Christ the King

The Feast Day of Christ the KingWhat-is-truth02
By Rev Charmaine Braatvedt
Sunday, 22nd November 2015
John 18: 33 – 37
Revelation 1: 4b – 6

This week we heard of the passing of Jonah Lomu. He was a dominating force to be reckoned with on the field yet by all accounts, off the field he was a gentle giant. Although he was a spectacular player, his days of playing rugby were actually quite short and inevitably what the obituaries keep returning to are his acts of kindness and especially his loving support of children and children’s charities. There are many heart warming stories about the kindness of this humble, generous man.

Sitting alongside this local news, are the dark stories of the terrorist incidents which dominated the international news.

Today’s readings along with last Sunday’s Gospel reading have a chilling ring of relevance for us in the light of the recent bombing in Beirut, the plane shot down on its way to Moscow from Sharm el sheik and of course the shootings in Paris.

Just to refresh our memories, the reading from last week was from Matthew 13:

13 “As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’[a] and they will lead many astray.”

This week we find Jesus on trial before Pilate.

Pilate asks him: Are you the king of the Jews?

From the incident in the Garden, where Malchus (whose name ironically means my king ) to today’s passage where Jesus’ has a sustained discussion with Pilate at his trial, the word “King” occurs over a dozen times. Even on the Cross, Pilate insists that Jesus be labelled “King of the Jews.”

And it is true, Jesus himself acknowledges that he is a king. However, he is at pains to emphasise that he is a different kind of king. There is a stark and dramatic contrast between the kingship that Pilate represents and the kingship that Jesus represents. And so, in the midst of this trial, which is nothing more than a travesty of justice, a discussion occurs between Jesus and Pilate on the nature of kingship.

The kingship and kingdom that Pilate represents is a political entity. One that has evolved under Roman rule.

It is based on the principle that might is right.

It is the kind of kingdom that Jesus talks about when he says: “you know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.”

Status, power and control are all important. Fear and pride are instruments of authority. I’m sure we can all think of political systems and organisations that operate in this way. Clearly, ISIS is one such example.

Any threat to overthrow this kind of authority would be dealt with ruthlessly. And what Pilate is trying to establish is whether Jesus is a threat to the political authority of Rome. He is trying to discover whether Jesus is a terrorist and whether he has under his control, a band of well armed freedom fighters ready to threaten the authority of Rome.

On the other hand and in contrast to the kingship Pilate represents, Jesus’ kingship, his kingdom and authority, is based on entirely different principles.

He says: My kingdom is not from this world, if it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest.

He is not saying that his kingdom is not for this world he is saying it is not from this world.

The kingdoms of this world resort to violence as soon as they are threatened. ISIS is not alone in this. France, America are not alone in this. Endless wars that pepper the history of the world bear witness to this. The response of political authority to that which threatens its power, is almost always a violent one.

No Jesus says: My kingdom is from another place.

And so Jesus goes on to explain what his kingdom is not a kingship or kingdom that is based on violence. His kingdom is based on love and humility. It is motivated and enlivened by inclusiveness and forgiveness .He as the king has come to reveal the truth about the nature of God and God’s kingship and God’s kingdom.

It is significant and no accident, that this dialogue about kingship took place at a time when Jesus’ power is at its lowest ebb. He stands bound by the Jewish council before Pilate for sentencing. His very vulnerability underscores that Jesus’ kingship is not based on status or the trappings of power, but on humility, sacrifice and love. He not a secular monarch vying for rule over bits of territory nor is he building an army for conquest like ISIS. He is not in competition with worldly rulers like Pilate. His kingdom is from somewhere else for something else. It is a spiritual kingdom.

However, although his kingdom does not have a worldly origin or quality, it does have an earthly destination. While his kingdom is not from this world, it is for this world. His authority is from God who is best described as love.

He has come into the world on a mission from heaven to prepare the hearts of people to accept the reign of God in their lives.

His kingdom is to be in the hearts and minds people.

In fact the word king does not really capture what Jesus’ leadership is about. He says to Pilate: “King is your word, not mine”.

The passage from Revelation fleshes this out for us.

We are told that Jesus loved us, and came to free us and to unite the world into a kingdom serving God. He brought grace and peace into the world. And these are the hallmarks of his kingdom.

Grace being: the splendour of all the undeserved loving gifts of God and peace being: the harmony that has been restored between God and humanity through Christ.

This peace comes to us through the grace of God.

Jesus maintains that he has a divine charge, to testify to the truth. The Truth is that God is present in the world and in this sense Jesus is a manifestation of the Truth.

“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

At this point Pilate asks: “What is truth?”

I think this question reveals Pilate’s true position. Pilate’s worldliness renders him unable to recognise the things of God nor does he recognise God in the Jesus standing before him.

So we see two kingdoms on trial.

The one is based on earthly power and the other is based on divine truth. The earthly kingdom is as doomed as the magnificent temple which Jesus prophesies will soon be destroyed. While, the kingdom of God will continue for all eternity because it rests on the truth.

The truth is that, in reality, only love and humility can lead us to freedom from the darkness and destruction which entraps us in conflict and disharmony, both on a personal level and on a corporate level.

Only love can find the way from death back to life, from the cross to the resurrection.

Pilate’s kingdom offers a vengeful, grudge- filled, unforgiving, oppressive domination.

Pilate‘s leadership stands in sharp contrast to Jesus’ leadership. His question: What is truth? has a sinister, cynical ring to it.

What is truth? is the cynical question a politician asks when truth is the last thing they want to hear. His question reminds me of President Bill Clinton’s response when asked if he had had sex with Monica Lewinsky and he replied with the question: What is sex?

In the end Pilate represents a self-interested system filled with darkness under the guise of pragmatism and expedience. He senses something is wrong with his guilty verdict and makes gestures towards the truth, yet when the deal-makers arrive in the form of the Jewish leaders, when the pollsters reveal their preferences in the shape of the crowds baying for Jesus’ death, he does not have the compassion to act on what his better judgement is telling him:

“I find no basis for a charge against this man.”

So what is truth?

Which king will we choose here, Pilate or Jesus?

Which truth?

One thing that the Islamic State and Christianity have in common is that they are both interested in proselytising, spreading the truth as each religion sees it and so converting the world to their understanding of the truth. Many people in the world, including many Christians, find this evangelism distasteful. It makes them deeply uncomfortable.

Yet it is clear from the Biblical text, that Jesus sent us out into the world to do exactly that, to spread the truth to the ends of the earth.

So we also ask, but hopefully in a different spirit the question: What is truth?

I’m drawn to last week’s reading again.

Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’[a] and they will lead many astray.

Here’s the acid test for me. If the message is oppressive and restrictive is judgemental and wrathful and is based on hate, revenge and un-forgiveness, then it has to have dark consequences and whether it be a Christian or a Muslim sharing it, it cannot be the truth from God for as the Jesuits put it, it is not life-giving.

If the message promotes love, justice, mercy, humility and forgiveness, then it must be truth-filled and so be from God for such a message as the Jesuits put it is life giving and life enhancing.

But why evangelise? Why spread the message at all?

We evangelise and promote Christianity not because there is personal gain for us, but because we are obedient to the Great Commission and because we instinctively know that and believe that only the love of God can save the world that is currently drowning in a sea of hate.

Only love can cast out fear, hate and the darkness of conflict.

Only the repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, tolerance and humility that come with love can offer us the lifeline that prevents us from drowning in the destructive spirals of hate, grudges, vengeance and self-interest, which are destroying our families, our communities, our environment and our world.

Spirals that whether it be a Christian or a Muslim sharing it, are currently all too evident in Syria, Sharm el Sheikh, Parish and Brussels and Mali.

Surely any discomfort we may experience when we share this good news is outweighed by the benefits of seeing God’s kingdom of love come into this broken world and his healing and his will to save the world being done.

Jesus Interceding on Our Behalf

Jesus Interceding on Our Behalf
by Tim Denne
Sunday 25th October, 2015


My talk today is based on the passage from Hebrews 7. It comes after the author had warned the readers against slipping away from their faith, and to hold on to Jesus and the certainty of God’s promises.

Heb 7:23-28 (New Testament for Everyone)

There needed to be a large number of Levitical priests, since they stop holding office at death. But since he [Jesus] continues as a priest for ever, his priesthood is permanent. That’s why he is able to save those who come to God through him, completely and for ever – since he always lives to make intercession for them.

It was appropriate that we should have a high priest like this. He is holy, without blame or stain, separated from sinners, and elevated high above the heavens. He doesn’t need (like the ordinary priests do) to offer sacrifices every day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people. He did this once for all, you see, when he offered himself. For the law appoints ordinary, weak, mortal men as high priests; but the word of the oath, which comes after the law, appoints the son, who has been made perfect for ever.

I want to address the issue of Jesus as priest, which is unique to Hebrews and what it means that Jesus lives to make intercession for those who have come to God through him? There seems to be an implication that Jesus is standing in the middle between us and a God who may not want to save us.

So: a bit about the letter to the Hebrews, a bit about priesthood and their role in ancient Israel and a bit about Jesus and what it all means for us.

The Letter to the Hebrews

Hebrews is very different from other books in our library we call the Bible. We don’t know who the author is or who it is written to. As a result of the subject matter it has been assumed that it has been written to a group of Jewish Christians or Hebrew Christians, hence the name which was added later.

Commentators have suggested that the group appears to have come from a particular form of Judaism, possibly the Essenes, one of the Jewish sects alongside the more numerous Pharisees and Sadducees. But the point here is really that their Jewish background to some degree explains the use of priest language with respect to Jesus.

Priests and their Role in Ancient Israel

In ancient Israel priests were officials set apart from the rest of the community to carry out certain duties related to worship and sacrifice. The priest has two roles:

  1. as a bridge between the people and God, handling the twice-daily, monthly and annual sacrifices and festivals; and
  2. pastoral – making the bridge a reality by getting alongside people, sympathising with them and helping them.

They were chosen for this job but the priests then kept a level of ritual purity so that they could then have close contact with the sanctuary and the altar (Lev 21:1-23). This covered things like their language (not profaning God), not making bald patches on their heads or shaving the edges of their beards.

The reasons for the sacrifices include a mixture of thanksgiving to God and atonement; the means by which the people are made right with God again and through which sins are forgiven.

But it was never sustainable.

Back in Hebrews, in 7:11 the author asks “if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood …, what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek”. Melchizedek appears out of the blue in Genesis as a priest of God Most High but is referenced in Hebrews as the basis for a legitimate and greater priesthood than that of the tribe of Levi, and one that ushers in a new covenant.

So the author is using the form of a question to assert that the Levitical priest-sacrifice system fell short of what was required, presumably to a group of people who either now, or at some stage in the past, thought that it was a legitimate system.

And we know that from God’s perspective, despite instituting it, the sacrificial system was never of particular interest.

1Sam 15:22 “And Samuel said, “… to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.”

Hos 6:6 “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Ps 40:6-8 “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.

The Psalms verse is cited in Hebrews 10:5. And earlier in chapter 10 (vv1-4), the author notes that the sacrifices don’t work permanently (there is a need to keep doing it) and that they “serve as a regular annual reminder of sin”.

So we have this sense in which the sacrificial system is ineffective (it does not deal with sin, in fact it keeps reminding people of their sin) and not of interest to God – he wants love not sacrifice.

So what’s going on?

Well one of the things that goes on when a sacrifice is given is that something is being communicated to the person who is doing the sacrifice, or the person on whose behalf the sacrifice is given. And they get the message that it’s OK now. Everything is right between you and God, so don’t worry and get on with your (hopefully God-pleasing) life. It’s a message that people seem to continually need and the sacrificial system provided that.

For a God who wanted love not sacrifice, the sacrificial system provided the means to get people back to a state where they could love rather than continually seeking forgiveness. We can make some use of analogies with human relationships where it never really functions when someone is in a state of continual grovelling apology. And for those for whom relationship language with God doesn’t quite work, then there is still this sense that you can’t get on with living rightly before him and doing what you are meant to do (love and good works) when in a state of non-acceptance. Because the actions become guilt-driven, or as favour-earning, rather than pure acts of love in a state of acceptance.

So hold this thought: the sacrificial system is best understood, not as placating an angry God, but as providing Israel with the confidence of being in right standing with the God who called them his beloved son.

Israel as Kingdom of Priests

Before we leave ancient Israel, and to further complicate things, in Exodus we also read that God tells Israel that they will be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).

Israel itself is meant to be fulfilling the role of priests, maintaining a level of purity and difference from other nations that allows it to stand before God on behalf of all the people of the world and to bring other people to God. It is the continuation of the prophecy given to Abraham, that through him and his descendants, all the people of the world would be blessed (Gen 22:18).

Israel failed in its role because it failed to be a holy nation.

Jesus then comes as faithful Israel, to fulfil the role that she was meant to. And we see symbols throughout his ministry of him saying – look I am being Israel.

So the priesthood language is suitable for Jesus because he fulfils Israel’s role as priest to the world, both as representative of the people and as the one who undertakes, and is, the sacrifice. The one who is righteous on behalf of all. But just as Israel had priests when the whole nation were expected to act as priests, so Jesus is a priest while all of us are expected to be priests also.

Hence Peter writes:

you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1Pet 2:5)

We are priests, not in the sacrificial sense but in the sense of representing God to the world.

So just as the sacrificial system provided assurance of right standing to those who participate, so Jesus as priest provides assurance to those who place their trust in him.


One of the things that Jesus is said to be doing in our Hebrews passage is intercession on our behalf.

That’s why he is able to save those who come to God through him, completely and for ever – since he always lives to make intercession for them.

A simple reading of this might be that Jesus is interceding on our behalf before a God who is not so favourably disposed. But as we’ve discussed so far, it’s not like that. Jesus shows us what God is like and God is favourably disposed towards us also. A similar passage in Romans makes this clearer:

What then shall we say to all this? If God is for us, who is against us? God, after all, did not spare his own son; he gave him up for us all! How then will he not, with him, freely give all things to us? Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who declares them in the right. Who is going to condemn? It is the Messiah, Jesus, who has died, or rather has been raised; who is at God’s right hand, and who also prays [or intercedes] on our behalf. (Rom 8:31-34)

If you look at the rest of the book of Hebrews, along with many other New Testament texts, the concern is over apostasy, people stopping believing or stopping trusting in God. Not carrying on with being Christians. One of the problems that the writer to the Hebrews had identified was that sin (acts that are contrary to what pleases God and ultimately acts that are contrary to what is best for us) can result in people turning from God.

I remember the results of research in the Netherlands related to vehicle emissions in which the government, in order to encourage people out of their cars used guilt messages about the environmental impact. It had the opposite effect; people used their cars more and they cared less about the environment. They did follow-up research that showed that people needed to be able to reconcile their lives with their beliefs and that when they could see no option but using their car, the only way they could reconcile that with their beliefs was by caring less about the environment.

Similarly, if we as a result of our actions feel that we are always separated from God, the only way to reconcile our lives with our beliefs may be to stop believing in God.

The writer to the Hebrews is not in some grand psychological experiment (or applying nudge theory), he is telling a people who is tempted by the decadent lifestyles of those around them (and we’re not being prudish here – we know a lot about the lives of ancient Rome and it wasn’t pretty), that they can pick themselves up from sin because God is on their side. As the writer had noted earlier, speaking of Jesus, “we don’t have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).

He’s been there, not done that, and is on our side. More than that, he’s praying for us. He’s taking on the pastoral role of the priest also.

To provide this message of assurance, the writer to the Hebrews is using language of priesthood because it works for a people from a Jewish background. They understood the notion of priesthood. And they can see clearly the role that Jesus is fulfilling.

I went to the movies on Friday night and it struck me thinking about it afterwards how different examples might work better for us. The movie was a cold war spy movie, Bridge of Spies, and without giving too much of the movie away, Tom Hanks is a lawyer who ends up defending a Russian spy because the legal system required that he had a defender. The spy asks him at one stage “don’t you want to know if I am a spy?” and he replies along the lines of “No – that’s not how it works. Their job is to prove that you are.”

In contrast to the movie where the judge clearly wanted to convict, the story we have is one in which judge doesn’t want to convict those who have put their trust in Jesus either. We have an advocate who has no interest in our sin (he’s dealt with it), but is an advocate on our behalf before a judge who does not want to convict and is thus telling us that we are in right standing with God. And just as in the movie, the spy had to want and ask the lawyer to represent him, we need to asks Jesus to represent us; he asks that we place our trust in him.

The writer to the Hebrews goes on to encourage the readers to love and to good works. But this can only be achieved when the hearers know the assurance that comes from knowing that Jesus is their advocate and God is on their side.

So this is the message. We are called to love and good works. This is what it means to be in God’s kingdom. Don’t think that you cannot fully participate in this kingdom because of what you have or haven’t done. Rather know that Jesus is on your side. He’s like a defence lawyer before a sympathetic judge. Not only that; he’s already paid the penalty.

So like the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, we too should be assured of God’s favour and to respond with love to him and with love and good works to all.