November 20, 2016

Christ the King Sunday
‘THE KING’S WAY’

BIBLE READINGS
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20

Luke 23:33-43

REFLECTION

Can anyone tell me five things that the Romans invented or at least used widely during their time in power? Answers: aqueducts, paved roads, concrete, arches, sewer, Julian calendar, Roman numbers, etc.

Crucifixion was another thing. It had been used as a tool of punishment before their time, but the Romans used it widely. When Luke told the story of Jesus’ crucifixion in his Gospel, he didn't go into the details of the process of crucifixion. His readers knew all to well how it went. Many of them must have witnessed a crucifixion with their very own eyes.

Crucifixion was designed to make death came certain, but at a much slower rate. It became the symbol of Roman power. The bodies that were nailed to the cross were meant to proclaim that those who were condemned on the cross were under the grip of the Roman power. No one could escape the nails, just like no one could escape the grip of the Empire. Indeed, crucifixion was meant to destroy not only the body, but also the spirit of not only the person who was crucified, but also those who followed him.[1]

That’s why people around Jesus - the Jewish leaders, the soldiers, and the robber who was crucified with him - mocked him, asking him to free himself from the cross. It was a challenge to his authority. It was a challenge to his identity. Jesus was asked to prove himself as the Messiah, the Anointed One whom God sent to free God’s people from oppression. If he was truly the Messiah, the Liberator, he should be able to free himself from the cross; the grip of the Roman Empire.

But, the cross was a fundamental part of Jesus’ identity and mission. It was the way to fulfill his mission on earth.

Most people, however, failed to understand this. The only person who understood was the other robber who was crucified next to him.

He didn't need a proof to believe that Jesus was the Messiah; that Jesus, not the Roman Emperor, was the true Ruler of the world. He saw what others failed to see. It was not uncommon that the only person who understood Jesus was the one on the margin; the one whom society has often rejected.

Indeed, the only power that Jesus showed on the cross was his power to forgive. As he groaned with pain on the cross, Jesus didn't ask God to free him from the cross or to take revenge on those who crucified him. He asked for forgiveness instead because these people didn't know the significance of the event or who was the one whom they crucified.

And, his forgiveness gave birth to real transformation. We see this in the condemned robber who believed him. In the last hour of his life, he became a new man. In the past, his life had been used to hurt other people, but then, nailed on the cross, he confessed and regretted his sins. He was pardoned at last, not by the Roman Empire, but by Jesus. Even more: he was invited to enter into paradise.

Indeed, there on the cross, Jesus proclaimed a new law that superseded the law of the world, represented by the Roman law. That law is the law of forgiveness in his name. One ruler, the Roman Emperor, exerted his authority by using brutal power. The other Ruler, the Crucified King, exerted his authority by forgiving others.

In the end, however, Jesus’ way is the only true way. In his letter to the Colossians the Apostle Paul proclaimed that God created everything in the universe through Christ. Yes, everything: “the seen and the unseen things, including spiritual powers, lords, rulers, and authorities (verse 16 - GNT)”. All authority in the world is under him, including the authority of the Romans who crucified him.

So Christ, not the Roman Emperor, reflects the way that the authority in the world should be enacted. He is the visible image of the invisible God, Creator of the entire world.

And, his way is not the way of revenge or lordship over others by means of violence. The way of Jesus is the way of reconciliation through forgiveness and willingness to sacrifice oneself for the sake of others, even for the sake of one’s enemies.

We witness this kind of power in one episode of the American Civil War in 19th century. The war was the bloodiest war in American history. The casualties from the war exceeded the casualties of the other wars the Americans have been involved every since. It was estimated that around 700.000 people perished in the war.

In one of the bloodiest battles in the war, the battle of Fredericksburg, the Union army charged the fortified stonewall defense of the Confederate army. Over 8000 Union soldiers were shot in front of the wall. Many of them died instantly; others, however, did not. They were wounded, but still alive, lying in no man’s land, suffering terribly from their wounds, cold, and thirst. No one could come to their rescue without the risk of being shot at by the soldiers on the other side.

When night fell, the cries and the moans of these wounded soldiers filled the air for hours. It was a weird, unearthly, and terrible event to witness. The cries and moans broke the hearts of the soldiers on both sides. Richard Rowland Kirkland, a sergeant in the Confederate army, was one of the soldiers who were present there. He couldn’t bear hearing the cries and moans of those wounded soldiers, so he asked his commanding officer to go to the no man’s land to comfort the wounded. Reluctantly, his commander gave him the permission.

To be able to approach the wounded soldiers, Richard had to scale the wall, the only protection from his enemies. At the beginning, the Union soldiers, who thought that he was trying to wound more soldiers, shot at him. But, when they realized that his purpose was to help, they stopped firing.

For the next one and a half hours, Richard cared for his wounded enemies. He would scale the wall many times, carrying his canteen to give water to his dying enemies to ease their suffering.[2]

Friends, today, the world needs someone like Richard Kirkland, who was prepared to risk his own well-being to serve others, even to serve his own enemies. Indeed, the world needs a leader like him who could follow the way of the true Leader who died on the cross for the sake of others.

Unfortunately, today, like it was in Israel in the time of the Prophet Jeremiah, people are often led by bad leaders. These leaders are the rulers who claim authority over people, but who concern more about their own needs than the needs of those people under their care. These are the people who often manipulate their positions and authorities to serve their own purposes and goals.

Now, I don't want to point the finger at other people. We can find bad leaders anywhere in any organization, including in the church.

But, God has promised that He would raise new rulers, leaders who would follow His instructions and hold the people close to their hearts.

We are indeed called to be those leaders. We cannot be perfect, but we are to provide an alternative way of enacting authority. And that alternative way is the way of the true Ruler of the universe who surrendered his life on the cross to reconcile everyone, even his opponents, to God.

He is a King like no other kings. He is a Ruler who gave himself up for others. On the cross, he showed the world that true power is not the power to punish people, but the power to forgive and bring about reconciliation.

That is what true power is all about. That is what true authority is all about. That is what true leadership is all about. That is what the kingship of Jesus is all about.

Amen.

Toby Keva

[1] David Ewart’s Commentary of Luke 23:1-49 on http://www.holytextures.com/2013/02/luke-23-1-49-year-c-lent-6-passion-short.html

[2] Michael Rogers, A Leadership Story that Will Move and Inspire You, on http://www.teamworkandleadership.com/2011/02/a-leadership-story-that-will-move-and-inspire-you.html