Christ: King, Priest, Prophet

Who is the Christ?

The Christian faith, Christian worship, everything that can be called Christian revolves around one thing: the identity of Christ. Knowing who Christ is and what he has done, is doing, and will do, sets the stage for it all. We confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Savior of the world, a friend of sinners, the Messiah of Israel, and many other titles.

One of the questions we commonly ask people today, to determine if they’re a Christian or not, is “have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” This is a good question, referring to Jesus as Lord and Jesus as Savior, but there is another dimension to his identity that usually goes along with these. Throughout the Church’s history, and especially among the Reformers, Jesus has been referred to as fulfilling three different roles, or offices: King, Priest, and Prophet. When we ask “have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior” we’re covering the first two: his kingship is represented by ‘Lord’ and his Priesthood is represented by ‘Savior’ – but he is thirdly also a Prophet. A King rules and judges, a Priest makes sacrifice for sins, and a Prophet delivers God’s words. As King, Jesus will return to this world to judge and to rule forever. As Priest, Jesus made a sacrifice to atone for sin and is making intercession for us. As Prophet, Jesus preached the New Covenant between God and his people, enabling non-Jews like you and I to become part of God’s family.

What’s really cool about our readings today on this modern observance of Christ the King Sunday, is that each of the three traditional offices of Christ as referenced. In Jeremiah 23:5 we find a prophecy about Jesus as King: “he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” In Colossians 1:20, we find a teaching about Jesus as Priest, how God would “reconcile to himself all things” through Jesus. And in John 6:14, after Jesus miraculously feeds five thousand people, they proclaim “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

Knowing Christ as King, Priest, and Prophet

This isn’t just theology to learn, memorize, and file away in a box somewhere. Proclaiming Jesus as Prophet, Priest, and King is a profound confession of faith. When we proclaim Jesus as Prophet, we acknowledge that the authority of his teaching is from God, we acknowledge that the miracles he performed were the works of God, and we acknowledge that the Covenant he made is not only available to us, but we are bound to it. When we proclaim Jesus as Savior or Priest, we acknowledge that his sacrificial death was on our behalf, making atonement for the sins that we are guilty of; we acknowledge that he truly rose again, and ascended into heaven to make intercession for us before the Father until he returns again to bestow God’s eternal blessing on his people. When we proclaim Jesus as Lord or King, we acknowledge that he is sovereign over us; he’s in charge, and we are subject to him. We don’t have any rights before God; all we have are his promises made to those whose sins are forgiven.

Additionally, when we proclaim Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King, we’re making a political statement. You know the popular American quote, “There are only two certainties in life: death and taxes.” Well guess what, Jesus brings both of those to an end. He completed his work as a Prophet, preaching and teaching and delivering the New Covenant. He’s currently working on completing his work as a Priest, having finished the sacrifice, is still interceding for us and providing his people with his Body and Blood in the heavenly Temple, and will return to pronounce God’s blessing. And he has yet to take up his eternal throne to rule on earth. When he does, he will completely displace all other rulers, both political and spiritual. When Jesus returns, ISIS will be disbanded, the Chinese government will be pushed out of power, the United States of America will lose its sovereignty, and even the British Empire will sadly come to an end, all to give place to one King over all: Jesus. Thus, our taxes to our respective nations will finally end. Similarly, the rule of death over life will finally be reversed: the dead will rise, and we will all live forever, like God meant us to. Those who accept Jesus as King will find eternal life to be heaven. Those who reject Jesus as King will find eternal life to be hell.

Christ’s Kingship through Jeremiah’s eyes

Let’s look more specifically at Christ’s kingship, as Jeremiah describes it. “Behold, the days are coming” God declares, because as far as Jeremiah was concerned, the kingship descending from David had just been destroyed. God was first and foremost giving his people hope. He promised “I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king.” This was a necessary description – too many of the kings in David’s line were distinctly unrighteous, and that is why they and the whole kingdom were overthrown. If anyone were to be able to restore the kingship, it would have to be someone righteous. Through Jeremiah, God continues describing this promised king as one who would “deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” So while we might be happy to see earth’s corrupt governments and powers gone, we need not lament the subjection of the good countries, because as much as we might like some earthly countries, Jesus’ kingdom will get it right. His justice and righteousness are perfect, and we can trust and love him as King. Verse 6 goes so far as to say that under the reign of Jesus, “Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.” This means that God’s people will find two things: salvation from sin and a safe homeland. In the Old Covenant era, the Israelites got a snapshot of that in the Promised Land, and when they were able to rebuild Jerusalem after captivity in Babylon they had another snapshot of this promise, but ultimately God’s promises are not merely the Holy Land to the Jewish people-group, but the whole creation to his whole family. A title for Jesus given here is “the Lord is our righteousness,” because his perfect righteousness is to be shared with all of his people.

Verses 7 and 8 go on to focus on the celebration of renewal and restoration. In Jeremiah’s time, the main picture was of the Jews being restored to the Promised Land. But in Christ we’ve been brought back to the bigger picture. God is not just aiming to gather his ‘favorite tribe’ back in their historic territory, he’s aiming to conquer the whole world with his people. Bringing the Gospel to all nations and people-groups and subjecting the whole world under his Christ – this is what he’s really promising. This is what it means to make the whole creation new. The old focus of nationality and territory and earthly governance is to give way to the new and eternal covenant of Jesus Christ as the King of all creation, and its Priest and its Prophet.

Liturgical and devotional applications of Christ’s Kingship

So that’s what Christ the King Sunday is really all about. As impressive as our earthly rulers can be, there is coming a day when all knees will bow, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Liturgically, this Sunday acts as a hinge, by the way. Ever since Trinity Sunday, at the beginning of the summer, the lectionary has taken us through a long discipleship course. First it brought us through Purgation, the shedding of sinful ways from our lives; then it brought us through Illumination, shining the light of the Holy Spirit deeper into our hearts to cleanse us from within; and finally it brought us through Union, the joining of every aspect of ourselves with God. The culmination of all this is perfection! On the Last Day, we will be completely purged from our sins, completely illuminated with God’s Spirit, and completely united with Christ. In that state, and only in that state, will be ready to receive Christ as our King. So this discipleship course has, in a way, prepared us to move into the season of Advent, where we celebrate and anticipate the return of Christ our King. And so the liturgical calendar is a circle; we walked through the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, and then after the final big revelations of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and the Holy Trinity on Trinity Sunday, we got that long discipleship course to show us how we live in response to who God is. And now, at the end of the discipleship course, we are prepared to welcome Christ our King openly and honestly.

Because, whether we like it or not, he will arrive suddenly, with the hosts of heaven, and judge the entire world, and take his place as King of Everyone and Everything for ever. To some, that sounds absolutely terrifying. To those who have recognized his worthiness and the rightness of his kingship, however, this is the best news we’ll ever hear.

Blessed be God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and blessed be his kingdom, now and forever. Amen.

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The last Sunday before Advent, commonly called Christ the King Sunday

(23 November 2014, 22 November 2015)

The Collect:
ALMIGHTY and eternal God, who restores all things in your Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords, stir up, we beseech you, the wills of your faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of you be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Readings:
Jeremiah 23:5-8; Psalm 85:8-13; Colossians 1:13-20; John 6:5-14

As Trinity Sunday was the hinge from which the calendar swings from doctrine to discipleship, so today is the hinge from which we return from discipleship training to the final test of Advent. All of today’s readings announce the arrival of our King, Jesus, in various ways. The Collect, therefore, is a prayer to stir up our wills so we can pursue the good works of the Christian life and finally reach our heavenly reward. When Christ’s second Advent will we be found ready to receive our King of kings and Lord of lords?

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The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity.

(omitted in 2014, 15 Nov. 2015)

The Collect:
O LORD, we beseech you, absolve your people from their offences; that through your bountiful goodness we may all be delivered from the bonds of those sins, which by our frailty we have committed: Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake, our blessed Lord and Savior.

The Readings:
Isaiah 55:6-11; Psalm 85:1-7; Colossians 1:3-12; Matthew 9:18-26

The discipleship course of the season after Trinity Sunday now reaches its culmination: the picture of Christian perfection. A double focus on dealing with sin is addressed. As Jesus both healed a woman who was sick and resurrected a woman who was dead, Christian perfection is about both absolution from our present sins and deliverance from sin’s bonds – its after-effects on our souls. In the Epistle, Saint Paul gives thanks for past growth and prays for its continuation to fulfillment. The Old Testament and Psalm, likewise, celebrate the mercy and forgiveness of God.

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The Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity.

(omitted in 2014, 8 Nov. 2015)

The Collect:
O GOD, our refuge and strength, who are the author of all godliness; Be ready, we beseech you, to hear the devout prayers of your Church; and grant that those things which we ask faithfully we may obtain effectually; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Readings:
Genesis 45:1-7,15; Psalm 133; Philippians 3:17-21; Matthew 22:15-22

One last aspect of our union with God is the idea of our citizenship in heaven. As Jesus observes in the Gospel, this reality results in our having a double duty – we render to God his due, and render to our earthly kings theirs. The difference between these two loyalties is illustrated in the Old Testament – God used Joseph to save his family even in a foreign land. The difference is also explained in the Epistle – those who reject God are ruled by their stomachs and earthly concerns, while we are ruled by heaven and our bodies will be transformed! The Psalm looks forward to that transformation, and the Collect reminds us in our transformed state, all our prayers will be “effectually obtained” because we’re united with God!

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The Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

(16 November 2014, omitted in 2015)

The Collect:
LORD, we beseech you to keep your household the Church in continual godliness; that through your protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve you in good works, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Readings:
Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 44:1-9; Philippians 1:3-11; Matthew 18:21-35

Reflection: As a sort of follow-up to last Sunday’s theme of struggle, we are now brought to the lesson of perseverance. The Church, as God’s “household,” must continue in the good works begun in it – the Epistle and Collect together explore this in detail. The Gospel gives us a specific example in the importance of forgiving one another as we bear one another up in the Christian journey. Ultimately, though, the fruits of our perseverance are manifold as the Old Testament describes; therefore we remember and thank God, as in the Psalm.

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The Man of Prayer 4/15

< < Part 3 | Part 5 > >

He always lives to make intercession for them. – Hebrews 7:25

Michael Ramsey was the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, reigning from 1961-1974.  In 1979 he wrote a fantastic little book called The Christian Priest Today in which he has a number of short chapters about various aspects of the priesthood.  Many of these chapters were addresses or homilies said to a group of seminarians.  Chapter 3 is called Man of Prayer, and is a marvelous reflection on the prayer life of the priest.  Although it is written especially for, to, and about priests, the insights about prayer are valuable for any Christian seeking growth in closeness with God.  Each of these fifteen posts (which I will endeavor to maintain as a weekly series on Thursdays) is a reflection on one paragraph from the late Archbishop’s chapter, Man of Prayer, from his book The Christian Priest Today.

But we may go deeper, and when we do so we find the concept of the interceding high priest simpler still.  When we say “he lives to make intercession” we note that the verb εντυγχανειν which we habitually translate “intercede” means literally not to make petitions or indeed to utter words at all but to meet to encounter, to be with someone on behalf of or in relation to others.  Jesus is with the Father; with him in the intimate response of perfect humanity; with him in the power of Calvary and Easter; with him as one who bears us all upon his heart, our Son of Man, our friend, our priest; with him as our own.  That is the continuing intercession of Jesus the high priest.

Archbishop Ramsey here takes us deeper into the simplicity of the definition of intercession.  Normally we think of it as praying on behalf of someone else; this is true, but the direct translation of the Greek word for ‘intercession’ has a more vivid basic translation: “to meet with someone.”  And thus, in the context of prayer, this means that to intercede for someone means to be with God on behalf of someone else.  It’s just not the talking, it’s the personal time, the intimate presence.

This explains Jesus’ high priesthood by showing that, as the perfect human, he is the one who perfectly fulfills that call to be with God in heaven to be with him on behalf of his people.  So if you want to be close to God, make sure Jesus is your high priest, because Jesus is the only high priest who is always and perfectly in the Father’s presence.

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The Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

(9 November 2014, 25 October 2015)

The Collect:
GRANT, we beseech you, merciful Lord, to your faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve you with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Readings:
Genesis 32:24-29; Psalm 90:1-12; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 4:46-54

Today we are reminded that seeking union with God is a journey of great “toil and trouble,” as the Psalm puts it. As Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord to seek his blessing, and as the official in Capernaum needed a miracle to grow his faith, so we must take up “the whole armor of God” in order to stand against temptations to sin. At the end of this struggle, however, is peaceful service to God, which is what the Collect directs us to.

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