A Completely Different Kind of King

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baby-jesus

The following is adapted from President Bryan Born’s chapel message to students & staff, Sept 8, 2016.

Our theme for Orientation Week has been the Kingdom of God. Today I want to build on this theme by considering King Jesus. Every kingdom has a king, but Jesus is A King Like no Other.

What do you think Jesus looked like? And where did you get that picture from – parents, church, school, society, TV, the Bible?

We often create a Jesus that fits our expectations but does not match the person described in the Bible. Unfortunately for most of us, our picture of Jesus has probably been shaped more by our culture than by what the Gospels tells us. It has been said that God made us in his image, and then we returned the favour.

The result is that some create a “Buddy Jesus” who simply tells them that whatever they do is fine, while others go to the opposite extreme and imagine Jesus as a Slave Master and Judge who makes unreasonable demands. Still others think he was a great teacher, or a political revolutionary, while for some he’s just a powerless, dead guy hanging on a cross.

Of course, the picture of the baby Jesus in the manger is also very popular. Regrettably some of you might remember Will Ferrell’s ridiculous prayer in the mindless comedy, Talledega Nights. In it, Ferrell’s character, Ricky Bobby, a redneck race car driver, prays to “baby Jesus” while his family members and friend, Cal, throw in additional commentary. It’s obviously an over-the-top mockery of the way some people pray, but it also illustrates how easily we can make Jesus into whatever image we like best.

Addressing his prayer to “Dear Lord Baby Jesus,” Ricky begins with thanks for the food set before him, as well as for his family and best friend. He then asks Jesus to use his Baby Jesus powers to heal his father-in-law’s injured leg, at which point his wife, Carley, interjects:  “Hey, you know, sweetie, Jesus did grow up. You don’t always have to call him “baby.” It’s a bit odd and off-putting to pray to a baby.”

Ricky answers back: “Well, I like the Christmas Jesus best and I’m saying grace. When you say grace you can say it to grownup Jesus, or teenage Jesus, or bearded Jesus or whoever you want. He then continues to pray: “Dear tiny Jesus, in your golden-fleece diapers, with your tiny, little, fat, balled-up fists….”

At this, his father-in-law, Chip, bursts in with: “He was a man! He had a beard!”

But Ricky presses on: Look, I like the baby version best, do you hear me? I win the races and I get the money.
Inspired by the discussion about Jesus’ identity, others around the table throw in their favorite images as well:

His friend Cal says: I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T shirt, cause it says, like, “I wanna be formal, but I’m here to party, too.” Cause I like to party, so I like my Jesus to party.”

Then Ricky’s son Walker throws out a line: I like to picture Jesus as a ninja fighting off evil samurai.

To which Cal responds with: “I like to think of Jesus with giant eagle’s wings. And singing lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd, with, like, an angel band.”

Finally, Ricky continues his prayer: “Okay. Dear 8 pound, 6 ounce newborn infant Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant and so cuddly, but still omnipotent, we just thank you for all the races I’ve won. Thank you for all your power and your grace, dear baby God, and help me win my next race. Amen.”

This image of a baby Jesus that serves as a magic genie or good luck charm seems outrageous. But creating our own version Jesus is something a lot of us do.  Even me.  During my growing up years, I had a “Bryan Jesus.”

I grew up going to church, and I thought Jesus only cared about the bad things I did, or the good things I didn’t do. To me, Jesus was all about “obeying the rules.” I knew I needed to believe that he died on the cross, and rose again, but his life didn’t mean much to me.

And then, when I was around the age of most of you here, I actually read the Bible from cover to cover, and started paying attention to the life and teaching of Jesus. I learned that the arrival of the Kingdom Jesus announced was intended to impact everything. I discovered that he was a King like no other. When Jesus was questioned by Pilate in John 18, he said, “My kingdom is not of this world – it’s from another place.”

Earlier I had thought that meant Jesus’ kingdom was all about some other ‘spiritual’ place – that it had no relevance for my life or for this world. I figured it was about Heaven – pearly gates, streets of gold, awesome mansions after you die. But that’s not what Jesus was saying, and his life and teaching make that clear. When he said his kingdom was not of this world, he meant that his kingdom was fundamentally different than the kingdoms of this world – and he was a completely different kind of King.

So let’s listen to Jesus, and find out what kind of King he really is. Who is he? What was he trying to do? He made it clear in his very first sermon found in Luke 4.

JEsus-Scroll

He opened the scroll to Isaiah 61 and began to read:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18-19).

And then he capped it off with these words: Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

King Jesus came to set things right. To give good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom to people suffering under bondage – bondage from sin, broken relationships, spiritual oppression, abuse and evil structures. King Jesus came to help the blind see, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim God’s blessing. His mission was intended to impact every aspect of life – spiritual, physical, emotional, social, political, economic, everything.

IA little later the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked if he was the promised one?” In effect, they were asking, “Are you our coming King? Are you the one we’ve been looking for, praying for, longing to set us free?” Jesus reply demonstrated that he was a completely different kind of king. “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” You want to know if I’m the one, then look at what I’m doing! King Jesus was reaching out to the poor, the sick, the demonized and those on the edges of society.

We see this over and over in the Gospels. Jesus reached out to people at their point of need – even to people who didn’t realize they needed him. I just referred to the passage about Jesus’ interaction with the disciples of John the Baptist.

Just a few verses later is the story of when Jesus was anointed by a sinful woman at the home of Simon the Pharisee. In this story Jesus reaches out to two very different kinds of people, and gives them an opportunity to experience his Kingdom. He’s challenging them to see what kind of King he truly is.

 It goes like this: “When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.’

40 Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’

‘Tell me, teacher,’ he said.

41 ‘Two people owed money to a certain money-lender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’

43 Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.’

‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said.

44 Then he turned towards the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.’

48 Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’

50 Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

I love this story. There are so many things I could emphasize, but I’ll focus on just two. First, Jesus cared about self-righteous people like Simon the Pharisee. Simon said to himself, “If Jesus was a prophet, he’d know that woman was a sinner.” In effect, he was saying, “If Jesus was really Lord of the Kingdom, he’d know who he was dealing with.” He was judging Jesus as unworthy of respect, but Jesus doesn’t tell him off – instead he tells him a story about forgiveness and love. Two people with big debts (one ten times as much as the other): If they’re both forgiven, who will love more? Jesus is saying to Simon, “Buddy, you’ve got issues too. You can be forgiven. Will you love me?”

And then he asks an amazing question. “Simon, do you see this woman?” This whole story is about relationships.

And this is my second point. The kingdom of God is all about relationships – between us and God, between us and one another, and between us and the entire cosmos. Jesus is a king like no other because he’s all about healing broken relationships. Listen to him.

“Simon, you’ve written this woman off as a sinner, but do you see her, really see her!? Earthly kings pay very little attention to those with little or no power, but Jesus was a different kind of king. Jesus turned to her and he saw her. Simon only saw a sinner, but Jesus, the King of Kings, saw a child of God, a person created in the image of God, a person who was worthy of love, respect and care. Jesus knew who she was – he knew her lifestyle, but that did not stop him from reaching out to her and honoring her for what she had done for him.

Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’

50 Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

Those guests asked a really good question – Who is this who even forgives sins, saves people and then sends them out in peace?

Do you know this King Jesus? Do you know this God-man who, even though he was without sin, still loved sinners? Do you know this King who challenged the self-righteous and called them to recognize their own need for forgiveness? Do you know this King Jesus who can forgive your sin, my sin, who can put us right with God and the world?

The woman in this story was the only one to recognize the truth of what was going on. The woman in our story realized she was in the presence of royalty, and the only proper response was to worship and serve the King. In utter humility, she prostrated herself before Jesus, washed his feet with her hair and then anointed his feet with perfume. She knew the answer to the question, “Who is this?”, and she surrendered to the King who is like no other – the king who sees us, loves us, forgives us and commissions us as his ambassadors of reconciliation – go in peace. My earnest prayer is that each of us will respond to King Jesus like the woman in this story – with worship and service.