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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Christ the King: The Jesus who says "Enter in" or "Go to Hell"


On Christ the King Sunday we remember that as well as having a Saviour, we have a King, and a king has a kingdom, a king has subjects, a king rules over those subjects and a king demands loyalty and obedience from those subjects. Jesus the King is no different. Sociologist and researcher Amy Sherman has said that Christians tend to have three models for interacting with society: fortification, accommodation, and domination. To put that in layman’s terms: We hunker down amongst ourselves,
water down our witness, or beat down our opponents. For many reasons, those aren’t New Testament models for introducing Christ the King. 

A watered down witness seems to me to one of the biggest dangers in the current season that the Western church finds itself in. The world is kind of used to us shutting ourselves off in holy huddles where we and they are clearly defined, and we are in and they are out; the world is also used to our beating them down with our Bible punching and they’ve become resistant to it. So now, to try and appeal to them, we water down our witness…we tame Jesus and His message. Here are some of the ways that we do this, some in the context of the reading set for today:

Jesus is tamed and made irrelevant in a terrible way when we cease to speak about the possibility of his immediate return (but more on that subject in Advent).

Jesus is rendered irrelevant when his preaching of judgment, which makes up a significant portion of the gospels, is ignored and there is talk only of the loving and tender Jesus.

Jesus is tamed when there is no more preaching about his sharp words against the rich. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus said (Mark 10:25).

Jesus is tamed when it becomes taboo to speak of his sexuality, which was celibacy. It was not accidental and not a matter of fate; it is connected with his absolute devotion to the people of God….(more on sexuality and virginity in the readings set during Advent)

Jesus is also tamed when we sharply criticize the treatment of divorced and remarried persons by the Roman Catholic church and yet keep silent about the altogether clear and thoroughly well-attested words of Jesus against divorce. …

Above all, Jesus is tamed and rendered irrelevant when he is presented only as a sympathetic rabbi, a prophet mighty in word and deed, or a gifted charismatic—or as the first feminist, a radical social revolutionary, a wonderful social worker. All that conceals his true claim, which is that He is King, that He has a Kingdom, that He has subjects and as King He demands loyalty and obedience. In all the above categories Jesus is shrunken, distorted, twisted into shape, planed smooth, disempowered, and accommodated to our secret desires…..[thanks to  Gerhard Lohfink for these insights]

In all these ways…we water down the gospel: In the words of Isaiah (30:10) “we tell people pleasant things and prophesy illusions” or in Paul’s words (2 Tim 4:3) “we tell people what their itching ears want to hear.”

We have been spoiled in South Africa because of our religious heritage. There was once a common Christian consensus. Not that long ago, Billy Graham would fill the largest stadium in any city, (although in SA he only held campaigns in Durban and Johannesburg), he would stand up, and say “the Bible says,” and have the audience nod along. Today, belief in the Bible can’t be taken for granted, so appeals to the Bible don’t have the same power. The new way, in this culture, is that you reach out with acts of mercy that touch people’s hearts, and hopefully they want to know why.

 So what should we be? We need to create pioneer settlements that show the world a different, grace-based way of living. The Great Trek needs to begin again, only this trek is not into the hinterland across rivers, mountains and plains, but is rather a trek to the other side of town, the other side of the railway line, sometimes it begins with a trek to the other side of the church, where the older people sit, or the younger people sit, or where the people with little babies sit.

Jesus describes such a trek in the reading set for today, the last Sunday of the year, before a new year starts with Advent next week. This reading tells a message (from the lips of Jesus) which is a message that is not that popular today. One, it speaks of Jesus who will return, perhaps before the end of this service, as Christ the King. Secondly, it speaks of the Jesus who is anything but what we might understand as “meek and mild”…we meet in this reading the Jesus who will have all creation, every human being ever created, standing before Him as He is seated on the throne of Judgement. And He looks at this vast crowd, whom He loves dearly, each one of whom He suffered and died for, He loves them with all His heart, but He divides them and tells some to enter into His kingdom and He tells others to go to hell. That’s not a message that many ears are itching to hear, but it gets “worse” because this judgement, is based plain and simply, on works, on good deeds, on whether or not you made the trek to the other side. This is not a popular message because: “Surely, we are saved by faith!” Of course we are, and I’ve preached on Salvation by Faith Alone more times than I care to remember, but always make clear that faith without works is dead faith, it cannot save you (James 2:14-17):

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Is your faith…saving faith, or is it one of the many other brands of faith available on the religious market?

And so I close this year, the last Sunday before Advent, Christ the King Sunday, with the words of Jesus. May these words re-assure those of us who are sheep and may they convict those of us who are goats.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

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