This is part 4 of our series on the images of Christ in the Scriptures. Next week we begin advent, where we begin a season of anticipation. A season of expectation, expectation of the coming of the king.
This week, we’re talking about Christ as King. The Magi came looking for the one born “King of the Jews”. Jesus’ life on earth begins with the question of Kingship.
When appearing before Pilate, John tells us that Jesus is asked “are you the king of the Jews?”. Jesus’ responses to Pilate’s questions are kind of cryptic. My Kingdom is not of this world. You say that I am. But then Pilate offers to release him according to Jewish tradition of releasing a prisoner on Passover. Notice how he makes the offer, “Do you want me to release the king of the Jews?” The after Jesus is beaten, Pilate presents Jesus, with a crown of thorns and says “Here is your king”. The crowd shouts for his crucifixion, and Pilate asks “Shall I crucify your king?”. “We have no king but Caesar”. So he is crucified under the sign reading Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews.
His birth and his death seem like bookends to a tragic story. One born to rule the Jews, rejected by them in favour of a foreign despot. The use of that sign was certainly a message. Caesar is king, and this is what happens to challengers.
It sounds horrifically tragic. Jesus born under Roman authority, called to be king but inevitably destined to fail. Or at least it would sound that way if that was the end of the story. We of course now know it is not the end of the story.
Fast forward about 30 years or so. A Jewish man, with Roman citizenship is awaiting execution. The current Caesar is a paranoid man who seems to have psychotic tendencies; a man who kicked his wife to death. This Jewish man is about to be executed because he claims Jesus of Nazareth is Lord, and therefore Caesar is not. Paul, a Jew, trained by Gamaliel, a well known Rabbi in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3), has been rejected by his own people as a blasphemer. Now, he faces Roman authorities who will certainly kill him if he doesn’t recant and worship Caesar.
No, he says, Jesus is Lord.
Nero put to death countless Christians, including Paul and Peter. These Christians could have been spared if they shown allegiance to Caesar. But they would not deny that Jesus, crucified 30 years ago by the Romans was Lord. A man destroyed by the Romans, humiliated, beaten and crucified was Lord, and Rome was under his feet.
What could possibly give anyone the gall to proclaim this Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not?
Paul, a doulos of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle and set apart for the gospel of God. Paul, a slave to Jesus set apart and sent out for the Good news of God. The good news God promised beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to the flesh was a descendant of David, a man who by his genealogy had a claim to the throne of Israel. But through the Spirit of Holiness was appointed to be the Son of God with power by his Resurrection from the dead- Jesus, the Messiah our Lord. Through this Jesus and for his name’s sake, we have received grace and are sent to call people from among all the nations to the obedience which comes out of faith. And you, Christians in Rome [and by extension, us today], are among those who are called to belong to this same Jesus Christ.
In the Greco-Roman world, when writing a letter there would be a brief salutation at the beginning. Paul’s letter to the Romans has a profoundly deep introduction; 7 verses in our English bibles. We often breeze over these- it’s just his greetings, but this intro is so profound and beautiful I want to reflect here for bit.
The astute among you may have picked up on something if you’ve been really paying attention over the past four weeks:
The Lamb seated in the middle of the throne. Worthy to be worshipped alongside the Father, reigning over the earth (Rev. 5).
The servant, who empties himself of the authority he had, but is exalted and given the name above all other names- which every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:6-11).
The bridegroom who arrives, and receives a royal processional to claim his bride and celebrate with an elaborate feast (Matt. 25:1-13).
All these images come together in the fact that they point to Jesus becoming Messiah and King.
-How is the Lamb who was slain reigning on the throne?
-How is the slave who is obedient to death on a cross exalted above all others?
-How is the church’s bridegroom, now absent able to come to reclaim what is his?
Jesus Christ was born royal. His mother and adopted father are both descended from David. Royal hopes were high at various times. But when he dies, his followers do not go looking for another descendant of David. Jesus of Nazareth had a claim, but so did dozens or even a few hundred others. Why not transfer hope to another?
Because, as Paul says, according to the Holy Spirit, he was appointed Son of God with power by his resurrection from the dead.
Now, what on earth does that mean? Was Jesus not Son of God when he was born? Well, yes he was. But remember, he did not cling to that position of authority, but poured it out and became a servant. THEREFORE, God exalted him. Because he was obedient unto death, the Lamb is standing in the middle of the throne. Because he had gone away and prepared a home for his bride, the groom will come back for those who have been sealed as his own and receive a celebratory procession.
Douglas Moo (Romans, NIVAC) writes: He is appointed “Son of God in power” (the preferred translation of most English bibles, but not the NIV), the resurrection, “qualified him to attain an entirely new status… Jesus’ resurrection, concluding and validating the messianic work of redemption, gave him new power to dispense salvation to all those who would believe in him”. God has given him what was already his, but he had set aside, to die, and God gives him even more in return. On Pentecost, Peter tells the crowds in Jerusalem, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). The resurrection takes the Son of God, the obedient servant, and exalts him to Son of God in power, Lord of Lords and King of Kings, because death could not and did not hold him, and now he is risen and reigns with the Father. Because Caesar’s most powerful weapon- the threat of or implementation of physical death- was impotent against the Lord Almighty, Jesus of Nazareth lives. Because he obediently lived, and obediently died, God the Father has placed all things under his feet, and this Jesus, crucified by men, was raised by the power of the Holy Spirit and shown to be Son of God with authority and power to reign.
Why on earth would Paul proclaim to the Roman authorities that a man destroyed by Roman authority was Lord over even Rome? Because an empty tomb testifies that Caesar’s weapons are no match against the one who holds the keys to death and Hades (Rev. 1:18).
Peter told the crowds in Jerusalem (Acts 2:23-24), “you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
Why does Paul have such confidence before Rome? He knows. He knows what Caesar does not.
As Paul told the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:20-26):
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Jesus reigns. Jesus is Lord of Lords and Jesus is King of Kings. Some remain in rebellion to his reign, but he is King, and has already delivered the mortal wound to the kingdom of darkness. Our deliverance is sealed in covenant, and we are his and the bridegroom is coming to consummate our deliverance from death into eternal life. We have been called to belong to Jesus Christ, and obey him by faith (Rom. 1:5-6).
So next week as we begin our advent celebrations keep that in mind. It isn’t just a quaint, heart warming story of a innocent young girl and beautiful baby boy. It’s the beginning of triumphant act of God in human history. The beginning of the end for sin and death. This baby is the one who is in very nature God, pouring out his authority to become obedient to death that he might destroy it. He is the King of Kings coming to reclaim his authority. To begin a campaign against sin and death which has made an illegitimate grab for power on God’s creation. This baby we celebrate is the holy subversive rebel born to upend history, and destroy all authorities which oppose the LORD Almighty.
**This sermon is indebted to the following resources (inserted all the ideas I “borrowed” in proper citations would be far too taxing an endeavour, so please assume there is little original thought included):
F.F. Bruce, Romans, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980).
Douglas Moo, Romans NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).
Ed Stetzer, Subversive Kingdom, (Nashville: B&H, 2012).
N.T. Wright, The Resurrection and the Son of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003).