The Power Of Christ
November 20 2016
Today is one of those days that preachers like myself have a hard time with. For one thing, it is the Sunday before Thanksgiving, so a sermon that calls on us to give thanks to God for His many blessings in our lives would be fitting. You may have come to Church today expecting to hear a Thanksgiving sermon.
But, as the Sunday before Thanksgiving is many years, today is also Christ the King Sunday in the Church year. It is the last Sunday in the Christian year. Next Sunday we will begin a new Christian year as we begin the Season of Advent. The Christian year begins with the Season of Advent and our focus on the coming of God into our world through Jesus Christ, goes into the Season of Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Christ, goes into the Season of Lent when we focus on Christ giving of Himself on the cross so that our sins can be forgiven, goes into the Season of Easter when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and the new life Christ gives us, and goes into Pentecost when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives. But before we rush into a new Christian year by beginning the Season of Advent next Sunday, we need to stop and look at who Christ really is. Who is Christ – for you? This is an important question, and Christ the King Sunday is an important day as it gives us a chance to consider just who Christ is.
Both the Thanksgiving and the Christ the King emphases are important, so preachers like myself have a hard time deciding which to emphasize. After a lot of prayer, I have chosen to look at the Christ the King emphasis. We will have an opportunity tonight at the Community Thanksgiving service focus on Thanksgiving, and I hope to see you at the service tonight, but this morning we are going to focus on what it means that Christ is our King and our Lord.
When we call Jesus “King,” however, we open up the complex topic of power. We regard kings as those who exercise power. Some people crave power, but we all desire some of the benefits of power
We see that desire for the benefits of power in politics. We have just elected a President. Whether we agree with the outcome of the election or not, we may feel exhausted by the long campaign. We never quite know if all of the money, effort and affront to our senses will pay off. Whatever our political leanings, we want a President to show strength. A generation ago we wanted a strong president who could stand up against Communism and the threat of nuclear war. Today we want a President who can take a strong stand against terrorism.
As individuals we may not obsess about power as some do, but we all want at least enough power over our lives to make our own decisions. We don’t want too many people or groups or even forces controling us so that we can’t feel a measure of freedom. We understand that rules and regulations enable us to live in community with others and that we can’t always get our way, but we don’t like things that seem to limit us. We want enough power to live our own lives.
We understand that God has power, but we wonder how that power affects us. We want God’s power to protect us and to influence our lives. Maybe you have seen the posters or the meme on Facebook or heard the expression that goes:
“This is God. I will be handling your problems today. I won’t need your help.”
This may sound reassuring in a sense, but it runs the risk of making God seem like our personal assistant. The poster almost sounds as if we would say to God, “Here, clean up this mess I just made of things.” The poster does speak to our desire to look for the ways God influences our lives, protects us and uses power for good in the everyday troubles we all experience. Some of our problems and troubles really frighten us, and we hope God takes our side in the fight. We see ourselves as David and our problems as Goliath. We want God to aim the rock for us to slay our troubles. We hope God’s power will change our circumstances.
But as we look at Jesus on the cross in our passage from Luke 23 today, we might wonder about Jesus’ power. Does Jesus as king show the kind of power we expect of a leader? Does Jesus have power over His own life? Does Jesus teach us anything about how God acts in our circumstances?
As He is hanging on the cross, Jesus may seem to be more of a victim than a King. The Roman government reserved crucifixion for those who tried to break free of its control. They intended the contorted faces and agonized screams to deter those who wanted to grab a sword and fight for autonomy. If the Jewish people wanted a Messiah who could lead them to political freedom, Jesus dying on the cross did not appear to meet that expectation. The soldiers taunted Him about His leadership: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” The sign posted above Him: “This is the King of the Jews,” was meant to ridicule Him rather than honor him. If we today want a leader who can protect us from our enemies, Jesus does not seem to model that kind of power and leadership. Jesus as King appears weak before enemies and the power structure of the day.
In His utter degradation, Jesus does not seem to help us in our quest for more control and dignity in our personal lives. Jesus died between two criminals. Jesus died among those outside the law, those considered unclean, outcasts. He could not move his arms or legs. He endured insults. The soldiers subjected Him to the indignity of gambling for His only possessions: His clothes. If we want at least enough power over our lives to keep from feeling crushed by forces beyond our control, Jesus does not appear to help us much in this passage.
God’s power did not pull the nails from Jesus’ body and bring Him down from the cross. If we look for the power of God to handle our problems and change our circumstances, we do not seem to find that kind of power described in this passage. The first criminal wanted what we often want. He wanted the power of God through Jesus to change His circumstances. He wanted to get down off the cross. He wanted out of a mess. He wanted help with a particular problem. Jesus did not offer him that kind of help and did not show that kind of power.
No, Jesus does not fulfill our usual expectations about power. Instead, Jesus shows power in ways we have to read carefully to see. Jesus’ power at the cross does not come across in flashy ways. As we look carefully, though, we see Jesus’ power while He hangs on the cross.
The first kind of power Jesus shows is power over His reaction to what happens to Him. In spite of the cruelty, pain and humiliation He faces, He maintains His trust in God. His faith doesn’t get Him down from the cross, but it sustains His spirit while He endures the cross. He continues to trust God even in the worst of situations. He doesn’t give in to anger, bitterness or despair. We might find this kind of inner spiritual strength elusive, but we can move toward that kind of faith. We can claim power over our reactions, our feelings and our attitudes. The Holy Spirit can work in us to empower us for this kind of faith.
The second kind of power Jesus shows is the power of forgiveness. Jesus asks God to forgive the very people who torture and kill Him. We may not understand forgiveness as power, but Jesus shows us that forgiveness creates something in us. Jesus reveals courage and true humanity. The soldiers seem to become less human while Jesus seems to become more human. The soldiers, and those who command them, seem act like monsters, while Jesus seems to become more heroic. The soldiers may have broken Jesus’ body, but they could not crush His soul. As they offer Him savagery, He offers them a prayer. Jesus shows the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness has the power to heal relationships, marriages, families, churches. Forgiveness has the power to break down walls and leap over chasms. Forgiveness has the power to restore and repair what others have destroyed. Jesus forgives His enemies, and forgives us. He shows us, and provides for us, the power of forgiveness.
Jesus then shows His true nature as king when He offers the power to open up eternal life. The second criminal recognizes His sin and asks Jesus to remember him. Jesus promises him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” The word “paradise” originally meant an enclosed park. It became the Greek word to indicate the garden from Genesis. As the people of God reflected on paradise, they came to understand it as what awaits us after we die. Jesus offers the criminal a good and peaceful place in the midst of the worst of suffering. Jesus offers a place of beauty in the face of the ugliest of deaths. As much as we want things to be better now, as much as we deserve things to be better now, we trust Jesus with the power over what happens to us after we die. We trust Jesus to open for us a place of peace, goodness and beauty.
Christ the King Sunday represents the end of the Christian year, and the outcome of the election represents a new beginning. In the midst of things we cannot control, let us accept Jesus’ power to allow God to shape our feelings and reactions. Let us accept Jesus’ power to forgive and heal. Let us rejoice in Jesus’ power to open for us a paradise, a joyous place where we will experience Jesus’ presence. Let us indeed rejoice in, worship, and serve Christ, our King. Amen.