It wasn’t until I came into sustained contact with Anglicans
that I realised this Sunday in the liturgical year had the deep and spiritual
theme of … Christmas puddings. From my Anglican friends I learned that today,
the last Sunday before Advent, had become known as ‘Stir Up Sunday’. The Prayer
Book collect that begins with the beautiful words, ‘Stir up O Lord the will of
thy faithful people’ becomes a jumping-off point for another sort of stirring,
the stirring of a pudding.
But today is a day for God’s faithful people to be stirred
up, for today is celebrated as the Feast Of Christ The King. And while some wonder whether this feast would
better be celebrated on Ascension Day [cf.
Dudley Coates’ article in Methodist
Recorder 23rd November 2006] the fact that we do mark today
the festival of the Coming King is something that should ‘stir us up’ as
disciples of Jesus.
1. His Accession
Brits are familiar with the story of the current Queen being
at Treetops in Kenya
in 1952 when she heard of her father’s death. His death meant she acceded to
the Crown. She became Queen then. She did not have to wait until her coronation
the following year. Her accession was upon her father’s death.
The curious thing about Jesus’ accession to the throne of
the divine kingdom is that it happens on the occasion of his death. These few verses in Revelation are saturated with
references to his suffering and death. He is ‘the firstborn of the dead’ (verse
5); he ‘loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood’ (verse 5b); ‘every
eye will see him, even those who pierced him’ (verse 7). Even the title of
‘faithful witness’ (verse 5) could be an indirect hint, given that his life as
a witness to God’s truth led to his death and that the Greek word for ‘witness’
is the one from which we derive our word ‘martyr’ (Robert Mounce, The Book Of Revelation, p 70). It is in
this context that he is said to be ‘the ruler of the kings of the earth’ (verse
In other words, Jesus is revealed as King on the Cross. The place of degrading
punishment; the place of terrible and final public shame; the place where
Jewish belief would see someone as under God’s curse; this is the place where
we learn the kingship of Jesus.
Why? Because it is the place of victory. Here, Jesus takes
the worst that sin and darkness can throw at him and turns it around. He
absorbs their worst so that those who put their faith in him do not need to. He
does this out of love and thus frees us from our sins by his blood (verse 5b).
He is king, because he triumphs over his enemies of sin and shame. But he
triumphs in a way that is completely contrary to normal expectations of
victory. He wins not by violence but by suffering, not by vengeance but by
forgiveness, not by imposition but by vulnerable love.
So what does this mean for us? It first of all calls for a
response. If this is how God in Christ conquers evil in the world, then we need
to welcome this for ourselves, for his victory in our lives. I mean that basic
response of the Gospel where we give up our own futile efforts to become better
people and embrace the Cross as our place of forgiveness, the removal of our
shame and the power to live a new life. It’s the old Gospel issue of turning
from our sins (repentance) and holding out the empty hands of faith to receive
the undeserved benefits of Christ.
It also means a new lifestyle for us. If Jesus conquers by
suffering love then we are called to do the same. The use of aggression to
force our will on others is not the way of Christ, however much we may be
persuaded of the rightness and importance of our convictions. Brian McLaren recently said,
“I’m not sure it’s correct to say that
it’s more important to be kind than right but I can say that if you are not
kind you are not right.”
I’m not after saying that things don’t matter, nor am I
baptising a British attitude of ‘After you’ – ‘No, after you’. Things matter
passionately. But sometimes we elevate programmes and principles above people.
If we see that Jesus is king at the Cross we can no longer coerce people, we
can only love them. We can no longer trample on people, we can only serve them.
I am not asking us to put away convictions, but I am saying we need to note
that the kingship of Jesus on the Cross gives us a radically different way of
And that’s a change we need to play out in decision-making
at church; in seeking the best for our community; in our working lives; and in
our relationships with family and friends. It matters for Christians to live
like this, because Jesus’ kingship is seen first of all at the Cross.
2. His Kingdom
You can’t be a king and not have a kingdom. And Revelation
speaks here of Jesus’ kingdom. It says he has ‘made us to be a kingdom, priests
serving his God and Father, to whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever.
Amen.’ (verse 6)
Now in New Testament terms this is an unusual way of
speaking about the kingdom
of God. Most New
Testament references to God’s kingdom put all the emphasis on God acting in
kingly power. The kingdom is where God is acting as king. But here the emphasis
is on the people – the citizens or subjects of the kingdom, if you like. The
expectation here, then, is that those of us who have responded to the Gospel of
the King on the Cross are people where Christ is acting in kingly power.
But what does that mean? In what sense are we people where
Christ is acting as king? It means that we have in the eyes of God a certain
royal standing by virtue of our connection with Christ (Mounce, p 72). I can
gaze around this worship area and see a collection of royalty – princes and
princesses, one and all. Not that I expect to see any of us opening up our
glittering homes for the benefit of Hello
magazine’s photographers; and nor does this mean that we lord it over
others – that should be clear from the fact of Jesus acceding to his throne at
But I do see us as sharing in delegated divine authority.
Most particularly I see this in the area of prayer. I do not think it is any
coincidence that being a kingdom is immediately linked to being ‘priests
serving his God and Father’ (verse 6). Priests are people with direct access to
God. We have right of access into the royal court. We are granted a regular
audience with the king. We are praying
priests, bearing the needs of people and the world into the King’s presence. I
know that for many of us, myself included, prayer often degenerates into
drudgery and burden, but perhaps those are the times we have forgotten the
incredible privilege of being priests of the kingdom. And as we fulfil that
calling faithfully under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we then see God acting
in kingly power – his kingdom is seen because of our prayers, prayers he
invited us to make.
But we are also serving
priests: we are ‘priests serving his God and Father’. Royalty we may be, and
with access to divine royalty, but nevertheless we are servants of the king. It
was recently said by the historian David Starkey that Tony Blair has done more
to protect the survival of the monarchy than anyone, because few people want a
republic after seeing his presidential style. And in a recent film that dramatised the
events surrounding Princess Diana’s death, there is a wonderful scene where the
recently elected Tony Blair (played by Michael
Sheen) starts asking the Queen (played by Helen Mirren) some questions, during his
audience with her to ‘kiss hands’ as a sign of his loyalty to her. ‘Mr Blair, I ask the questions,’ says the Queen.
The United Kingdom
might be a constitutional monarchy where the Queen acts on the advice of her
ministers, but she wanted to leave him in no doubt who was truly Head of State.
So it is with us. We can presumptuously rush into talking
with God, forgetting who the ‘Head of State’ is. We are welcome, but we do not
give the orders. It is our responsibility to listen for direction and respond
in obedience. That is part of the nature of being priests in the kingdom. When
he speaks about the things that contradict his kingdom, such as sin, injustice,
pain and suffering, serving priests obediently respond to his message – both in
correcting our own lives and in serving in the world.
Finally, as well as being praying and serving priests, we
are worshipping priests: ‘to him be
glory and dominion forever and ever.’ Glory connotes praise and honour,
dominion represents power and might (Mounce, p 72). Worship is profoundly
connected to the kingdom
of God in the New
Testament. The main Greek word for ‘worship’ is proskunvew,
which means ‘to move towards and kiss’ – not in a romantic sense, but in the
sense of offering the kiss of homage to a monarch. It is the posture of
kneeling before the king, like the magi before the young Jesus and opening
their treasures for him. So, because Christ reigns, we kneel before him and
offer him all that we are and all that we have.
3. His Coronation
We are living in between the accession of Jesus to his
throne and his coronation over all creation. Truly he is king but it is not
universally recognised as such. But Revelation anticipates that day:
‘Look! He is coming with the clouds;
eye will see him,
Even those who pierced him;
on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.’
He is coming with the clouds of divine glory and presence.
One day there will be no mistaking him. All will know that God has made Jesus
All of which makes for a dilemma. If we are fulfilling our
calling as kingdom priests then we are responding positively to his reign now.
We are anticipating the world to come. But others are not, and in the meantime
are not merely apathetic but living in direct opposition to his kingdom. In
doing so they have terrible disdain for his followers.
And this was the very context for which the Book of
Revelation was written. Not to give detailed coded predictions about when the
end of the world would come and who would be the Antichrist, but to sustain
disciples of Jesus in following him in the midst of a Roman
Empire that instituted state persecution against them, probably
under the Emperor Domitian around AD 95. The news that King Jesus will be
crowned is both comfort and challenge.
It is comfort for those who are faithfully serving Jesus as
his kingdom priests despite opposition and even suffering. That is why in verse
8 God is described as ‘the Almighty’ and ‘the Alpha and the Omega’, because he
is the beginning and the end, and everything in between. He is not just the A
and Z; he is the A to Z.
I found another sermon
on this subject on the Internet which had a wonderful illustration of this. The
Revd Charles Royden of Bedford
talks about the Mel Gibson
film ‘We Were Soldiers’.
Gibson plays Lieutenant Colonel Harold Moore, who led a cavalry battalion of
American soldiers in the Vietnam war. Moore
was a devout Catholic, with a wife and five children. Before going into battle,
Moore says this
to his troops:
are moving into the Valley of the Shadow of Death where you will watch the back
of the man next to you, as he will watch yours, and you won’t care what colour
he is, or by what name he calls God. We are going into battle against a tough
and determined enemy. I can’t promise you that I will bring you all home alive.
But this I swear… when we go into battle, I will be the first to step on the
field and I will be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind…
dead or alive. We will all come home together.’
True to his word, in a savage battle, Moore lands first and leaves last. Not just
the A and Z, but the A to Z. The General was with his soldiers throughout. And
in our case the sovereign Lord is with us from start to finish, not asking more
of us than he asked of himself. The one who will be crowned king stands with us
in the face of trials.
That is the comfort of knowing Jesus will be crowned king.
But what of the challenge? We see it in the words that even the eyes of those
who pierced Jesus will see him, and the tribes of the earth will wail. The
knowledge that Christ will be crowned king is a fundamental challenge to those
who reject him – not only those who participated in piercing him on the Cross,
but ‘the tribes of the earth’ too. This passage in Revelation doesn’t spell out
what might happen as a result – although later passages do. At this point it is
a stark challenge that the reign of Christ requires a response.
And that challenge takes us back to comfort, strangely. For
this is the reassurance those early disciples, facing persecution. Their tormentors
will be called to account.
We may not face the torture and suffering those early
Christians did, although thousands and millions of our brothers and sisters in
the faith do. We face increased discrimination against our faith, though. Ours
is the culture where uniformed British Airways staff members are not permitted
to wear a cross. Ours is the society where university Christian Unions are
because their officers sign a basis of faith or they teach that sex is only for
marriage. We may be sure that God sees this. He may act in the here and now to
defend his people. But if he permits the trial, we can be sure he will act when
his Son Jesus is crowned King of Creation.
In the meantime we who follow Jesus who acceded to the
throne at the Cross may have to walk the way of the Cross, too. But we do so as
his subjects, the priests of the kingdom who have the incomparable joy of being
welcomed into his presence for prayer, service and worship. And one day we
shall witness the coronation, when he will reign without rivalry or rebellion.
For that day we pray, and in the meantime we witness faithfully to him,
trusting that if we face opposition, vindication is coming.
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