As a nation we’ve had our fair share of powerful, dominant and excessive Kings imposing their power and will over us, but their excesses have for the most part been curtailed and controlled through law since the signing of the Magna Carta by King John in 1215.
In these modern times we have for the most part lost our understanding of what it means to be a subject of the crown; to be ruled, controlled, even owned by someone else. The Kings word was law and what he said, was what was done. You were ruled by his system, ruled by his justice, ruled by his opinion. His law was life and death; so: if you wanted to live and survive in their kingdom, you needed to know the law.
We see the reality of that situation today with the plight of Laura Plummer, languishing in a small Egyptian prison cell with 25 others because she didn’t realise the pain killers she was carrying were a banned drug in that country. The authority’s response has been short and to the point. Not knowing the law is not an excuse for breaking it.
Our readings today support an essential Scriptural truth: that Jesus Christ is King.
Scripture is loaded with declarations to that effect. God’s authority is complete and absolute.
The psalmist writes that God has established His rule of justice and righteousness, it cannot be changed, His throne and right to rule was established long ago and will last for all eternity. That’s a long time. God’s law is not a law of restriction but of freedom. It’s a rule of blessing, justice, grace, mercy, power and authority and Jesus is the King. Perhaps we should all ensure that we know just what it is and what it isn’t as there are some very strange ideas about the nature of God in our modern world. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to others that we should.
As we approach Advent and the Christmas celebrations that follow we will be reminded once again of how the Jews were waiting for a King to establish peace and justice.
The Magi travelled a great distance to find the King. As Jesus began his ministry he said the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Our Gospel reading reminds us that Jesus will stand in judgement over the nations and all people as King. Jesus said to Pilate that ‘you’re right to call me King’ and Pilate wrote that Jesus was ‘King of the Jews’.
Having a King is to accept that we’re not King and that we don’t do life on our terms anymore. This requires trust and has caused problems in the past and so kingdoms of the world have gone out of fashion because so many of them have violated people’s freedom in establishing their own power and authority. But the kingship of Jesus is unlike any other.
He was born in a manger not a palace. He wore a crown of thorns not of gold. He renounced wealth and earthly status but was lifted high … on a cross. As a King He has a kingdom, but this kingdom has no boundaries. As a King He does not force his rule over our lives and minds and will, but invites us to accept it.
This acceptance has implications upon the way we live our lives that must go way beyond what we might or might not do with our Sunday mornings once a week. In our gospel Jesus reminds us that this is a lifestyle that we are called into; a lifestyle that affects everything we do, think and say.
Celebrities are often awarded the keys of the freedom of a town or a city as a sign of respect to them, but Jesus gives us keys of a whole kingdom. Keys of freedom from sin, self-centred-ness, guilt, shame and death itself. Paul reminds us that they are keys of power, wisdom, revelation, authority and hope. All this is ours because it is His. With a decision made to follow Jesus, we are more than subjects of a King. We are heirs of that kingdom but heirs who are called to serve because Jesus first served us.
Jesus is King. The essential question is: how much does He rule in our lives?
I enjoy reading. Have you ever read a book where the more you read the more you want to read? The Bible can be like that, but many don’t even begin it because they think it’s too hard to start; but for those who do it never fails to reveal exciting truth about themselves, about God and about what happens when we get to know Him.
One of the exciting things about the Bible are the prophecies held within it. One trusted academic source estimates some 1,239 prophecies exist in the Old Testament and over 578 in the New. The precise number may vary because some scholars subdivide a prophecy into different sections, but the one thing agreed upon is that the only prophecies that remain to be fulfilled (speculated to be between 7 and 14) relate to those surrounding the return of Jesus Christ. Now I’m not a statistician, but I would say that there’s a pattern emerging!
St Paul in his letters repeats the call to the early church to be ready. It’s a call which still resounds strongly today. Get ready because history is going somewhere. Jesus will return; we don’t know when, but we are told it will be sudden and take many by surprise but for those in relationship with Jesus there is nothing to be afraid of because they are children of the ‘light’ and of the ‘day’ with a future that is safe and secured. But knowing Jesus is so much more than an eternal life insurance policy. It’s about living and knowing life in all its fullness now.
Every person I have ever met who has given their life to Jesus says they just don’t know how they ever lived before their heart was opened to the reality of God in their lives; but a decision needs to be made and God honours the trust placed in that decision.
Even when that decision has been made, Paul warns against us sleeping and encourages us to remain alert and in control. How might we help one another in this? The answer is in the last verse with the call to action to constantly encourage one another and to build one another up in the faith and in our relationship with Jesus. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to one another to ensure that we discover all that Jesus has for us that we might live our lives in the freedom and fullness that Jesus promises for us. There are so many different ways we can do that these days with recordings of the Bible for our smart phones, podcasts, video teaching on You-Tube, study guides etc etc.
Let’s encourage one another in the faith, but remember to do that effectively we need to stay alert ourselves and to grow daily in our knowledge and understanding of all that God has planned for us.
With the Lord’s Blessing
It’s been a busy week – All Hallows Eve (Halloween) All Hallows Day & of course, All Saints Day. I wonder what pictures come to your mind with the word Saint? Halo’s? Shining faces? Statues? Very spiritual dead people? How many do you know of? We might begin to think now about patron saints of nations or churches who were frequently tortured and put to death in the most dreadful ways imaginable. Of the four churches dedicated to Saints in the Benefice, it is St Margaret of Antioch in Hawes who certainly suffered more than most; but what or who is a Saint?
The Bible answers this question for us. A saint is the opposite of a sinner. With our modern sensitivities we don’t care much for terms such as ‘sinner’ but the truth is that it is used to describe a state of condition and in the new testament there are over 300 references to unbelievers being known as ‘sinners’ and over 200 references to believers being called ‘saints’. The apostle Paul in his letters to the various churches frequently begins by affirming this condition with the statement: ‘To the Saints in …’ Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse etc.
Our readings today make for a wonderful combination of truth. Revelation tells us that knowing God is not a passive activity but one in which we must make a conscious decision over. John’s letter informs us that this decision results in a new identity and Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, lets us know of some of the qualities we acquire as part of this new identity. Let’s look deeper into what this identity is and how we might gain it.
The imagery in the book of Revelation is very vivid with statements of washing robes clean in blood but what does this mean? In our modern western culture, blood is usually associated with death but to the Jews, blood was strongly associated with life. For the Jew, new life (after sin) came only by the offering of a sacrifice, the shedding of innocent blood, usually a lamb. White robes were associated with purity and victory and it took a great deal of time and effort to make them so, but here the robes are cleansed by washing them in the ‘blood of the Lamb’ – surely a bizarre contradiction, but the lamb referred to here, is Jesus; and notice something very important: Jesus has made redemption possible, but we have a part to play in our own salvation, for ‘they’ chose to wash their robes. They made a decision.
So how do we make this transition? Simply by placing our trust in who Jesus is and all He has done for us. By seeking forgiveness from the way in which we have separated ourselves from God by our sin and desiring a change in our circumstance and in our future. By asking Jesus to come into our lives and make a difference. We do it in faith and by God’s gift of grace, but it is a decision we must make. John tells us that we then become ‘children of God’ and Jesus speaks of the faithful as having the ‘kingdom of heaven’, being ‘blessed’, ‘comforted’ and, amongst many other things, receivers of ‘mercy’. If you have asked Jesus for forgiveness and invited him into your heart … good news … you are a saint. Not will be .. you are. Now, because you’re human you will still mess up and fall short of God’s desires for you, but this will not change your new identity - you will still be a saint, but from a biblical perspective, a saint who sins is still very different from being a sinner.
Over the last few weeks as the world has prepared for celebrating Halloween, the churches and schools within the benefice have been focussing on how the Pumpkin may be used as a positive symbol for all Jesus can do in our lives. The Pumpkin lantern can be a wonderful picture of that transition in status and identity, for God lifts us up, takes us in and washes us clean. He creates a new smiling face in us and then brings us to life by putting his light inside of us, so we can shine out for others. As a saint in Christ Jesus, may you know and celebrate your identity each and every day!
With the Lord’s blessing
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale