The Kingship of Christ
Sermon preached at St. Mark's and Putnoe Heights by
Mr John Bassill—Local Preacher with the Bedford
North Methodist Circuit and member of Priory Church
22 November 1998
"He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Col. 1 verses 13-14)
What did you think of Gospel reading (Luke 23 33-43)? The story of the Crucifixion? In November! Surely this is the Good Friday story! What is the lectionary doing? Yet next Sunday is Advent—the season of preparation for Christmas. The long weeks after Pentecost/Trinity, covering a whole range of issues are over and we come back to story of the Christian Year. We can only truly appreciate the wonder of the Incarnation at Christmas, the birth of baby Jesus born to set men and women free from domination by sin if we see it in context of horror of Crucifixion and Glory of Resurrection. Christmas can only be relevant to Christian people if we understand the purpose behind the coming of Jesus into the world.
Roman Catholic tradition represents Jesus on Cross Sacrifice By contrast the Protestant tradition views an Empty Cross—Victory. These two words have considerable importance for all Christian believers but before we go on a word about Paradise which Jesus promises to the criminal hanging on the cross next to him (Luke 23 v.43). In Old Testament paradise refers to the Garden of Eden—a place where God met with Adam and Eve in the perfect state. Then they fell victim to temptation and so were cast out and the rest of the bible story is all about God's attempts to reconcile men and women back from this fallen state.
By contrast in New Testament Jesus describes Paradise as a place of rest and bliss between death and resurrection , representing for Jesus the time between sacrifice on the cross and the victory of resurrection. Words like sacrifice and victory are not very fashionable today. Oh yes heroes and heroines are feted (quite properly) for immense acts of courage (firemen in a burning building) and quick-thinking (the ladies in a filling station on the A14 the other day switching off the petrol when a tanker hit their office averting a major tragedy—one person was killed but it could have been so many more) yet sacrifice means more than just courage and quick-thinking in times of great danger. It means deliberately doing something unpopular, even dangerous and fool-hardy, when you don't have to because of what you believe in.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and lecturer in theology in Germany who denounced Hitler on the radio in 1933 before he came to power. By 1939 he was known as an enemy of the Nazi regime and had spent two years in London urging the German congregation there to join battle against Nazis and had a reputation as a writer and radical Christian thinker. During that summer he was on a lecture tour of America and could have stayed there safely able to pursue his studies. However such was his concern for what was happening in Germany he chose to return on one of last ships to sail before outbreak of war. Four years of resistance to an evil regime led to his arrest and on April 9th 1945 (month before end of hostilities) he was hanged. Even in prison he had continued to write and his Letters and Papers from Prison reveal a man who lived out his faith to the end with unfailing courage—a man who had chosen the route of sacrifice and hardship for his beliefs rather than the path of compromise and apparent comfort. This was a man who could write " Jesus claims for himself and the Kingdom of God the whole of human life in all its manifestations"- a man who understood what the sacrifice of Jesus was about but who also understood that the sacrifice leads to victory—the triumph of the power of God over the power of evil.
Victory is a word that can be misused and misinterpreted. The triumph of good over evil seems clear enough but the issues we encounter in life are not always so straightforward. Is one group of people entitled to dominate another? What about resolution of a problem by negotiation rather than military action (as in the current battle of wits between Western Govenments and Saddam Hussein). We all know about instances of "hollow" or "empty" victories when something backfires and the victory in fact becomes a defeat. With Jesus the victory that the Resurrection story brings is unambiguous because of its selflessness. There is no sense of pride for Him in His achievement which has enabled us to know salvation of our souls through his selflessness. He does not crow over the magnificent victory over death—indeed he opted for the form of a servant at the Last Supper by washing the disciples feet at a time when he already knew what was to come and the immense pain and suffering he was to undergo. The victory is itself part of the sacrifice.
So what of our response. "By your works and deeds you will be known and will be judged" a phrase which reminds us that sometimes we never know what effect our lives have on others. This week we had our first Christmas Card—from Ghana sent by a good friend of ours Musa Jambawai. On it he wrote "You have planted a tree of love and faith in Africa. May it bear abundant fruit to the glory of God"
Pauline (my wife) and I first met Musa in 1984 when he came to England for 2 years sponsored by the British Council to learn about modern agricultural methods at Silsoe College. He attended our church (Priory) and spent time with us at home during the holidays giving us a wonderful opportunity to discuss together the very different cultural backgrounds we were from.
We have been very humbled and yet proud also to have been able to remain in contact over so many years with a man who has a very clear notion of what is expected of him as a Christian. A man from a simple village background in Sierra Leone who in his letters over the years has professed anxiety and uncertainty about the direction of his call as a Christian. A man who has encountered deep disappointment on several levels in his personal life; who has seen at first hand the horror of civil war—escaping with his life by a hairs breadth on one occasion fleeing the country of his birth in fear of his life yet who is able to remain true to the faith he has in Jesus Christ. A man who does not forget where he has come from and still aspires to return to his homeland and neighbourhood to serve his neighbours in the name of Jesus. A man who devotes his life to Christ as an ordained minister in the Methodist Church seeking only to help other people as he now works for Rurcon, a Christian organisation in Africa which exists to encourage self-help in the rural economies in some of the poorest areas of the world.
Yet he says to us "You Planted a tree….in Africa" indicating that without realising it we must have had a significant impression on his life as he has had on ours. We never know the impact our words and deeds have on the lives of others—the force we can be for good or evil according to the things we say or do. By contrast Jesus knew very clearly what he was doing throughout His life and knew just exactly what He was doing was for us.
In Col. 1 (v. 11) Paul speaks of us "being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience" and in verse 13 our text. This is the meaning of The Crucifixion and the Resurrection for us. Salvation- the saving from our sins. The Sacrifice given willingly and freely for us and the Victory won for us. And so we are brought into the Kingdom with the Son of God. Concepts we may not fully understand in this life but with the Faith we are given by the power and the Grace of God we have the assurance of Salvation, that our sins have been conquered and made of no account. As we approach Advent and the Preparation for the coming of the baby Jesus at Christmas we remember the Kingship of Jesus wrought not by the nobility of birth but by the sacrifice on the cross and the subsequent victory in the glorious Resurrection.