Today is Christ The King Sunday, which marks the end of the Christian liturgical year. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of another new liturgical year. So, this Sunday is the climax of the Christian liturgical year.
So what? What does it mean to me? Why did our faith fathers and mothers think it’s important and beneficial to set up a Sunday to focus on the topic of “Christ the King?” How does it help us navigate this “sea of suffering” we live in—the foundational subject of all religions in the world?
I love to tackle the “so what” questions of Christianity because it reveals how the wisdom of the ages wrestled with the profound issues of this fallen world, because it unveils the secret of how to surf this sea of suffering successfully, and it uncovers how civilization evolves. Most importantly, it illuminates our purpose of life and teaches us how to make this world a better place to live.
Now, at the climax of his ministry, Jesus was charged with a capital crime.
John 18:33 NRSV
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” because declaring oneself as a king without the permission of the Caesar is equal to treason and rebellion deserving the capital punishment. Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”
Pilate was saying, “What have you done that causes these powerful people to want you dead? Shouldn’t you be more diplomatic as a king?” What has Jesus done? We know that he had done nothing but good. He came to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah:
Luke 4:18–19 NRSV
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
In short, he came to save the people from this sea of suffering, but this stormy sea wants to swallow the savior. One of the lessons we must learn is that when you try to shine a bright light into this dark world, you will encounter the hatred by the darkness. So, if you get up in the morning and find everything running smoothly in your life, you might be going the wrong direction.
Pilate was surprised by the reaction of the darkness toward this man of light. He told the people, I found no crime on this man, but the world has obviously turned upside down and went crazy against him beyond any reason.
John 18:36 NRSV
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
This statement has a lot to unpack because it goes all the way back to Genesis and Abraham. God called Abram away from the civilization and led him to the promised land where there was no king but God alone was his king. So, when Jesus said, “My kingdom is not from this world,” it hyperlinks all the way back to at least five thousand years in history. You have to unpack the entire Bible to understand what kind of king Jesus is and what kind of kingdom Jesus is talking about.
Abraham was the first known Hebrew that left the civilization and lived a life of nomad. The word Hebrew means crossover. So, initially it might mean people who have crossed over to the other side of the river away from the civilization to live the life of nomads. From the perspective of the contemporary civilization, they might be regarded as barbarians. They refused to submit to human kings and live by the rule of a human government. Instead, they submit to an invisible and unnameable king, known as “The Lord.”
However, for the Hebrews themselves, it means they have crossed over to a higher level of civilization where they don’t need human beings to govern them. It’s similar to the Exodus story, which happened later, in which they crossed over, or passed over, from the land of slavery and idolatry to the promised land where they are free to worship the Lord.
The modern example would be like the Americans who crossed over from the other side of the ocean to establish their lives in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
As Christians, we believe power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely because human beings are sinners. So, being sinners, kings and rulers tend to add to human suffering. The only ruler that can set us free from suffering is the Lord alone because he is holy.
The term “Hebrew” originally does not represent an ethnicity, but anyone that refuses to bow down to a human ruler, and crosses over to the other side of civilization to believe, worship, and follows the Lord, the creator of the universe, as a higher level of civilization.
However, many generations after Abraham, they forgot this important calling to a higher civilization and they asked for a king. Prophet Samuel said that their request for a king stems from their rejection of the Lord. To make the long story short, they eventually got their first king—King Saul—and that was the beginning of regression. They have crossed back over to the deeper sea of suffering.
From then on, we read a long history of suffering, exiles, and slavery. However, God promised the restoration of the kingdom, but that kingdom is known as the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of a human ruler, even though it is often mentioned as the restored kingdom of David.
Now this kingdom begins with the crowning of Jesus with a crown of thorns. God wants us to know that he can sympathize with our pain and suffering. He is the king of suffering. The good news is he reveals to us that suffering cannot overcome us. He shows us the way to cross over to the other side of suffering where he rules the king of freedom.
When Jesus said, “My kingdom is not from this world,” then Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Pilate obviously did not understand what Jesus was talking about because as he said, “I am not a Jew, am I? I don’t know what’s going on with you guys.” Even though he did not understand, Pilate did not want to kill Jesus because he found him guiltless. Even Pilate’s wife told him to set Jesus free.
However, the prophecy has to be fulfilled. God wants to plant the eternal hope in us by us witnessing the resurrection of Jesus Christ, so that we wouldn’t regress again.
Maybe China has regressed when they inducted Xi Jinping as the permanent president, just like a king.
Have the Americans regressed? Even though we don’t ask for a king of America, we have regressed in a subtle way by worshiping the political ideologies. That’s why we have a divided country. We have forgotten the founding principles of our founding fathers, who were very well educated in the history of the kingdom of God. Even though we don’t have the idolatry of a human king, but we do have the idolatry of political ideology.
That’s why Christians must be the faithful stewards of the kingdom that is not of this world. We belong to a higher civilization. It doesn’t mean that we ignore the politics of the worldly civilization, but it means we participate from a higher level of understanding—just like being in the state of a butterfly as opposed to that of a caterpillar. It means we refuse to creep as slaves of political ideology, but we fly as free and liberated people away from low-level politics or low-resolution politics.
How do we become good stewards of the kingdom? In verse 37,
John 18:37 NRSV
Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. 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.”
Since Jesus knew Pilate could not understand his high-resolution language, Jesus used the low-resolution language to respond to Pilate. So, he is saying “Since you must label me a king to justify the death sentence, yes, I am born to be a king if that is the kind of language you understand.”
Here’s the key to our stewardship of the kingdom. Jesus said, “I came into the world to testify to the truth.” He previously said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). The truth is the kingdom. We belong to the kingdom of truth. We don’t belong to sophism of this sea of suffering. It cannot sink us no matter how stormy it becomes because we belong to the kingdom of truth.
The passage ends with Pilate asking, “What is the truth?” This is the question everyone in the world asks. When Pilate asked this question, the truth is standing in front of him. Jesus said, “I am the truth.” Other religious founders and philosophers taught, “This is the truth, or that is the truth,” but Jesus said, “I am the truth.” That makes him totally different from others because He is IT!
You belong to him and his kingdom, not this sea of suffering. Each time you feel the pain of this world, tell yourself, “I don’t belong here.”
He said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” That is the key to the stewardship of the kingdom. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to his voice.
If you take a ride in my car, you will hear the New Testament audio Bible being played over and over again. With every cycle it plays, I have a deeper intimacy with the truth and a closer belonging to the truth.
Now we have an app for your smartphones and tablets so that you can study the Bible at any time and place, individually or as a group. It gives you more ways to listen to his voice.
We need more stewards of the kingdom to make this world a better place to live, and you are called to be the liberator of those who struggles in this sea of suffering.
You belong to the truth, you listen to your king, and you are a steward of his kingdom. As good stewards of the kingdom, let us remember the following three things:
- live in the higher level of civilization (that is the life of truth)
- listen to the voice of Christ (study the scriptures)
- lift the regressive civilization out of the sea of suffering
Until next time, keep cultivating a fruitful life. Amen!