This is my sermon upon Christ the King Sunday, 22 November 2015, for Grace Anglican Church.
Jesus is the savior of the world. Normally, when we hear this, we think of His sacrifice on the Cross. Jesus took on the office of High Priest and offered up a payment for the sin of the world. This is our great focus around Easter, in both its lead-up and its following season: Jesus is our great High Priest through whom we are saved. But now, as we transition into the season of Advent, we are drawn to another office (or role) that Jesus takes on: the King of kings and Lord of lords.
You see, the Cross was more than the sacrificial altar, which, paired with the resurrection, atones for the sin of the world, but also a throne, which, paired with the ascension to the right hand of the Father, establishes a new King and Kingdom. The “prince of this world” is no longer Satan. When the Devil tempted Jesus with the offer of rulership over all nations, Jesus said no; he knew he was destined for that rulership via the Cross, not via the Devil’s shortcut.
On the Cross, and proven by his descent among the dead, resurrection to bodily life, and ascension into heaven, Jesus became the King of All Creation, known in Greek by one of the coolest-sounding titles you’ll ever hear: the Pantokrator. Panto means ‘all,’ and krator is ruler. One of the most classic icons of Jesus is called the Kyrie Pantokrator, the Lord & Ruler of All. It is also the standard image found inside the top of the dome of Orthodox church buildings over the sanctuary where the altar is located.
There he is, the Word of God, holding the word of God.
Anyway, just like his priesthood and sacrifice, so too does his kingship and rule save us. The phrase “savior of the world” is not just a priestly title, as we often think of it; it’s also political. In the first century, the Caesars were often referred to as “Savior.” Even to this day, political leaders use similar language to describe their administration or their campaign platform. So when we proclaim Christ as Savior, we’re making both a religious and a political statement: the ultimate hope, the perfect change, the thing our world most needs, is Jesus enthroned as King.
To dig in to how Christ as King saves us, let’s turn to the epistle reading, Colossians 1:13-20.
God has delivered us. Another way of putting this is to say that God rescued us. He has rescued us from the domain of darkness. This domain or dominion of darkness comes from the word εξουσίας which is also means ‘authority.’ It’s where we get the word ‘exorcism.’ Jesus has authority to cast out demons. So to say we’ve been delivered or rescued from the authority of the darkness, it shows that without God we are literally ruled over by evil and wickedness. That is the life of sin. And that is what God in Christ rescues us from! Paul mentions this again in chapter 2, saying God “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:15).
His rescuing us is just the beginning of his triumph, however. Next, verse 13 says that God has transferred us. He has moved us from being ruled over by darkness and evil to a new location: the Kingdom of his beloved Son. Since we’ve been delivered and transferred, but aren’t entirely there yet, what does that make us? We are exiles, foreigners, aliens, sojourners, pilgrims, refugees! Throughout history God has been impressing this aspect of faithful living upon his people. Christianity is a pilgrimage, the Israelites were wanderers and refugees and exiles for much of the time before Christ. Since the beginning God has been trying to get it into our heads that we have a better homeland awaiting us, and that we ought to be looking ahead to his promises and not get completely caught up in merely what we see.
The “redemption of sins” hints at Jesus’ priestly office. On the Cross he redeemed us, he bought us back. A payment was made so that we could be removed from the temporary Kingdom of Satan and brought into the eternal Kingdom of God. Our sins had to be redeemed in order for this to happen, though. “Why doesn’t God just rescue everyone?” people often question us. This is why: our sins make us unworthy to enter into the Kingdom of God. Our sins make us worthy only of the Kingdom of Satan, and the fact that we continue sinning even if we want to do good is an indication that we are still serving the darkness. Our sins have to be redeemed in order for us to leave the Kingdom of darkness. And only Jesus’ payment on the Cross is enough to redeem us. Anywhere else we look to justify ourselves and erase our sins will come up short.
Verses 15 through 20 form a sort of a hymn, sometimes called the Canticle of Supremacy, referring to the supremacy of Jesus over creation. As we look at this, notice how the first three verses declare Jesus as supreme over the Old Creation, and the last three declare Jesus as supreme over the New Creation.
Right off the bat, “the Firstborn of all creation” is a phrase that is terribly misunderstood by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. They, and other heretics throughout Church history, made the fatal error of taking this to mean that the Son of God is a created being. This is quite wrong. The Nicene Creed hammers home the correction: Jesus is “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.” As this very verse says, he is the image of the invisible God. When people look at Jesus, they were looking at God. When Jesus was born as a man, yes, his human nature was part of creation, but God the Son is co-existent and co-eternal with God the Father. There was never a time when God the Son did not exist.
To describe Jesus as “the firstborn of all creation” is to highlight his status within creation. The firstborn is the heir. The firstborn gets the highest honor in the family. So even though God the Son became a human just like you and I, he is privileged above us all. We, God’s people, consider ourselves children of God, but that is through adoption; Jesus is elder to us, and so he alone rules over us.
Creation “through” Christ indicates it’s the work of the whole Trinity. To point out the false teachings of Gnostics in the early days and Jehovah’s Witnesses today, there have been claims that God the Father created the Word (the Son, Jesus) who in turn then went and created the physical universe. This scheme distances God from creation, setting up a false dualism to say that spiritual existence is good and physical existence is bad. No, creation was worked through Christ. That means that the Father and the Holy Spirit also worked with the Son to create the universe.
Creation “for” Christ indicates that within the Trinity, God the Son was specifically destined to enter into the creation and reign from within. From the start, perhaps even before sin entered into the picture, it was in God’s heart to join us in his own creation so that we could live together in complete and perfect harmony and communion forever. Sin has delayed this reality, but ultimately this is what God plans to bring about, and what we look forward to in Christ’s return.
He is before all things. Think about what Jesus said about himself one time: “before Abraham was, I am.” Paul is doing much the same thing here: “before all things were, He is.” Jesus, as God the Son, has always existed. This puts him on an entirely different level than creation. And yet, there is a connection between his existence and creation’s existence. The other half of this verse says “in him all things hold together.” This is the plain and simple truth that God not only created all things, but sustains all things. One farmer sows seeds, another waters, “but God gives the growth.”
Now we move to the part of the hymn proclaiming Jesus’ supremacy over the New Creation. Verse 18 begins this theme with four descriptions of Jesus.
Jesus is the head. We begin with the concept of headship. The whole Church comes from him, submits to him, is governed by him, and sustained by him.
Jesus is the beginning. The New Creation, the Church, is made starting with the work of Jesus, just as the Old Creation was made starting with the work of Jesus. In both cases, as St. John wrote, “in the beginning was the Word.”
Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. From the midst of creation, nothing and no one has ever risen from death to eternal life. The Bible records that a few people were resurrected, but they still grew old and died again. Jesus is the first to be resurrected unto eternal life. Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again! But he’s only the firstborn, a demonstration of a resurrection that we can all look forward to.
Jesus has preeminence. The fact that Jesus really and truly died, and returned to life, is very important for recognizing the scope of his kingship. He is not just the king of heaven, and the king of earth, but also the king of Sheol (or Hades or Hell). He’s been there, he proclaimed the Gospel to the dead, announcing the establishment of his long-awaited kingdom. Living or dead, all are subject to him; he is preeminent over everyone and everything.
The fullness of God dwells in Christ. This statement is also rich with meaning. It proclaims that Jesus is fully God, not a demigod, not half-man-half-god, but completely and truly God. Because of that, it means that we don’t need to invoke other beings or other things in order to get to God. We don’t need to worship an assortment of idols, we don’t need to pay homage to angels or invoke the patronage of saints to get enough divinity around us. Christ, the man, is God. No other intermediary between us and God is needed; he’s got the fullness, the whole deal.
Reconciliation is through Christ. Just as the fullness of God meant that Jesus is the perfect link between divinity and humanity, so too does it mean that perfect reconciliation between God and mankind is in Jesus. Only one human ever lived in perfect harmony with God: Jesus. He is the one human who was always on God’s side. Therefore he is the perfect mediator to settle the differences between God and the rest of us. If you want to get on God’s good side, submit to the mediator, Jesus Christ; he is the way and the truth and the life.
Finally, peace comes by the blood of the Cross. Let’s go back to those two kingdoms we were talking about before: the Kingdom of Darkness and the Kingdom of God. There is a war between them; Satan declared war on God and dragged us in on his side. By nature, we’re caught on the wrong side, the losing side, fighting a futile battle against God. What’s more, a decisive battle has been fought and won by God: when Jesus died on the Cross he triumphed over Satan. Satan, it seems, thought that by killing Jesus he would forever defeat God and rule this world forever. But instead he let God into his private lair, Sheol (or Hades or Hell), allowing God to rescue his people from death itself! It’s like in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Aslan got into the White Witch’s castle and started restoring her stone prisoners to life; Jesus went to death, and turned it into a paradise.
But this victory over death happened through death itself. Jesus trampled death by death. And so Paul wrote here that peace comes by the blood of the Cross. Again, we are to look to Christ and his sacrifice and his victory on the Cross as the source of our salvation.
The Gospel of Christ the King
So, as I said at the beginning, Jesus is the Savior of the world. As this hymn in Colossians 1 describes, Jesus was uniquely capable of becoming the Savior; in fact he was destined for it from the very start. As I mentioned last week, he brings full absolution and perfect hæl. But even that isn’t quite enough. How frustrating would it be to be perfectly holy and healthy and yet still be surrounded by a world that continues its war against God? The kingship of Jesus gives the final piece of the picture here. Not only do we, as people, each personally benefit from the saving work of Christ, but the entire creation will be renewed and restored to its rightful king, Jesus, God the Son. There will be “Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” And, if I might edit that classic Christmas hymn to fit today’s message, “Joyful, all ye nations, rise, join the triumph of the skies; With th’ angelic host proclaim, ‘Christ was born in Bethlehem.’ Hark! the herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the returning King!’”