Thinking of Christ as our king today, we can look at the four ways in which Jesus is addressed in the Gospel reading: in Saint Luke Chapter 23 Verse 33 he is referred to by the name “Jesus;” in Verse 35, he is mocked by the crowds, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one;” in Verse 37, there is an inscription put over him, “This is the King of the Jews;” finally, in verse 42, the dying thief says to him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
The name “Jesus” was prophetic, in Saint Matthew Chapter 1 Verse 21, Joseph is told about the forthcoming birth of the child to Mary and is told, “you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” His name comes from the Hebrew name “Yeshua”, a form of “Joshua”, meaning “to rescue” or “to deliver”. Jesus’ mission is expressed in his name, to be a saviour. How would people have imagined this new Joshua would rescue his people? How would he deliver them? Jesus has warned his friends on many occasions what was going to happen in Jerusalem, but they have not been able to accept that God would save his people in such a way. The crowd do not like the idea that Jesus would be a saviour, “He saved others; let him save himself,” they shout at him.
When we think of Jesus how do we think of him? Is he a character in a story book? Is he a figure in a stained glass window? Is he a name from the past? Or is he Yeshua, the one who rescues and delivers us?
The word “Messiah” is used by the crowds. “If he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one,” shout the hostile voices. Jesus friends had believed he was the Messiah. In Saint John Chapter 1 Verse 15 we read that the people were “questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah.” The word “Messiah” is Hebrew for “the anointed one”, the “chosen one,” in Greek the word is “Christ.” Peter declares his faith in Jesus as the Messiah in Saint Matthew Chapter 16 Verses 15-16, “But who do you say that I am?” asks Jesus and Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Just five days before the crucifixion, the people of Jerusalem had watched Jesus ride into the city. They knew that the Messiah that they expected would arrive on a donkey, it was recorded in the words of the prophet Zechariah that this would be so. But they expected a different Messiah, they expected the Son of God to be altogether different. They expected military power and political authority, they did not expect what they got. To think that the God’s chosen one would be with them as Jesus of Nazareth was unthinkable, it was quite unacceptable. They would not tolerate this man. They could not contemplate a Messiah on a donkey.
When we think of the Messiah, what do we expect? The people of Jerusalem wanted a Messiah who would do as they wished, do we want a Messiah who suits our interests? What does it say about our idea of God if we expect him to be someone who does what we want?
The title “King of the Jews” is used by the Romans. “This is the King of the Jews,” says the inscription above Jesus. Saint John Chapter 18 tells us that it was Pilate who prepared the notice and that he had written,”Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” The sign was in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. Jesus was declared king in all the languages of the people. Aramaic was a popular form of Hebrew, it was the language of God’s own people. Latin was the language of the Empire, the language of the rulers and those in high office. Greek was the language of everyday life and trade around the Mediterranean. If he is king then Jesus is a king for all the people; for the Jews and the foreigners; for the great and the good; for the common and the ordinary.
Do we have confidence in Jesus as such a king? Do we have confidence in Jesus as king in all places and in all situations? Sometimes our faith is private and personal, we keep it to certain parts of our life. If we think about that inscription, written in the language of home life, written in the language of business life, written in the language of public life, then we see faith should be much more than something private and personal.
The belief in Jesus as one who has a kingdom beyond this world is expressed by the dying thief. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he says to Jesus. Jesus’ kingdom is not in this world, it is in the world to come. In Saint Luke Chapter 21 Verse 33, Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”Jesus kingdom is an eternal one, it is beyond the time and space in which we live. The thief has recognized that God is a cosmic God, a God who is out there and whose presence is powerful. God is not limited to being the God of a particular people, a God of a particular nation, a God of a particular place, he is God of all. “You have set your glory above the heavens,” says Psalm 8 Verse 2, the Psalmist knew God was a cosmic God.
Do we have faith in such a God? Do we often make God too small and fail to see him as he is? If the God in whom we believe is the God of the whole universe and the God of all that is beyond, how much different should our faith be?
Four forms of address: Jesus, Messiah, King of the Jews, one whose kingdom is to come, each challenges us about our own faith in Christ the King.