Surrender now

Christ the King 2013

Luke 23:33-43

Marian Free 

In the name of God who created us in God’s own image. Amen.

Jesus was not the first or the last king to be executed. A great many Kings (or heirs apparent) have been executed or murdered. In the Old Testament, the books 1 & 2 Kings are filled with gruesome accounts of power struggles – particularly among half-brothers. At times whole families are slaughtered in order to ensure that one person’s right to rule is not challenged. The history of the British Monarchy is no less ruthless. Civil wars have been fought by supporters of rival claimants to the throne. In 1483, Richard duke of Gloucester. who had already killed the then Queen’s brother and her eldest son from her first marriage. forcibly locked up her son Edward – the king who had inherited the throne from his father – and shortly after imprisoned the younger son as well. The young princes (aged 13 and 10) were seen from time to time, but then disappeared completely. It is presumed that they were killed so that they would not challenge their uncle’s right to the throne. (In the Art Gallery at the moment a poignant painting of the boys’ Mother bidding them farewell is hung in a prominent place near the entrance.) (The problem with power illegally gained is that is has to be protected from challengers – those who have usurped the throne are only too aware of how easily they might be unseated. All potential threats need to be disposed.)

Some British Monarchs have been publicly executed. At least two of Henry the Eighth’s wives were executed for treason. In our tradition, perhaps the most well-known monarch to have been executed was Charles the 1st who was accused of treason because of his refusal to call a Parliament. Charles was firmly convinced of the divine right of kings and sought to levy taxes without Parliament’s consent. He was tried by 68 judges (there were to have been 135) and beheaded.

What makes Jesus different from this long line of tragic kings, queens and princes is that Jesus never had nor sought power – in fact just the opposite. Jesus did not see himself as someone who was in competition with the priests, scribes and Pharisees. He certainly did not try to usurp power from the rulers of Rome. From our point of view he does not appear (in himself) to pose any real threat to either the leaders of the church or the representatives of the Roman Empire.

He has none of the trappings of royalty – no palace, no fancy clothes, no wealth, no army. Jesus by his own account has nowhere to lay his head and his followers do not appear to be men whom he could easily form into a fighting force. In fact Jesus is the antithesis of all things associated with power and control. As the Son of God, he has all kinds of resources at his command – including angels – yet he chooses not to call on them even when they could save his life. Instead of resisting, Jesus allows himself to be arrested. Instead of mounting a defense he remains silent before his accusers. Instead of calling out an army (of angels) to save him, he allows himself to be nailed to the cross.

Jesus’ approach to death is consistent with his approach to life. From the moment of his baptism, Jesus makes it clear that, though he knows he is God, he is not going to capitalize or take advantage of that knowledge. He could turn stones into bread when he is hungry, jump off the Temple and be unharmed and he could rule the world if he chose to claim power solely for himself. However, despite the knowledge that he has power to just about anything, Jesus never imposes his will or lords it over others – just the opposite. Unlike the dictators of his time (and ours) Jesus knows that imposing his will on others will not secure their confidence or their loyalty. He knows that love that is forced is not love. He knows too, that it is only by forgoing all the trappings of wealth and power, only by giving himself completely to God that God’s purpose (rather than his) will be achieved.

Jesus’ teaching likewise emphasises service over power. Over and over again he teaches his disciples that the first will be last and the last will be first or that the one who serves is greater than the one who lords it over others. By example and instruction, Jesus models the notion that humility is the quality most prized in heaven and that submission to God is more likely to lead to salvation than trying to succeed on one’s own terms.

From beginning to end, Jesus confounds everyone. His life begins in humble circumstances and ends with the shame of the cross. In popular understanding, he does not fit the image of a soldier Messiah, nor does he conform to the expectations of a King of David’s line. Jesus does not exercise his prerogative to judge. All in all, he is a very unlikely and unexpected Saviour.

Jesus’ crucifixion highlights how little he has been understood and the disdain rather than the respect that has come his way. To the very end he held fast to his purpose, which was to demonstrate that true power is demonstrated through service rather than dominance. Interestingly, it is at the end – ironically – that his true divinity is demonstrated. At the very point at which he most identifies with humanity in death, the very point at which he is most human and most vulnerable, he exercises his divine right to both judge and to forgive and in so doing to decide who may or may not enter paradise – something that only God can do.

Jesus is a king who doesn’t conform to the ways of the world. He is a contradictory and confusing king who refuses the identifiers of status wealth and power. Following this king will not lead to power and glory. Sometimes it will lead to persecution and derision. It does not require great exploits and certainly has no career structure. If we choose to follow Jesus, we will learn that we are most empowered when we empower others, that we are most truly ourselves when we are the person whom God created, that true authority comes not from ourselves but from the presence of God within us, that entry into the Kingdom of God is not something that we earn, but something that we receive when we acknowledge Jesus and no other as our King.

Ultimately, we have no power, no glory, no wisdom or strength or goodness that does not come from God. That being the case, we might as well surrender. As Jesus gave himself fully to God so we might as well give ourselves fully to Jesus and discover as Jesus did that it is only when we give everything away that we uncover the wealth, the gifts and the godliness that was already ours.

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