We are in the fourth week of our celebration of Advent.  We have come to see that Advent is about preparing our hearts to receive the miracle of Christmas Day.  It is for us to see the wonder of the Son of God coming into the world as a baby being born, born also as the Son of Man.  It is for us to experience the joy in the prophecies, the promises of God, fulfilled in the coming of this baby, and in the words of promise Jesus would speak to the people of his day.  It is for us to experience the comfort and peace in known that this baby came as our priest, to intercede for us, that in following Jesus we would have great confidence that Jesus would lead us right into the throne of God’s grace.  These are the things we experienced these past three weeks.  Today, I would like us to look at one final blessing in the birth of Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man, prophet, and priest.  And that is that Jesus came as the king of a new kingdom of God.

          Now, culturally, people living in the United States have some difficulty with understanding the notion of a true king.  After all, every July 4th, we proudly and loudly celebrate Independence Day in which the American colonists declared their independence from England’s King George III.  In the United States, we are inclined to make kings out of people and things that entertain us.  Michael Jackson was named the King of Pop.  Louis Armstrong was named the King of Jazz.  Football is named the King of Sports.  And in comedy, there was a group called the Kings of Comedy comprised of Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, and Bernie Mac.  All these kings are very accomplished and talented entities but none of them is a true king.

          What then in the original Biblical context is a true king?  A king was a male monarch, a supreme ruler, having dominion over a given territory of land and people living upon that land.  A king had that dominion, held that rule, for life. The king’s words were the law of the land.  Whatever the king demanded was to be given to him because, after all, it was his to begin with.  There was no higher human authority than the king.  Of the 195 countries in the world today, there are only seven countries considered absolute monarchies.  They are Brunei, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Eswatini (Swaziland), and Vatican City. 

In Biblical context, the Hebrew people did not have an earthly king to start out.  The Hebrew people were governed by judges.  But then the people cried out for a king and despite warnings from God, the people chose a king.  His name was Saul.  Why Saul? Because the Bible tells us that Saul was handsome and “and he was a head taller than anyone else” (1 Samuel 9:2). Well, at least they had some good reasons for choosing Saul as king.  For the people of Israel, the king was to serve God and rule over the people with righteousness.  But alas each of Israel’s kings had difficulties governing because they had difficulties with sin.

God then decided to act decisively and to send his Son to earth, as a human, to come as king and speak of the kingdom of God. But the kingship of the Son of God, the Son of Man, would be far different than people expected.  The people of Israel were looking for God to send a king, but an earthly warrior king who would fight their battles and once and for all time set the lands of Israel free from foreign, pagan, kings such as the likes of the Roman emperor Caesar.  The people wanted to have their king again.

But, as we know, there are the fantasies of people and the reality of God.  In that reality, God sent his angel to a young woman named Mary who told Mary that she would give birth to a son who “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32b-33).  So, a king was coming.  We also learned that “1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:1-3).  The Magi, pagans themselves, realized that a new king had been born to the Jewish nation. The Jewish nation that longed for a great king to restore Israel, including its current King Herod, was not aware of the birth.  King Herod, though the King of the Jewish people, was not of the Jewish bloodlines. The Romans had appointed Herod to rule over Israel at their direction.  Hearing the news of a new King of the Jews was very disturbing to the present king.  So disturbing was the coming of a new king to Herod, that Herod ordered the execution of all boys two years old and young in and around the vicinity of Bethlehem.  Herod hoped in doing so the new King of Jews would lay among the dead boys.

So, Jesus’ entry to the world was marked by joy of his birth as well as sadness following a murderous rage both fueled by a desire for a king.  But what of Jesus’ kingship?  What was the reality of that kingship?  Our New Testament reading today put Jesus’ kingship into context.  Scripture says, “1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.  5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”?  Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”?  6 And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him” (Hebrews 1:1-3).  The Scripture here made clear that God, the Sovereign, the ultimate Majesty, had decided to speak through and rule through his own Son. God’s Son received the anointing of God as king and was to be worshipped by all of God’s angels because God’s Son was superior even to the angels.  To the ancient Israel minds this statement is quite significant and telling.  For in antiquity, it was believed that every nation state was under the guidance and protection of its own angel.  There was even the idea that the fate of one nation’s battle against another nation was determined by a heavenly battle between their respective angels.  Therefore, to say that all angels are to worship God’s Son was another way of saying God’s Son, Jesus, was the king over all nations.

It is, therefore, not surprising that when Jesus began his public ministry he began with a royal command.  Jesus began with a kingly order, but it was unlike any previous royal command, and was universal, meaning Jesus’ command applied to everyone.  What did Jesus command?  Jesus commanded, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17).  Jesus’ first command to “Repent,” that is to turn from one’s own ways and turn toward God, should have been a signal that there was something different about his kingdom and him being king.  Jesus’ command to “Repent,” was not about land acquisition or domination over the people.  Jesus did not say, “Gather your swords and let’s get those Romans out of here!” Instead, Jesus said, “Repent,” and “39 Do not resist an evil person. (Matthew 5:39a).  Jesus would go on to issue other royal commands that established a very different sort of kingdom indeed.  Jesus commanded such things as:

  •  Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Mt 5:16)
  • Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Mt. 6:33)
  • Make disciples of all nations, teaching them everything I have commanded you. (Mt. 28:19)
  • If you love me, keep my commands. (Jn. 14:15)

There are more of Jesus’ commands, but we get the picture that Jesus was a different type of king and one who was calling people to join a new kingdom.  It was not a kingdom of brutish conquest, it was a kingdom built upon the restoration and redemption of souls.

          Despite Jesus’ teachings and commands, many people insisted on seeing Jesus as an earthly king of territory and conquest.  For example, one time, Jesus fed 5,000 men plus women and children.  “14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (John 6:14-15). The people were overwhelmed by Jesus’ miraculous feeding and thought, “Ah, if we could just make him our king, think of the life we could live by the things this guy could do for us.”  Jesus would have not part of earthly plans for his kingdom was different.  But the people would did not understand.

          The ending of Jesus’ public ministry began with his arrest not by the Romans but by the Jewish religious authorities, people who should have been looking for God to send a king.  Instead of welcoming Jesus as king, the religious authorities became jealous of love and following of Jesus’ disciples for Jesus.  The religious leaders were angry at Jesus for his teachings and uncomfortable with Jesus’ challenges to their understanding of Scripture.  So, the religious leaders arrested Jesus and once Jesus was bound hand and foot, the religious leaders turned Jesus over to the Roman Governor claiming Jesus guilt of all sorts of crimes including claiming Jesus said he was the King of the Jews.  Pilate spoke to Jesus about the claims of the religious people.  33b “Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked. 34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”  35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”  36 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.”  37 “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.”  38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said” (John 19:33b-38).  Jesus confirmed to Pilate that he, Jesus, had been born to speak about the kingdom in which Jesus was king but it was a different kingdom than would be found on earth.

          Pilate argued with the religious leader insisting again and again that there was no basis of a charge against Jesus that merited death.  12b But the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (John 20:12b).  Pilate then asked, “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.  “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. (John 20:15b).  And with that statement from the high priest, “We have no king but Caesar,” the crowd shouted to destroy Jesus.  “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!” the crowd shouted.  They wanted Jesus out of their brutish savage kingdom.  The crowd had chosen sides and they had chosen to remain an enemy of God. 

And yet, in that same moment of intense hatred and shouts to “Crucify Him!”, Jesus was willing to transform any of those present to come into His kingdom. Jesus would do so by loving them, forgiving them, and renewing them to be of the right spirit and personhood. Jesus would later bring one person into the kingdom.  A thief was crucified next to Jesus, and said to Jesus,42 “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  43 Jesus answered him [the thief], “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).  Jesus’ words are profound because they mean that Jesus was born to establish a new kingdom and upon Jesus’ death, the king, would open His kingdom to all those who would repent and follow him.

What then are we to do with our spiritual understanding of Jesus’ kingship and kingdom?  I think there is only one thing to consider.  Are we willing to be part of the kingdom of Jesus Christ?  We are not forced to be part of the kingdom.  We can live our lives without being subject to the commands of the king.  In fact, more people live outside the kingdom than live within it, so we would have plenty of company.  Living outside the kingdom of God is living in a fantasy.  If you don’t believe me that many people live a fantasy, then I encourage you to pick up a newspaper or scroll through a newsfeed on your phone and see for yourself the number of people who are making things up as they go and forcing other people to celebrate their delusions.  Life outside of God’s will is a fantasy.

Or we could accept for ourselves the reality of God.  We could accept that reality that God who created all things as good has called us into his kingdom.  This God who invites us sent his son, Jesus, to be our king. Jesus, in his own words, came to be a king of a different kingdom, a kingdom founded on bring each member of the kingdom into a right relationship with God so that they could experience the treasures of the kingdom: forgiveness, peace that surpasses all understanding, love, and eternal life.  Life lived within God’s will following our king, Jesus, is the reality that we should seek and encourage others to celebrate.  Amen and Amen.