33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34 Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" 35 Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" 36 Jesus answered, "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." 37 Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
A Different Kind of King, A Different Kind of Kingdom
Christ the King Sunday is actually a pretty new festival in the church year. Its roots only go back only to the late 1800's, when the world's great empires--British, American, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Japanese--were all at war or about to go to war somewhere.
The pope of the Roman Catholic Church at the time wrote a letter in which he dedicated the world to Christ the King. In the letter, he reminded the empires that God is present with the whole human race, even with those of other faiths.
After World War I, in 1925, Pope Pius XI inaugurated a Sunday dedicated to Christ as King. Originally Roman Catholics celebrated Christ the King on the last Sunday in October, to precede the feast of All Saints, yet also to counter our celebration of the Reformation. Eventually, when the ecumenical committee for the Revised Common Lectionary, (the group from several mainline denominations that decided the readings for each Sunday in the three year cycle), Christ the King Sunday was moved to its current spot at the end of the church’s calendar, and this emphasizes that at end or culmination of time, Christ will finally reign over all the world.
At the end of time as we know it, Christ will reign supreme, but did you know that Jesus Christ is even now reigning as King over the Kingdom of God, which has already begun to break into this world? He is, of course a different sort of king ruling over a different sort of kingdom.
This becomes apparent when Jesus was being questioned by Pilate. For one thing, even though Jesus is the one being interrogated, He turns the tables and begins to question Pilate. Also, Jesus never directly answers Pilate’s question, “Are you the king of the Jews?” If Jesus had of said “no” – he probably would have been released, for lack of evidence of any wrong doing. If he had of said “yes” – he probably would have been released; Pilate would have thought Jesus was just some sort of deranged peasant who’d been out in the sun too long. Instead, Jesus says, "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."
So Jesus comes out and more or less admits that he is a king, at least he says he has a kingdom – though not of this world. But then, when Pilate pin him down with, “then you are a king,” Jesus just says, “You say that I am a king” – in other words, “I never said that, you did!”
Finally, Jesus reveals his purpose, his reason for coming into this world from his kingdom – “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world -- to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." So, Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom of truth – not a kingdom of power or dominance or riches – those who belong to this kingdom of truth are those who listen to the voice of Jesus.
You’ve heard the maxim, that absolute power corrupts absolutely, but that only applies to mortals. In fact, only the Triune God is well-equipped to wield complete power without being corrupt. Jesus is so powerful that he had the power to lay down his power for a time. Let’s look at a couple of human examples of what that looks like from great historical world leaders:
During the Revolutionary War, King George III of England, America's enemy in that time, felt terrible about the loss of the colonies in the New World. It was said, in fact, that for the rest of his life, he could not say the word "independence" without tripping over it. He was an odd duck in many ways, but he had good insights. When England was defeated and the fighting in America stopped, King George and all his royal cronies in Europe were sure that George Washington would have himself crowned "Emperor of the New World" – because, that's what they would have done. When King George was told, on the contrary, that Washington planned to surrender his military commission and return to farming at Mt. Vernon, George III said, "Well, if he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world." There is power in giving up power, in emptying oneself. Jesus knew it, Pilate didn't. And of course, Jesus ultimately wins, and Pilate – who was trying to hang on to power – ultimately loses. William R. Boyer, A Confusion of the Heart
Gandhi was another great leader. He was known for his strength and yet pacifism at the same time. In the published diaries of Joseph Goebbels, the infamous Nazi Propagandist, there are two or three references to Mahatma Gandhi. Goebbels believed that Gandhi was a fool and a fanatic. If Gandhi had the sense to organize militarily, Goebbels thought, he might hope to win the freedom of India. He was certain that Gandhi couldn’t succeed following a path of non-resistance and peaceful revolution. Yet as history played itself out, India peacefully won her independence while the Nazi military machine was destroyed. What Goebbels regarded as weakness actually turned out to be strength. What he thought of as strength turned out to be weakness. Kevin M. Pleas, Sufficient Grace
Jesus Christ is the King of kings, and according to Phil 2, though he was God, he humbled himself to the lowest level; initially it appeared as if he had lost and was humiliated and scorned. But in actuality, His coronation was the cross. Jesus has been exalted to the highest level. He sits enthroned today. And though he is the rightful, TRUE king, of us all – church goers and other sinners – we all still find it difficult to fully follow the truth and listen to his voice. We still, too often, disobey his voice – denying the kingdom to which we belong.
The good news is that Jesus still claims us, washes us, forgives us in baptism and gives us power through the Holy Spirit to be witnesses for Christ. We await that final day when he will come and claim all humanity and all the cosmos to be under his rule of truth and mercy.
Starting next Sunday, we begin another church year, another year of anticipating Christ’s coming. We will celebrate and remember his gentle coming – not as a corruptible four- or five-star general or ruthless king who oppresses his people from a throne – but in an unlikely way, as a baby born to poor folk who had nowhere to go but a stable to have the royal birth. The first witnesses were not the rich and powerful of this world, but the animals and rugged shepherds who lived in the fields and slept with their flocks at night. We will sing carols and tell the old, old story of this different kind of King, who brought us a different kind of kingdom.
This is not just an exercise in history telling and remembering – for we are also anticipate Christ’s coming again as the King of Kings and Lord of lords. Every year it gets nearer to that day. Welcome to the season of Advent!