The king who took the form of a slave

Mary Copping, 25 November 2018

Daniel 7: 9–10, 13–14; John 18: 33–37

It is the feast of Christ the king, but what sort of king is he? In Philippians he is described thus: ‘Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave’ (2: 6–7). Jesus was a king who was different from the moment he was born, and he never did conform to popular images of kingship.

And in the last week of Jesus’ life, when he entered Jerusalem on a donkey, the people laid down palms, shouting ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’ They were rejoicing because they thought that Jesus, the king, was coming to overthrow the oppressive Roman rulers. But they were sorely disappointed and would soon turn on him. He wasn’t what they’d expected. The prophet Zechariah wrote, ‘Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey’. If Jesus had been the mythical king they’d hoped for, he would have ridden on a mighty horse, proud and upright; but here was their king riding a lowly beast.

When Jesus was brought before Pilate, Pilate’s first words were, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ One can almost hear his incredulity at now seeing for himself this person who people had perceived as such a threat, the man who’d been saying he was king. And perhaps Pilate was surprised? This was not some sort of insurgent, his followers hadn’t caused riots, there were no demonstrations. So Pilate was struggling; he didn’t know what to do with Jesus.

Jesus had been saying he was the Messiah, and a few days earlier he had been heard to say that he would tear down the Temple, and the religious authorities had twisted his words and were accusing him of blasphemy. Now he’d been passed on to the Roman authorities, because they were the only ones who could sentence people to death. In their exchange of words Pilate was trying to discover what threat Jesus posed, what sort of king he actually was and what his kingdom was. Jesus’ response was very puzzling to Pilate: ‘My kingdom is not from this world’. Pilate couldn’t understand it, and with the baying of the people, there was nothing else he could do but hand him over to be crucified.

Jesus’ kingship has challenged people ever since. What sort of king is he? He lived a life of service, cared for those on the margins regardless of what the people around him thought, knelt and washed the disciples’ feet, noticed those that others dismissed as worth nothing, gave himself in the service of others and, in the end, was crucified. Christ the king went through a criminal’s death for our salvation and to receive his crown.

His kingdom is not of this world. The world seeks after power, but in Christ’s kingdom the first shall be last and the last first. Jesus was powerless as he went to the cross. The world seeks after wealth and status but in Christ’s kingdom it’s about respect and love for our neighbour and care for creation. The world seeks after glamour and celebrity, but the kingdom values humility, hiddenness and service.

As Christ’s followers, sons and daughters in his kingdom, how do we live? When we read the news we can sometimes despair and wonder where God’s kingdom is in the mess. Many things are happening in government, in leadership, in the world, that are not what God’s kingdom should be about. It has been said we live in ‘the now and the not yet’. But Christ’s kingdom is among us, with us, through us and through all who follow Christ.

Are we allowing Christ to be king in our lives, and what does that mean? He wants us as followers of Christ the king to have a different perspective on the world, to live different kinds of lives so that we can see the kingdom here and now, in every person, in every situation and so that others can see him in us. We are to have the perspective that helps us not to want to use others for our own purposes or to put what we want above others’ needs or to attain to a higher position regardless of others. So we help to further the kingdom in every situation, in prayer and action, and with every person. We can enable each person to be the best they can be in Christ as we ask Christ to help us to be the best that we can be. He wants us to continue to follow the king and do what we see him doing, listening to him and going where he leads.

As next week we begin the Advent time of waiting and preparation for Christ the king’s coming as a vulnerable, weak, dependent baby, let us prepare ourselves in prayer and penitence to receive him afresh, receive his kingship afresh and to be his kingdom people.

Whatever situation we are in, wherever we are, we are citizens of Christ’s kingdom. We are the ones to help bring in his kingdom, imperfect and broken as we are. This is a troubled and broken world, which needs the love and humble service that we see in Christ our king and the love and service we give to those around us. Where is Christ leading each one of us further to serve him? Are we listening to his voice, doing what he asks us to do each day, bringing his peace and love?

We are the ones to help bring in Christ’s kingdom, imperfect and broken as we are.

Daniel gives a wonderful vision of the perfect coming of Christ’s kingdom and says, ‘His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed’. This is the now and the not yet. We are living in a partial kingdom of God where we can see in many areas that God does not reign, does not have sway – in our lives and in the world. As citizens of this kingdom, ours is to follow Christ the king, to allow him to direct our lives and to do all that he asks us to do. We are privileged to be in a country where we’re permitted to worship in public and are not persecuted for our faith. And with this privilege and knowledge of God’s love, ours is to bring his love and his kingdom values into our lives and into the lives of others.

As the people laying down palms and shouting ‘Blessed is the king’ were so happy that he was going to come and overthrow their rulers, perhaps we in our troubled world wish that he would come now and bring in the perfect kingdom that Daniel described. However, we’re in the now and the not yet, so let’s continue to try and live in love and service as Christ’s kingdom people.

Our king – who came to earth with nothing, who died on a cruel cross – longs to reign in our hearts and bless us with his presence. This is our king. Amen.