Sunday, November 22, 2009

Consecrated to Christ, Our King

[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, earlier today.]

John 18:33-37
If you want to make God laugh, tell Him what you’re going to do tomorrow. Only God knows what will happen in our lives in the coming year. But on Consecration Sunday today, we try to tell Jesus Christ our King what the intentions of our hearts are, no matter the uncertainties of life.

We owe that to Jesus, for a very simple reason.

There’s a story I’ve heard many times. It’s about the King of Denmark during World War Two. It’s said that the Nazis had come into that country and as they’d done in other places, they ordered the Jews to wear arm bands bearing the Star of David, identifying themselves to everyone as Jews. The Danes, it’s said, understood what this meant. They had seen the way Jews were being exterminated in mass numbers in other countries occupied by the Nazis. The Danish king saw this as well. And so, although he was a Lutheran Christian, the king donned a Star of David arm band as well. “All the Danes are my people,” he said, “and so, if any Dane is targeted for death, my life must be taken too.”

It’s a beautiful story. The only problem with it is that it isn’t true. It never happened. Yet, I have heard it and read it told by countless people who thought that it was true.

What gives such a big fib such a long life? I think it’s because deep down we all would like to think that there are kings and presidents, judges and legislators who so love their people that they’d be willing to lay down their lives for them.

Through the centuries of course, there have been kings and leaders like that. But they’re rare. And the rarest kind of king of all is the King Who willingly dies in the place of people He knows are guilty. That is the kind of King that Jesus is.

The New Testament book of Romans says, "...God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us...if while we were [God’s] enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, we will be saved by His life..."

Jesus, God the Son, came to earth to do more than bear a symbol on an armband. He went to a cross and bore the weight of all our sin, died in our places, and rose from the dead so that He can offer forgiveness, the constant presence of God in our daily lives, and everlasting life to all who turn away from sin and let Jesus reign over them.

Our Gospel lesson for this morning records part of Jesus’ interchange with a man named Pilate on the day before Jesus went to the cross to die. Pilate was the governor appointed by the Roman Empire to oversee the occupation of Jesus’ homeland, Judea. The religious leaders of Jesus’ fellow Jews saw Jesus as a threat. They wanted Him dead. So, they brought Jesus before Pilate to be condemned. Pilate didn’t care about the religious squabbles of the Jews. But he was concerned about the threat Jesus might pose to his governing authority if Jesus saw Himself as a king. That explains the first thing Pilate asks Jesus in our lesson: “Are you the King of the Jews?”

We know that Jesus came to be the King of the Jews and the King of kings. But that brings us to even more important questions than Pilate asked: Is Jesus our King? Have we totally consecrated ourselves, that is totally committed ourselves, to following Jesus today and forever?

An enthusiastic young evangelist once approached a farmer and asked whether the farmer had been saved and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. The farmer replied, “Why do you ask me such a thing? I could tell you anything. Here are the names of my banker, my grocer, and my farm hands. Ask them if I’ve been saved!”

None of us is perfect, of course. The Bible tells us that we all fall short of God’s glory and we sin.

It also tells us that even after we have received the forgiveness and new life that God offers to us through Jesus Christ, we see heaven and God’s way for us only dimly.

Like the rest of the human race, followers of Jesus make mistakes and sin. But there is a new direction and purpose evident in the lives of those who follow Jesus.

Over the long haul, others are usually able to see that Jesus’ followers no longer are ruled by selfishness, or greed, or status, or power, or sex, or the approval of others. Jesus says that His people will be known by their fruits. That means that people will be able to see that Jesus is the King of people’s lives; He will affect the things that His followers say and do, the judgments they make, the paths they follow. Jesus’ followers won’t be perfect, but like that farmer, those around them will see that they’ve committed themselves to following the King Who totally committed His life to them on the cross.

I believe that one reason that people refuse to follow Jesus or be involved with Christ’s Church, whether they realize it or not, is that they don’t want to take orders from anyone else. They want to be their own kings and queens. Carol Noren is a Methodist pastor and professor at an Evangelical Covenant Church seminary. She once told the story of an English friend who regularly railed against the very idea of royalty. He spoke of what a waste of money and time the British royal family was. So, when this man’s name appeared on the Queen’s honors list one year, Noren wondered what this friend would do. To receive his award, like others on the honors list, the man would have to go to Buckingham Palace and meet the Queen. In fact, the man did make the trip to London. At the right time during the ceremony, he bowed to the queen. As Noren puts it, “All doubts and cynicism were put aside, and in meeting and acknowledging [the Queen] as sovereign, he received the reward that only she could give.”

In our Gospel lesson, Pilate doesn’t want to acknowledge Jesus as King. Jesus tells Pilate that He isn’t the King of all the things people allow to rule them in this world. “My kingdom is not of this world,” He says. Then we’re told: "Pilate asked [Jesus], 'So you are a king?' Jesus answered, 'You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice.'”

Followers of Jesus are people who have heard Jesus’ call: all who are weary and heavy laden, come to Me, and I will give you rest.

Followers of Jesus are people who, by hearing Jesus' voice, have become acquainted with some basic truths. Truths like: We need God and God is bigger than we are. Truths like: God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him won’t perish, but live with God forever; like all who believe in Jesus are saved, but those who don’t believe in Him are condemned because, as Jesus says, “they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

Followers of Jesus are people who have put their doubt and cynicism aside and in meeting and acknowledging Jesus as their King and sovereign receive undeserved rewards–forgiveness, everlasting relationship with God, and never-ending hope, rewards that only Jesus can give. Followers of Jesus have committed or consecrated their whole lives to Him.

Fred is a man Ann and I got to know twenty-seven years ago. By the time we got to know him, he was in recovery from addiction to alcohol and painkillers. His life—and that of his family—had been a living hell for decades until he admitted he had a problem he couldn’t conquer on his own and humbly asked Christ the King to reclaim every bit of His life.

I remember on Good Friday when I read the account of Jesus’ arrest and death on the cross, I looked at Fred and saw him weeping tears of joy. He knew what Jesus had done for him. He knew that Jesus had delivered him from his slavery to pills and booze and sin. He was grateful and totally committed to following Jesus!

Two years later, Fred died, no doubt the result of abuse to which he’d long subjected his body. But as they grieved, his family and friends also rejoiced. They had seen how Fred had heard the voice of truth, the voice of Jesus, and been made new—eternally new—by Jesus Christ. As we go about our daily lives, can others see that Jesus Christ is our king?

On this Consecration Sunday, I want to challenge you to commit or re-commit yourself to following Jesus the King Who loved you all the way to the cross. Our King Jesus deserves nothing less than our total commitment.

Let’s pray: “Wonderful God, Christ lived and died for us. Help us to dare to live and die for Christ. Bless us that we might bless others, that we might infect this community and this world with the Good News of a loving God Who offers life forever to those who repent for sin and believe in Jesus Christ. And, as we prepare for our dinner together, thank You for the food and all Your other blessings. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.”

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