It is Reign of Christ Sunday, the final Sunday in the church calender. This is the Sunday in which we celebrate the glorious kingship of Jesus. This is the week in which we acknowledge and celebrate his position in our lives as the ultimate authority, the ruler of all, the first and last, the king of kings, and lord of lords.
This is not the celebration anyone in first century Palestine was expecting. For millennia, the Jews have been waiting for, praying for, searching for, striving for the Messiah. The Anointed One. Their savior. They have been awaiting the arrival of the Son of God. And almost no one recognized him when he came.
Since the time of Exodus, the Jews have been under the rule of one group or another more often than they have been independent. The Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and finally the Romans. The last, which began in 63BCE, also began the time known as Pax Romana, or Roman Peace.
Pax Romana was, indeed, a time of relative peace, with few wars between Rome and her neighbors. Within the Roman empire, however, peace came at a significant cost. Peace in Rome came only through the complete and utter submisision to the empire, and to the emperor himself, Caesar. And Caesar was understood to be the Son of God. Caesar who was to be revered and worshipped. Caesar who was not Jewish. Caesar who demanded oppressive taxes from his citizens, including the Jews, and who would use the full might of his substantial army to get what he wanted.
The realities of Pax Romana for the Jewish people were clear: assimilate, sumbit, or die.
It is in this context that Jesus appears on the scene. Jesus gathers around himself a ragtag group of 12 men who follow him as he travels around the countryside, healing people, casting out demons, shaming the Jewish authorities, and poking Rome in the eye.
Jesus eats with prostitutes and tax collectors, clearly defying Jewish purity codes.
Jesus overturn the money tables at the Temple, threatening a potential uprising against the Roman government.
At the end of the day, only one person, Peter, recognizes Jesus for who he is: You are Christ, the Messiah.
And Peter totally misses the point. When he tells Jesus, "You are the Christ," what he is saying is this: You are the one who will deliver us from Roman oppression and lead us into our golden age of self-determination. You are the one who will overthrow our enemies.
At the end of three years, we find Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate, charged with sedition, and he is being questioned. "Are you the King of the Jews?"
Jesus does not answer this question initially. Instead, Jesus poses his own question: Does Pilate question Jesus's kingship on his own, or have others prompted this trial? In other words, "Do you accuse me of sedition because you believe I have attempted to overthrow your rule, or have others provided testimony against me?"
Pilate then explains that he is not a Jew, and as such, if Jesus is their king, he would have no first hand knowledge of it. Rather, we learn that the chief priests--the spiritual authorities among the Jewish people--have handed Jesus over to Pilate. Pilate asks him, "What have you done?"
Here is Jesus, standing before Pilate, being tried for sedition, utterly alone. His own ethnic group has turned on him, the Jewish authorities have handed him over, one of his disciples has betrayed him, turning him over the chief priests and their Roman counterparts, and the remainder of his disciples have abandoned him. Is this the picture of a king?
Kings and kingdoms of this world, in first century Palestine to be sure and in much of the world today, are ruled using fear, intimidation, and lies. Disloyalty and betrayal are rampant. These kingdoms are based upon the enslavement of many for the protections and increase of the wealth, power, and freedoms of the few. "Like thorns," David declares in 2 Samuel, "these kingdoms cannot be touched--they are dealt with violently, with the sword or spear, and they are burned beyond recognition."
Is Jesus, one who preaches that those who are favored in God's kingdom are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers. Make no mistake: Pax Romana is not included in the category of "peacemakers."
Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not from this world, and this is the reason he stands before Pilate alone. It has nothing to do with his twelve closest being traitors and cowards. It has nothing to do with the failure of the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people Jesus has fed, taught, and healed to show up and witness for Jesus before Pilate.
Rather, it is because Jesus is not the ruler of a kingdom here on earth. His kingdom is in heaven. Yes, he is a king. And his kingdom is not for the Jews, or the Romans, or any one people group. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to Jesus's voice. Everyone has the right and opportunity to join this kingdom.
And what does Jesus's kingdom look like? It is based in truth and faithfulness. It is kingdom in which people are free from the oppression of sin. It is like the light of the morning. Those who are part of this kingdom respect God who rules justly through Jesus.
Make no mistake. Jesus is a king, and we are citizens of his kingdom.
What does it mean to be a citizen of Christ's kingdom, which is not of this world? How does Jesus's kingdom there engage or interact with our lives here?
We are ambassadors for Christ. Wherever we go, we take his truth and reality with us. We bring the kingdom of God from there to here. We act in the now, while anticipating and engaging the not yet.
Do we believe that we are citizens of heaven? Do we believe that God is in control? Do we act in accordance with this? Do we act in truth and faithfulness? Do we experience freedom in our daily lives? Because these are the promises we are given by our king, Jesus. And as we anxiously await his return, we can rejoice in Christ's faithful witness. We can rejoice that he loves us and has freed us from sin. We can rejoice that he has made us to be a kingdom.
Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. To him be the glory forever.