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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
November 25, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
John 18:33-37
Christ the King Sunday

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: November 25, 2018 – Christ the King B

John 18:33-37


A King without an Army


He's five foot-two and he's six feet-four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He's all of thirty-one and he's only seventeen
He's been a soldier for a thousand years…


And he's fighting for Democracy
He's fighting for the Reds
He says it's for the peace of all
He's the one who must decide
Who's to live and who's to die
And he never sees the writing on the wall


But without him
How would Hitler have condemned him at Dachau?
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He's the one who gives his body
As a weapon of the war
And without him all this killing can't go on…[1]


              Many of you Baby Boomers probably recognized these song lyrics right away. “Universal Soldier”, covered by Scottish folk singer Donovan, was one of the most prominent anti-war songs of the 1960s. Despite the universal soldier’s good intentions, the violence of the world continues unabated, caused by him, fueled by the ideologies that drive him, the so-called “great men” that use him, and of course, “you and me” – the very people he is fighting for.


            Many so-called “great men” have had an army behind them to accomplish their political goals. Alexander the Great, the king of the then-modest kingdom of Macedonia, built an army with which he conquered lands from the Balkans to India. Three centuries later, Julius Caesar was ordered to disband his army upon returning to Rome from Gaul, but crossed the Rubicon in northern Italy with his army intact, amounting to a declaration of war on the Roman Senate. In the seventh century, Muhammed captured the holy city of Mecca with the aid of his army. Christian nobles and kings from western Europe relied on their armies to make incursions into Palestine and Egypt during the Crusades. Genghis Khan ravaged lands from Mongolia to eastern Europe with his Golden Horde. Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill, and de Gaulle all had their armies. Even the Pope had an army for centuries. Today, the foreign policy of the United States (and other nations) would not be possible without a powerful military to back it.


            Which makes it strange that we acclaim one as Lord and King who never commanded an army. Who never so much as held a sword. Who ordered Peter, who DID have a sword, to stand down in the garden when Jesus was arrested. If Jesus is a king, he is an awfully strange king indeed.


            He certainly confuses Pilate. Pilate, basically middle-management in the Roman Empire, knows the value of an army. He wouldn’t have his job, after all, if it wasn’t for the Roman military in the first place. So when he interrogates Jesus in his headquarters, we can perhaps hear a slight mocking tone in his question, “Are you the King of the Jews?” You, a peasant from Galilee, a man with only a few scattered followers – you’re the King of the Jews? Really? Any self-respecting king would have soldiers behind him – “without him Caesar would have stood alone”, after all. And any self-respecting king would either have the support of his people’s leaders or would have compelled their support. Instead, Jesus has been handed over by his own religious leaders. There stands Jesus, alone, abandoned, hated.


            But what Pilate doesn’t know is that Jesus’ kingship is not dependent on the realities of this realm. Pilate’s question, “Are you the King of the Jews?” is about earthly politics. Namely, he wants to assess if Jesus is a threat to the Empire. And Jesus is – but not in the way Pilate thinks.


            Jesus responds, “My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world. If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders. My kingdom isn’t from here.” Jesus authority and power come from a source that is far above any earthly realm or religious authority. Jesus’ authority and power come from the Source of life himself, the God who made heaven and earth and all that exists. This God also has a love for rebellious humanity beyond comprehension. This God loves humanity so much that he became human in Jesus to take on the full brunt of human rebelliousness, sinfulness, and rage on the cross. In absorbing all of humanity’s sin on himself, Jesus shows himself to be “the way, the truth, and the life”. Jesus, God in-the-flesh, shows himself to be the only truth in a world darkened by lies – especially the lie that the only power that matters comes from one’s ability to impose upon or dictate to others.


            As I mentioned last week when we heard Jesus speak against the Temple, we all too often want a strongman to make things right for us. We want someone who can command, dictate, and impose on others to be our Lord – someone who has obvious earthly power and the will to use it. But that’s not the kind of power that Jesus has. The power that Jesus has is not earthly, with a political apparatus and an army, but heavenly. Jesus’ power, authority, and kingdom are not from here. They don’t operate in the usual earthly way. They don’t operate by violence. Jesus’ kingdom is enacted by the king himself bearing the brunt of the world’s violence. Jesus doesn’t impose his kingdom with the threat of violence. Jesus draws us into his kingdom through his love. It is his love for us that causes us to finally end our rebellion, to surrender to his will, to say yes to him and his love in our lives. It is his love, too, that finally defeats those powers that do use violence and threat of violence to get its way in the world. We don’t see the fullness of Jesus’ victory over those powers yet. But they are mortally wounded. 


            It is in Jesus, the king without army, that we find another way to live, another way to be in this world that keeps using violence to achieve its ends. As Psalm 46 reminds us, “He breaks the bow, and shatters the spear, and burns the shields with fire.” Our violent days and ways are numbered. Jesus has made sure of it.


            Let us pray,

            Bring us more deeply into the love that characterizes your kingdom, Lord. Destroy our violent ways and our search for strongmen to use them. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.


[1] “Universal Soldier”, Songwriters: Buffy Sainte Marie, 1964. Universal Soldier lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Universal Music Publishing Group