Ephesians 1:20-23 & Romans 6:16-18
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
November 26, 2017
Reign of Christ Sunday
When God the Father raised Christ from the dead, He raised Him high – all the way to the highest place of authority as King over all creation – seating Him, says Ephesians, “at His right hand in the heavenly places”, “far above” all other rulers and powers – placing “all things under his feet” – and making Him “the head” over everything for the church.
Yet, with Christ’s being established as King, neither God the Father nor God the Son weakened their resolute determination to respect human self-sovereignty and to preserve our complete freedom to decide whether to submit to Christ as King.
Every one of us, even those of us who profess to be the subjects of King Jesus, remain at utter liberty to defy His rule, disregard His commands and thereby deny His claim to rule over our lives.
Romans, however, asserts that in the end everyone uses their freedom to become “the slaves” of someone or something, and that everyone eventually ends up under the rule of someone or something. In other words, the Bible says that, if we do not live under the governance of King Jesus, we will live under the governance of another king. We will live under the governance of our physical urges for pleasure or comfort, of peer pressure or societal expectations, of the vainglorious drivenness of our own ambitions, of the lure of wealth or fame or success, of the whims of each given moment as we wend our way through the twists and turns of life, or of some power or another.
So, if what the Bible says is true, none of us is at liberty to live under no authority. Our only freedom of choice is to pick which authority it will be.
But, because there is only one authority who in perfect love always has our best interests at heart and who in perfect wisdom always knows what is best for us to do, there is only one authority under whose governance we become to be our true selves; there is only one king whose commandments bring us into the exhilarating liberty of fulfilling our potential, realizing our best self, and becoming our own man or own woman.
King Jesus, as much as He might be tempted to, will – we have noted – never force us to take the right and rational course. It is up to us to choose and to keep choosing that course: the course of obeying His commandments and following the will of the ultimate authority – even when trials tempt us to doubt the genuineness of His concern, the faithfulness of His caring, or the correctness of His guidance.
However, if we can dare to trust Him, we can find the inner strength and courage to be who are meant to be and do what we are meant to do. Then, as over time we persist in living as His faithful subjects, over time we become our best selves and fulfill our true purpose in pleasing and serving Him, despite all the difficulties and the opposition (both from within us and from outside of us). As we continue making it our main concern to live under His reign, we are liberated from our bondage to other concerns, and freed to make our lesser concerns defer to our ultimate concern. Such long-practiced obedience to King Jesus brings forth our likeness to God and even to respond impossibly well to impossible situations – as happened for Kara Tippetts.
A mother of four and co-worker with her pastor husband, Kara died a year and a half ago after a long battle with a breast cancer that had spread throughout her body. Her passing was a hard thing, but it was also a glory; for she met her death free from fear, despair or dejection – and full of inner strength, triumphant joy and decisive witness. For her long-practiced obedience to King Jesus had liberated her from the negative power of every other concern, and freed her to be true to her first concern, which was to honor and please steadfastly the One to whom she had entrusted her soul and into whose sovereign control she had placed her life.
In her book, The Hardest Peace, Kara recorded the story of how she came to see that her health and longevity were never the point, but that King Jesus always was. Where she finally landed was on the foundational desire of her heart, which was to fulfill every purpose her King had assigned her to fulfill, including whatever purpose He’d had in mind when He allowed incurable cancer to befall her. If she didn’t know anything else, she knew it was her purpose to bring Him honor in how she handled that pain-filled setback.
In a two-steps-forward-one-step-backward process, Kara came to refuse to let her disease define who she was or how she conducted herself, and she resolved in her God-given freedom to make every moment in her disease’s progression an opportunity to appreciate, and to be a witness to others of, the comfort of Jesus’ companionship, the wisdom of trusting Him, and the power of His grace to use suffering to bring home to her heart and to many another heart the reality of His love.
Near the end of her life, Kara wrote, “My little body has grown tired of the battle, and treatment is no longer helping. But what I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus. He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well.”
Her prayer was answered. She did live well and fade well. As she grew sicker and faded into the darkness of death, she shined bright with the inner light of Jesus as she triumphed over impossible challenges and became a testimony for how nothing is impossible for God. On one of her last days, she wrote, “I do not feel like I have the courage for this journey, but I have Jesus and He will provide. He has given me so much to be grateful for, and that gratitude, that wondering over His love, will carry us all.”
Jesus is King. And we, like Kara Tippetts, can be the freest of people as we submit to His sovereignty; we, like Kara, can be liberated to defy our circumstances as we live obediently under His governance; and we, like Kara, can be empowered to emerge victorious over our troubles as we determine our course by our allegiance to our good and great King!