Monday, 23 November 2015

Christ the King.

When you listen to Jesus speak in the gospels you will have heard him refer to himself as “the Son of Man”. In fact that was his favourite way of referring to himself as in....”Foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). Now, unless you know the Biblical reference all the connotations wrapped up that phrase will pass you by.
Jesus is referring to, and identifying with, a character that appears in the book of Daniel in this wonderful prophetic vision  which starts with God himself, referred to as the “ancient of days”. The white clothing and white hair denotes eternity and wisdom, the fire denotes purity and holiness.
The climax of this vision is when one like a “Son of Man” or “like a human being”(NRSV translation) is presented to God and this “Son of man” is given dominion and glory and kingship.
Jesus is quite definitely taking upon himself this persona, this mantle, when he uses this phrase.
So when Daniel writes about this kingship being everlasting and indestructible, he is prophesying the everlasting indestructible kingship of the risen Jesus. And today this Sunday is denoted “Christ the King”
The book of Daniel is written in a particular Hebrew idiom called “Apocalyptic” and the most well known piece of apocalyptic literature in the New Testament is the book of revelation. It is impossible to understand Revelation without reference to the book of Daniel and Revelation takes this image and expands it and boldly states that this everlasting kingdom is the slain and risen Jesus, the first-born from the dead.
The first-born note. He is the first of many to follow, and we the saints will follow and be in that number, as the famous hymn says;
The first-born from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth and has freed us from our sins by his blood. And then revelation says something rather interesting which refers back to my sermon last week. Verse 6, says “he made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father”. Reference to a common priesthood yet again note, and not a separate caste.
And this picks up a yet more extraordinary sentence in the book of Daniel. It isn’t in our piece we heard today but if you read on in verse 27 it says this;
The Dominion given to Jesus in verse 14 of Daniel, in verse 27 that dominion is given to “the people of the Holy ones of the most high” That is us! Quite extraordinary; Jesus reigns through us!
This chimes with Saint Paul’s description of the church as the “body of Christ”. How is Christ’s dominion exercised on earth? Christ’s dominion is exercised through his body on earth, the church. He works and exercises his rule and power through us by his Holy Spirit. How is Christ present to us here today, now. He is present by his Holy Spirit, the eternal Spirit, the same Spirit that rested on Jesus when he was baptised by John. The Spirit that guided Jesus is the same spirit that dwells in us and when we attune ourselves to the Holy Spirit we do Christ’s work.
I am reminded of that great prayer written by St. Theresa of Avila.
Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks
With compassion on this world.
What a responsibility and privilege we have because we can do the work of Christ ourselves.
And now we turn to the gospel passage itself. That Jesus was crucified with the charge against him fixed to the cross “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” is one of the best attested facts in the ancient world.
It is good to realise at this point that crucifixion, although common was not the punishment for any old misdemeanour. Crucifixion, a particularly cruel and unusual punishment was reserved for sedition, for enemies of the state, so that even the so-called thieves on the cross would also have been involved in anti-Roman activities.
Jesus was crucified as an enemy of the state, perceived as a political rival to the Roman empire and particularly the Roman state.
For the early Christian church, we nowadays have little idea how dangerous it was to proclaim Christ as “King” for to proclaim Christ as King meant that you owed your allegiance to Him and not to Caesar. To proclaim Christ as king is a political statement, and indicates whose authority you recognise and who you obey, and if properly understood can be as dangerous today as it was then and just as potent. Consider Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu or the liberation theologies in South America.
With those people in mind it is time to consider the nature of this kingdom to which when we acknowledge Christ as King we belong.  
The authority of Jesus comes not from the world but from his intimacy with the Father, and so by default so must ours.
Jesus was a witness to the truth about ourselves and about God and he testified to the truth not only by his words but by his acts and his death. He suffered for the truth and if we listen to his voice we will be on the same road and must expect opposition. But our comfort is to be found in the knowledge that in testifying, and contending for truth we are continuing His work in building the Kingdom of God.
Going back to where we started in the book of Daniel, the beasts that emerged from the sea, who represented the evil kingdoms of the earth (modern purveyors of evil like Islamic state are just one of scores of examples past and present) will be subject to divine judgement and on earth they will be overcome ultimately not by a similar and opposite force, but by faithfulness to goodness and truth.

That is who are and will be, a community bound together by the Hoy Spirit and faithful to the goodness and truth revealed in Jesus Christ, the man whose authority and leadership we recognise, our King Jesus Christ. 

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