Reign of Christ
Today is the last day of the church year. The journey that began with the birth of the babe in a manger, now ends with the proclamation of Christ the king. In my good American republic head, I can sometimes trip over that word, “king.” The mind wanders to Monty Python: “I am your king.” Arthur declares. “Well I didn’t vote for you,” comes the reply. “You don’t vote for a king!”
For most of us, our monarch reference is probably Elizabeth, Queen of England. She’s been on the thrown more than 65 years. But frankly, if you are into job security, monarchy is not the best business. Elizabeth is the exception to the rule. Historians estimate that the average length of a reign for a queen or a king is only 3 ½ to 4 years. And for the most part, royalty has had a violent, murderous history throughout the centuries. Just ask Macbeth and the Caesars.
Ironically, from the earliest days of the infant, persecuted church, the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth, was given the title “King of Kings.” In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is pictures as a king even before he was born. When the angel Gabriel informs Mary that she will bear a son named Jesus, he adds “…the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33)
Later, the three Magi ask, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2)
In Mark, the oldest of the four gospels, Jesus begins his public ministry by stating that “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near.” (1:15) The very core of Jesus’ message is the coming of the kingdom of God.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time, the people gather in the streets and see him as the fulfillment of the OT prophecy of Zechariah: “Behold your king is coming.” The crowds shout with reckless abandon, “Blessed be the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” Yet Jesus purposely entered the city signaling a different kind of kingship. He entered on the back of a donkey, a sign of reconciliation and peace.
As events unfold leading up to Jesus’ horrific and torturous crucifixion, he is either hailed or mocked as a king. Then in his final hours, the interrogation by Pontius Pilate.
“Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks.
Jesus answers with a counter question, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”
As John presents the trial, it seems Pilate is the defendant, not Jesus. Still, Pilate pushes on: “What have you done?”
Jesus: “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Judeans. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
Pilate must have been both confused and infuriated. True, Jesus and his followers did not seem a threat to the Roman Empire. But who is in control here?
Again he pushes his questioning, thinking he has Jesus trapped. “So, you are a king?”
Jesus answered: “You say that I am a king. 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.”
Listening, Pilate had to think Jesus is either crazy, or the strangest king he had ever known. Of course the truth is Jesus was and is a unique king ruling over a unique kingdom.
First, Jesus is the servant king. Jesus was not and is not a king who rules through raw power, greed or manipulation at the expense of others. He did not conscript any army to dominate the minds and hearts of people by force. He lived and modeled a far different style of leadership in life among his people.
Jesus’ reign as king is revealed in humility, self-emptying and service to others. According to the world’s standards, Jesus is a strange king. He is a king who serves, who heals, who uplifts his followers.
Second, and amazingly, Jesus is a king with scars. Charles Colson, a man who knows about scars as President Nixon’s legal counsel and later the founder of a prison ministry puts it like this: “All the kings and queens I have known in history sent their people out to die for them. I only know one king who decided to die for his people.”
In a reading from the Celtic Daily Prayer, there is a simple but profound question and answer:
“Q: What are the only human-made thing in heaven?
A: The wounds in the hands, feet, and side of Christ.”
One of the most fascinating facts about the story of Jesus is that after his resurrection he is revealed with his scars. When his disciples doubt who he is, he shows them the scars in his hands, feet, and side. Those scars are five signs of the most compelling love the world has ever known—complete, self-emptying, utter love for all of us. In other words, God chooses to reveal Jesus in a perfect, resurrected body with the healed, gruesome wounds from the crucifixion. We know Jesus, the king, by his scars.
For the stunned and frightened disciples and now for us, we remember how his wounds and sacrifice forever transformed that hideous and torturous method of capital punishment, the cross. As Christians, every time we witness a baptism, receive the Lord’s supper, wear a cross, celebrate the resurrection of a dear one at a funeral, we remember the scars of a king, the king, and the hope they bring us.
Paul writes in II Corinthians: “We always carry in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
Yes, Jesus is the servant king with scars. Jesus is alive. He is alive now for us and for all human beings. He is alive, scars and all!