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Monday, November 26, 2012

Your King is Too Small (John 6, 12, 18, Revelation 17)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
November 25, 1012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Italian Hymn" (Albert Travis)
Hymn of Praise: "Come, Thou Almighty King" (ITALIAN HYMN)
Song of Praise: "Let Your Kingdom Come" (Kauflin)
The Word in Music: "Be Thou My Vision" (Rutter)
Offering of Music: "You Are the Great God" (Geiler, arr. Terrell)
Hymn of Sending: "Joy to the World" (ANTIOCH, arr. Austell) 
Postlude: "Joy to the World" (Anna Laura Page)

"Your King is Too Small"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: John 6:14-15; 12:12-18; 18:33-38; Revelation 17:14

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving!  Thanksgiving is over, though I hope you never stop giving thanks.  Next Saturday we will flip the page on the calendar to December; Christmas is on its way! 

Now the calendar that we flip from November to December is not the only calendar, especially in the worship life of the church.  You may have heard me talk before about the liturgical calendar, or the worship calendar of the Christian Church.  Some denominations follow it more than others, but the basic idea is that over the course of the year, one celebrates not only the significant anchor points of Christmas and Easter, but the whole story of God’s redemptive history, from the prophets anticipating the coming of the Messiah to the birth of Jesus at Christmas to the life and ministry of Christ to his death and resurrection at Easter on through Pentecost to the glorious return and reign of Jesus as described in Revelation.  Though I don’t follow that order every week every year, I often will note key moments in that calendar and God’s redemptive history.

Today is one of those days.  In the liturgical or church worship calendar, this is actually the last Sunday of the year, and next Sunday starts Advent, the watching for the birth of the promised Messiah.  This is known as “Christ the King Sunday” and is an opportunity to be reminded of how the story ends, with the Lamb on the throne in worship.

It is a fitting conclusion to our series this Fall, which moved from the definition of a Christian to the nature of the Church as the gathered community of Jesus to the mission and purpose of the Church, including the particular community we call Good Shepherd. 

The Lamb is King (Revelation 17:14)

I want to start at the end, with the description of Christ as King, but then work backwards a bit to where we are now and what we do with that knowledge.

We actually started the service with the scripture I have in mind.  It comes from Revelation 17:14.  There are a number of passages in Revelation that describe Jesus on the throne as King, but this one is short and sweet.  All the enemies of God will war against Him, and the Lamb Jesus will overcome them.  A few weeks ago we talked about worship from a passage in Hebrews and I noted that Jesus was both the spotless lamb and the Great High Priest.  That’s why he’s called the Lamb here, because he sacrificed himself for the sin of the world.  Revelation 17:14 says that he will overcome his enemies because “He is Lord of lords and King of kings.”  All of creation, those with God and those against God will acknowledge His reign.  As scripture says, “Every knee will bow and every tongue confess He is Lord.”  He truly is Lord of Heaven and earth.

Making a King (John 6, 12)

What I really want to focus on today is how we take this King of kings and Lord of lords and try to make him into something else, and not just something else, but something much, much smaller.

In the first scripture reading today you heard John 6:14-15 and John 12:12-18.  The first is the end of the “Feeding of the 5000,” a miracle story where Jesus multiples five loaves of bread and two fish into more than enough for a huge crowd.  The verses I pulled out are from the end.  It’s what happened after this amazing miracle.  The people saw the sign and said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  And Jesus realized that they were intending to take him by force to make him king, and he withdrew. 

He was king, right?  Why would he not want this recognition and approval?  How better to get the word out than with a crowd of 5000 men, plus women and children, endorsing you as “king?”  The problem was, they wanted him to be the king they wanted.  They wanted an earthly leader, a revolutionary.  They wanted someone to take on the Roman Empire and re-establish their sovereignty as a nation.  They wanted to regain the glory days of King David and the united kingdom of Israel. 

The John 12 passage is what we call “The Triumphal Entry.”  It’s the event we remember on Palm Sunday, a week before Easter.  There, too, Jesus was given the hero’s welcome, hailed as the revolutionary Messiah who would take on the Romans.  The people were calling out “Hosanna,” which means “Save us now!”  But they weren’t talking about sin, but about their desire to be free of Rome.

Here’s the thing: they were not being intentionally heretical or unscriptural.  That hope for a revolutionary Messiah had simply become the standard interpretation and dream for a people subjugated by Rome for generations, with heavy taxes and a strong presence of Roman soldiers to enforce the law.  And to give them credit, it’s not like they were turning the Messiah into a lucky charm or a bobble-head doll or something.  A king to take on Rome is a big vision.  I’ll give them that.  King David returned – that was no small hope.

It was just so much smaller than who Jesus actually was!

What Did Jesus Say? (John 18:33-38)

I included the second scripture reading, from John 18, because it gives us a unique window into Jesus’ own language about himself and God’s Kingdom.  This is the scene where Jesus is on trial before his crucifixion, and he is talking to the Roman governor, Pilate. 

Pilate is questioning Jesus and asks him outright, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33)  They have an exchange about how Jesus ended up before Pilate – basically, the religious leaders accused him of plotting against Rome, which required a response from Pilate.  This next part is the part I want to focus on:

My kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, my kingdom is not of this realm. (v. 36)

Pilate hears his language and presses in, “So you are a king?” And Jesus confirms it.  He is a king; he was born for this, to testify to the truth to all who will hear.  And there is more… Pilate’s famous response, “What is truth?”  But it was Jesus' description of his own kingship that I want to focus on.

It is so much bigger than what he was on trial for.  He was not a threat to Caesar in Rome… well, he was, but not in the way they imagined.  His Kingdom was not an earthly one, but a godly one.  And his whole life – his whole coming into the world – was wrapped up in this Kingdom and his Kingship.  If you read the Gospels and his teaching, it’s about this Kingdom at every turn.  It’s the thing he talked about the most.  He was announcing the beginning of God’s reign, breaking into this world in himself.

In fact, the religious leaders were far closer to the truth than Pilate.  They understood that he was claiming to be God and they opposed him for it.

Kingdom Come

I want to say a word about announcing God’s reign.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus didn’t teach that “one day God’s Kingdom will come”; he taught “the Kingdom is here among you.”  He spoke of the arrival of the Kingdom like the vanguard of a victorious army; the victory was assured, but the “arrival” would take some time.  His resurrection sealed that victory, a victory over evil, sin, and death itself.  But again, God’s Kingdom was both “now here” and “not yet fully arrived.” 

And that’s the time in which we live.  The victory has been declared through Jesus' death and resurrection.  God has won.  God’s reign has been announced through the words of scripture and Jesus’ own teaching.  That’s what happens in a believer’s life when we trust in Jesus as Savior and LORD – we accept his reign in our life and begin living as citizens of Heaven.  Get that?  Citizens of Heaven right now on earth.  That takes dual-citizenship to another whole level!

That’s why, in the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”  We aren’t praying for one day way out there, but for God’s reign to be a present reality in our lives.

And let me return again to Revelation 17:14 and finish out the verse.  Speaking of the Lamb who is Lord of lords and King of kings, it says: “those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.”  Those are all words we have used to describe what it is God saves us for.  That’s our mission and vision – that God doesn’t just save us for Heaven, but saves us for His work here on earth.  That’s what called and chosen and faithful describes – you and me engaged in the Lord’s work.  That’s what it means to be with Him!   

Your King is Too Small

Earlier in the week, I read this quote on a friend’s Facebook wall.  It is attributed to Wilbur Rees:
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not only are human beings guilty of having too small a view of Jesus the King, these days we’ve packaged him down far smaller than the vision of Jesus’ contemporaries of a Messiah as earthly ruler.  We turn Jesus into an expletive, a lucky charm, a tag on the end of a quickly muttered prayer.  We sing sweet songs to him, but are not brought to our knees in humility and awe before the King of the Universe.  I think many of us simply have no idea and are comfortable having our name associated with the milquetoast Jesus of culture.

Imagine the most overwhelmingly powerful and awe-inspiring thing or sight or force you’ve ever witnessed… something that took your breath away and made your stomach sink at the same time.  Something on the magnitude of a category five hurricane, or the 180-degree spread of the Appalachian Mountains or meeting a great earthly leader.  That’s barely scratching the surface of the Lamb seated on the throne, in power and glory and dominion and strength, with all bowed down before him.  That’s the one we so casually call Lord.

Christ the King.  King of kings.  Lord of lords.  Sovereign ruler of the universe.

Now listen to this unexpected and mind-boggling declaration: though in eternity what will be true has always been true, he did not grasp onto his place or power or glory, but willingly emptied himself, taking the form of a servant and the likeness of humanity.  He humbled himself and offered himself for you and for me. That’s the story we begin again next week and the one that, really, should inspire our awe and adoration and worship even more than the power.

That’s our King.  That’s our Savior.  Amen.

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