John 18:33-37 – Worship Christ the King

14th century painting of Jesus standing before Pilate by Italian artist Duccio di Buoninsegna

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (New International Version)

In Christianity, to worship God means we praise the person and work of Christ and are also spiritually formed through that adoration. Christ the King Sunday focuses our worship on Jesus Christ’s reign over the entire world. It is a proclamation that everything and everyone in all creation is subservient to King Jesus. Furthermore, it is an invitation to actively enjoy Christ’s gracious and benevolent rule over us.

Jesus came to this earth to bring connection and intimacy to God and humanity. We all have relationships in which we want to be closer.

  • A parent might be dissatisfied, and sad, that one of their children is estranged from them, because they want intimacy.
  • A spouse may want to have a more relationally intimate marriage, having been distant for too many years.
  • A teenagers or twenty-something might want to get closer to that special someone. 
  • A friend might be keeping their distance. And although you have conversations with them, they only let you in so far.

We want to go deeper, and it isn’t happening because the other party is not willing.

In this we reflect the image of God within us because God feels that same longing and desire to move deeper and closer to us. The Lord desires intimacy, yet we might keep treating him like he is some untouchable monarch like Queen Elizabeth – as if there is no chance of really getting close, and we wonder if there is any real power there to make a difference. 

However, God is not a ruling figurehead, and does not want a casual superficial relationship with us. Christ’s kingship moves closer to people, not further away. Everything Jesus did on this earth was to bring people closer to God because God wants a personal and familiar relationship with us. 

Jesus does not want us estranged from God, and he has gone to the greatest lengths possible to make that close relationship possible and real through the cross, resurrection, ascension, and a kingly reign which is near to us. The kingdom of God, with Jesus as King, is a kingdom of closeness and fellowship with the divine.

Christ the King Sunday appropriately challenges us to consider what it means to say that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our life. Jesus Christ, as our Lord and King, means much more than God calling the shots and issuing commands; it means Christ uses his lordship to satisfy his longing to be with us.

Our Gospel lesson for today plunges us into an event we associate with Holy Week. Christ has been arrested by the conniving of his enemies. Since the religious authorities could not put anyone to death, they bring Jesus to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, in the hope he will do their dirty work for them. 

Jesus condemned to death, painting by the Benedictine Sisters of Turvey Abbey

The scene takes place early in the morning at Pilate’s palace. Pilate doesn’t like the Jewish authorities because they put a dent in his career plans through their constant complaints about him to his supervisors in Rome. For purely political reasons, Pilate decides he will satisfy their demand and interview this Jesus who they claim is an enemy of Rome.

The prisoner, Jesus of Nazareth, is brought to Pilate. He is a mess. Christ’s clothes are stained with dirt and blood. His face is bruised and haggard. He has not slept all night. Pilate has heard of Jesus, and so he’s curious to make a personal evaluation of him. Jesus looks nothing like a king to Pilate.

Pilate, in contrast, looks the image of a worldly leader with his power suit on and all the strength of Rome behind him. He hardly has time for this sideshow, this pathetic presentation of leadership in front of him. Jesus looks like nothing more than a kingly wannabe. There is nothing from Christ’s outward appearance that gives any impression he is qualified to be a leader of anybody. We can almost picture Pilate rolling his eyes, saying “so you are the King of the Jews?”

What follows is a strange, convoluted conversation about kingship and truth with a contrast between this world and a world to come. Repeatedly, Jesus makes it clear his kingdom is not of this world. Two thousand years have passed since that dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, yet the same issue remains.

The issue is this: Jesus is calling all of us to follow him – to put his Kingdom first in our lives. In Pilate, we have a symbol of worldly power, which is arbitrary, unprincipled, self-serving, and brutal. Pilate knows the right thing to do but chooses the path of least resistance. He caves to the political pressure, denying the truth which is right under his prominent Roman nose.

Earthly power seeks its own ends. It wants to hold onto control and call the shots. Conversely, Christ’s kingly power is used to serve, to wash feet and meet needs, to move closer to people. Earthly kingdoms use violence to conquer and maintain order and control its subjects. In stark contrast, Christ’s kingdom uses love to transform and unify people around Jesus so that the subjects are with the king and enjoy his rule and reign.

Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. It is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive to how every other leadership structure works on earth. It is an upside-down kingdom that seems like it won’t work or make sense: The way up is down; to be great is not to work for a high position, suck up to the boss, and climb the ladder of wealth and success. Rather, it is to embrace humility and be a servant.

In God’s kingdom, the way to pursue truth is not in forming original ideas and expressing opinions but is found in a person. Truth-seeking disciples will listen to this one voice of Jesus, and filter-out all others. It is a voice calling for submission to his lordship, and to do so because it brings us into an intimate relationship with God.

The Light of the World, by English artist William Holman Hunt, 1852

The message of our crucified Savior reigning as King in our lives is not that, having suffered for us, Jesus will somehow keep us from facing difficult times. Instead, Jesus faced a horrible death so that our own tough times can triumph with God’s power to save us and move deeper into our lives. God’s presence and promise is what sustains us, not the avoidance of suffering. Christ as our King means God is with us.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are almost upon us. This season demonstrates a contrast between two kingdoms. The kingdom of this world calls on us to demonstrate our worth and gain meaningful relationship through grabbing control and obtaining stuff. The pressure in seeking the perfect gift at the perfect price in the hope that if we can bag it, wrap it, and get it under the tree, then we will be perfect, and the perfect family Christmas will happen, and relationships will be great, and everyone will act like I want. Right!?

In contrast, the kingdom Jesus describes assures us we don’t have to prove our worth through endless accomplishments and generous gifts. We don’t need to have the perfect Christmas experience to gain our deepest relational needs. Because, in our baptism, we have been accepted; we are sons and daughters of the living God; and we do not need to achieve greatness through financially and emotionally bleeding ourselves.

In his conversation with Pilate, Jesus said: “My kingdom is not of this world.” When Christians say Jesus Christ is our King, we acknowledge we are his subjects and that we march to the beat of a different drum. The heart of this relationship is our dependence on Jesus who came that we might have life and have it in abundance.

On this Sunday, followers of Jesus Christ boldly state our confidence that, at the end of time, Jesus will come again as King and Ruler of all. 

Blessed are those who see the truth by faith and not by sight. Blessed are those who say “Jesus is the King and the Lord of Life” without rolling their eyes or with a selfish agenda but with a sincere conviction that they belong to Jesus and want to be ever closer to him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Almighty God, everlasting heavenly Father, you break the power of evil and make all things new in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the universe. Our confidence is firmly in you, Lord Jesus, knowing you will redeem all things and make all things new. 

We affirm that our security is not in personal abilities, clever plans, or lucrative jobs; our security is in you alone. Your creation still groans with the pain of living in a fallen world. But you have conquered sin through your love, and it is to your love we rely upon. May all things in heaven and on earth recognize the glory of your kingly rule and never cease to praise you. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Colossians 1:15-23 – Worship That Is Fit for a King

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (New International Version)

Jesus is King. Neither you, nor I, are. 

A simple statement; yet, not easily engrafted into daily life. 

The original sin of Adam and Even was rebellion – to break the bonds of loving authority God provided for them. We (especially us Americans) have this nasty anti-authoritarian strain which runs rather deep in us. 

As a child, when my middle daughter was grappling with the implications of faith in Christ, she once blurted out an honest cry that we can likely resonate with: “I just don’t want another person in my life telling me what to do!” 

Indeed, Jesus is King; we are not.

The New Testament lesson for today is rich with the pre-eminence and lordship of Jesus Christ: 

  • All things were created through Jesus and for him. 
  • Everything in all creation is held together by Jesus. 
  • Christ is the head of the church. 
  • In Jesus Christ, complete divinity exists and reigns. 
  • Jesus made peace through the cross because he had the authority and the qualifications to do so. 
  • Broken relationships and proper lines of authority are now restored and redeemed in Christ.

We can also likely relate to, at times, indulging an illusion of being in control and independently dictating the course of our lives. Yet, mercifully, Jesus is the great Sovereign, and this is a good thing – because in Christ we find reconciliation and purity of life. 

“The supreme thing is worship. The attitude of worship is the attitude of a subject bent before the King… The fundamental thought is that of prostration, of bowing down.”

G. Campbell Morgan

Because Christ is King, we really ought to submit to him. In fact, we need to pay some attention to how our bodies are to submit to his lordship.

When the body moves to animating physical actions of submission, this helps the heart to follow. Whole person worship involves engaging the mind, spirit, emotions, and, yes, the body. To neglect the body in worship is to truncate the ability to connect with God in Christ.

A typical metaphor for the Church is the “Body of Christ.” We can live into that phrase through an embodied spirituality of submission. Our individual bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, important for expressing worship. (1 Corinthians 3:16)

God created us with literal physical bodies. And Jesus has a literal physical body. Bodies are important for whole person worship. This means the physical postures we take in worshiping King Jesus are significant. We need to pay attention to them.  

A healthy practice for Christians is to kneel in the presence of the Lord. I realize some Christian traditions do it as a part of their worship, and some do not. Some like it, some don’t. Yet, bowing, even prostrating oneself (if you are physically able!) can be a powerful symbol of the heart’s desire and disposition to submit to the lordship and authority of Jesus Christ. 

Crawling out of bed in the morning onto one’s knees and beginning the day aiming to live into the will of God, and ending the day in the same manner, are a practical means of remembering who Jesus is and who we are.

I believe all believers need to feel free in adopting a physical posture of worship which helps them connect with God in Christ. For some, that will be sitting in a comfortable position in contemplation. Others will want to stand, raise their hands, even dance in praise.

It also behooves us to let our bodies respond to whatever is happening with us spiritually. Exuberant praise needs the expression of hand clapping and toe tapping. Confession of sin needs a bit of bowing, kneeling, even prostrating. For prayer, hands open and palms facing up to receive blessing from God is a good bodily position of worship.

You get the idea. Just remember we need to strive for congruence in our worship, that is, what is happening with our outward bodily movements needs to match what is occurring inward with our spirits. And when the two are in sync, meaningful worship can happen – worship of submission fit for a king.

Sovereign God, in your mercy you have sent your Son, the Lord Jesus, who has brought reconciliation to a once broken relationship.  I bow before you in obedience, submission, and worship.  Let me live a cross-shaped life through enjoying the peace you have given me in Christ in both body and soul. Amen.

Hunger and Thirst for Justice and Righteousness

Welcome, friends! Jesus was and is deeply concerned for right relationships and just actions amongst humanity. Click the videos below, and let us consider his words….

Matthew 5:6 – Pastor Tim Ehrhardt
Words by Stuart Townsend. Sung by Kristyn Getty

O Lord, open my eyes that I may see the needs of others.
Open my ears that I may hear their cries.
Open my heart so that they need not be without comfort.
Let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong,
Nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.
Show me where love and hope and faith are needed,
And use me to bring them to those places.
And so open my eyes and my ears
That I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for you. Amen.

A Big Glorious Vision of Worship

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:1-8, NIV)

Uzziah was a king of Judah who reigned for fifty-two years. For most of his rule, he followed God faithfully. Under Uzziah the Jews had enjoyed the best political stability, economic security, and consistent worship of God since the days of King Solomon, hundreds of years before. 

Yet, if one were to look below the surface of Judah, it was also a time of spiritual complacency, apathy in worship, taking prosperity for granted, and self-centered – often oppressing others. The nation needed a fresh experience of God, and it came through the prophet Isaiah.

The essence of worship is a recognition and celebration of the triune God. Worship is a relational rhythm between God and humanity in which God self-reveals and people respond.

Worship is an experience of seeing and hearing divine revelation; repenting from wayward actions; and renewing missional service.

Worshiping the triune God ideally happens every day. It’s a lifestyle – not the result of one cleverly planned hour on Sunday. The people of Isaiah’s day were going through the ritual motions of worship without having their hearts in it. Worship was a kind of rabbit’s foot for them in which, if they had regular attendance within the temple, they believed they could do whatever they wanted with their lives outside the temple. 

As a result, the people did not see or hear God in their worship. Authentic worship of God does not have to do with the environment, the fellowship, or the music. True worship of the triune God is a heart desire to see and hear God. 

If worship does not happen in the sanctuary, that is because worship fails to occur daily life. Real worship is a life-changing encounter with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It experiences God’s revelation and changes our view of him. Bona fide worship leads to repentance and changes our view of self. True worship brings spiritual renewal and changes our view of mission and service.

Revelation: Worship Changes Our View of God

Isaiah saw a vision of God in the majestic divine throne room. It was a grand and transcendent vision of a God who dominates the entire setting. The train of God’s robe filled the temple. This is Isaiah’s way of saying the vision was incredibly large. If the train of his robe fills up the temple, then God is an immense Being. Gaining a vision of God’s hugeness is what causes our human problems to be seen as small. 

One time the Assyrian King Sennacherib invaded the land and approached Jerusalem during the reign of Uzziah’s great grandson, Hezekiah. The Assyrians were the dreaded horde of the ancient world, and it seemed no one could withstand them. So, the people prayed:

King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to heaven about this. And the Lord sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the commanders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king… So, the Lord saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all others. God took care of them on every side. (2 Chronicles 32:20-22, NIV)

Isaiah’s vision included seraphs – angels with the job description to glorify God with ceaseless praise. Their physical description symbolizes their function: covering their face symbolizes humility in God’s presence; covering their feet identifies it as holy ground; and flying symbolizes their work to do God’s will.

The seraphs have two-thirds wing power for worship, and one-third wing power for work. If this is any indication how God’s creatures are to conduct their lives, we as humans have a great deal of adjusting to do to accommodate the worship of God.

The sound of worship that came from the seraphs was proclaiming God’s holiness. Isaiah’s view of God changed as a result. As he saw God’s glory, Isaiah saw God as much bigger than he had before. For example, European visitors who come to the United States sometimes have no frame of reference as to how spacious the geography of our country is.

Some have a notion they can make day trips to places like San Francisco, Houston, or New York City because where they live is much more geographically compact. But once they get here, they experience the land in all its glory, and they gain an appreciation for the bigness of America. We all need to experience God’s glory and see God’s holiness because it will cause us to repent of old ways of seeing.

Repentance: Worship Changes Our View of Self

Isaiah was reduced to nothing after seeing a vision of the holy God. Humans cannot see God’s glory without also seeing their sinful selves. Isaiah’s response to God was not praise, but confession. Show me a proud, self-centered, and arrogant person and I will show you a person who has not seen God. Isaiah was unable to cleanse his own sin. Isaiah needed God to purge and purify his uncleanness. The New Testament says:

If we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. (1 John 1:7, 9, CEB)

Seeing God completely unravels us, for we see our depravity for what it truly is:

  • When the Apostle Peter saw the Lord’s immensity and power through a miraculous catch of fish he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.” (Luke 5:8) 
  • When the Apostle John had a vision of Christ’s glory, and heard his voice, he fell at the Lord’s feet as though dead. (Revelation 1:12-17)
  • When the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of God and saw the appearance of God’s glory, he fell facedown. (Ezekiel 1:25-28)
  • Even Daniel, perhaps the most righteous prophet of all time, when seeing a vision of God’s glory, fell prostrate with his face to the ground, totally overwhelmed with God’s holiness and his own human sinfulness. (Daniel 8:15-18)

There is wickedness and indifference in the world. People do not see God’s glory and holiness. Because, if they did, they would be totally undone and see the foulness and degradation of hate and injustice. They would turn from apathetic and complacent ways of living. The world and the church need a vision of a holy God that comes from meeting with God. Isaiah saw the Lord. And because he repented, he was then able to hear the voice of God.

Renewal: Worship Changes Our View of Service

God is calling us. God’s voice has gone out. If we do not hear it, it’s because we have not experienced God’s self-revealing and have not responded with repentance. Apart from worship, we are unable to hear God. While Isaiah was worshiping God, he saw, responded, and heard the Lord. The early church heard the voice of God to service and mission:

The church at Antioch had several prophets and teachers…. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit told them, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul to do the work for which I have chosen them.” Everyone prayed and fasted for a while longer. Next, they placed their hands on Barnabas and Saul to show that they had been appointed to do this work. Then everyone sent them on their way. (Acts 13:1-3, CEV)

Isaiah was willing. He didn’t ask any clarifying questions. He neither inquired what the mission would be nor questioned God as to the plan. Isaiah plainly said, “Here I am, send me.”  It was an unconditional response to hearing God. Isaiah made no deals with God, did not try and negotiate terms of service. Isaiah simply told God he was willing to be sent. 

Many people fill their lives with stuff and activity. And they are unable to hear the voice of God. There’s just too much noise drowning out God. We have uncritically, without any discernment through prayer and worship, filled our lives to overflowing with never-ending things to do. And we have even sanctified it and called it holy, as if God’s will for us is to be constantly on the go.

Someday, we must give an account of our lives. God will ask why we did not take a risk, get involved, and go out into the world with a deep sense of mission. Too many people will say, “I never heard the call!” Yet, God was calling. “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” says the triune God.

Conclusion

God’s glory was revealed to Isaiah. Isaiah responded to that vision with confession and repentance. This brought a renewed sense of mission to his life. Isaiah was then able to hear God’s voice calling him to service. It is not our ability God cares about. Because God can equip anybody for any type of work. Instead, it is our availability God cares about.

We need to put ourselves in a position to see and hear God. The obstacles to visioning God’s glory and hearing God’s voice are legion: inattention to God’s Word and God’s creation; no mindfulness to the Holy Spirit; intense, constant, and prolonged preoccupations; lack of availability to the ways of Jesus; little sleep; unhealthy habits; a dull spiritual sense; lack of personal and divine awareness; a paucity of spiritual practices and disciplines; and a failure to be able to experience a vision of God.

God has graciously revealed himself to us as Father, Son, and Spirit. The Trinity is not so much a doctrine to believe as it is a powerful reality to live into. If we see and hear God today it will cause us to repent and be renewed in mission and service.

*Above painting of the prophet Isaiah by Marc Chagall, 1968