Nov. 21 “For This Purpose” – Christ the King Sunday
And Jesus answered: for this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world. In the name of Jesus.
In our Gospel text, Jesus is being judged. He is in the Praetorium, which is the governor’s courtroom. Pilate, yes the guy whose name we say when we confess the Apostle’s Creed, comes out into his courtroom to have some Kingly talk with Jesus. And these praetoriums become like chess boards. Knight takes rook, move up the pawn. It is a my turn then your turn until a check mate is made. King takes all.
Here John will capture, teach, and give you his ears as to what went on in this kingly conversation and just what the kingship of Jesus means on this Christ the King Sunday. It first of all means that it must not be imposed upon by the mechanisms of worldly power, nor may it be maintained with the help of world power. Jesus said His kingdom is not of this world. If it were then His servants would have been fighting for Him at this moment, not to hand Him over. So, secondly in the earthly human sphere, Jesus’ kingdom is powerless.
Yet, because of this nonworldly character of His kingship, the entire political sphere is radically affected and called into question. That is why the temptation to use power politically in the service of Jesus is so relevant in our time. The tendency to make of the state and civil power the final and even absolute authority over people, as happened in Rome with its worship of the emperor and of the goddess Roma, as we have seen and are still seeing happen in modern world history with our great national and political idolatries.
This is why Pilate questions Jesus “Are you the king of the Jews?” It’s a power question for Pilate but for John it is a question of truth. This is why he records in verse 37 Jesus’ words: For this purpose I was born (that’s incarnational talk) and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice. We don’t get into it now but verse 38 is the famous philosophical and agnostic challenge of Pilate’s, what is truth question. You see, Pilate’s failure to recognize truth and hear Jesus’ voice shows that he does not belong to God. The text before us today is the last time in John that Jesus speaks of truth, and His voice will not be heard. Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that unless we love truth we cannot know it.
All that are in love with truth will hear the voice of Christ, for greater, better, surer, sweeter truths can nowhere be found than are found in Christ alone, by whom ‘grace and truth came.’ Truth, absolute reality, is the realm of Christ. He makes out its boundaries, and everyone who has a vital connection with the Truth recognizes His sway. Rome appeals to the universal testimony of a future manifestation of glory as testified by the Jews. That’s what the reading in Daniel was all about: the Ancient of Days taking His seat, the throne of fiery flames where a thousand thousands served Him and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court sat in judgement and the books were opened. And behold with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man. He was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, one that shall never pass away, one that shall never be destroyed.
That all spoke of the future. But the manifestation of the now in John, Jesus’ court summons and sermon, is not the one that looks forward but the one that looks backward to the Incarnation. For this purpose I was born. For this purpose I have come into the world. What a fitting message for the last Sunday of the church year as we move to look back to the Incarnation in the season of Advent.
The truth of the reality of God is that He came to bear witness for the truth in order to make God’s reality effective over against the world in the great trial between God and the world. You see, Jesus’ kingdom doesn’t threaten the world because it is not political.
However, Christ’s kingdom does allow us to use outwardly legitimate public ordinances. If they are legitimate then they are good creations of God and divine ordinances, which a Christian can safely use. The Table of Duties in the catechism speaks of the civil authorities; that they are the ones who bear the sword of the Lord, the civil authorities are God’s agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Yes, we teach and must preach what is the role of government, of kings, and all those in supreme authority. 1 Peter 2 tells us: “they are sent by Him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”
In short they are to promote and uphold the moral law, based on the 10 commandments; having authority over the punishment for those who practice lawlessness. That’s all they’re supposed to do though. We pay taxes and rightly so as Jesus Himself teaches, so that the authorities who protect us from the disturbance of peace make a living at doing it. We do need roads and infrastructure to get where we are going; especially to church but let it be known that our constitution and laws were built on God’s natural order and the leading of moral lives. Sadly, the corruption of power has led leaders to believe they have kingship of our entire lives, even body and soul. Being the sword and the left hand of God though does not entail control over our bodily health or what is okay to do with our bodies. No, in fact they currently are writing laws to override morality and to legalize immorality. That’s our current sad and ungodly state of affairs in 2021. On the other hand, the Gospel does not present new laws; it just commands us that in obedience we should exercise love. Christians are free from forced obedience to the law; nonetheless, they voluntarily use their freedom in service to others. When Christians live out their faith, they prove that the world’s slanderous accusations are false.
When Pilate asks Jesus “are you the king?” Jesus answers the question with a question, “do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me.” To that Pilate says, don’t put this on me, it’s your own nation that has delivered you over to me; just what on earth have you done? Jesus does use the word kingdom but He says it is not earthly. And that is because the kingdom of God centers on the crucified Christ. His enthronement is the royal throne of the cross. He is the crucified King. As Justin Martyr rightly translated Psalm 96 from the ancient text: The Lord reigns, say among the nations, the Lord YHWH reigns from the tree. What a breath of fresh air. That the reign of God would come down in the form of dying for the sins of the world. Dying because of immorality, political idolatry, and every sin in-between. If only the world stopped and got that notion, that the rulings of lawlessness and dysphoria, Christ died for. He died so that they’d stop doing that. That they would get that He loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom. Yes, we are His kingdom, where His citizens reside. That’s the purpose of His suffering and death on our behalf; His blood makes us a kingdom. A kingdom where He is the first and the last and the books that will be opened are the books, on the one hand, all the deeds of man in the history of the world. On His other hand, they are those who are inscribed into the palm of His hands. He is the Word, He is the Book of Life, and His blood poured out for you is the ink of atonement. His body given for you is the purpose for which He came. And His purpose is still here today reigning from the throne.
The chess board of life will linger until He comes again, that time in glory. When the King of kings and Lord of lords will check mate it all and you will see the Son of man and the Ancient of Days consummate His purpose for you. In the meantime, it will always be love that will save the day. As we sang in the hymn of the day, He is “His people’s hope, His people’s wealth, their everlasting theme.” The love of God in Christ Jesus is the only true form of love. Not love of earthly rule and earthly kingdoms and their affairs outside of the good law of the Lord.
His being ‘for this purpose’ is our theme indeed as we turn to the season of Advent and as we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving this week. Where we are to give thanksgiving to His purpose for all things. Remember those three words ‘for this purpose,’ remember them when you don’t have an answer for anything else going on. Where dark is the night and bright is the day, ‘for this purpose’ is to be your theme because it is the theme where Christ is King. For this purpose, the judge will adjourn your case in your favor because He is now and forever Christ the King.
In the name of Jesus + Amen.