, devout, miracle worker – what better candidate to fill the post of revolutionary leader?

Jesus thought otherwise. At the risk of disappointing them he refused steadfastly to be the sort of king they were looking for. "My kingdom is not of this world" he said to Pontius Pilate a few months later when was put on trial by the very people who had earlier wanted to make him their king.

It was, in fact, during the days which led up to his death on the cross that Jesus talked most extensively about his Kingship. On Palm Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem meek and sitting upon a donkey. The time had at last come to reveal himself as their king, but he was to be the sort of king that his Heavenly Father, rather than his contemporaries, wished him to be – a king who is the servant of his people and a king of peace. The Jewish people, on the contrary, wanted a soldier king who would lead them into battle with the occupying forces. But Jesus, in answer to Pontius Pilate’s question as to what kind of king he was said quite plainly that his kingdom was "not of this world", otherwise his servants would fight to set him free.

Ironically, of course it was for his claim to be a king that Jesus was put to death. The accusation written over his head by Pilate – much to the annoyance of his accusers – was "This is the King of the Jews". "Don’t write that, screamed the Chief Priest, write rather that he said "I am the king of the Jews". "What I have written I have written", was Pilate’s tart reply. Yet Christians from that day forward have seen the Cross as the Throne from which the Son of God reigns over those who put him there. Of course it was the resurrection proved that the final word lay with Jesus. By rising from the dead Jesus proved that he was more powerful than the last enemy, death; and although death itself will not be destroyed till the end of time, it has been transformed by his resurrection into the gateway of eternal life. Good Friday appeared to be the end of the story – but it wasn’t. In the "determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" the death of the Prince of Life was to be the very means whereby mankind is able to be partakers of eternal life.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, we find Jesus mentioned beside Melchizedek, King of Salem, the priest of the Most High God who came out to meet Abraham bringing Bread and Wine with him. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Melchizedek, the writer tells us means King of Righteousness, and King of Salem means King of Peace. Peace, Righteousness and Bread and Wine all came together two thousand years before Jesus at the hands of Melchizedek and in the presence of Abraham, "the father of those who believe."

Doesn’t it all begin to look extremely suspicious, if I may so put it? It looks as if some powerful Being, existing from all eternity, has been involved from the very beginning of creation in a plan to transform that creation, in the fullness of time, into something different – the Kingdom of God.

To see what that Kingdom means we have to go to the very last book of the Bible, Revelation, where we read that at the end of time "the Kingdom of this world become the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ and he shall reign for ever and ever… and of his Kingdom there shall be no end."

Meanwhile you and I have to live in a world which doesn’t acknowledge Jesus as King and Lord; and if we were perfectly honest with ourselves we would admit that there is part of us that doesn’t even want thus to acknowledge him. For although when life is going well it’s rather pleasant to imagine have a King "somewhere out there" who approves of everything we do, we certainly don’t want him coming closer than that and interfering with our own ambitions, plans and convenience. And when things start going badly then the last thing we want is to be reminded that we have been ignoring him in the meanwhile. We want his help and comfort, but we don’t want to admit that we have failed to be loyal and obedient subjects when we were, so we imagined, the undisputed king of our own lives!.

Yet being king of our own lives, as Christopher Robin thought he would like to be, is a very childish attitude to adopt. How much more grown-up to acknowledge that true maturity consists, not in doing what we think we want to do, but in doing what God in his wisdom has prepared for us to do. Those who submit themselves to him find, curiously enough, that so far from becoming enslaved they are all the time being set free. God, in the words of the old prayer, is the "author of peace and lover of concord": in knowledge of God stands our eternal life, and it’s only in the service of his Son, Christ the King, that perfect freedom will ever be found.

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