In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
There always is with the rise of any king a handsome cost that must be paid in order for any would be royal to achieve a throne. Though we don’t necessarily have a king in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave: we do have our own democratic head, the President, who without the title of a monarch still enjoys some of the same benefits as a king. And as we are all very well aware the ascendancy to that seat of power on Pennsylvania Avenue comes at the expenses of a rather handsome price. The 2012 Presidential election itself cost an impressive combined $2.23 billion dollars. The most spent on any presidential election to date. And the loser spent more than the incumbent! An impressive $1.13 billion to be nothing more than a forgotten footnote in the annals of American History.
Looking back to the kings of history, the Caesars of Rome: Augusts, Julius, Claudius; the Holy Roman Emperors: Charles, Louis, Maximilian, or the Kings of England, France and Spain, their ascendancies to their various thrones came usually at an even steeper price than money. The death of a prior emperor or king, either by natural cause or not, provided the opening for battle and war to be waged for a throne. From the common soldiers to the valiant knight they each bore the true cost of the throne: giving life and limb for King and Queen. They spilled their blood so that another might rise to power. The seat of kingship is almost always gained by the sacrifice, not of the would-be monarch, but by others beneath them. It is always someone else who has to foot the bill. It is others who give their blood; the peasants or the people who usually carry the steep cost of regality. Neither Mitt nor Barak personally spent over $1 Billion, but rather the people who endorsed and supported them did. People always bear the true cost in order for a person to hear the masses chant, “Long live the king”.
And as we stand at Christ the King Sunday, we hear too of another cost paid this morning. Yet we see in our Lord a completely different notion of kingship. For the first time in human history we see a king not dependent upon wealth or military might. There is no cost that the disciples must bear in order for Jesus to be King. Peter, James, and John do not need to fill the war chest with their own treasures to mount a political campaign, although having Matthew on your side would have no doubt helped. Nor are they to pick up the sword and storm the castles. Indeed, when Peter attempts such an act of force with his sword play, Jesus not only rebukes him, but undoes the sting of Peter’s blade with the divine sword of His word; mending his captor’s ear to head. Jesus, unlike any other king in history, needs nothing and no one to be King. For He already is and has been king, the very King of all kings, since the beginning of time. As St. Paul writes, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him.” (Col 1:15-16).
Not His mocking coronation with the crown of thorns, nor His enthronement upon His wooden cross makes Jesus king. His death upon the cross, His blood spilt and body broken does not win Him divine Kingship or an eternal seat of power. Those He had since the very beginning of time; way before the first Christmas and it is that claim of divine kingship, which leads Jesus to be nailed to the cross. There ironically proclaimed by those who would not believe Him, as “King of the Jews.” Though they do not believe Him, their claim is none the less true. This is the great reversal, the great irony of their mocks and derision. Though they mock Him, He nonetheless is King. He weathers the worst the world can do to Him and rather than call upon His band of disciples or the rank of angels, Jesus Himself pays the kingly cost.
That cost not paid to purchase royalty, but rather to purchase His people, His subjects, You and I. The cost Jesus bears is not for Himself. It is not for His sake, but it is for the sake of His people. The cost this King bears alone is for us. To purchase us not with gold and silver or the things that rust and decay, but by His most holy precious and innocent blood. Upon the Cross Jesus’ sacrifice wins Him a people. A true and everlasting kingdom filled with those brought out from under the cruel oppression of another king. A wicked and a most wretched king, a liar and murder. On the cross our Lord Jesus steals us away from the the kingdom of sin and death. On the cross our Lord and King is victorious, crushing the plans of the evil one who had long kept God’s people in true bondage. In His death and most gloriously in His resurrection, He out smarts the devil, opening the gates of hell and proclaiming the good news of salvation to all. The Cross isn’t about the King, it is about you, ransoming and winning you as sons and daughters to the true and everlasting Kingdom of God of light and peace. Again as the Apostle writes, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” (1Cor 6:19b-20a). We were bought with a price out from Satan’s grasp, out from under sin’s wage of death. We were pursued and purchased by the Almighty and everliving God who loves us so much that he give His own last full measure of devotion. You are the object of that kingly ransom, of which no one other than Christ could bear the cost. For our King does not allow anyone else to pay the tab, as earthly kings are want to do, but He completely covers the cost of all in Himself. In His very body and blood is the expense of our redemption.
This is what we Christians proclaim not only on this Christ the King Sunday, but on every Sunday. For as often as we of this bread and drink from this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death, the Lord’s kingship, until He comes again. Our salvation, our eternal life, won on Calvary and made present by our Lord’s Word. At His table we receive it again and again by faith. Here the cross is made ours in bread and wine and here the price of our sin is again and again met and covered by our Lord’s rich and kingly expense. Christ has done everything. Won us for eternal life; life with Him in the glory and splendor of His kingdom. We have been forgiven. We are set free. Long live the King!
In the face of this eternal Kingship of Jesus Christ over all humanity, over the entire cosmos, we see only two honest responses that can ever be given. St. Luke depicts them quite well for us in the two thieves crucified along side of our Lord that we heard about this morning. First we must take good note to realize that both of the men are still thieves. Both have broken the commandments of God and the laws of men. Both have rightly deserved their place along side the right and left of Christ at the place called Skull. And one follows the voice of the world around him, the voice of the king of this world, the mocks of the High priest, the ridicule of the guards, and the empty taunts of Pilate. In him, the King of the Jews is met by blasphemy, by laughing at His innocent suffering, and dismissing His Kingship. “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Such a thief, like the rest of His mockers, is met by the temporal and eternal silence of God. Notice Jesus says nothing to him. There is no rebuke. There is only and forever silence as he succumbs to the wounds of his own crucifixion.
And then there is the other thief condemned upon the cross. The one which garners our Lord’s attention and response. It is the humble prayer of the “good thief”, if you pardon the oxymoron. From his lips pass not one word of judgment or condemnation, no mock or humiliating word. But in that moment of agony, He perceives the true reality of what is taking place. That in Jesus’ death, He IS saving them. The thief sees our Lord as he truly is; an innocent man dying for the sins of the world, for the glory and splendor of a new and everlasting kingdom. A kingdom in which this poor wretched thief hopes against all hope to be remembered. And He speaks to the King from that hope a word of remembrance of his life. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. This prayer of the thief is the prayer of the Church. It is the prayer of every repentant thief, that is every Christian, who seeks the redemption of Christ. It is the very prayer of salvation to which our Lord gladly and willingly responds, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” And as the thief who went before us 2000 years ago, today we are. When our own bodies succumb to the wounds of our affliction our Lord again will speak His powerful life giving word into us, “Today, You are with me in Paradise.”
Paradise is ours and heaven stands before us each and every day. God’s new life has begun in us, while we await its consummation at the last, when our King will come in glory with clouds descending. Therefore as sons and daughters of the Kingdom, brothers and sisters of the King, we give thanks. For our Lord asks nothing from us, but that love and devotion that is rightly His. And even that is given in a gracious thanksgiving for His saving work. That is what this day of Christ the King is truly about. That is what this Consecration Sunday is truly about. Freely giving and offering to our Lord and King the glory and praise that He is due from our hearts. It is nothing more than chanting with our time, our talents, and our possessions, “Long live the King!”