Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Sermon - Midweek Advent 3 - "Christ our King"

1 Samuel 16:1-13 David is anointed as king
Philippians 2:1-11 “Every knee shall bow”
Matthew 2:1-12 “Where is he that is born king?”

So far in this Advent Season we've seen Christ as our prophet – the appointed messenger of God's word, the ultimate messenger, who himself is the message, the very Word of God made flesh, now dwelling among us.

And we've also seen Christ as our great High Priest, who has offered the once-and-for-all sacrifice for sin, the sacrifice of himself on the cross, and yet still intercedes for us his people. He even makes us, believers, together, a royal priesthood – with sacrifices and prayers of our own to offer to God in his name.

And the final office of this Old Testament triad – the king – Christ also fulfills most excellently. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, as Handel's Messiah joyfully sings, and as John saw written on his robes and thigh in the vision of Revelation.

But just as there's more to it than first appears when it comes to his role as prophet and priest, so also his office of king. Jesus as king shows us more than just his awesome, almighty, top-dog in creation power. It's far more to us than just an acknowledgment of his omnipotence. Yes, he's the most powerful, we get that. But how does that benefit us? Why is it such good news that he is king?

Once again we turn to the Old Testament for some direction. There we see the office of king held by many mere men, none of whom did so perfectly. But if there is one who was regarded as the greatest, it was surely king David. David, the shepherd boy who felled the giant Goliath with a sling. David, who killed tens of thousands of Philistines and brought honor and glory to Israel. David, who though anointed to be king even as a youth - would wait patiently for his time, even when King Saul wanted him dead. David, a man after God's own heart, whom God promised to build a house, a dynasty, that would last forever.

Now, David wasn't perfect. We know his sin with Bathsheba, and his murder of her husband Uriah the Hittite. We know who the consequences of this sin reverberated in David's own family, and though his son Solomon would inherit the throne, he too was far from perfect. And in the next generation the kingdom split into two, never to unite on earth again. Both kingdoms saw a succession of kings, some good but mostly bad, some faithful but most of them turning to other gods. And so God, through the Assyrians and then the Babylonians, brought and end to the kings of Israel. He cut down the mighty tree of David's royal family, into a stump – the stump of Jesse. And the monarchy was done. Davidic dynasty over. David's house had fallen.

But God had made a promise. And our God keeps his promises.  And so a shoot would come forth from that stump of Jesse. God would restore the fallen booth of David into a mighty house. The king would rise again, and his throne is established forever. Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Yes, of course, it's Jesus. Jesus the long-expected king.

The wise men knew it.  They saw his star in the East and they came to worship this king.  They asked the worldly king, Herod, but he could see only a threat to his own power.  Nonetheless, we remember the visit of the magi and their gifts fit for a king, fit for the Christ.

When we think of a king, we think mostly of his authority to rule and govern.  The king is the singular head of a government, the big dog that sets all the smaller dogs to yapping.  His word is law.  We as Americans may pride ourselves on breaking away from King George and governing ourselves.  At least if you have to have a king you hope for a just and fair king, who applies his laws equally.

But a king is not only meant to be a ruler.  He's also supposed to be a protector.  He doesn't just send the armies into battle, but he leads the charge.  He who governs well keeps his people safe from the enemy.  This is one reason King David got into trouble with Bathsheba – he wasn't doing what he was supposed to as king – leading the armies – but shirked his duty, sat in the safety of his palace and succumbed to temptations.

In Jesus Christ, we have a perfect king.  David's Son, but also David's Lord.  He rules the peoples with equity.  His justice is fair, he does not show favoritism, but applies the same law to all his subjects.  But even though we are a rebellious people, still our King leaves his royal throne behind to come walk our streets, breathe our poisoned air, and bear upon himself our burden of sin. He takes the rightful punishment for all-law-breaking law-breakers.  He who would judge all, puts himself under the sentence of death.

And thus he is also our protector.  While earthly kings ride horses and chariots into battle against their enemies in battles near and far, this king fights for us, our champion, the valiant one.  He conquers, not by sword or spear, but by being pierced, bruised, stricken and smitten.  He brings peace not by glorious victory, but in the humble suffering and sacrifice of the cross.  There is his throne, our king, our Christ.  Our Lord and Protector.  A crown of thorns.  A staff they used to beat him.  A mocking purple robe put on him and ripped off.  Homage paid by soldiers spitting and pharisees wagging heads.  His royal court – condemned thieves, Roman dogs, and grieving onlookers.  And the sign above him, written by the earthly governor who condemned him, “This is the king of the Jews”.

Our King has come.  He came as a babe in Bethlehem, but a humble king.  Honored by wise foreigners and lowly shepherds, but despised by the kings of this world.  Our king has come, humble and riding a donkey, a prince of peace, who comes to bring us peace.  Our king has come into his glory, in the dark shame and bleak suffering of the cross.  And our king has conquered death and brought life and immortality to light.  Death cannot contain him.  He rises again, for you, for all.  Death has no victory.  Death has no sting.

Now it's true, his kingdom is not of this world.  So he told the king's representative who gave the order to crucify him.  Jesus' kingdom is far more than this world.  The Kingdom of God is the reign and rule of God in the hearts of men.  It is the gracious activity of God to bring about his purposes, in accord with his plan.  It is the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word, to convict the world in regard to sin, and to point us, drive us to Christ for our forgiveness.  Jesus' kingdom is a kingdom not only of power, but also of grace.  It is a kingdom exercised in the church, through the proclamation of the Good News, and through the administration of the Sacraments.  You want to see Jesus as king? See him in the water of baptism, claiming sinners as his own.  See him under humble bread and wine, his body and blood truly present.  The king has come, and the king still comes to his people to rule, and to protect.

But the king will come again.  He will come again in glory, to judge both the living and the dead.  And his kingdom will have no end.  We think on this at the end of the church year, and also at its beginning, in Advent.  He came, he comes, and will come again.  And when he comes again it will not be in humility but in all the glory of God that is rightly his.  All eyes will see him.  There will be no mistaking it.  And, we are told, every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  Every knee will bow, either in faith as his righteous children and loyal subjects, or in fear of the just punishment to come for those that reject his grace.

St. Paul wrote to Timothy from prison,

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;  (2 Timothy 2:8-12a)

Take heart, you loyal subjects, for you also share in this reign.  For you are a priesthood after your great high priest, and you are a royal priesthood, for your priest is also the king.  And his reign and rule he shares with those who are his own.  We have what even the angels cannot claim, a promised crown of righteousness awaiting us in glory.  We have access to the king forever, who will dwell among us and has become and will always remain one of us.  True God, True Man, Prophet, Priest and King forever.  Join the angels, the prophets, the apostles, the martyrs and all the saints of God in singing the praises of our King, for he has done all things well.

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