Pastor Sherry’s message for 11/20/22
Scriptures : Jer 23:1-6; Lk 1:68-79; Col 1:10-20; Lk 23:33-43
The story is told, “In 1987 director Bernardo Bertolucci released the film The Last Emperor to raving reviews. It was based on the autobiography of the last living emperor of the Manchu dynasty in China, Henry Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi (before its fall to the communists in the 1950s). Eventually the movie would be hailed ‘the most honored film in 25 years,’ including nine Academy Awards (Oscars).
“And while the story tells the riches to rags story of Yi’s life, from spoiled child emperor to imprisoned and tortured detainee after the revolution to his final seven years as a gardener in a Beijing Park, what is perhaps most interesting, at least for our sake, is one account towards the beginning of the film.
“At this point, Yi is surrounded by the trappings of an imperial power. 1,000 eunuch servants exist to fulfill his every whim. At one point, Yi’s brother asks him what happens to him when he makes a mistake? The emperor responds, ‘when I do something wrong, somebody else is punished.’ To demonstrate this, he picks up an ornate jar and smashes it on the ground. Immediately a servant is taken and beaten for the action of the emperor. It is, in a sense, a true version of the famous ‘whipping boy’ story.
“Why is this so interesting? Because it gives us a perfect contrast, the perfect opposite to what Jesus does on our behalf. From the world’s perspective, it is the poor and marginalized who are to bear the brunt of the world’s pain and blame. [Isn’t that just so often true!] It is the unnamed servant who receives the punishment in this account, not the emperor. In the Christian story however, it’s just the opposite. The king takes the punishment on our behalf.”
(Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Content from “The Last Emperor,” Columbia Pictures, 1987. )
Today, in the Church calendar, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. It probably seems a little odd to focus on Jesus’ crucifixion amidst preparations for Thanksgiving feasting, “Black Friday” sales, and the joy we have in Advent of anticipating Christmas. Additionally, we in America long ago divorced ourselves from the idea of having a king in our Revolutionary War. But the truth is that Jesus Christ is the King of the whole world! He is sovereign over all of us, even those who do not believe in Him. And, thankfully, He is the best king ever!
Praise God we do not have to be “whipping boys” because King Jesus took punishment that was justifiably ours upon Himself. Let’s examine together what our Scripture passages have to say about this today:
A. In Jeremiah 23:1-6, God the Father is castigating the kings, nobility, priests and false prophets for their poor leadership of His people. This is just prior to the defeat of the Southern Kingdom at the hands of the Babylonians. The legitimate prophet Jeremiah warns them of punishment to come, (v.1) Woe to the shepherds…! God has been watching. He knows that false prophets, idolatrous kings, and weak, compromised religious leaders have abused His sheep and lead them astray. In a way very similar to that of the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 34:11-24), He declares they have scattered His flock, rather than gathering them in; and driven them away from God rather than drawing them closer t Him. So, since they have (v.2)…not bestowed care on them, I [God] will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done. God himself will gather His flock and (bring home the remnant from exile in Babylon) and place better shepherds over them.
Then He prophesies the coming of Jesus (vv.5-6) ”The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a king who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land…He will be called the Lord Our Righteousness.
Jesus, descended from King David, will be, like him, a shepherd-king. However, He will be the True Shepherd, the Good Shepherd (John 10), the Great Shepherd, the Eternal Shepherd, the Best king Ever!
B. Luke 1:68-79 constitutes Zachariah’s Song (the 3rd after Elizabeth’s and Mary’s). Zach, the elderly, priestly father of John the Baptist, had been struck mute by the angel who foretold John’s birth—due to his lack of faith. Once John the Baptist was born, and Zach agreed he was to be called John, Zach got his words back. In this morning’s lesson, he provides a psalm-like song celebrating not just his new son’s role as a Prophet of the Most High, but as the forerunner to Jesus the Messiah.
As he rejoices that the long awaited Messiah is almost here, he bursts into prophesy: The Light is coming into the darkness. God is sending His rescue plan, our salvation. He, Jesus, will empower us to live without fear (for God will be with us), and (vv.74-75) to serve Him…in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. Halleluia! He will be the Best King Ever!
C. Paul, in Colossians 1:10-20, describes Christ the King in even more detail. He explains that Jesus has superior strength and power: Verse 16 For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities, all things were created by Him and for Him. Not only did He create all things, but, to this day, He holds them together. Biologists have discovered that in the cell body of all connective tissue (called Lamina) is a cross.
Jesus is also supreme over all creation. He contains the fullness of God the Father, the Greek word is pleroma It means He has all the attributes and characteristics of God the Father. If we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father.
Furthermore, (v.20), through His sacrifice of His life on the Cross for us, He has reconciled us—really all things—to God the Father. There is no other king like Jesus—He is the Best King Ever!
D. This brings us to our Gospel passage, Luke 23:32-43. It’s a bit startling, isn’t it, to find ourselves in the midst of the Crucifixion on this final Sunday of the Church calendar year. This Jesus, this King of the Jews (and of us), appears defeated, vanquished, weak, powerless, suffering, dying. He is mocked, derided by Jews and Roman soldiers. His clothes—all He ever owned–are confiscated and gambled over before His very eyes.
And He is hung between two actual criminals.
He speaks only twice: Once, directed to His Father, forgiving His murderers, granting them grace they do not deserve(v.34) Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing. And a 2nd time, gifting the one respectful, faith-filled thief with salvation (v.43) I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise.
What a great king he is, forgiving, merciful, generous. Thank God our King is not like Emperor Yi. Jesus is the Best King Ever because He came to serve, to suffer for us. You see, the Jewish concept of a king—taught to them by God the Father through the prophets—was that the king was beholden to and under the authority of God. He owed his kingship not to some self-declared divine right or to being born into the right dynasty at the right time. He was anointed/appointed by God to take care of God’s people, His subjects. Isaiah is one of the first to see Messiah as a leader who will suffer for His people. This perspective confounds and frustrates many.
There is a famous old story of two angels that helps demonstrate why this must be so:
Two traveling angels stopped to spend the night in the home of a wealthy family. The family was rude and refused to let the angels stay in the mansion’s guest room. Instead the angels were given a small space in the cold basement. As they made their bed on the hard floor, the older angel saw a hole in the wall and repaired it. When the younger angel asked why, the older angel replied, “Things aren’t always what they seem.”
The next night the pair came to rest at the house of a very poor, but very hospitable farmer and his wife. After sharing what little food they had, the couple let the angels sleep in their bed where they could have a good night’s rest. When the sun came up the next morning the angels found the farmer and his wife in tears. Their only cow, whose milk had been their sole income, lay dead in the field.
The younger angel was infuriated and asked the older angel, “How could you have let this happen? The first man had everything, yet you helped him,” he accused. “The second family had little but was willing to share everything, and you let the cow die.” “Things aren’t always what they seem,” the older angel replied. “When we stayed in the basement of the mansion, I noticed there was gold stored in that hole in the wall. Since the owner was so obsessed with greed and unwilling to share his good fortune, I sealed the wall so he wouldn’t find it. Then last night as we slept in the farmers bed, the angel of death came for his wife ……. I gave him the cow instead … Things aren’t always what they seem.”
Our Jesus appeared to be defeated at the Cross; but instead He was and is Christ, the Victor!
To quote two of my favorite Bible commentators, the Revs. John Fearless and Delmer Chilton (of “Two Bubba’s and a Bible” fame, The Lectionary Lab Commentary, Year C, 2015, p.346):
We celebrate Christ the King today, not because of His regalness, but because of His humility; not because of His power [though His power is matchless], but because of His compassion; not because of His triumph [though He has triumphed over sin and death], but because of His travail; not because He fixes our lives [though he can and often does], but because He shows us how to live in service to God and each other.
Thank God we have Jesus, the Best King Ever!
©️2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams