Hands up who enjoyed studying history at school, or even beyond? I really enjoyed history. I think I enjoyed it for two reasons: first, history is the record of events which explains how we have got to where we are, in this way history shows how the past informs the present and the future. The second thing I really enjoy about history is the insight it provides into people; their characters and motivations, the things that drove them and inspired them. I think that two of the most basic lessons we can learn from the study of history are that our actions always have consequences and that our lives are fleeting.
In a standard British school history curriculum a lot of time and effort is devoted to studying our monarchs: our kings and our queens, and quite right too for we are and remain a monarchy.
Theology – and don’t be put off by the use of the word theology for all it really means is spending time thinking about the nature and consequences of religious faith – also takes seriously the study of kingship. In the Old Testament we have two books entitled Kings. The Jews prized and valued the concept of kingship. Through the Gospels and into the New Testament the notion of kingship is ascribed to Jesus. Jesus is of course also described in other ways: friend for example. The message is clear: Jesus is a new form of king.
Whereas, throughout history – religious and social history – kings have had a tendency for tyranny, Jesus is a servant-king, a friend-king, a truly incarnate and intimate king. Jesus is the prototype king. He is the king who is content to touch, and be touched, by lepers, women with menstrual problems, Samaritans, tax collectors, fishermen. He is the sort of king that counts amongst his best friends women such as Mary Magdalene. He is the sort of king who gets down and dirty, caring about the loss suffered by the likes of the Widow of Nain. He is the sort of king who touches the dead, (Lazarus) and who speaks about the necessity to care, really care, for the outcast and the refugee. He is the king who insists that the poor should be the first guests to be invited to a great banquet, and he is the king whose training to those responsible for building on his legacy reaches its epic climax in the washing of their feet. Jesus is the King who dares to break every protocol and who confronts every taboo. A couple more things: Jesus is the king who knows no earthly home, he has no mansion to call his own – he is a vagrant king – and whose only throne turns out to be the cross. Phew! It is for all of these reasons that I am intrigued, fascinated and inspired by the historic Jesus.
But, as Christians, what we can’t do is to leave Jesus in the history books and to say to ourselves ‘what an interesting character he was.’ We can’t do this because Jesus, for Christians, is the king who continues to reign and will always reign. He is, as John puts it so eloquently in the book of Revelation, the ‘Alpha and the Omega,’ or as Daniel writes, the king whose ‘dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship shall never be destroyed.’ We should take great confidence from these words of Scripture.
So what should our response be in the here and now as subjects of the Eternal King? Just a few thoughts:
We should be people who ‘testify to the truth,’ in both word and deed. We should never be afraid of telling the Jesus story, or giving an account of why we believe in the Jesus story.
We should seek to live out the Jesus story, searching out and relating to the sort of people Jesus sought out and related to: those who live, or dare I say exist, on the very margins of society; those who might seriously challenge our preference for some form of domesticated church.
And, finally we should pray, with total sincerity and conviction, the words of the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps especially the phrase ‘thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.’ But, be warned. I suspect that these are the most challenging, unsettling, life changing and yes, history-making words you can ever pray, but if we are to truly affirm Christ as King then they are words we must learn to pray without hesitation or equivocation. Amen.