(Daniel 7:9-10, Psalm 93, Revelation 1:4b-8)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/CZpefqRfGQk)
33Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Today we celebrate a special day in the church year called “Christ the King Sunday.” Before the Advent season gets underway during which we anticipate the birth of our Lord, we take this day to honor Jesus for being the king of all kings. To help us reflect on Jesus as a unique king, I begin with a story about a very, very wise king. He was so wise he knew the ways of most everything. He knew of animals, birds, fish, and trees. And he taught people from all over the world about these. Now one breezy day, a tiny bee lost her way, and flew right into the King’s beautiful palace. The little bee begged the King, “Please, let me live, and I will serve you some other day.” The King was amused to think a tiny bee could one day serve such a mighty king. He released the bee and said, “Go, be on your way, for I need nothing more from you today.”
Many days later, the people of the kingdom filled the palace yard. A queen was coming to visit from a faraway land. She heard many people claim this king was very wise. She had to know for sure that they were not all just lies. Finally, she arrived and came up to the King’s lofty throne. She offered her friendship and wonderful gifts, but finally the queen made her real purpose known. “I hear you are wise,” she said. “You are wiser than the rest. Would you be willing to put your wisdom to a test?” The King agreed, and she did her best, with riddles, tricks, and difficult tests. In fact, she became quite a bothersome pest.
One day she gave the King a large gemstone, and through the very middle was a tiny twisty hole. “See if you can put a thread through this gem,” she challenged the King with a devious grin. But the King asked a silkworm to climb through the hole, which is not a big problem for a tiny silkworm, you know. And as it did, a thin thread of silk followed the silkworm all the way through. Now the queen was quite angered at the King’s show of wisdom, and all the more determined to find a way to trick him. “We must have a test,” she challenged her advisors, “to prove this king’s a fool, not to prove he is wiser!”
So they came up with a plan that would surely not fail. It indeed was a test to make the others look pale. They ordered the queen’s craftsmen to make ninety-nine flowers, fake through and through, but looking so real. When finished, even the queen could not tell they were fake. She was sure the King would make the very same mistake. And then from the King’s garden, she took just one real flower, and cleverly hid it among all the others.
The next day, the people gathered from all over the land to attend the party and worship their king. Then right after the meal the queen stood and spoke. She grabbed the attention of all of the good folk. “Listen everyone, I have something to say. Just one more test to give the King today. My craftsmen created many beautiful flowers. They all look so real to test the king’s powers. Ninety-nine are fake, but one is real somewhere. Can the King find that one, if only he dare?” The King, not wanting to be fooled by this queen, accepted the challenge she handed to him. He sniffed at the flowers, but they all smelled so sweet, and all of the flowers were as soft as could be. The flowers were all so beautiful to see, now which one could the real flower be? The King hesitated, and the people did wonder, “Could our king not be so wise and so great? Surely he could tell a real flower from fake.”
The King became a bit perplexed and did not know what to do next. Suddenly, he heard a faint buzzing sound, something was there buzzing around. It was the tiny little bee he saved many days before. “I am here at your service, here I am sir. I am here to repay the kindness you gave, on that one breezy day.” The tiny bee quickly flew over the flowers and in no time at all found the one searching for, the one with the honey, so sweet and so pure. The King stooped down and plucked the flower. “Here is the one, no need to look further.” He handed it to the queen to see. And the craftsmen confirmed, it was the real one indeed. Finally, the queen had to give in and admitted this king was truly the wisest there ever had been.
This story is particularly useful in highlighting the importance of wisdom in a king. Is wisdom the most important attribute of a king? What other attributes are important? Bravery? Selflessness? Kindness? Humility? Before we can begin to understand the unique kingship of Jesus, it is necessary to explore both the responsibilities of a king and the attributes needed to meet those responsibilities. We don’t have too many kings left in the world so it’s difficult to fully grasp the role of a king. But traditionally kings were responsible for the two primary duties of waging war and keeping the peace and were given absolute authority fulfill both these duties. They went into battle at the front of their armies and were exposed to the same risk of death. They needed courage, stamina, strength, and fearlessness to fight their wars. When they weren’t fighting, kings were responsible for establishing order and maintaining peace throughout their kingdom. In order to fulfill this responsibility, they were tasked with forming laws, administering justice, and acquiring and distributing resources to all those in his kingdom. Kings needed less strength and courage and more patience, compassion, wisdom, and inspiration to meet this responsibility. Indeed, a mighty tall order for just one man to fill! The attributes that were needed appear to be polar opposites of each other. One doesn’t need strength to be compassionate. Nor does one need fearlessness to be wise. But the duties of a king demand all these opposing attributes.
Notice that the responsibilities of a king reflect two constraints: death and limited resources. A king must wage wars because there are limited resources in this world. Likewise, a king must keep the peace because this is the only way the limited resources are fairly distributed. Everyone who needs the limited resources needs them NOW because of the risk of death. Death places an urgency on distributing the limited resources. What if death and limited resources were no longer constraints? What would the responsibilities of a king be then? What attributes would the king need to have? The king would no longer need to wage war. The urgency caused by death would no longer exist so the king wouldn’t need to be particularly patient or compassionate. The king would have all the time he needs to distribute an unending supply of resources. He wouldn’t need to fight anyone or appeal to anyone. He’d be an overseer, simply watching as resources were shared equally among his loving people in an endless stream of interactions.
Our readings give a glimpse of this unique kingship. Daniel recalls a vision he had in which he encountered God sitting on his throne, “his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire.” What an awesome image to behold! Clearly not of this world, for the flames would engulf anyone bold enough to sit upon it. David sings of our God who is “more majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the Lord!” Paul writes of how Jesus Christ is “the faithful witness, firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” This notion of Jesus being the “ruler of the kings” is questioned by Pontius in our passage from John. When asked if he is King of the Jews, Jesus confesses, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Indeed, Jesus is the king that we envisioned earlier. He doesn’t need to wage war in an effort to either accrue or protect limited resources for his kingdom. His kingdom has an unending supply of resources. Within his kingdom, death does not exist so there is no sense of urgency to allocate the unlimited resources. Jesus’ kingdom is unlike the kingdoms of this world. Jesus’ kingdom is beyond limits so it demands a unique king, one that is less concerned with the worries of this world.
Jesus has the attributes of an earthly king—strong, patient, fearless, humble, selfless, and wise. After all, Jesus was a part of this world at one time. But Jesus is so much more than the kings of this world. Jesus has no need to wage war for his kingdom yet he still wages a war against sin and death in this world. Jesus wages a war purely on our behalf! His kingdom gains nothing from his waging of war on sin and death in this world. What a truly unique king indeed! He really stood to gain nothing by going to the cross! What an awesome and powerful God! Jesus is stronger, more selfless, more courageous, wiser, more inspirational, humbler, and more patient than any king of this world. Jesus is and who was and who is to come…no king alive or dead can profess such a claim. Earthly kings are constrained by death and limited resources. But Jesus is both of the earth and not of the earth. Jesus is wiser than even the king who proved his wisdom with the help of a bee in the earlier story. Jesus knows the mysteries of the universe, of all that is seen and unseen, and Jesus reigns over it all. Let us rejoice and be glad that we serve…a king like no other.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.