The First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, November 26, 2023)
Rev. William Gaskill, Guest Preacher
“Christ the King”
Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46
I’ve known my wife’s brother Steve for as long as I’ve known her, now well over 50 years. He is an avid Phillies fan. In any given April, if you asked him how the team would do, no matter how dismal a team they had, he’d say they were going to win the World Series. He now works with a team of realtors and shows houses to their clients. If the Phillies play while he is at work, he DVRs the game. If another member of the family watches the game in real time he commands with some degree of urgency, “Don’t tell me the score. I’m going to watch it later.”
Spoiler alert! That’s what we warn people with when we are about to tell the end before the beginning. I guess people want to enjoy the journey and to experience the surprises that happen along the way to the conclusion. That’s fine where sports or movies are concerned, but spiritually, it is really helpful to know the end from the beginning. It helps keep hope alive and ward off despair.
Next week is the beginning of the church year in liturgy. We call it Advent. In just a few short weeks we’ll all be gathered around the manger trying to recover our childlike wonder. Spoiler alert! Today we celebrate the outcome of a wonderful, sometimes difficult life. Since last year, we have traced that life all the way from Bethlehem to Golgotha and onward through the resurrection to Jesus’ ascension and session at the Father’s right hand where his Kingship begins, or should I say continues. Jesus was king even when he was the suffering servant whom precious few people accepted.
Today we find out how the story turns out before we even go through the year considering all that leads up to this Holy denouement. So here we go. Today we acknowledge that Christ is King. His rule and reign is what the whole creation has been groaning and lurching toward since the fall of Adam and Eve. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All of us need saving; there are no exceptions. The central affirmation of Jesus is that at his coming the Kingdom of God has come near; the Kingdom of God is among you.
If all you have to go on is what your eyes see, your ears hear, your mind is able to grasp, if you get all your information about the meaning of life through your fleshly abilities, from our cultural scions and our media, you are not going to believe in the Lordship and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ. When you consider what’s going on in our world, honestly, does it lead you to the conclusion that God is in charge of the events swirling around us? Or if God is in charge, does God seem like a cruel task master punishing everyone for each mistake they make. Or conversely, does it seem to you that God is simply no longer paying attention to human affairs? That’s not the God of the Bible, but then few people really read the Bible anymore.
To really see the deeper truth of God’s rule and reign through Jesus Christ, to understand spiritually what’s going on in the world, you are going to need a faith that looks through the violent, demonic surface presented by the world and have a muscular faith that perceives the activity of God that is constantly going on amidst the crime and chaos of our perpetually prodigal humanity. You are going to need a lot of help from beyond yourself and from beyond other people’s arrogant intellectual pride which pretends to know what’s what and what to do about it when they don’t. This has always been so and still is. Somehow we must go deeper. What we need to recover is a biblical world view. We need the conviction that God has not abandoned us.
Let’s go to the end of our passage and see how Paul describes Jesus. First Paul says that God put his power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead. Belief in the resurrection truly is at the heart of the matter. Elsewhere, Paul taught that if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
You and I cannot prove the resurrection. If you trace your faith back to your beginning in the Christian life, your faith and mine relies upon the testimony of the eyewitnesses who had numerous bodily encounters with the One who was dead, but behold, is alive forevermore. The witness they provided is now 2,000 years old and counting. Their testimony has been confirmed within the hearts of countless believers including us who have come along afterward.
We read about the resurrection in God’s word, and once our faith comes to life, we begin to experience our own life in the light of that defining event in all of human history. He is Risen! Hallelujah! We begin to live beyond guilt and shame. We begin to live in the conviction that we are not only forgiven by God; we are loved by God. We begin to experience God’s loving care through the Holy Spirit who has come along with the Father and the Son to take up residence deep inside of our lives. Our life begins to change in many, often surprising ways. Our faith grows. Our faith deepens.
These realities grow directly out of the revelation that our Savior is our King, or as the Confession of 1967 puts it, “Our judge is our redeemer.” This is what is indicated by the words, “Christ is seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.” In other words, the sovereignty of Christ is at work now and will continue throughout all eternity.
I take all this personally and I hope you do too. But I must confess, as I look with my eyes out upon the world which is full of people drunk on power, corrupt in the use of money, as I hear with my ears from people who are violent, divisive, and hateful, and as I feel with my heart that there are many who don’t think twice about trampling on other people so that they can get ahead, so that they can satisfy their lustful desires, I know I’m going to need divine help to maintain a clear spiritual perspective on the world. Christ the King? I believe, help thou mine unbelief.
That’s the help Paul prays for the Ephesians to receive, and through them for us as well. The first motive for Paul’s prayer is that he “has heard of your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you in my prayers.”
May I help you notice the immediate battle line here? Do we really have love toward all the saints, or just the saints that have the intelligence to agree with us on every point? The love that is rooted and grounded only in our flesh, in our natural proclivities tends to be very selective. Fleshly love just can’t help itself; it tends to be judgmental when the going gets rough. It is easily infected with bitterness and unforgiveness.
Christians through the ages have had much trouble with the urge to support schism. Flesh and spirit clash. I found a quote by Alduous Huxley where he said, “Thy will be done is a phrase repeated daily by millions, who have not the slightest intention of letting any will be done, except their own.” May we be honest enough to admit that there are some saints we find to be more lovable than others? Is it time for another prayer of confession?
Let’s not get bogged down. Moving on into Paul’s prayer for us, he asks God to give us the things we need in order for us to live well under the rule and reign of Jesus Christ.
First, Paul prays that we will be given a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we come to know him. As I think back to the time when I first met Jesus and gave him my heart, I must confess I didn’t really know him all that well. My earliest confession was, “God, if you are out there, take my life. Please just make it real. I’ve had enough deception already.” I’ve been coming to know him ever since.
I’ve needed the gift of wisdom from God to learn how to follow him. I’ve needed revelation through scripture and prayer to learn about his character, his desires for me, his mercy, his kindness, and yes, often, his correction. As the cliché goes, Jesus loves you the way he finds you but he loves you too much to leave you that way.
The process of what the theologians call sanctification goes on for the rest of our lives. Is anybody here done yet? Neither am I. Lord, give me a wise heart to choose you who have first chosen me. And give me revelation so I might know you more and more as long as I live.
Paul’s petitions for us continue with the request that the eyes of our hearts be enlightened and that we may know three things.
One: that we may know the hope to which he has called us. I hope you realize that Christian hope is not the flesh indulged in wishful thinking. We all wish that wars would cease. We all wish for peace and prosperity. We all wish that human stewardship of creation would improve. We all wish we would be loved. We wish for a lot of things that are good in themselves.
But our Christian hope comes from a deeper source and transports us to a far more expansive place. Our hope is born as a response to the call of God through Jesus Christ. That call is the source of a full life, full of purpose and meaning, a life that is comprised of far more than we can ask or imagine. And as we respond to that call, the promise of eternity opens up before us.
The knowledge of the hope to which we have been called leads us to the second petition, which asks that we may know of his glorious inheritance among the saints.
My sister Mary died in May of 2020. I had agreed to serve as her executor. She had 19 beneficiaries. It was a complicated mess in many ways. I’ve said sometimes, though not totally in earnest, that if you want to get even with someone after you die, make them your executor. I finally got all the heirs their due rewards but it was a long process.
Now here’s something you might have missed. The glorious inheritance in this second petition is not due to us, it is Christ’s. It is his glorious inheritance. Who; me, you, us together? We are his glorious inheritance? We together are the reward given to Christ for his sacrifice of love offered up on the Cross. We are viewed as his glory and crown.
This is mind boggling stuff. Read Romans 8 over and over, and notice verse 29: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.” We are adopted sons and daughters in whom Christ the King takes great delight and satisfaction. We are the fruit of his labor on Calvary. We are his crowning achievement! That insight ought to both humble us and exhilarate us! Look what your value is to Christ the King.
Is that all? No, there is more. The third petition is that we may know the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe. If we are going to live with confidence and serenity in a world gone mad like ours has, we are going to need the power of God. The Bible teaches us that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power that is at work in those of us who believe. Do you need any more power than that? No! What we need is the faith to believe that what the Bible says is true. And that faith, just as every other spiritual gift given to human beings, has its source in the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
What I’m trying to see and to help you see with me is that history at its deepest level is God’s salvation history. All the imperialists, all the terrorists, all the corrupt politicians, even all the backslidden Christians are subject to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As the earliest Christian hymn found in Philippians 2 concludes, “Every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
We get to be among those who willingly bow the knee to our King before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives, when every tear will be wiped from our eyes, when all things will be made new, when death will be no more, when the former things will have passed away, making way for the reign of Jesus Christ, un-enshrouded by the ravages of sin. We get to worship King Jesus even before many people don’t even know there is a King. Come quickly King Jesus.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.