God’s grace and peace be with all of you.
Let’s check in on Jesus campaign headquarters. It looks like Jesus is having a meeting with his advisers right now...
“Okay, Jesus, we’ve got the focus groups back and it’s not looking good. 84% of respondents reacted either somewhat negatively or very negatively to your plan to offer free healings to lepers. Almost 100% said the whole ‘You’re blessed when you’re persecuted’ speech was a reason to vote against you.
“The good news is, you’ve got high favorables among the working class, but 92% of respondents say your plan to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted is fiscally irresponsible, and your statement proclaiming ‘release to the captives’ makes you look like you’re not tough on crime.
“Listen, Jesus, you know we’re all behind you. We just need to rebrand you a bit, let the people know who you are.”
“Who do you say that I am?”
“I’m glad you asked—we want to play up your rugged, self-made side. You know, maybe some photo shoots doing the whole carpentry thing. And, now I know this is a touchy subject, but we really think you should tone down the whole ‘middle eastern refugee angle,’ it does not play well in the heartland.”
“Do you love me?”
“Well, yeah, Jesus, I mean, come on. We all ‘love’ you, that’s the only thing keeping this campaign together.”
“Then feed my sheep.”
“Uhhh, yeah. That’s another thing, about the ‘sheep’ and the shepherds and all of that: you know, it’s really not a relatable image for a lot of voters. Maybe we could switch it up, bring in some other surrogates. We really want people to feel like they could sit down and have a beer with you, you know?”
Who would vote for Jesus? I mean really, who would vote for Jesus? His campaign slogan is “Take up your cross and follow me.” He’s terrible at soundbites, always saying things like, “Blessed are you who are poor” and “Woe to you who are rich.” He openly breaks the law right in front of legal experts. He hangs around with bad people—tax collectors, lepers, sinners. He goes into houses of worship, disrupts things, and throws people out. He is a trouble-maker. He doesn’t have what you could call a “presidential
Today is the last Sunday of the church year, also known as “Christ the King Sunday” or “Reign of Christ Sunday.” As the name of the day suggests, today is about reflecting on Christ as King.
But as we saw in our gospel reading, this is a very different view of kingship than we might be used to. We see Jesus on the cross, with a mocking inscription: “This is the King of the Jews.” The religious leaders and Roman soldiers joke that, if he really is a king, he should be able to save himself.
When we think of Christ the King, this is what we should think of: Jesus on the cross, wearing a crown of thorns. This is our king. This is our Lord. Not a king sitting on a throne dressed in jewels and fine clothes, wearing a golden crown, but a king on a cross, his clothing divided among the soldiers who crucified him, his crown a crown of thorns.
I think it’s hard to overstate how radical this idea is. Christ is our king. Jesus is Lord. That statement is wildly radical and deeply political.
For the first Christians, their reality was the Empire of Rome. They lived under Rome, under Caesar. According to the world they lived in, Caesar was Lord, and to say otherwise was to risk arrest and even execution.
When a Christian confessed, “Jesus is Lord,” they were by extension also saying, “And Caesar is not.” They were declaring their loyalty. They were choosing their allegiance. It’s not possible to accept Caesar as your Lord and Jesus at the same time. If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.
If Jesus is your Lord, your king, then Caesar is not. And some Christians died because of that, because their loyalty was with Jesus, with a crucified king.
Who is your king? To what kingdom do you belong? With whom is your loyalty?
In the gospel of Luke, we see two criminals crucified with Jesus. One of them, like the soldiers and the religious leaders, mocks Jesus. But the other one, the other criminal, has a very different reaction. He scolds his counterpart: “We indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”
And then this condemned man goes even further. He makes a request of Jesus: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Remember me when you come into your kingdom. In this moment, on the cross, about to die, this criminal identifies Jesus as a king. And he asks for this king to remember him. He wants Jesus to be his Lord.
Why? Why does the criminal recognize that Jesus is a king, even in the horrific moment of his execution? Why does he choose to treat Jesus with honor and respect, when everyone else is mocking and tormenting Jesus?
Perhaps, as another pastor pointed out, this criminal heard Jesus forgiving the very people who were crucifying him.
There on the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them.” The criminal crucified alongside Jesus heard those words. He heard Jesus offering grace and compassion, even at the point of death, even for the people who killed him.
This criminal saw in Jesus a very different kind of king. Not a king like Caesar, a king with armies and power and fine things. Not a king with the power to crucify his opponents by the thousands, if he wanted to. Instead, a king who has been crucified, hanging on a cross, wearing a crown of thorns. The criminal saw in Jesus a king who suffered and died, even though he was innocent; a king who asked God to forgive his murderers. The criminal saw what kind of king Jesus is, and the criminal wanted to be a part of that kingdom. He wanted Jesus to be his king.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom of forgiveness and grace, justice and righteousness. Jesus’ kingdom does not use violence to control or divisions to condemn. The way to Jesus’ kingdom is not the wide roads of the Roman empire, but the cross on the hill in a place called “the Skull.”
Who would vote for Jesus? At least this one criminal, crucified alongside him, would. At least this criminal asked Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Who would vote for Jesus? Those Christians who confessed, “Jesus is Lord,” knowing that it put them in opposition to the empire, knowing that they risked arrest, torture, even death for their faith. They were willing to declare their allegiance, to side with Jesus, knowing full well that their king wore a crown of thorns.
Today is Christ the King Sunday. Today, we remember that our king, our Lord, is the one who went willingly to his death, the one who prayed for his murderers, the one who had compassion on a criminal. May we never forget what kind of king we follow, and may we have the courage to follow him and confess, “Jesus is Lord.” Amen.