“Just What Kind of King is Jesus?”
Dr. Michael Johnson
Holly Avenue United Methodist Church
November 24, 2013
15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before God made anything at all and is supreme over all creation. 16 Christ is the one through whom God created everything in heaven and earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see — kings, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities. Everything has been created through him and for him. 17 He existed before everything else began, and he holds all creation together. 18 Christ is the head of the church, which is his body. He is the first of all who will rise from the dead, so he is first in everything. 19 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, 20 and by him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of his blood on the cross.
Today, is of course the Sunday before Thanksgiving, but on the Christian calendar it is the last Sunday of the year and the Feast of Christ the King. When we think of Christ as King we often see images of him with a golden crown, flowing robes, and a scepter. He is pictured as one of the ancient kings or monarchs who are totally in control of their kingdoms; the boss.
Most people, even non-Christians, believe God is the boss or this type king. Our passage today from Colossians gives us a description of Jesus as boss, though it does not use the term king. But before we look at this passage I want to explore other images of God as the boss; the one in charge.
We seem obsessed with the concept of the one who hands out goodies and Thanksgiving and Christmas reinforce this image. James writes, “Every good and perfect gift from above comes down from the father of heavenly lights.” James 1:17. Many see God as a divine Santa Claus whose main purpose is to give us the things we ask for. Of course that is not all bad. After all Christmas is supposed to be about God giving us Jesus.
However, asking God for things dominates our prayer requests and our prayer times: what we want, what we need, and our intercession for others. In his book, Why? Adam Hamilton addresses this head-on in his chapter on unanswered prayer. For it does seem that many, if not most, of our prayers go unanswered. He suggests that the purpose of prayer may not be so much intercession as it is about relationship.
Our belief in God as king includes seeing God as sovereign. The one who is in charge or in control. Isaiah uses this term more than any other Biblical writer and his passage from Isaiah 61 is most familiar; “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me…” These were the words Jesus spoke in his inaugural address when he began his ministry in Nazareth. Israel, in its monotheism, believed so strongly in the sovereignty of God that they believed everything happens because God wants it to happen. There are no accidents or coincidences in this way of viewing the world.
It can be a very fatalistic view of life. We die when our time is up, when God says it is time, and we have no say in it. Even if we were to commit suicide it is God who pulls the trigger. There are no choices. This way of understanding God as the boss takes away our freedom. Though we do not teach this in the United Methodist Church I have heard it for over 30 years as a pastor particularly at times of crisis. But it can’t be true unless God is a monster and gives children cancer, kills teens in car accidents, and wipes out people in typhoons or tornadoes.
With this understanding comes the concept of the omnipotence of God. While it may be conceptually true that God is all powerful it does not work itself out in the fashion we often think or desire. God does not stop hurricanes nor direct them as punishment. There are natural laws and I have never, ever, seen one breeched.
These concepts of God can cause serious mental problems. I had a psychiatrist refer a woman to me who had had a breakdown because of her tremendous fear in the God of wrath. Just maybe we live in a world where there is “collision” as Robert Capon wrote years ago in The Third Peacock. The sovereign omnipotent God created things that just run into each other. People get in the way of storms and healthy cells get in the way of cancerous cells.
In Colossians we come to a portrait of Jesus as the boss. Everything in it is a statement of faith; unprovable. It tells us he is the image of the invisible God; a picture or portrait of God. It says that all of God’s fullness was in him. In other words Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. Jesus told Phillip in John 14 that if Phillip wanted to see the Father he only needed to look to him.
The passage also says that all things were created by him and for him and that he holds all thing together. When I pastored in Oak Ridge I knew a lot of scientists. A man in my church, a scientist, was dying of cancer and I went to see him. He said, “You know there is more nothing or empty space even in an atom than there is concrete material. There is believed to be something in an atom we call a gluon. Its function is to hold all things together. That is where God is.” Creation is still happening and has for 13 plus billion years. There are new galaxies, new people, and new cells created daily. Christ holds it all together.
Colossians also says Christ is the head of the church, but he does not head it up in a dictatorial manner. He does not control or overpower; he invites. ”I stand at the door and knock,” he says, but does not knock it down. And he reconciles all things to God. He puts everything in its proper relationship.
If we could look at God, and Jesus as king in light of the gospels, we could hearken back to the Old Testament with an image that allows us to see differently.
Psalm 103 ends saying that God is king, but his nature is one of forgiveness, compassion, understanding and the withholding of punishment.
Isaiah 43 says that God is creator, but intimate in that he calls us by name, we are precious in his sight and he loves us.
But the idea of God, and Christ as an earthly king prevailed even among Jesus’ followers. James and John wanted to sit on the right and left in his kingdom. They wanted power. Jesus says you don’t understand. Gentile rulers Lord it over people, but is not that way with me, with us. The first are to be last and greatness is about being of service. I didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give my life.
There have been countless writers through the ages that in one way or another have suggested that the reason we often cannot see Jesus as king is because we are not willing to look low enough. Our king is like no other. He does not dictate, force, manipulate or control. He washes feet, wipes tears from our eyes and invites us to give our lives away.
There is only one place where Christ is king. You can look at the world and see that he does not control it or wield power over it. He is only king where we let him be king; in our hearts and minds when we allow him to be the king of our life. A life he bids us to give away in service to humanity.