Preach, The Seed

Some gospel accounts (at each end of the life of Jesus) which will remind us of how central and important the kingship of Jesus is:

 Matthew 2:1-12 (Epiphany) 📖

‘Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way’.

John 12:12-16 (Palm Sunday) 📖

‘The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna! ’”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the King of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,
“Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”
At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realise that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him’

John 18:33-37 (in front of Pilate) 📖

‘Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

And at the end on the cross, Pilate had a sign hung on the cross above Jesus’ head which read ‘the King of the Jews’ (all 4 gospels record this fact). What it means that Jesus is our King is the subject of today’s message.

History and Background

God’s original intent for his people was that they should have no human king. The Jews were supposed to be different to the nations around them who all were subject to kings. The people of God were to have one king and one king only: God himself. This is clearly understood by the prophets. So, for example, we read:

  • Isaiah 43:15 where God declares to Israel: ‘I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Or Isaiah 44:6-8, which declares that there is no God like the God of Israel, and in v6, he says: ‘Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel’
  • In Malachi 1:14 God says: ‘Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations’.
  • Zechariah 14 describes the ‘day of the lord’ & 14:9 says that on that day: ‘the LORD will be king over all the earth. And 16-17 speaks of people going up to worship the King, the Lord of hosts’.

So, when we read about the kings of Israel and Judah, of David, Saul, Solomon, and all the other kings, we are reading about something that isn’t part of God’s intent for His people.

We can read about how the Israelites clamour for a king in 1 Samuel 8. The prophet Samuel who was viewed by the tribes of Israel as their leader was getting old, and his sons were, let’s say, not exactly a chip off the old block. They are described like this: ‘ his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice’ (1 Samuel 8:3). The elders of Israel gather, go to Samuel the prophet and demand a king.

This is significant because, as God says to Samuel in v7, ‘it’s not you they’ve rejected, it’s me’: ‘the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them’. The people of Israel really missed the point, they shouldn’t have asked for a king, and the fact they did shows us just how far they were from God, how much they’d missed the point. The passage in Samuel goes on to describe and point out the consequences of human kingship:

‘So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and YOU SHALL BE HIS SLAVES. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day’ (1 Samuel 8:10-18).

Even after that description, the people say: ‘we don’t care! We want a king!’

So Samuel anoints Saul as king. Saul makes such a pig’s ear of being a king that David is chosen. David for all of his love and his heart after God had so much blood on his hands that he was not permitted to complete the temple. Solomon fails as king, and the kingdom is divided into Israel (Northern) and Judah (Southern). Then we see a succession of Kings in both kingdoms, both good and bad – but none perfect. And by the time Jesus was born, the king of the Jews (Herod) was not actually a pure Jew, he was a half-breed (a Jew of Idumean descent), a puppet king, put on the throne by the Romans.

The crowds who hailed Christ as King on what we call Palm Sunday, and the Roman soldiers who nailed the sign ‘king of the Jews’ above Christ’s head on the cross a week later had no idea of the significance of what they were saying. The crowds were caught up in the moment, the Roman soldiers nailed the sign up as an insult. In both cases they were declaring a profound truth. Though they didn’t know it, as God, Jesus is the only legitimate King of the Jews. It’s almost as if the crucifixion is a coronation which once again reinstates God himself as king of His people!

But Jesus is also King of the Jews by virtue of His birth. Because He is descended from David, he can lay claim to the kingship of Israel by human ancestry as well. I believe this is the reason Matthew takes great pains to carefully trace Jesus’ genealogy at the start of his gospel.

So Jesus is King by virtue of His human ancestry, but He is also king by virtue of His divinity: no one is better qualified to be king than Christ.

When we think about Jesus as king, we think of the human model of kingship we see around us. It’s not quite the same as that which was spelled out by Samuel, but it’s not actually that far off. Nowadays there are very few ‘royal’ families, we tend to use terms like president and they are elected rather than inherited positions, but the control they exercise is not so dissimilar. Some nations elect a body of people, and invest authority in a group rather than an individual, and as Benjamin Martin in the film ‘The Patriot’ pointed out: ‘an elected legislature can trample a man’s rights as easily as a king can’. However they lead or govern themselves, human societies overwhelmingly reject the idea that the ultimate king is God himself.

The human model of leadership (whether by an individual King, Queen, Sultan, Caliph or President, or by a Senate, Parliament, Polit Bureau or Cabinet) is so far removed from how Christ rules as king that there is simply no comparison. I could describe for you all what a king does and what kingship as we would see it means, but I believe that this is not even a poor reflection of how Christ is our king. In fact, John 6:15 describes Jesus withdrawing because he knew the people wanted to make him a king according to human understandings, and in John 18:36 he says this:

‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place’. If, then we restrict our understanding of Jesus’ kingship to that which we see in earthly kings, then we are missing something.

How Jesus truly fulfils his function of king.

Neither Temporal nor Geographical

Ephesians 1:20-22, tells us that Christ was raised from the dead and is seated at the right hand of God in the heavenly places, ‘far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come’.

1 Corinthians 15:24-25 says that at the end Christ will deliver the kingdom to God the Father ‘after destroying every rule and every authority and power’, and that ‘he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet’.

Jesus’ kingship is not over a physical, geographical area. Though, since He is the king of all the earth, perhaps I should say not ‘just’ over a physical, geographical area. It is, as Paul says, a kingship over the heavenly places as well, ‘far above all rule authority, and power and dominion’. We also tend to think in terms of the future when we think of Jesus as king, especially when we look at passages like Revelation 15:3, 17:14 & 19:16, which put Christ’s kingship into the future, but Christ won’t be the king of kings, he is the king of kings. The passages that we have just read say all power and authority has been given, not will be, but has been, Jesus is already our king.

We live in a world that is full of chaos and turmoil – this last year (over the last few years) we’ve seen dictators fall, we’ve seen uprisings and struggles for geographical power, and we’ll see more as the years progress. We need to constantly be aware as we look at these things on our TVs that our king is above all these things.

Not about power or Status

The picture we have of the kings and queens and presidents around us tells us nothing of Jesus’ kingship. Human role models look for authority, power and status, but the role model we have for kingship is quite different. Jesus does not lord it over us, he does not follow the modern, or indeed any human example of kingship, and His example of Kingship is one of a servant. The key passage here, I believe is Philippians 2:6ff (📖) which describes Jesus:

‘Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father’.

Two other passages also illustrate what kind of king Jesus was, and what kind of authority we are to have as his representatives –

John 13:3-5 (📖)‘Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and what? – He didn’t do anything that emphasised or drew attention to his power, he – wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him’. The passage confirms for us that Christ is Lord: v13 ‘you call me teacher and lord, and rightly so for that is what I am’. But it also confirms that Jesus’ example here is one which we are to follow: vv14,15 ‘Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you’. This is not an example you would find any King, Queen, or President giving us!

Matthew 20:25-28 (📖) ‘Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’.

Jesus turns the disciple’s ideas of what authority is all about on its head. It is not about wearing a crown and accepting the tributes of the people, it is about becoming the servant of all and preferring other’s needs.

Not about force

The Jews of Jesus’ day were sick of being under the rule of Rome, they were looking for a leader, a king who would overthrow the Romans and usher in a new time of victory and prosperity for the nation. They looked back to the kingdoms of David and Solomon and the king they were looking for was a king from out of the same mould, a king who would give them political victory, victory in battle, victory over their enemies – the oppressors of God’s people. This is why I believe they were caught up in the moment of that day – they wanted a release.

So in John 6 when we read that Jesus withdrew from the crowds because He knew that they intended to make him king, it adds the detail that their intention was to do so by force (John 6:15). The essence of one of the temptations of Christ is very similar, ‘Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you”, he said, “if you will bow down and worship me”’. (Matthew 4:8,9). Jesus resisted the temptation of Satan to conform to the world’s idea of what a king was, and He, by his life and example, showed us what His kingship is like.

To consider …

On Palm Sunday, the crowds are shouting and praising God and celebrating the entrance of the King into the city. A week later they are rejecting Him and clamouring for his execution. What about us? Are we going to be like the Israelites and proclaim Jesus as our King one minute and reject Him the next?

In John 6 we read the account of how Jesus feeds 5,000 people. If we read on, we find Jesus trying to get away and have some down time. The crowds chase him and John records Him giving some teaching to which the crowds respond by leaving him. He turns to the disciples and says ‘are you going to leave me as well?’

The Bible says we must not allow ourselves to be swayed by every wind of teaching, Jesus says ‘let your yes be yes’. Too many people swing backwards and forwards in our faith and commitment. Too many of us fail to understand that commitment to Jesus should not be fickle. We also fail to understand that commitment to Jesus carries with it a commitment to His body.

What does Paul say? ‘And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body’ (1 Corinthians 12:16), and ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”’ (1 Corinthians 12:21).

This morning I believe God is challenging us about our stability – when we make promises, do we follow though? Matthew 21:28-31 (📖) is a parable Jesus told about this:

‘“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you”’

Who is our King?

There is a theme, or refrain which runs through the book of Judges which speaks to this:‘In those days Israel had no king—everyone did as he saw fit in his own eyes’ (Judges 17:6; 21:25 for example).

When that attitude infects the church and its leadership, we are in BIG trouble! Dogmatic and abusive leadership in churches is so abhorrent to God because it is the one place on this earth that leadership should be Godly and the ultimate authority should be God himself. Thankfully, we can rest confident that all leaders in the church will ultimately answer to God for how they lead: Hebrews 13:17 says: ‘Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you’.

Following your own desires and ambitions is not, however, confined to leadership, and neither is bad leadership permission or justification for ignoring the kingship of Jesus over our lives and living as we see fit. Too often we claim to be Christians, and we live as if our king is not our king, or we don’t want a king to rule over us, we want to rule ourselves.

Since the Queen died in September, I have watched an increase in people who think that as a nation we should abolish the royal family. They are Republicans. My observation is that they haven’t fully considered what will happen if we DO abolish the royal family. What will happen is that we will ‘gain’ a president which will almost certainly be an elected and political appointment (I for one think politicians have far too much control over our lives as it is). We will simply be replacing one king for another, we might not call him or her a king or queen, but a king or queen they will be nevertheless.

The same is true in our spiritual experience. Many people live as ‘Christian republicans’, they claim to be citizens of the kingdom of God, but they reject the concept that Christ being king in their lives means they obey him. Instead, in practice, they live out their daily lives as republicans, deciding for themselves what is right and wrong, good and bad, rather than following their king. I did this throughout my teenage years, and it wasn’t until I went to Billy Graham that I switched allegiance from being a Christian republican to a Christian royalist. I gave my allegiance to my king—the King of kings.

Which are you? You are either a subject of the king of kings, and a citizen of his kingdom or you are not. Our salvation is not a ticket to a different destination when we die; it is a passport: it declares our citizenship now. (Read the front of my passport) when I go to France, or Belgium or Holland, or wherever, I do not leave my citizenship at passport control, I take it with me. We have not left our citizenship in heaven, like some kind of reward to be collected if we make the grade. It is already ours! Because the king himself has given it – we don’t have to save our smiles for heaven! (It is not pie in the sky when you die; it is steak on your plate while you wait!) – Let’s live, then like we believe it!

It all boils down to Choice: I do not make Christ king in my life or in specific areas of my life when I choose not to yield to his kingship. Jesus will not take my life and obedience by force like an earthly king, He asks for it, he deserves it, but he will not force it on me. If there is an element of your life where you feel that Christ is not victorious, it is possible that you have not yet made him king there. Just as Jesus refused to win the earth by force, he refuses to force his way into our lives, or the lives of people around us. (Incidentally that is why the crusades failed). Likewise, we cannot, we must not try to force others to believe, we must follow Christ’s example, show them he is king of our lives, and when they respond to him, he truly will be king.