You all may not know this, but I actually used to be a king. I know, I know – that’s hard to believe, but it’s true. You don’t see too many kings running around these days, but I was one.
I had subjects, and they absolutely had to do whatever I said, without question. They were ready to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and they would never turn me down. Just like any other king, my power was so great that all my subjects lives revolved around mine.
Now, admittedly, my subjects were action figures, they “lived” in my basement, and their lives revolved around mine because they only became “alive” when I gave them words or actions. As an only child, I spent a lot of time in fantasy worlds, telling stories with toys, making up personalities and ways of living. It was one of my greatest joys, and whenever I entered those worlds, I was the absolute ruler.
But while I’m sure you all knew I was joking about being a king from the start of this sermon, I could just as easily said that I was a kingdom, but like Jesus says in our passage from John this morning, that “my kingdom was not from this world.”
That’s the line Jesus uses on Pilate. Now think about that from Pilate’s perspective. This passage takes place when Jesus has been handed over to the Roman authorities. There are people who want him dead, and they are using the long arm of the law to get him, and trying to convince the authorities that he’s done something wrong.
The main charge they come up with is treason. He’s said some things that could be interpreted as him saying that’s he’s the true ruler – of course Jesus has, because he’s God in human flesh. He is the true ruler, while the emperor in Rome is just a human being. Nonetheless, these people plotting against Jesus get him turned over, and he’s examined by Pontius Pilate.
Pilate was the governor of Jesus’ home region. Imagine if we did that today – if all the serious criminals in South Dakota had to get dragged to Dennis Daugaard’s office in Pierre to have a private hearing with him. Anyway, that’s basically what happens. Pilate starts asking Jesus if he truly is a king, and Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from this world.”
Well, Jesus doesn’t sound like much of a threat now, does he? Take away everything you know about Jesus from outside this one story today (because all Pilate would know is this one interaction), and you’d probably think he was totally crazy, but probably not guilty of any real wrongdoing. In fact, if you read beyond the section of John we read today, you’d see that Pilate does come to this same conclusion: Pilate ends up saying, “I find no case against him.” To Pilate, Jesus talking about a kingdom from another world is the same as some person claiming to be an alien invader or a little boy who says he’s the king of his toys – no threat.
The thing is, though, that we’re not Pilate. We have seen Jesus in action. We’ve seen that Jesus can heal the sick, the he teaches in wise sayings. We’ve seen him rally people to his sides. In fact, living so far away from the moment in history the Bible is recording, we’ve seen Jesus continue to rally people to him, even thousands of years after he left the earth for good! To us, the claim that Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world is not only not crazy, it’s true!
“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” says Jesus. Truth is a big theme for Jesus in today’s reading. Jesus wants us to know the truth – that he is here, God on earth, to meet us and welcome us into his care – he is here for us.
But think about that for a second – Jesus being here for us. That puts him in a sharply different category than most of the kings I’ve ever heard of. In fact, to use myself as an example again, I wasn’t the “king” of my toys because I wanted to do something for them – I wanted them to do things for me. When we read throughout history of kings who wanted their subjects to build monuments, or kings who wanted many wives or many goods, we don’t hear about kings who just want to make life better for their people.
And that’s why there are some people who worry that “Christ the King” Sunday can sound like bad news. It sounds like just another person to come and force their will on us, coercing us to do things.
But Jesus doesn’t coerce us into anything. In fact, we’re totally free. He’s the one king who actually gives us a choice whether or not to follow him. No human king does that.
And as if that’s not enough, we’re also given a king who will love us; who will leave 99 sheep who are safe, and come seek us out when we are the one sheep who is lost. We have a savior who promises to save us, not just in this life, but in a kingdom beyond this world.
While as Americans, we have a natural suspicion of kings – our whole country was formed around rebelling against a king, after all – this is a time when such fear is unjustified. And that’s because this king is not bad news at all. Our King is the best news of all – the one who offers a way out of no way; a king who can heal us in body, mind, and spirit; a king who is here for us, not the other way around – a king who offers what no other king can: Resurrection from death.
Jesus is our way, our truth, our life. We serve him, not because he forces us to, but because it is our joy to do so. So let us celebrate this day that, no matter who our president is, no matter what country we live in, we know we have a king – and only for us Christians can that be Good News. Amen.