Today is one of the most special Sundays in the calendar of Christ’s one holy catholic and apostolic Church. It’s the last Sunday of Kingdomtide, the last Sunday of the Church year, the last Sunday before Advent; but, most important of all, it’s Christ the King Sunday when our hymns, our Scriptures and our entire focus is on Jesus and His eternal reign in His Kingdom. In Handel’s Messiah, we sing repeatedly, “He is the King of glory.” When we sing the Hallelujah Chorus with its text from Revelation (11:15; 19:6, 16), we sing triumphantly, “And He shall reign forever and ever.” Then we continue to sing “forever and ever” over and over, adding more “Hallelujah’s” at the very end. Handel’s many repetitions of “forever and ever” are not a purely musical device; they’re an emphatic musical statement of the eternality of Christ’s reign, and Handel repeats them until he’s confident that both the performers and the hearers will “get it.”
But even more glorious is our singing of the final chorus, again with a text from Revelation (5:9, 12, 13):
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His Blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever. Amen.
That’s what we celebrate on Christ the King Sunday: not only Christ’s atoning sacrificial death, His triumphant Resurrection and His glorious ascension, but, more than that, the certainty of His reign in His Kingdom forever and ever, world without end. There are many things in our Christian faith that are cause for rejoicing because of their certainty. There are others that remain somewhat mysterious; and we sing with great hope, “Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake to guide the future, as He has the past. Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake; all now mysterious shall be bright at last.” Among the many things that fall in the realm of certainty are the triumph of Jesus over sin, death, Hell and Satan and His reign in glory forever and ever. That’s what Paul was saying to the Ephesian believers when he wrote,
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
That’s Christ the King. And so we sing robustly, “Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne;” and “Alleluia, sing to Jesus, His the scepter, His the Throne; alleluia, His the triumph, His the victory alone.” And in that same hymn, we look to this table and acknowledge, “Thou on earth both Priest and Victim in the Eucharistic Feast.” Have no doubt: I’m not the Priest at this Feast. I’m a Vicar of Christ, a vicarious representative of the One Who beyond any doubt is the real Priest at this His table, at His altar of sacrifice where He remains the triumphant Victim.
Read Revelation. You will discover many references to the golden altar of sacrifice that stands before the throne of God in heaven. The altar of sacrifice is an eternal symbol of the cost of our redemption, of the fact that we have been bought with a price, that we’ve been redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb Who was slain. Believe it. These are not just words of a hymn or words of a great Handel oratorio; rather, these are the words that the cherubim and seraphim, who worship the Lamb night and day, are singing right now and will continue to sing forever and ever. These are the words of the God-ordained anthem of eternity. Handel had the privilege of setting them and we have had the awesome privilege of singing them. But far greater will be the thrill of hearing them sung for all eternity, because they’re the words that bring “blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, to Him Who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb forever and ever.”
Yes, there’s an altar in heaven. And yes, it’s an altar of sacrifice. And yes it’s an eternal symbol of our salvation. And somewhere near that altar is the largest imaginable table where saints above and saints presently below and all the hosts of heaven will gather for the marriage feast of the Lamb Who was slain, Whose very Body and Blood are given to us every time we come in faith to receive Him at His table. This is our foretaste of what it will be like to celebrate eternity in the company of the One Who continually imparts His grace, not once when we were baptized or once when we first accepted His salvation, but every time we turn to Him afresh in repentance, in thanksgiving, in honor and praise, and in humility, confessing that we’re not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under His table, but that He, the One Who is all-worthy, has made us worthy to receive Him by the shedding of His precious Blood. Yes, His sacrifice was once-for-all; but the reminders and the fellowship are forever. Believe it!
What was the focus of your Thanksgiving dinner a few days ago? Were you sitting at table with Jesus thanking Him for Who He is, for what He’s done for you, for all that He’s made you to be, and for all that yet remains to those of us who put our trust in Him? Was that part of your Thanksgiving on Thursday? Is that your Thanksgiving offering every morning when your feet first hit the floor, even if that’s accompanied by pain?
Does our thanksgiving routinely exceed our complaining? Does our thanksgiving bring us the joy of our salvation, a joy that pushes our life-challenges into their proper place, their perspective, an eternal perspective whereby our challenges in this life, however great they may seem to be, fade inconsequentially? Just think of standing before the golden altar of sacrifice in front of God’s throne and sitting at the table in the very Presence of Jesus Christ Whose Presence is already right here at this table.
If that doesn’t lift your spirits heavenward, may God reach into your heart this morning and show you what you’re missing. This is not spiritual fantasy. This is real. Earthly life is a passing fantasy by comparison, a blip in time immeasurable against the vast scope of eternity.
Rejoice! Be thankful. Sing praises. Start now. Why not? At least learn the words: “Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be to Him Who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb forever and ever. Amen.” His Kingdom is forever. That’s why at the beginning of nearly every service, I say, “Blessed be God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” and you are to respond, “And blessed be His Kingdom, now and forever.” Later we will pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven... for Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, Amen,”
What did Jesus say in today’s Gospel? He gave His hearers strong assurances of His return. He said, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His throne of glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” That phrase, separating the sheep from the goats, has become a fixture in common parlance, with most users of it having not the slightest idea of its origin. Sadly, many Christians would be hard-pressed to give the correct context from this discourse of Jesus, given on the Mount of Olives shortly before the events that led to His crucifixion. Did you notice the double use of “glory” in the opening words of Jesus? The Son of Man will come in His glory and then He will sit on His throne of glory. He passes that glory along to those who believe in His Name. That’s what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Ephesians about “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.”
The throne of glory occupied by the glorious Son of Man is also a throne of judgment, where the division of sheep and goats takes place. It’s where the determination is made as to who will go into “eternal punishment,” “the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels,” or who will go into “eternal life,” “the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” This is not some theologian or preacher trying to scare people out of Hell or into heaven. This is Jesus Himself simply “telling it like it is.”
And in this discourse, He’s willing to put it in terms of whether we’ve fed, clothed and housed the poor and visited the prisoners, or whether we’ve failed to do so. It’s not about whether you have your ecclesiology and eschatology quite right or have changed the world. It’s not even about whether you were consciously doing the feeding and clothing and housing and visiting. Perhaps Jesus is even saying that the reward is yours especially if you do these things without even knowing it. “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?”
Our reward is bestowed, not claimed. And our actions are approved because they spring from a believing heart and out of a Christ-like motivation, not simply because they’re admirably philanthropic. Those who are receiving this great and unmerited reward of eternal life are defined in verse 34 as those who are blessed by Jesus’ Father and as those who will “inherit the Kingdom prepared for (them) from the foundation of the world.” Clearly it’s not just about their good works; yet their good works are the evidence that identifies them as those who will inherit the Kingdom. And even though the context is different, we’re reminded of Jesus’ words in Mark (9:41) where He says, “Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.”
This is Christ the King Sunday. Christ is King and He is Judge. He’s the Son of God and the Son of Man. The author of Hebrews wrote, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9, 10). Perhaps you feel that your obedience has fallen short of God’s expectations. Remember that God stands ready to hear our pleas, our confession, and to forgive our sins “according to His great mercy” by which, as Peter wrote, “He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Peter 1:3-5).
Perhaps you feel the need to embrace these truths as your own, to discover what it means to be one who will hear the voice of Jesus saying, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). There’s no more wonderful time to come to Jesus than on Christ the King Sunday. Next Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent, begins the new year of the Church. Make it your New Year’s resolution today to follow Jesus, bowing to His lordship and kingship, devoting the rest of your life to His service, as long as He gives you, to feeding, clothing and housing the poor and visiting prisoners, or to doing whatever other things He leads you to do in His incomparable Name, the Name at which “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of the Father.” He has promised you a place that has been prepared for you in His heavenly Kingdom if you simply receive Him by faith. Don’t delay; we have today.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen