Sermon for the Festival of Christ the King, Sunday, November 20th, 2022
The Lessons: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:35-43
The Text: Colossians 1:11-20
The Topic: Christ the King
Though the truth of God’s eternal kingdom became known to us through the pages of the Bible, the Festival of Christ the King itself was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. Originally it was the last Sunday in October, to occur before All Saints’ Day, but in the new liturgical calendar of 1970, it was moved to the last Sunday in ordinary time. The Revised Common Lectionary, which the ACNA’s 2019 Book of Common Prayer follows, included this Festival, which is why we celebrate it today. If we ask why such a festival is necessary, then one could answer in terms of the need for the faithful to be reminded of the universal spiritual authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of his Second Coming to judge the world and rule over a new universe forever.
Even Napoleon in lonely exile on the island of St. Helena was reminded of Christ the King:
You speak of Caesar, Alexander, of their conquests; of the enthusiasm they enkindled in the hearts of their soldiers, but can you conceive of a dead man making conquests with an army faithful and entirely devoted to His memory? My army has forgotten me while living. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and myself have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force! Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love: and at this hour millions of men would die for Him. I have so inspired multitudes that they would die for me – but after all, my presence was necessary – the lightning of my eye, my voice, a word from me – then the sacred fire was kindled in their hearts. Now that I am at St. Helena, alone, chained upon this rock, who fights and wins empires for me? What an abyss between my deep misery and the eternal reign of Christ who is proclaimed, loved, adored, and whose reign is extending over all the earth.
Our First Lesson, Epistle, and Gospel Lesson give us three contrasting perspectives on Christ as King, which we do well to view for a clearer understanding of the nature of God’s kingdom and the regal power and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
PROPHECY OF THE REIGN OF THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS
Our First Lesson begins with a denunciation of the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of the Lord’s pasture (Jeremiah 23:1). We may be inclined to think of ministers of religion as pastors, but pastors in this context are kings and political leaders of ancient Israel, who were corrupt leaders, encouraging their people to worship false gods, so leading them into disobedience to God and rebellion. The Lord promises to punish these leaders and gather and rebuild the remnant of his people from all the countries to which they have been driven and scattered. He will restore them to their country and give them righteous leaders who will look after them, so that they will have no fear or dismay (Jeremiah 23:2-4) and will lack nothing (Jeremiah 23:2-4).
The Lord also foretells his establishing of “a righteous Branch” (Jeremiah 23:5) from the house of King David, who will reign as king, ruling wisely, with justice and righteousness. In his reign, Judah shall be saved, and Israel will live safely, and this King will be known as “the Lord our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6).
Therefore God’s final answer to corrupt and unjust rulers is to remove them and institute the reign of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, “who was made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:31b, ASV). Not only Israel, but also all the peoples of the world, will benefit from the rule of Christ the King.
THE GOSPEL LESSON: THE WORDS OF THE KING
Our Gospel Lesson presents the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, a picture that confirms the Lord’s denunciation of unjust rulers in Jeremiah 23:1-6, but the mockery of Jesus by rulers, soldiers, and even one of the criminals crucified next to him, appears to cast a shadow over the prophecy of his future reign in righteousness. To these various groups, Jesus could not even save himself from the cross, let alone save others, as a king should by his righteous rule. Even the superscription on his cross, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS,” appears to be a mocking statement. In fact, the superscription states the truth, though it is not believed by many. The malefactor who rebukes his companion for mocking the Lord Jesus perceives that Jesus committed no crime. He humbly asks the Lord to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. This criminal really believed Jesus was going to come into his kingdom and rule as king, although he was dying on a cross then. Jesus’ reply to the penitent criminal shows his power and authority as King:
Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
(Luke 23:43, KJV)
Someone else, convinced he was going to Paradise, would have said, “I believe I am going to paradise when I die, but I am not sure about you.” Jesus showed he is King, supreme ruler of all, by promising the penitent criminal that he would be with in paradise that day. No one else had the authority to say that, and to give pardon and remission of all sin to the penitent criminal. In the face of all this mockery and in the very process of his passion on the cross, the Lord Jesus’ eternal kingship is demonstrated.
THE EPISTLE: THE KINGDOM OF GOD’S DEAR SON
In today’s Epistle Lesson, we begin with some results of how faith in Christ the King has transformed the lives of Christians. Christians have been strengthened with all God’s power for all endurance and longsuffering with joy (Colossians 1:11), which means we have God’s strength to endure all trials with joy, while we give thanks to God the Father for enabling us to share the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:12). By Christ’s death on the cross, God has delivered us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son (Colossians 2:13). Instead of sin being our master, we have now been transferred into God’s kingdom in which the Lord Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. We have been redeemed from Satan’s kingdom by the blood of the righteous King, and our sins have been forgiven because of that (Colossians 1:14).
The Lord Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15a) in that he alone visibly represents the invisible God, so that we come to know and love God by knowing and loving the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thomas Merton expressed it like this:
Reading ought to be an act of homage to the God of all truth. We open our hearts to words that reflect the reality he has created or the greater reality which he is. Christ, the incarnate Word, is the Book of Life in whom we read God.
In describing Christ as “the firstborn of every creature,” St. Paul means that the Son was begotten by the Father so that all creatures might be created through him. All creatures, including all the angelic beings in their hierarchies were created by Christ and for Christ. Not only did he create all things, but he is the supreme ruler of all, and sustains everyone and everything in the universe (Colossians 1:17).
Christ’s authority extends over all his Church, since he is the Head of his mystical Body, which is the Church. He has supreme authority over all the Church, and this we must always remember. Not only this, but also he is the firstborn from the dead, meaning that he rose from the dead first, as a sign of his preeminence in all things (Colossians 1:18).
Finally, to set the seal on this description of Christ the King, St. Paul writes that in Christ all the fullness of the godhead was pleased to dwell and through him to reconcile all things in the universe to himself. This was achieved through Christ’s death on the cross. Bringing about mankind’s freedom from sin and reconciliation to God was Christ’s mission on the cross.
Our mission is not to accept with resignation the growing secularization of the world and its hostility to Christ, but to pray, witness, and work for people’s reconciliation to God.
 Attributed to Napoleon: Pierson: Many Infallible Proofs, vol.2, 49. Quoted on p.480, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007.
 Thomas Merton: Thoughts in Solitude. Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1958. Quoted on p.117, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.