The Sermon for Sunday, November 21st, 2021, the Festival of Christ the King, and the Sunday next before Advent
The Lessons: Daniel 7:9-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:1-8; John 18:33-37
The Text: Revelation 1:5, 7 & 8
The Topic: Welcome and submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ the King of all.
The 1928 Prayer Book names the last Sunday after Trinity “the Sunday next before Advent.” Where, then, did the 1979 Prayer Book and the 2019 Prayer Book derive the idea of the Sunday before Advent being the Festival of Christ the King? The Festival of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. Throughout his papacy, Pope Pius XI had been emphasizing the eternal kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ. The end of the First World War had not brought lasting peace to the world. Economic hardship and unemployment were widespread in England and Europe, and Russia suffered social upheaval and distress after the Russian Revolution. Pessimism overwhelmed many and governments were being reconstructed without regard to Christian principles. As a witness for Christ in the face of all of this, and in celebration of the 1600th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea which had acknowledged the full divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ as God’s Son, Pope Pius XI added the Festival of Christ the King to the Church’s calendar. This was originally scheduled as the last Sunday in October, but later, in 1969, Pope Paul VI changed the day of the celebration to the last Sunday in the Ordinary Year before Advent, thus linking it to Advent. The compilers of the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books adopted this Festival from the Roman Catholic Church’s Calendar. From this brief account, one can understand more clearly the importance of this Festival in terms of the Church’s witness to the eternal kingdom and rule of the Lord Jesus Christ in a world where the Lord has so often been rejected by so many people and still is today.
THE COMING KING
Our Lesson appointed for the Epistle today describes Jesus Christ as the “faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5a, KJV). Having been a faithful witness to the Gospel and to God the Father even to the point of death on a cross and having become the first to rise from the dead, the Lord Jesus Christ ascended to the right hand of God the Father, from where He will come again to judge the living and the dead. Therefore also, Jesus Christ is the prince, or ruler, of the kings of the earth. Yet it is not apparent to many rulers on earth, that Jesus Christ is their ruler, or has any authority over them. Not only monarchs, but also presidents, prime ministers, and other elected officials often act as if they were not answerable to anyone but themselves.
After writing that Jesus Christ is the ruler of the kings of the earth, St. John proceeds to give glory to Jesus by testifying to the fact that Jesus loved and us and set us free from our sins by his own blood (Revelation 1:5b), referring to Christ’s redeeming death on the cross. This redemptive death also was an act of creation, making out of all who believe in Him, a kingdom, and priests to God His Father. Since Christ by his death created God’s kingdom and peopled it with all who believe in Him and appointed them all as priests for God the Father, it is right that glory and dominion be given to Him forever. The faithful know and follow the Lord Jesus Christ as their King, and He rules their lives now, but the certainty of His coming is emphasized by quotations from Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10. The quotation from Daniel 7:13 portrays one like the Son of man coming with the clouds of heaven, while Zechariah 12:10 depicts a period of national mourning in Israel over the only begotten Son whom they pierced. Here in Revelation 1:7, the mourning is done by all the tribes of the earth, and the emphasis lies on the fact that everyone shall see the Lord Jesus Christ when He comes again. Why should there be mourning and distress when Jesus comes again? St. John has already shown us that this response does not belong to the faithful, who praise the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father, giving him glory and thanksgiving for establishing a kingdom for them and making them priests of God. The mourning is rather the response of all who have rebelled against the Lord Jesus Christ and are dreadfully afraid and sad at his Second Coming. In Psalm 2 we find this warning given to the rulers of the earth:
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
(Psalm 2:10-12, KJV)
This proper response of serving the Lord with reverence had to be commanded so long ago, since many rulers had no reverence for God, and still do not today. After these quotations prophesying the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, we read God’s own authenticating statement of their truth, for He declares:
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning, and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
(Revelation 1:8, KJV)
Significantly, the word “Almighty” translates the Greek term “pantokrator,” which means “Ruler of all things.” A little later in Revelation 1, where St. John relates his vision of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord says to him, “I am the First and the Last” (Revelation 1:17c, KJV), so identifying himself with the Almighty God, the Ruler of all things.
This Lord Jesus Christ the King we celebrate today, as we look forward to His Second Coming to judge the world and to rule over God’s new heaven and new earth forever! In that kingdom of God, which Christ has made for all who love him, He has made all believers priests to himself and to God the Father. This means we have been created to worship God forever! But as we live our lives in this present age, let us submit to the Lord Jesus Christ in all things, so that at His coming we may be found whole and blameless, without any fault, cleansed by the blood of Jesus!