The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
November 24, 2019—Reign of Christ Sunday
In a democracy such as ours, we have a responsibility for the political life of our country. So we study issues, consider both sides, speak up, take action, and vote our conscience. Yet, we’re aware that our impact with respect to many big issues – such as health care or climate change – is limited, and thus we have to depend on governmental authorities – such as in the White House and Congress – to do the right thing and to make things better. We pray we’ll pick our political leaders wisely.
So too, in a spiritual situation such as ours, we have a responsibility for the religious life of our community, our church and ourselves. So we pledge our financial support, volunteer our time, practice love and acceptance toward all, pray and study the Bible, and do our part to honor Christ and serve His purposes of justice and compassion. Yet, we’re aware that we can twist the meaning of God’s word, lose touch with our priorities and get off track in our conduct, and thus we have to depend on spiritual authorities – such as in the pulpit and on the blogosphere – to do the right thing and to make things better. We pray we’ll pick our spiritual leaders wisely.
We will not, however, pick such penultimate leaders wisely if we haven’t already picked God as our ultimate leader and if we aren’t permitting Him to govern our thoughts, decisions and actions.
Often the Bible compares political leaders and spiritual leaders to shepherds, as is the case in today’s scripture. God is appalled at the malfeasance of Israel’s shepherds, who have hurt those who they were sent to serve. God promises He will soon bring them to judgment, replace them with better human shepherds and, in the end, “raise up” for His people One who “shall reign as king” and “execute justice and righteousness”.
God calls that King who is to come His “Branch”. The Hebrew word there means a sprout, a new growth shooting forth from the stump of a felled tree. The term is often used in scripture as a name for the Messiah, the Christ, the divine-human, anointed One who will save God’s people and make the entire world as it should be.
Jesus, we believe, is that “Branch”, the Savior who came to die for our redemption and the King who will come again to set all things right.
There is, the Bible says, no question whether He is the rightful King over all. The only question is whether we will decide, and keep deciding, to be His subjects. After all, we can’t surrender our lives to His rule in an instant and then be done with the job. What lasts a lifetime can only be surrendered over a lifetime.
So will we faithfully and thoroughly surrender control to Jesus the King? Will we allow Him to take charge of our wallet, our calendar, our pleasures and comforts, our talents and capabilities — every aspect of our existence?
Regrettably, there are always points at which we are inclined to resist His governance. It may be at the point of making sacrifices in our lifestyle so as to help the poor, of refraining from delicious gossip or manipulative flattery, of restricting our expression of sexual desire, or of restraining our self-centered ambition in order to give time to help others fulfill their dreams.
When we feel tempted to rebel against the King’s rule, we do well to remember who this King is. He is the sovereign Majesty of the universe who became our servant and sacrificed His life for us, that we might enjoy infinite ecstasy with Him for endless ages. He is the Source of all beauty and strength and glory and life, the Lover of us all who aches to fill each of us with His joy, peace, power and vibrant vitality.
But He can only bless us if He has us. And He can only have Him if we submit to His rule. If we hold ourselves back from Him in defiance of His rule over us, we put ourselves out of the realm where His benevolence holds sway. Out of love He asks us to submit to His governance, because only under His reign can He get His hands on us and lift us up the highest. To refuse His Lordship is to refuse His salvation.
Suppose, Tim Keller asks us to imagine, you have a friend who is dying of a terrible terminal disease. You take him to a doctor of high repute, and the doctor says, “I have a remedy for your disease. If you just follow my advice, you will be healed, and you will live a long and fruitful life. But there is a cost for you in the regimen I am prescribing. While you’re following it, you are going to have to give up eating bacon. For bacon will prevent the remedy from working.”
Would you not be astonished if your friend replied, “No bacon? Forget it! There’s no use in living without bacon! I’ll follow your remedy, but I’ll still eat my bacon!”
If Jesus is the righteous King who only wants us to rule over us in order to heal us and better our lives, resistance to His reign and restrictions makes no sense. If we see Him for how good-hearted He is and bear that reality in mind, we will keep telling Him, “To whatever you say about how I should live, and to whatever you ask me to do or become, I will submit and obey. I will put no limitations on your rule over me. I know you can’t be just a supplement for my improvement. You have to be the whole remedy. And you can’t be just my personal assistant. You have to be my Governor. You have to take over my life or I will be stuck in the status quo of my dying, and I will fail to know the better, forever life you long to give me, one of righteousness, fulfillment and happiness.”
If we surrender to the governance of King Jesus, our life will be enhanced in countless, wonderful ways.
One of those ways is that we will gain the insight and perspective to pick our political and spiritual governors wisely. And with that we will gain a new ability to more effectively, by our prayers and our actions, to incline those leaders to righteousness, both those we picked and those we didn’t, in the love of the Governor who includes everyone in His circle of caring. Let us pray.