Steve Lindsley
(John 18: 33-37; Psalm 93: 1-5)

Are you King of the Jews?

It sounds like a simple enough question, right? Yes or no, one or the other.

Are you King of the Jews?

Ah, but it’s more than that, isn’t it? It’s a question of identity. Who someone is. Who Jesus is.

Who are you, Jesus? That’s what Pilate is asking – Who are you?

On this Christ the King Sunday, and in the final sermon of our November series titled, “This Is What I Love About ……”, Grace and I thought it would be appropriate to conclude this series and conclude another liturgical church year with what we love about Jesus. And while it seems like a no-brainer, answering that question, the trick is to go beyond the platitudes that quickly come to mind – I love Jesus because he’s my lord or I love Jesus because he’s savior. Both of which are very true, of course, but no different from what anyone might say.

And so I must confess – I struggled with how to adequately express what I, Steve Lindsley, love about Jesus. Not that I do, but what it is.

So one day in the office last week, I deviated from my normal sermon writing routine. I closed the laptop, shut the Bible, took a walk outside on our beautiful campus. I cleared my mind as much as it would allow me. And I tried to think back to my earliest memory of Jesus, my very first encounter with him. And all that would come to mind was a tune, a simple little tune playing in my head. And words that went with it, finding their way to my lips without even having to think them. A song sung in Sunday school classes and church camps; in Vacation Bible schools and youth retreats. Sung in the United States and Europe and Africa and Manchuria and everywhere in between.

A song that told me, first and foremost, that Jesus loved me. He loved me. And how did I know that? Because the Bible told me so. Not only that, but even as a kid, a little kid, this song told me that I belonged to Jesus. I was his and he was mine. And the song also told me that Jesus was my strength, especially in my weakest and frailest moments.

And as that song played in my head, I began to remember stories of Jesus that most spoke to me in my childhood years – stories of him welcoming children because God’s kingdom belonged to them. Stories of a mass of hungry people and the miraculous way he fed them. Stories of the sick and dying who were made whole by his healing touch.

Jesus was my friend, I remember people telling me. Jesus was my personal lord and savior. Jesus would never leave me alone.

But as I got older, and as the world around me seemed to get more complicated, I found myself hearing different tunes and drawn to different stories. Stories of a Jesus who was doing more in the world than being there for just me. Stories of turned-over temple tables because the power structures of the day were preying on the poor. Stories of toe-to-toe conversations with Pharisees and resisting their traps while exposing their hypocrisy. Stories of mountainside sermons that opened with bold proclamations of the poor in spirit being blessed and Jesus’ kingdom being theirs. And perhaps the most shocking – stories of a cross, and the death that came of that, and the open tomb that followed that.

So Jesus, more than just a friend. More than my “personal lord and savior.” Something bigger than that, something bigger than just me.

I think Pilate in our scripture today had a sense of this when he asked Jesus his question. He didn’t just ask who he was. He asked very specifically: “Are you King of the Jews?” Hearkening back to what the Psalmist once proclaimed:

The Lord is king, Robed in majesty, girded with strength.
He has established the world; it shall never be moved;
The Lord is king!

I think Pilate knew that this Jewish carpenter, handed over to him on charges of treason, I think he knew that there was more at stake here than just a simple question of identity.

I mean, let me ask this: do we really understand what we mean when we call Jesus our “King?” Do we really know what we are proclaiming when we celebrate “Christ The King Sunday?” See, because neither the terms “Lord” or “King” are religious terms. They’re political ones. They’re titles bestowed on a person of power – people we pledge our allegiance to, not just with words but with our very lives.

Do we really understand what we are saying when we proclaim Jesus as King?

To say Jesus is “king” is to consequently say that no one else is. No government, no president, no presidential candidate. Jesus is it. It’s to align ourselves completely with his power, not the power of the world. Not military might, not coercion, not oppression, not fear.

To say Jesus is “king” is to have faith that, while we live in the harsh reality of a broken world, that brokenness can be healed. It’s to have faith in this world, a world God told us God loves, and not just pine for the world that is to come. It’s to accept that an alternate kingdom is being built right now among us, even as wars rage and terrorists terrorize.

In fact, in light of the events of the past weeks in Paris and Brussels especially – to say Jesus is “king” is to refuse to succumb to fear of the future or fear of “the other” or fear of any kind, acarophobia or whatever, because we hold fast to the hope we encounter in God’s reign. It’s to defy those who wish to do us harm – and defy them not with military might, but with compassion and love. To say Jesus is “king” is to look straight into the eyes of the world and say, “I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but the one thing I know is that fear and hate will never win, because Jesus’s love is stronger.” And then to live that way ourselves by refusing to live in fear and hate.

Do we really understand what we are saying when we proclaim Jesus as King?

You and I, we exist in a world that makes a habit of fashioning Jesus to our own liking, to our own purposes. We use Jesus’ words to support everything from war to discrimination to fear to hate, because this world of ours is a world of contradiction and paradox and so much grey.

And we long for the simple answer, much like Pilate was seeking: Who are you, Jesus? Are you King of the Jews? Maybe the more important question is, “Is Jesus King for us?”

So, Trinity Presbyterian, on this final Sunday of our “This Is What I Love About” sermon series, on this Christ the King Sunday as we anticipate the Advent journey that begins next week, I want to tell you not only who Jesus is for me, but what it is I love about him. Not as a pastor. Not as a preacher. Just as a person of faith.

What I love about Jesus is that he saves me. And not an “ambulance-blaring-sirens” kind of save or a “snatched from the depths of hell” save. Jesus saves me from myself – from my own selfish tendencies, my own brokenness, my ego that dares to tell me I can make it just fine on my own, thank you very much. Jesus saves me by showing me that there is a world outside myself and I am called to engage that world on his behalf, not mine.

What I love about Jesus is that, even as he knew the world would not know what to do with him, he kept being himself for us – even as he was put to death for it. Even as he came to live with us again, even as he lives with us still and invites us to his holy meal that we’ll partake of later this morning.

What I love about Jesus is that, as I strive to have faith in him, he very much has faith in me. And faith in the church – the body of his that he can no longer be. What I love about Jesus is that he is not done with the world but very much into it, like “getting your hands dirty” into it, desiring to see the reconciliation of us all. Helping us be better people – but more than that, drawing us closer into him and into each other; a holy and sacred sort of thing that is hard to explain except in that moment when you feel it.

What I love about Jesus is that the king is building a kingdom, here and now; brick by brick and heart by heart; with every hungry stomach fed and every thirsty throat quenched and every broken heart mended. And I love that Jesus invites us into the thick of that building project; calling us to a deeper commitment to each other and to him. Calling us to love.

In fact, come to think of it, the thing that I love most about Jesus – and what has informed me my whole life as a husband and father, a son and brother, a neighbor and friend, and yes, a pastor, what I love most about Jesus is his love.

A love that is grounded in truth – which is how Jesus answered Pilate’s question. You tell me who I am, Jesus replied. I was born and entered the world so I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth recognizes my voice and knows my love.

You know, I think it’s kind of funny and beautiful that, in my 47 years of trying to figure out who Jesus is for me, I find myself right back where I started – at that song. A song that spoke to me in my earliest years and continues to speak to me today. I wonder, will you sing it with me now?

Jesus loves me, this I know – For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong – they are weak but he is strong
Yes, Jesus loves me – yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me – for the Bible tells me so.

And that, my friends, is what I love about Jesus!

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!


* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.