CHRIST THE KING
Here we are at the last Sunday of the church year. Next week is the first Sunday in Advent with marks the beginning of another year. That makes sense from a liturgical standpoint because it makes sense to start things with a birth because a birth is a new beginning and Advent, of course, is the preparation for the birth of Jesus.
If Advent is the beginning, then what is the end? If we begin with the birth of Jesus, then should we not end with his death? How come the church year doesn’t end with Good Friday and the cross? That’s a good question. And here’s the answer. Our church year does not end with the death of Jesus because his death was not the end. Good Friday was superseded by Easter when Jesus rose from the grave. And even that wasn’t the end because Jesus still wasn’t done. After that he ascended to Heaven where he sits at the right side of the Father. But even that is not the end because he has promised to come again at the end of time to complete his kingdom of love, peace, mercy and justice that he began when he walked this earth 2,000 years ago. When that happens he will reign forever over his kingdom that will have no end. Then he will be crowned King of Creation. That’s when this world will end and a new one will begin. That’s the day that we celebrate today and we call it the Sunday of Christ the King.
What that reminds us of, of course, is that in the end Jesus wins. It may not always seem like it as we walk though this world. There are surely times when the forces of darkness seem to have the upper hand. But that will only last for a season. Ultimately Jesus wins and will reign as King over all of creation. And that is why today, the last day of the year is called the Sunday of Christ the King.
SHEPHERDS WHO SCATTER THE FLOCK
We’ll be focusing today on a reading from the book of the prophet Jeremiah. If you ever read Jeremiah, you’ll discover that his words are heavy. He wrote at a very difficult time in the lives of the people of Judah. You might recall that, a couple of weeks ago, we were talking about the split kingdoms. After Solomon’s death, there was a civil war in Israel and the Jewish people split into two nation. The northern kingdom was called Israel and the southern kingdom Judah. Jeremiah prophesies in Judah. By this time, Israel has already been conquered by the Babylonians and Babylon now has its sights set on Judah. So, it’s an edgy time for the people of Judah and their kings who ruled from Jerusalem.
Today’s prophecy starts with Jeremiah 23:1-2 (NIV) which says this:
“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord.
To understand this, we have to know the context because context is important. It’s really about the kings of Judah. Over the years, Judah had some good kings and others who were not so good. Jeremiah’s prophecies covered a total of 41 years, from 626-585 BCE. During that time five kings reigned and in those he experienced some of the best and the worst. The Bible gives a brief synopsis of each king’s reign at the end of the book of 2 Chronicles. Here’s what it tells us
Josiah was a good king. He ascended the throne when he was eight years old and reigned for thirty-one years. He did right in the eyes of the Lord, including getting that people back on track by doing such things as repairing the temple, re-instituting the Passover and the reading of the Torah. Josiah was a good king, an honourable king and God blessed the people through him.
When he died, his son Jehoahaz became king at the age of twenty-three. He did not do so well. His reign only lasted a mere three months before God sent the Egyptians in to booted him off the throne and carry him off to Egypt. So he was barely a footnote in history but even during the short time that he ruled, he did not follow the ways of his father Josiah and did evil in the eyes of the Lord.
In his place, Pharaoh set up Jehoahaz’ older brother Jehoiakim as King of Judah. Jehoiakim was twenty-five when he became king and he ruled for eleven years. It says in 2 Chronicles 36 that he was not like his father Josiah because he also did evil in the eyes of the Lord. In fact, it says that he did detestable things and fell out of God’s favour. Because of that God sent Babylon, the world’s new super power, to boot Jehoiakim off the throne, which they did and they replacing Jehoiakim with his son Jehoiakin.
Jehoiakin became king when he was eighteen years old and he reigned for three months and ten days – another footnote. He also did evil in the eyes of the Lord as his father had done. And so God sent Babylon to go in again and dethrone Jehoiakin. They carried him and all of the valuable articles from the temple back to Babylon. Things are not going so well for Judah.
The Babylonians replaced Jehoiakin with his uncle Zedekiah. Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king and he reigned from Jerusalem for eleven years. It again says in 2 Chronicles 36 that he also did evil in the eyes of the Lord, more detestable things that turned the people away from God. And so, finally, God sent Babylon back in to clean the place up. That’s when Jerusalem was sacked and burned, the temple and the walls torn down and the people were all carted back to Babylon where most of them spent the rest of their lives in exile. And that was it for the kings of Judah.
Jeremiah lived through all of this time and saw what was happening. In summary, if the king was a righteous king and did what was right in the eyes of God, the land was blessed. This happened under King Josiah. But the other kings did detestable things that were not right in the eyes of God and so God sent first Egypt and then Babylon in to clean things up. So basically, if the king was a good king, then all was well but if the king was a bad king then everyone suffered.
If you sat down and read the rest of the Chronicles, you’d see the same pattern repeated over and over again. What that tells us is that the king is a very important person. As the king goes, so go the people. Under Josiah, the land prospered but the four kings that followed were all washouts and bit by bit the nation fell apart. That’s what Jeremiah is talking about in verse 1 when he says, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” The kings were the shepherds of the people and the last four had been utterly pitiful. That was the context into which Jeremiah wrote.
THE KING WHO GATHERS THE SHEEP
But all is not lost. We read on in Jeremiah 23:3-4 (NIV):
“I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.
And so Jeremiah’s words turn from woe to hope. The woes come from the evil kings whose actions will scatter the people to far off foreign lands. Jeremiah sees this in his prophecy. But he also sees hope because God will maintain a faithful remnant and God will bring those people back to their pasture – to Judah and Israel where they will be fruitful and increase in number. So Jeremiah sees the woe but he also sees the hope for the future.
At this point Jeremiah is strictly speaking about the near future in the history of the Jewish people. The scattering that he wrote about happened in dribs and drabs as some of the people were taken away to Egypt or Babylon but it happened in earnest in 588 BCE when Jerusalem was totally destroyed and everyone who was worth anything was taken back to Babylon with the conquering armies.
Jeremiah sees the scattering but he also prophesies the gathering when the Jewish people will return to their land – their pasture as Jeremiah puts it. That happened fifty years later in 538 BCE when Babylon itself was defeated by King Cyrus the Great of Persia. The Persians allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and many of them did over the next roughly 110 years. And so the scattered sheep were returned to their own pasture.
All of this is a matter of history. This history is recorded in the Bible and backed up by all sorts of other historical accounts and archeological evidence which supports everything that Jeremiah wrote.
But then Jeremiah goes one step further. Listen to what he writes in Jeremiah 23:5-6 (NIV):
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.” So far this sounds very similar to the first four verses that we read this morning. They too talked about a righteous king, like Josiah who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. But in this case, Jeremiah doesn’t use the metaphor of shepherd. He simply calls the king a king. The fact that this king will be from David’s line is also significant because it signifies that this coming king is a legitimate king. From the time of King David, all of the legitimate kings have been David’s descendants. That was true of all of the kings of Judah from David’s son Solomon right down to the very last king Zedekiah who was defeated and carted off to Babylon. This is because God declared in the Old Testament that the only legitimate kings of Israel or Judah would be from David’s bloodline. That’s it, that’s all but it’s very, very important.
So far, we are not so different from the first four verses but then Jeremiah breaks out in verse 6 and takes this prophecy to a whole new level,: “In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.” Ok, so that isn’t too far out there, at least not yet but let’s take a look at last phrase of verse 6 which says, “This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.” This is what takes this prophecy into the stratosphere. It’s because of the name by which this king will be called. He will be called The Lord Our Righteous Saviour.
The Lord – are you kidding me? – it’s one thing to call the king Sire or Your Royal Highness or something like that. But to call the king the Lord changes the whole game. I know that there are various meanings of the term Lord in English. We might talk about the Lord of the Manor. In England, there is whole branch of the government that is called the House of Lords – it functions something like the Canadian Senate. I believe there are currently over 800 people so designated as Lords in England.
But that is not the meaning of the term Lord here in Jeremiah. The context of Jeremiah is to use this term Lord as a godly designation. The Lord is not merely and pretty powerful human being. This Lord is divine. This Lord is God. There’s another hint here because this Lord is also a Righteous Saviour. This is unique in the Old Testament. It’s one thing to say that a human king by strong leadership and decisive action can save the nation. It’s quite something else to suggest that this king will be a Saviour. But that’s what Jeremiah is saying. This new king will be like no other. Not only will he lead. Not only will he bring safety and prosperity. He will be fully righteous and he will be their Saviour.
Jeremiah, of course, had no idea who this might be. But the role of the prophet is not to give too many details. The prophet’s role is to open the eyes of the people to see what God wants to show them in broad strokes. Jeremiah didn’t know who this person would be but we do. On this last day of the church year, the Sunday of Christ the King, we acknowledge that this prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
First of all, Jesus was born of the bloodline of King David. We can see that in the New Testament in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 where the writers record Jesus’ genealogy. If you look at those two gospels, you’ll see that Jesus’ family line is traced directly back to David. That means that his claim to kingship is legitimate.
But can Jesus be called the Lord Our Righteous Saviour? Do you remember the cross of Calvary? We already referenced it today. That’s the cross where Jesus gave himself up as a sinless sacrifice to pay the price of all of the sins of all of the world for all time. Only he could do that because only he was sinless and because only he was sinless, only he was worthy.
But what of that whole divinity thing? Isn’t Jesus just the Son of God? How can we say he is divine? He surely can be and that is what Christmas teaches us. Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit, was born in Bethlehem. We call him Emmanuel which means God with us. We believe that God came to us in Jesus to live among us, to experience life as we experience it, to show us how to live with love and justice and mercy and that he gave himself up for us on the cross so that through faith in him we might be forgiven and spend eternity with him in the kingdom.
One of the best places where this is recorded is in the words that Cheryl read for us this morning from Colossians 1:15-20 (NIV)
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Bible is clear. Jesus is the Shepherd King who has come to save the world.
Through faith in him, we are made right with God. He is our Lord. He is our
Saviour. He is the one is and was and is to come. Jesus Messiah. This week, we
proclaim him King. Next week we begin to prepare for his birth.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
You, O God, are the King of Creation. You made everything that ever was and anything that ever will be. We invite you to reign in our lives and to sit upon the throne of our hearts.
We offer our thanks for The Story and the inspiration that it has given to us as we seek to understand the patterns that you have set before us in the Bible. May we always seek to live our lower story lives so that they are in line with your upper story plan for us. May we do that not only as individuals but also as your people, the church of Jesus Christ.
We look forward to another successful turkey supper. We pray for great help, fun times and fabulous food. With this event may your Spirit continue to shine and radiate your love in this place. And may your light continue to shine through us.
We are your children. Shine your light upon us that we may rejoice in your radiant love. Help us to shine that love to the rest of the world. When someone is hurt, you call us to help them. When someone is lonely, you ask us to be with them. When someone is sad, you want us to give them a reason for hope. You call us to do many things and we ask that you give us the courage and strength to faithfully fulfill your will.
We pray for the people around the world who are suffering from wars and poverty. There are so many places where people live with violence and fear everyday. We ask that your peace may rest upon their troubled homes. If there is anything that we can do to help, enable us to find it and do it. We need peace in the world but we also need peace in our families and communities. Fill us, O God, with your peace.
We pray for the sick people who are at home or in hospital, especially Jacqui and Mary. Heal them, O God, with your Holy Spirit. Help them to feel better soon.
Holy God, help us to allow your
word to live within us so that we may always act with wisdom and discretion
towards those around us. Help us to do all that we do in Jesus’ name, with
praise and thanksgiving in our hearts for all that you have done for us. We
lift our prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
November 24, 2019 / Christ the King
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Luke 1:68-79 (resp.); Luke 23:33-43; Colossians 1:11-20
CALL TO WORSHIP
We come to praise our God, the King of all Creation.
God has come to us to set us free
and has provided a mighty Saviour.
Let us worship the one who gives us life.
Praise to the King of Creation!
PRAYER OF APPROACH
You, O God, are an awesome God. Your glory fills the skies. There is nothing too difficult for you to do. There is no mountain too high or valley too low. There is no river too wide our ocean too deep. Come and reign in our hearts and in our lives. Remind us of your love and your gentle hand. We know that when we seek you, we will find you because you are always with us. Help us to seek you with all of our hearts and in all that concerns our lives. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Sometimes we feel overwhelmed. When circumstances seem to be too much for us, help us to remember that you offer us shelter. You love us as the best father loves his favourite children. Your word and promises give us strength when we don’t feel that we have any left. Thank you that even though we sometimes turn away from you, you never turn away from us. We can come before you with the assurance that you will never desert us and that you will forgive all of our sins when we confess them to you.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
When we confess our sins, God forgives us and promises to remember them no more. Not only does God forgive our past sins, God also gives us the courage to live for today. We never have to feel ashamed or embarrassed because God accepts us just as we are.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Thank you God for what we have. We have so much and we are reminded of those who have so little. Help us to share all that we have with those who are in need. Help us to be grateful for our homes, our food, our family and our friends. We give them all to you. We give our lives to you for service in your Kingdom. Amen.
Jesus is the King of Creation. When we let him rule in ours heart, he will reign on the earth. Let us go with the grace of Christ.