I wonder if you have ever thought what it would have been like if you had been born into royalty. Thoughts of what a vastly different way of life you would have had compared to that which we have experienced over the years. Somehow the thought of being a King with everybody running around after me, doing whatever I commanded has a certain ring to it. No money worries, the ability to jet off to sunnier climes, servants to do the menial tasks and grand palaces to live in. It does sound rather idyllic, doesn’t it.
In today’s society the monarchy do not rule the country but the queen reigns as a figure of national unity, an ambassador, a focus figure for all the values of commonwealth and nation that have evolved over the decades. O! to be King of Roker I hear myself saying. It would be nice to walk around with a crown upon my head, that feeling of self importance, telling people what to do, and even my own pew when I choose to attend church or the royal box if I go to the theatre.
So how do we think of kingship? Do we see a king as an all powerful, all conquering autocratic ruler whose word is law, or is our model more attuned to the present day monarchy, to a life of service for the nation that began for the present queen with the anointing oil of service at Westminster Abbey over 60 years ago?
Jesus came to proclaim God’s Kingdom here on earth. No royal beginnings, just a humble birth in a stable in Bethlehem, born to ordinary folk in a remote village in Judea. An event that would have passed the world by if it had not been the birth of a king. Yet God’s kingdom was to be radically different to the all powerful roman authorities who ruled Israel at that time. Look at the tapestry, for example and see how small and vulnerable the Christ child is compared to the size of the others in that scene. Could one so small ultimately be a King, one asks oneself.
Jesus did not proclaim himself as king but proclaimed the kingdom of God. He taught about the kingdom. He spoke about entering the kingdom. He urged his disciples to pray for the coming of the kingdom, he told them to preach the kingdom, he demonstrated the kingdom in power, he illustrated the kingdom in parables and he promised the future blessings of the kingdom. The kingdom was and is Jesus.
So perhaps our two models of kingship are both true, the image of the might, majesty, glory and power of the one who calls us to worship him and the lowly, humble servant whose kingdom of care and compassion led to the cross to be crowned with a crown of thorns.
At the end of the church’s year and our readings from Matthew’s gospel we are given further insights into the nature of God’s kingdom and his kingship.
1) First of all, all power and authority in being disciples of Christ depends solely on him. As a church and as individuals we depend completely on his guidance and direction. God’s kingdom is not brought about by the efforts of man or the church. It is God who gives the invitation to “come,” to come and follow him. His command to go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is humble acceptance like a child that we receive and belong to his kingdom. For in him we live and breathe and have our being. In him we live and move in complete dependence and in faithful obedience to his word.
Israel had looked for an all conquering, all powerful Messiah. Past history had pointed to the endless battles for its own preservation. So its expectation would be one in the mould of King David. Yet Davidic kingship relied totally on God. He in effect was a servant, the spokesperson for God to his people, Israel. The one whom God had exalted and anointed to the office of a worldly king. A person blessed with the Spirit of the Lord commissioned to rule over his people with justice in the fear of God. The Davidic line through which Jesus himself was born.
2) Secondly: The disciples were commissioned to spread the good news of God’s kingdom, the good news of salvation for sinful man. The acceptance of that offer of forgiveness and the release of peace and joy in the hearts of the believer. Those who follow the Good Shepherd and respond to his call with food for the hungry, water for the thirsty, with clothes for the naked and compassion for the sick and the dying. The heart of hospitality, the tears of compassion for a world of inequality and injustice that surrounds us all.
As we approach Advent, the season of watching, waiting and preparing for the coming of a king, so our minds look back to the time of the coming Messiah as well as look forward to the future hope of the king’s return. Looking back we see the excitement , of John the Baptism proclaiming a baptism of repentance and the crowds flocking to him. Baptism that marks our entry into God’s kingdom. And then when Jesus brought to people the reign of God, breaking Satan’s power over sin there was a release of joy, freedom and celebration. The messianic prophecies had been fulfilled.
As a church we have the reality of eternity to be excited about. Christians are heirs of God, they have the unsearchable riches of Christ, they experience the love of God which surpasses knowledge and the peace of God which passes all understanding. So we can rejoice in the steadfast love and mercy of God which never ends. As the dark nights draw in so we are called to shine as beacons of light in a dark world. “shine as lights in the world, to the glory of God the Father,” words reiterated from our baptism.
3) The third point is that God’s kingdom is revealed supremely through the cross.
Yet to see the picture of the cross before us is to see Jesus “reigning upon a tree” To see Jesus reigning with the outstretched arms of love, the face of care and compassion, of self emptying and self giving in the pouring out of his life blood for the sake of others, that is you and me. Upon the wood of earthly shame hung the king of gentleness and justice, a king who offers freedom from sin and a certain hope beyond our wildest dreams. Heaven and earth united as one reflects upon that last gasp of breath in the jaws of death upon a cross, but its truth has set us free.
A kingdom that breathes new life into tired and weary humanity. Joy in the midst of pain, peace in the midst of worldly disharmony, love in the purest form of self giving expression. For this is the true nature of God’s kingdom and worshipping within that kingdom is our longing and yearning, the source of our future happiness. The only place we would want to be. That is the gift of truth that our King has laid upon our hearts.
Look at the figure of Christ in the Lady Chapel stained glass, his head bedecked with a crown of thorns, his face expressing his care and compassion.( I put two photos at the back of church).
The cross was the means to an end, not an end in itself in proclaiming Christ as king. The full power and glory of god’s kingdom are yet to come. Until then the church, that is the representatives of God’s kingdom here on earth today, you and I, exist solely to proclaim in worship and praise in prayer and practical action, Christ as king and his kingly reign to a disbelieving world. A new society that repents and believes in the gospel.
I mentioned that today’s readings are about the nature of Jesus as king and his kingdom that is firmly rooted in the cross. Yes he demonstrated the power within God’s kingdom through Jesus raised from the dead. The triumph and victory of Easter day. The proclamation of Jesus as Lord of Lord’s and king of kings.
Yet the cross demonstrates the time of his own helplessness even unto death. The kingdom that reaches out to suffering humanity, to the hopeless and the helpless of this world. That which demands a response in us both through prayer and activity. The heart of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The prayer of God’s faithful people seeking and struggling to bring God’s kingdom a step closer to the lives of the poor and needy. The prayer of boldness to speak out and the prayer to stretch out a hand and heal the sick. For this is the good news we joyfully proclaim that requires us to give of self, to suffer with the suffering and not to count the cost except that in the power and glory of our king reigning from the tree of suffering.
For there is no reason to be anxious or depressed, no need for gloom and doom as members of God’s kingdom. For day by day God opens the eyes of our hearts through prayer and in serving our King and Master. It may be a life of constant struggle and weariness but the riches of God’s love and heavenly grace will sustain us through all adversity.
For it is in the vision of his glory that the eyes of our hearts will well up with everlasting joy and hope, as all that is within us praises and worships his holy name. And then when our earthly work is done he will welcome us into the riches of his glorious inheritance, the kingdom of heaven. So let us continue to strive and struggle in our work of proclaiming the kingship of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour as we journey to reign with him in everlasting glory.
As one child wrote in prayer. “Dear God, Heaven must be a happy place. We know this because no one has ever come down to say that they didn’t like it.” Amen