“LIKE NO OTHER KING”
-a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 11-25-2018 Pardeeville
(2Samuel 23:1-5 and John 18:33-37)
“David’s Last Words”. That’s the title you see at the beginning of the Old Testament we just heard. I believe this title is, at the very least, misleading. I doubt these were the last words that David ever spoke. This may be the last poem that David ever wrote though. I mean, my goodness! David doesn’t die for another six pages. Six pages in the Old Testament can be a long time!
As we listen to this passage, it may not be immediately evident that it is written as poetry. Most of David’s poetry is more familiar to us elsewhere in the Old Testament. King David was a major contributor to the Book of Psalms. He was an accomplished poet and, as with any poet, when we hear his words, we gain a glimpse into what was on David’s mind at the time. In this his final poem, David describes the qualities of a good king…a king who governs with justice…a king who governs fairly…and, perhaps most importantly, a king who is obedient to God. And, as in a fair amount of David’s other poems, comparisons are made.
Kings who govern as David suggests are likened to a couple of scenes that we welcome in the natural world. First, it’s the sun, shining in a crystal clear blue sky...drenching us in nourishing sunlight…providing many healthy rewards, not the least of which is the way sunlight can lift our spirits. It’s not easy to be down in the dumps on bright, sunny days. It’s a real chore to stay sullen or grumpy when greeted with such a pleasant sight. It just makes us feel good! Another day is coming to life. The weather is clear. The sunrise is beautiful. It’s going to be a great day! David also uses the image of the sun reappearing after a storm…also a welcome sight. The dark clouds and the rain have moved on. The sun comes out and its light shimmers off the wet grass. Things look bright and fresh and there’s that wonderful smell in the air. In his poem, David is equating the king he has described, a just, fair, and obedient king, with being a welcome sight…a sight that all can see.
After David has described the ideal, he pauses to take a look in retrospect at his own time as king. He is able to admit that most of his time as king has been good. Sure, there were occasional times of poor decisions. There were a couple of big mistakes but, for the most part, David has governed fairly and has been obedient to God. He now expresses a strong sense of gratitude to God. He views his time as king of Israel as a gift and he offers thanks to God.
David continues and speaks of the covenant that God made with him. God promised that the Messiah will be David’s direct descendant and David shows the depth of his faith by proclaiming that this covenant is an agreement that will not be broken. God told David that, if he ruled the people in obedience, the Messiah would come from his family. In this poem, we see that David has complete confidence that this is going to happen...that David’s lineage will lead to the Messiah. There is no doubt in his mind that God will be faithful to the covenant.
In this morning’s second reading, we see Jesus, that promised Messiah, that descendant of David, standing before Pilate. History is about to witness a clash between the secular image of a king and Jesus as a king. This is why Pilate has such a tough time following the conversation. It’s almost a comedy of errors. Pilate is asking secular questions and Jesus is providing kingdom of heaven answers.
The first time around Pilate simply asks Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” And this makes Jesus question the source of Pilate’s interest. Is Pilate genuinely interested or is he just repeating what the Jewish leaders prompted him to ask? Jesus continues by telling Pilate his kingdom is not an earthly one. Jesus is not a worldly king. Kings of the world are absolute leaders. They tell everyone what to do. They get their people to go to battle for them. They have a whole lot of people available to cater to their every need. Pilate is more than a little confused at this point. He asks Jesus again, “But…are you a king?” We’ve got to give Pilate a break though. He was set up by the Roman government to be the local authority in Judea and he has no clue as to the kingdom that Jesus is describing. Pilate’s idea of a king is Caesar. An absolute ruler. A tough guy. A conqueror. Also the person who Pilate had to answer to…and the person whom Pilate fears. In fact, if Pilate had thought for one minute that Jesus was a king in the same way Caesar was, it wouldn’t have mattered what the Jewish leaders wanted. Pilate would have had Jesus put to death on his own initiative. He would have automatically seen Jesus as a threat to Rome. But, as this short conversation continues, Pilate is only more confused by the things Jesus is telling him.
Pilate did not sense a threat but the Jewish leaders certainly did. Jesus was undermining the control they had over the people. That’s the reason the Jewish authorities had Jesus sent to Pilate in the first place. They had no provision for executing anyone. But Rome did…so it was the Jewish religious leader’s only chance to
It seems that very few people in Jerusalem understood the sort of king that Jesus was. The Jewish leaders were certainly mistaken about who the Messiah was going to be. They were expecting a strong political leader who could free them from Roman occupation. When Jesus turned out to be someone else, when the religious leaders couldn’t comprehend what Jesus’ kingdom was all about, they decided to get him out of the picture.
So…on Christ the King Sunday, what type of king do we understand Jesus to be? Jesus has given us some hints in his answers to Pilate. Jesus told Pilate he was born to witness to the truth. Jesus said that everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling at all for the truth, will recognize his voice. This echoes one of the ways Jesus described himself to his disciples earlier in the Gospel according to John… as The Good Shepherd. A good shepherd places the highest priority on the safety of the sheep. That is job one. In fact, the safety of the sheep is more important than the safety of the shepherd! If the sheep are in danger, it is the shepherd who goes to fight off whatever intruder there is, often placing his own life on the line.
That’s the kind of king that Jesus is. Not a king who throws his weight around or a king who rules the people with an iron fist. Jesus is a king like no other king…a king who was willing to sacrifice himself for others. To this day, we do not have another
Jesus became the type of king that David described in his final poem so long ago. In order to be a leader, one needs to be the servant of others. That is what our king, Jesus, continues to be for us—a servant. This again puts the world and the kingdom of heaven at odds. Jesus’ example of a servant king is completely at home in the kingdom of heaven. It’s ludicrous in the secular world. In fact, the world makes fun of the idea. It makes no sense for a king to be a servant. But for us Christians, a servant king makes complete sense. It is the example we are expected to follow. We see Jesus acting as a servant and we want to serve others too.
And so, this is the way the church calendar ends. How appropriate that it concludes with a celebration of the reign of Jesus Christ as king…a celebration of what the reign of Christ stands for—service to others. That is the example that Jesus has left for us. That’s what we should be doing—looking for ways to be of service to others both as individuals and as a community of faith. Jesus has set the example. We respond by serving others, by serving our community, and by serving our world. Because it is by offering our service to others that we truly serve our king—a king like no other! Thanks be to God!