“This is the King of the Jews.”
—Luke 23:38 +INPFSS+
If you'll humor me, I want to administer a little quiz:
Let me ask you a question: What nation do you belong to?
And, who is the head of state, at least for the next couple months?
Ok, sadly, you all failed.
But I have good news for you! There's a remedial class available, starting right now, for the next 15 minutes or so...
The correct answers were:
The Church is the nation we belong to.
& Jesus is our head of state.
What am I talking about?
I'm actually not trying to be cute.
Obviously we reside in America, and obviously our president is Barack Obama.
What I am trying to do, is bring forward the political nature of being a Christian.
And let me be clear right up front: This is not a sermon about how a Christian is to engage in American politics. That's an important question, but not what I'm getting at this morning. I'm not talking about Christian politics, I'm talking about Christianity as a political phenomenon in itself.
And what I mean by this is summed up by the very clear claim of Scripture that Jesus is King.
Jesus is King. This Sunday – the last Sunday of the Christian year, before Advent begins, is called Christ the King Sunday.
And the plain-fact right in front of our nose is the political reality of this claim: Christ the King.
It is unfortunate but ubiquitous: We instantly turn this statement into a metaphor when we read or hear it. We think, yes, metaphorically speaking, Jesus is the King. Because he has dignity like a royal, and because he is the Lord of my heart. And what not. Which are all true things, but are much less than the claim that the Scripture is making.
When the Church says Jesus is King. They mean King like President. Like Czar. Like Supreme Leader. Head of State. The installed ruler of a nation.
And what is that Nation? The Kingdom of God. Which, in a short hand sort of way, we can also refer to simply as the Church – and by that I don't mean the building, I mean the great horde of people across the Globe who worship Jesus Christ and who call themselves Christians.
The Church is actually a Nation.
Again – I'm not speaking metaphorically. I mean literally: The Church is a nation. It is a political entity. Granted, it doesn't have some of the features that we are used to other nations having. The Church doesn't have it's own currency like the Yen or the Dollar. Nor does it have a standing military, because it is a nation of peace not of war. Nor does it have a certain contained square-milage of land that you can point to on a map – It's territory is invisible.
But despite these petty differences, the Church is very much a real nation.
So if you are a member of the Church – as all of you are – you actually have a political allegiance that is prior to, that is deeper than, that is more significant than any earthly allegiance.
In as much as the eternal, immortal son of God is more powerful than any human leader. Just so is the Kingdom of God more significant than any earthly Kingdom. Every human nation will eventually fall, but the nation of God will endure forever and ever.
Now, this runs counter to our usual sensibilities doesn't it?
We tend to think, these days, that politically, I am an American, or I am a mexican, or I am British. And spiritually, I am a Christian, or I am a Muslim, or I am a Hindu.
We have two categories.
We think of our visible, public life, as in the domain of politics.
And our invisible, private life, of thoughts and convictions, as in the domain of religion.
But this separation between political and religious identity is a relatively new idea, historically speaking. Prior to the last 150 years or so, the concepts were very much closer together. And in parts of the world today, they still are.
And when it comes to our faith, we frankly have it all wrong if we think it only concerns our private inner lives.
If what we believed were merely a matter of private conviction, really, then why is ISIS killing Christians? If they only had something different in their private worlds, why bother killing them? Why did the Romans persecute the Christians in the early centuries of the Church. Come to think of it: Why was Jesus himself crucified? Think about his trial before Pontius Pilate – the question at hand was simply: Is he the leader of a political organization that was claiming a competitive allegiance to Rome. And the answer of course, was “yes”.
Jesus, and all Christians since, have been killed because the nations in which they were living recognized that what they were claiming had political consequences. That if you swear allegiance to God the Father, through God the Son, then you are at some level NOT signing-on to the political authority of whatever nation you happen to be living in. That you are, thereby, a political threat. And perhaps, need to be crushed. This is why governments throughout the ages have turned on Christians.
Because to be a Christian, is to claim a political allegiance that transcends national governments.
Look at our Christian life through this lens with me:
Can you see?
Our pledge of allegiance is the Creed that we say every Sunday.
Our military salute is the sign of the cross that we make.
Our constitution is the Bible
Our foundational code of law is the Sermon on the Mount, building on the Ten Commandments.
Our main national holidays are Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.
Every Church building is a foreign embassy. Planted in every Nation on this earth, but representing the invisible Kingdom of Jesus.
There is a corps of civil servants: The bishops, priest and deacons.
And each and every one of us Christians, is a foreign ambassador. Here on a lifetime work-visa only. Representing our great land – our true home – to all we encounter.
And one day – and here we touch oncemore on that great Advent theme of the Second Coming of Jesus – one day there will be a great colonisation. A great annexing. A great taking over. And the Kingdom of our God will become the Kingdom of this world. Jesus will appear and every inch of land on this globe will be assumed into his nation, and all people will come to him, either in submission, or in defiance. Either to be received, or struck down.
Jesus is King. And he will be King forever. Now invisibly. But in the future, visibly.
But what does all this mean for us, on this Sunday morning, here in Opelika.
Well, there are three things I think this should cause us to ponder, and live differently because of. Three take-home points:
In the first place, this realization should give scale to our investment in the politics of the nation.
Since we are here as ambassadors of a foreign country, what happens to this country – or to any country on earth – isn't of supreme concern to us. Obviosuly it is of SOME concern. A good visiting dignitary cares about the well-being of his host nation. But whether things are looking up or things are going badly, the ambassador is not greatly shaken either way. It is a matter of secondary importance only.
In the wake of this heated political season that we have come through, I hope you see the immediate application: Whether Donald Trump is amazing or terrible or mediocre, it is not our greatest concern. Whether America prospers or doesn't prosper – again, not of central importance to us.
As Christians, when it comes to matters of national politics – we should have the coolest heads around.
What should be of much greater concern to us – what should occupy much more of our thoughts and prayers and labors – is whether or not we are being loyal citizens of our true Kingdom. Whether our King, when he returns to earth, will find us representing him well, or instead find us assimilating so much with the locals that we are unrecognizable from them. Being given to the things of this world. And politically, whether we have been traitors, and have sworn our whole hearted allegiance to some other country other than the Kingdom of God.
What I mean is: If the earthly nation you're a part of asks you to do something that breaks the law of the Kingdom of God, you don't do it. Because the higher law wins the day. This is the second take-home point
So, for instance, a thought experiment: If you were born into a Christian family in Iran, and the local government was calling on you to pay homage to Mohammed at a national festival. Despite whatever allegiance the nation usually demands, you wouldn't do it right?
And no country in the world, not even these United States, is perfectly Christian in all it does, right? Which means we have to be on our guard a little at all times, when it comes to earthly countries – checking what they are asking us to do verses what God has already told us to do.
But beyond even all of this, I believe the last thing we should take from all this – from this reality that Jesus is King, and that we are citizens of his nation – is to realize the kind of king we have!!
We have just been through an era of scrupulizing the presidential candidates, looking at their deeds and their character and their promises.
Let's use that same lens and look at Jesus. At what kind of a leader, what kind of a King he is.
Have you ever met so benevolent and merciful a leader? So patient with his people, despite their stubbornness. So loving in all he does.
Look at what he did! We were all on death-row, and he transferred the punishment we all deserved on to himself!
Can you imagine any earthly leader doing that for us? Can you imagine the best president of this country – think of George Washington – trading places with a criminal, out of love?
But that's what Jesus did for us, right?
And look again! He invites his citizens to eat at his own table. Every week! We get invited to the King's table! And, miracle of miracles, the food is nothing other than his own mystical body, his own self and life and power. He actually shares his royalty with us too!
And THAT's why we crown him with many crowns. That's why we never have ceased these 2000 years as the Church from being excited and grateful for his reign. Because he IS the KING of Kings. The greatest king there ever was, and ever will be. And his Kingdom is here, now, in part. But soon and very soon, it will be coming visibly and with force, and every tongue will confess, and every knee will bow, to the true ruler of all: Jesus Christ. Amen.