"Soon and very soon we are gonna see the king…". The children of Israel had been promised a king anointed by the Almighty; a Messiah. So for centuries they looked and expected to find one. They looked for a mighty leader who would enforce God's will. They looked for one who would bring peace to the people and to the land. They looked for one who would display the power of God. They looked for one who would lead the people in righteousness.
They were looking for a King. They expected someone who looked like a king. They were looking for someone who wielded power. They were expecting one who demanded respect.
They were looking for a Savior. Someone who was strong enough to save them from the Persians or the Greeks or Romans or whomever. Someone who was wise enough to bring real peace not the kind of peace that the Romans enforced. Someone close enough to God to bring them closer to God. Someone spiritual enough to display the powers of God in their midst.
In response to the promise and the prayers of the people God sent not just a mighty man. God sent His son. But Jesus wasn't what they expected the Messiah to look like. Sure he was spiritual enough. He certainly seemed close to God. He appeared wise. He even displayed the power of God by healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead, feeding the multitudes…
But he looked weak. He was certainly a holy man, a prophet, a wonder worker. But was he the Messiah? He didn't look like a King.
Then the Romans arrested Jesus. Would the anointed Messiah of God allow those pagan Gentiles to lay hands on him and haul him into an unclean Roman building? Would the Messiah of God allow himself to be beaten and nailed to a cross? The conclusion most of the people came to was "No! Never." So in anger and disappointment they lashed out against Jesus. "If you are the Messiah why don't you save yourself?"
Sure the people needed a messiah to save them from the Romans, from their sicknesses and hunger, and from themselves and their sins. But there were two people in that crowd whose need for deliverance was more immediate than any others there. They had been caught in their sin. All the Bible tells us about them is that they were thieves. We don't know what they stole and what circumstances drove them to the decision to commit a crime. But they were guilty.
And they were paying the price of that crime. A serious price it was. Nails driven through their feet and hands. Left to hang by their agonizing limbs until they either drowned in their own fluids or died of blood loss or exposure.
So they both turned to Jesus. One said, "If you are the Messiah save yourselves and us while you are at it." But the other could see that Jesus was the King. Instead of mocking Jesus with his last breaths, he admitted that they deserved what was happening to them. So he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And Jesus replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
Like the people back then people today need a savior. We need someone who can be our deliverer. Like the people back then, we need someone stronger and wiser to bring us peace and guidance. Like them we need someone closer to God to help reconcile us to God. Like them we need someone who can manifest the power of the Almighty in our lives and our world. Like those thieves we are all under a death sentence: the wages of sin is death and we are all sinners. Like them we need someone who can deliver us from that death sentence.
And God has promised us just such a person. This Messiah is Jesus. But often people fail to recognize him. Like that one thief on the cross and like most of the people in that crowd, most people don't see him for who he is. And so they go looking for another.
Jesus is the one. He is the Messiah who had the power to deliver us. He can save us from sin and death. The people in that crowd though that he couldn't be the Messiah because he couldn't prevent them from crucifying him. Ironically he is the Messiah because he gave himself to die on the cross for the sins of the world.
Jesus is the king anointed by God; the Messiah. The question is: Is he your King? The two thieves show us the realism of this question in a microcosm. They were each facing death; a death they justly deserved. They each saw Jesus doing that he was meant to do as the Messiah; being crucified. They both had a choice to make: Do I dismiss Jesus as a great but tragic religious man? Or do I acknowledge him as the Messiah the Son of God?
Well? You have been presented with the same dilemma. In our reading today you were presented with Jesus the Son of God dying for the sins of the world. We are all going to die and since we have all sinned we all deserve to. We each have to face the same decision those thieves did. To accept or reject Jesus.
We don't know much about kings. We know the definition but have no experience of them. We have all grown us in a republic or democracy of some kind. To us kings are the characters in fairy tales or stories of long ago and far away. When we think of a monarch we think of the Queen of England. A noble woman to be admired, but she is hardly an example of what monarchs historically have been. A genuine monarchy is something we have no firsthand experience of. As a result we modern people don't really know what we mean when we call Christ our King.
To understand what "Christ the King" means we have to understand what a monarchy is. Let me contrast it with the form of government we know: democracy. The way that a democracy works is rather plain to us. In a democracy power is distributed evenly among the people. In a democracy the people tell the leaders what to do. If they don't do what we say, we kick them out of office. In an absolute monarchy things work the other way around. All the power belongs to the King or Queen. The monarch tells the people what to do and they obey. If they don't, the Monarch has the authority to punish them for it.
Now hold on to your socks. I have some news for you that might be shocking for some. The Kingdom of God is not a democracy. It is a monarchy. You may say, "But our founding Fathers set forth on this continent a new nation founded on the ideals of democracy." But in the beginning God set forth in the midst of nothing a universe and said I am King here. In the Kingdom of Heaven, God is the source of all authority. God tells us what to do, not the other way around. And the Bible tells us that God has placed his Son in charge.
As Christians we are citizens or subjects of the Kingdom of God. In Colossians the Bible tells us that we have been transferred into that kingdom. Before we gave our lives to Christ we were slaves to the powers of evil. But when we accepted Christ he delivered us from that domain. And Christ made us citizens of his kingdom. Just as immigrants become Americans, Jesus swore us in to become citizens of the Kingdom of God.
We are resident aliens in this world. We reside here, but this is not our home. We are aliens in a strange land. We are settlers whose homeland is far away. We are merely passing through on our way home.
Because we are resident aliens, our allegiance is to our King and not to this land. We do not answer to the authorities of this world. That is why the Pilgrims whose Thanksgiving feast we commemorate this week came to America. They recognized a higher authority and did not what to be hindered by the authority of an earthly monarch. They can to America to be faithful to their Heavenly King. The authority that we ultimately follow and answer to is our King in Heaven. If this world says, "hate your enemies," and our King says, "love your enemies," then it is our duty to love those who hate us. If this world says, "the one who dies with the most toys wins," but our king says, "lay up treasures in heaven," than it is our duty to forsake the material to treasure the eternal.
Christ is our King and the sole governing authority over our lives. But Christ is different from other rulers. In this world power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So history has shown us that monarchs are often corrupt. They oppress their subjects by laying heavy burdens on them and making unreasonable demands on them. Monarchs in this world distance themselves from their subjects and leave them powerless.
By contrast Christ loves and cares for his subjects. Christ's power is absolute but it remains pure in its desire to nurture and love. Christ doesn't push us down, he lifts us up. He frees people from oppression and takes the heavy burdens from them. Jesus empowers his people instead of depriving them.
Unlike the rulers of this world, Christ's authority is made perfect in his servitude. Christ's power is made manifest through his weakness. Instead of maintaining a distance from his subjects, Jesus became one of us. He experienced our pain and he even died our death. So Christ is uniquely qualified to be our King, because he knows us intimately and can therefore care for us infinitely.
After pointing out that Christ is a loving servant King, Paul goes on. He says, "May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light."(Col. 1:11-12) This is at the beginning of the letter and he is wishing them well. Paul is saying, "May you be strong and may you be able to face life with patient endurance." But that is not all, he is wishing them the kind of endurance that finds joy and a reason to give thanks in the midst of the trials of this life.
What is the source of this great power that enables one to face life with that kind of patient joy? Christ is! Through Jesus Christ our Heavenly Father has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Heaven. And Christ has transferred us from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of light. We live in this world but we are citizens of Heaven.
Christ is our source of strength, but who is Christ? Paul writes, "He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross."(Col. 1:15-20)
Christ Our King. Christ: The only begotten Son of God, God in the flesh, light from light, True God from true God, the author of salvation who was there at the beginning, the Lamb of God who was sacrificed for the sins of the world.
Our King: The one we answer to, the one who protects us, the one who is our sole authority. He is the one who frees us and empowers us.
Is Christ your King? If not, then make him your King today! If he is your King, then be strong. Be strong in the kind of strength that lets you face the troubles of life with a calm assurance. Be strong because your King and protector is the image of the invisible God. Be strong in the face of this world's demands because you answer to a higher authority. Be strong in the face of darkness because you are a child and subject of the power of eternal light. Be strong in the face of death because you have an eternal home in the heavens. Be strong because Christ is your King.
It's all about which King you serve. When my children started school I took a refresher course on the story of the first Thanksgiving. One day Kaitlyn came home from kindergarten and she said, "Guess what we learned about today." Now usually I have to ask her what she learned about and she has to think about it. So I figured that she had learned about dinosaurs or sharks or planets or something else that she finds exciting. So I said, "What did you learn about?"
She replied, "I learned about the pilgrims and Indians and the Mayflower." She told me she was able to remember the name of the boat, the Mayflower, because her birthday is in May. But she went on to tell me the story. She said, "The King wanted the Pilgrims to go to his church but they wanted to go to their own church so they came to America and became friends with the Indians."
Of course I knew some of the theological differences between the King and the Puritans and the history of the Protestant Reformation so I knew that Kaitlyn's rendition of the events was simplified. But she got the basic idea right. The pilgrimage of the Puritans and the first Thanksgiving was all about which King they served. They chose to serve the King of Kings as they understood his will and that meant not serving the King of England. So they left England and came to America. And because they were servants of the King of Kings they gave Him thanks for their safety.
Which King you choose to serve is important. Is it the kings of this age or the King of Kings? This decision determines how you live your life. It determines whose rules you follow. You will either serve God or Mammon. You can't serve both.
This decision had long reaching consequences for the Puritan Pilgrims. They could have chosen to serve the King of England; in which case they would have thrown out the way of worshipping and serving God that they had developed. And they could stay in their nice warm homes in England with plenty of food and heating wood and all would have been fine.
But they chose to serve the King of Kings. And to serve Him they were led to leave the comfort of a known world and venture out into the unknown. A place where strange peoples lived and strange foods grew, a place of wild animals and disease, a place where they would face starvation and winter on their own.
There is a big difference between the way of the kings of this world and the way of the King of Kings. We can see that in the events that were part of Jesus death. When Jesus was being put to death they carried him off and they mocked him. They mocked his apparent lack of power and said, "He saved others but he can't save himself." They stripped him of his clothes and threw dice for them. They offered him vinegar and said, "If you are the King then save yourself." They even treated him as a common criminal and crucified him with common thieves.
While they were merciless Jesus was merciful. Despite the taunts and jeers, he forgave. Even though they stripped him and beat him and hurled insults at him, he showed them mercy. Jesus could have hurled insults and curses back at them. He could have called down the hosts of heaven to slay them. But instead he said, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing."
In the face of insults Jesus showed kindness. That is the difference between the two kingdoms. One is a kingdom of pain and violence, the other a kingdom of forgiveness. One is a kingdom of insults and taunts; the other is a kingdom of mercy and kindness.
You see, it's all about which king you will serve. We can see this even among the thieves. They were both under penalty of death. They both were nailed to crosses. But they both had a choice. Would they serve the king of this world or the King of Kings with their last breath?
One chose the king of this world. He bowed to bitterness and hatred. He joined in the taunts and insults of the crowd. He said, "If you are the Messiah then save yourself and us too."
But the other decided to serve the King of Kings. He could have kept silent, but he didn't. He stood up to the other and said, "Don't you get it? We deserve to die for our crimes, but he is innocent. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And Jesus replied, "You will be with me today in Paradise."
That's what Thanksgiving is all about. It is about which King you serve. The first Thanksgiving was about that. It was about a group of people lead by the Spirit into the wilderness to live as they were led by God. It was about people thanking God for the abundant harvest. They could have patted themselves on the back or credited the new farming techniques shared by the Native Americans. But instead they gave God the glory.
And that should be what our Thanksgiving is about: about serving the King of Kings. Remembering how he died for our sins and rose again to give us eternal life. Thanksgiving should be about thanking God for his mercy and forgiveness, and dedicating ourselves to live that same mercy and forgiveness.
It's all about which King you choose to serve. That decision will affect what you do and why you do it. We will all gather round tables this week to eat turkey. Will you do it to serve the gods of prosperity and wealth? Or will you give thanks to the King of Kings who gave you forgiveness and eternal life?