Christ the King, 2022
- 23 November 2022
- Stuart Robinson
SHAP. November 20, 2022.
Things are not always as they first appear.
The ‘Little Ships of Dunkirk’ is a good illustration of this.
By mid-1940 allied troops had been cut off from their advance into France by a brilliant pincer movement enacted by a relentless and skilful enemy.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill regarded it as the greatest military defeat for centuries; it appeared likely to cost Britain the war, as the majority of the British Expeditionary Force was trapped on beaches of Dunkirk leaving England highly vulnerable to invasion.
That is until Operation Dynamo – wherein some 850 private boats piloted by courageous civilians crossed the English Channel from Ramsgate in England, to Dunkirk in France, and in nine days saved from certain death more than 336,000 British and French soldiers.
That rescue operation – transformed a military disaster, into a great tide-turning victory.
Yes, things are not always as they first appear.
King Jesus being handed over to death by a Roman ruler, Pilate, who was more committed to keeping the peace (at any price) than he was to justice and the rule of law – appears to be a travesty – Luke 23:25.
An unprecedented defeat of the good, and the lovely, and the righteous.
God’s desire to connect with and enfold a rebellious world in and through the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus, appears to have been crushed – utterly so.
Jesus did say, ‘my Kingdom is not of this world; my Kingdom is from another place’ – John 18:36.
Yes, Jesus had the authority to immediately call 60,000 supernatural angelic beings unfettered by time and space to his defence (Matthew 26:53).
But that ‘worldly’ and violent way of subduing those who opposed him was not the course he was electing to take.
His Kingdom – his rule, his purposes, would come to pass through humiliation and death.
So, what first appears to an unmitigated disaster – that begins with Pilate handing Jesus over to his cruel tormentors and to death, is in fact a great tide-turning victory.
A planned victory, no less.
The humiliation and the rejection, the insults, and the mockery that Jesus endured was spoken of by Isaiah the prophet hundreds of years before the events took place.
Isaiah 52 and 53 refer to the coming messenger from heaven as one who will not only bear the sins of many and make intercession for transgressors by pouring out his life (Isaiah 53:12) – in the process he will be despised and rejected (53:3), stricken, afflicted, crushed, and pierced (53:4 -6).
‘Why can’t you save yourself King Jesus?’ – the sneering crowds and the criminal crucified beside Jesus ask in Luke 23:35-39.
Answer – because through his death, people like the soldiers, and the criminals, and the rulers, and the crowds, and people like us, are saved.
Isaiah 53:6…’we all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him, the iniquity of us all’.
And this, “though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit found in his mouth, it was the Lord’s will…to cause him to suffer; the Lord makes his life an offering for sin” – Isaiah 53:9-10.
Jesus understood his vocation, his mission…which is why with a heart full of love he cries out to his Heavenly Father, ‘Forgive them for they know not what they are doing’ (23:24).
Indeed, they did not.
They did not grasp that what appeared to be a violent and ugly end to such a hope-filled ministry was the very means by which God would put people right with himself.
In the person of his Christ, God was bringing restoration, peace, forgiveness, and new life…and we see just a glimpse of what is truly taking place in the very short interchange between Jesus and the other dying man, also a criminal.
This fellow – unlike the fellow on the other cross – seeks a relationship with Jesus because he grasps – in part, who this dying Jesus truly is,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom’ – 23:42.
:King Jesus, I want to know, and be known by you, in your forthcoming reign and rule”.
And Jesus makes the man this magnificent promise, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise”.
‘Paradise”, we learn in Revelation 2:7 is the place where God’s people eat from the ‘tree of life’; a restored humanity, unfettered by sin, brokenness, and regret.
Jesus is promising this man forgiveness, and resurrection, and fellowship with God, in the city of God…in the presence of Jesus, the Christ of God.
‘Truly, truly, I tell you, you will be with me’. Luke 23:43.
On this the Feast of Christ the King we are reminded that things are not always as they first appear.
What presented as the miserable end of the earthly ministry of Jesus, is in fact the prelude his ‘coronation’.
Through suffering and humiliation unto death, our Lord will embrace sins’ punishment and enable all who turn to him and trust him, to enter and enjoy the paradise that his self-giving secures for them.
Yes, Jesus’ ‘defeat’ is in fact a tide-turning victory.
A victory in which he invites us to share…and to declare.
Indeed, note well King Jesus’ commissioning words to his friends…’go, make disciples, teaching them to obey all that you’ve seen and heard…and I’ll always be with you…” Matthew 28:19-20.
One last story as I close: Erasmus of Rotterdam the famous Dutch Renaissance scholar of the early 16th century, once told a classic fictionalstory – that was designed to emphasize the priority of engaging in Jesus’ ministry with zeal, focus, and determination.
In the story, in this fiction, Christ the King returns to Heaven after his time on earth.
The angels gather around him to learn of all that happened during his days on earth.
Jesus tells them of the miracles, his teachings, his humiliation and suffering, his sin-bearing death on the cross, his resurrection, and his ascension to his Father’s side as Lord and King.
When he finishes, Michael the Archangel asks Jesus, “But what happens now?”.
Jesus answers (according to Erasmus’ fictional story), “Well, I have left behind eleven disciples, and a handful of women and men who have faithfully followed me.
They will declare my message, and they will express my love. It is these faithful people who will build my church.”
“But,” responds Michael, “what if these people fail? What then is your other plan?”
And Jesus answers, “I have no other plan!”