At Resurrection Lutheran Church,  November 25, 2007

Jeremiah 23:1-6;   Colossians 1:11-20;   Luke 23:33-43


            Once upon a time there lived a boy in a very poor part of London.  His parents were not at all nice to him, sending him out to beg and steal so they could get enough food for the family.  When he didn’t bring in enough money his father would beat him and send him to bed without anything to eat.  It was a very hard life for everyone living in that poverty ghetto in the 16th century.  The little neighborhood was full of drinking and yelling and fighting and noise day and night.  Little Tom used to “escape” by imagining himself to be a son of a wealthy family, living in a magnificent palace with hundreds of servants and lots of good things to eat.  His dreams helped him to endure the hunger in his belly.  A poor priest who visited folks in that ghetto befriended Tom and shared with him stories of royal families and wealthy people, teaching him a bit about how royal people behaved.  Tom would fantasize being a prince, practicing all sorts of royal gestures and speaking very eloquently.  He commanded a great army and ruled over a marvelous kingdom in which everyone was happy and well-fed, and loved each other.

            One day, while roaming the streets, begging and stealing what he could to bring home so he wouldn’t be beaten and sent to bed hungry again, he found himself wandering near the royal palace.  He blended into the crowds milling about outside the wrought iron fence, marveling over the beautiful gardens and buildings of the palace compound, when suddenly he spied a handsome, pleasant-looking boy about his own age, playing in the garden.  He gasped, realizing he was gazing at a real-life prince, all decked out in unbelievable finery and enjoying the blessings of his privileged life.  Tom drew near to the fence to get a better look at this flesh-and-blood prince when he was suddenly grabbed by one of sentries and flung to the ground with a warning not to stare and to watch his manners.  The prince heard the commotion and rushed to the fence, angrily rebuking the sentry for such ill treatment of the poor lad, and invitedTom to come to the gate where he was let in to the royal grounds.

            Occasionally, in days to come, the prince would open the gate, inviting Tom onto the grounds, where they had secret meetings together, sharing their lives and stories together.  Tom and Prince Edward became fast friends, each one describing to the other what his life was like – one as a privileged prince with untold delicacies to eat, the other as a common street urchin who was happy to get a stale crumb to stop the rumbling in his stomach.  Tom was blown away by Edward’s luxurious life, while Edward envied Tom’s freedom to go about the city, experiencing things that young princes can know nothing about.

            One day they hit on a wild idea.  They secretly exchanged their clothing, Tom relishing in Edward’s princely attire, while Edward giggled in the dirty, smelly rags of his poor friend.  They took on each other’s mannerisms and speech, each pretending to be the other.  When they caught a glimpse of themselves in a large mirror they gasped.  They could not tell each other apart!  Suddenly, Edward’s face lit up.  “I would love to feel free to go out into the city among the common folk as you do and not be always confined  to these gardens and palace.  Why don’t you pretend to be me for the afternoon while I become you for a few precious hours?”  Tom swallowed hard and objected to this idea, thinking what trouble he would be in if he was discovered to be Edward’s impostor.  But his royal friend so pleaded with him for this one golden opportunity that he finally relented.  The risky game was on!

            Tom played the game as skillfully as he could, but of course, could not perfectly play the role of the royal prince.  At times his responses were strange.  He seemed to lose memory of many things he should have known.  He feigned illness to escape discovery.  Finally his attendants and family suspected that the young prince was having mental problems, but this fact was to be kept very secret and not whispered about so that the people might hear of it.

            Meanwhile, the prince, pretending to be Tom, was discovering how difficult life could be for a street urchin.  He was yelled at, chased by other young punks, and punched and harassed at every turn.  Finally, he could take no more and insisted that he be treated with the respect due a prince.  At this he was ridiculed and pelted with abuse all the more.  So this was the price of the coveted freedom he had dreamt about!

            Mark Twain wrote a story along these lines, called The Prince and the Pauper.  His story has a rather pleasant ending, and I commend the book to you to follow the adventures of the two “impostors”.


            But we leave Tom and Edward now, turning to this morning’s theme.   God engaged in a similar charade centuries before Twain came up with the idea.  As we read in Philippians 2, “Christ Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”  Side by side, looking in the mirror, God and you look so very alike!  As a matter of fact, Jesus looked so much like any ordinary citizen that many folks mistook him to be just a man and nothing more.

            Many took him to be a rather troublesome man with high ideas and challenging words for the rulers of the people.  Had he no respect for the priests, for the teachers, for royalty?!  The religious authorities showed what they thought of him.  Once they tried to throw him over the brow of a hill, they were so angry with him.  When he tried to teach them that he was the bread that came down from heaven, they objected, “Is this not Jesus, whose father and mother we know?”  Who did he think he was?  But that wasn’t the question.  For Jesus, the question is, “Who do YOU say that I am?”

            In a month we’ll celebrate once again who Jesus is as we gaze upon the sweet Babe of Bethlehem’s manger.  Many folks will see him forever as a dependent, defenseless infant.  As we move from Christmas to Good Friday, many others will also see him forever as a defenseless victim, bleeding and dying on the cross.  As we follow his career as an itinerant preacher, healer, miracle worker, and friend of the poor of the land, many will see him only as a pitiful crusader who bangs his head against the wall of human resistance, trying to call people out of their comfort zones and into a life of selfless surrender to a cause, to a Person, much greater than themselves.  Who do YOU say that he is?

            As he bled and was dying on that cross, a thief next to him saw something else!  Was it a glimpse of a truth that he heard in the soldiers’ sneering mockery, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”?  Was it that mean-spirited, sarcastic sign they put above his head, reading, This is the King of the Jews”?  Or was it something he had heard about this Jesus of Nazareth that prompted him to cry out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”?  What a remarkable eleventh-hour insight!  What a fortunate bit of good luck (or was it divine providence?) that that thief was crucified on the same day as Jesus!  And what amazing grace was showered upon him in Jesus’ words, “Today you will be with me in Paradise!”

            Who do WE say that he is?  Unlike that thief on the cross next to Jesus, we get a good look at our King in all his brilliant glory in the book of Revelation.  We see him as a blazing fire, with feet like glowing bronze, with a voice like the sound of rushing waters, before whom the whole world trembles.  We see him come as triumphant King, claiming His own, Christus Victor, mounted on His white horse, wearing the name, “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS”.  And we see Him finally and ultimately destroy Satan and his hordes that have tried to destroy us.  Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is King, not only of the Jews, but of all of us….of the entire universe!  Many can not see it; will not see it.  One reason is that they don’t want to be ruled.  Not by Jesus.  They’ll choose their own ruler, thank you.  But we celebrate and joyfully accept the fact that Jesus Christ is our King, and we are his subjects, citizens of his Kingdom.  For we know that under His rule, we are set free from the bondage of sin, of slavery to another master.

            What are the implications of our citizenship under Jesus’ reign as King?  We are privileged to follow him in washing one another’s feet, in serving the needs of our fellowmen, in sharing of the manifold blessings he has showered on us, yes, and even being willing to die for one another.  In Him we are free to even go so far!  And we are invited to lift our spirits in extravagant worship and adoration of our King, as did that grateful woman who broke open the alabaster jar of fine ointment with which to anoint her Lord.

            So let our lives be a constant and never-ending  coronation of Jesus, our King of kings.  Let us thankfully “crown him with many crowns; his glories always sing, who died and rose on high, who died, eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.”