Jesus said to Pilate: “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”John 18:36
“My kingdom is not from here,” Jesus tells us in today’s gospel reading (John 18:33-37). But how I wish that it were! Don’t you? Don’t you wish that his kingdom was from here? Or, to put it another way, don’t you wish that his kingdom would hurry up and get here?
Think of how much better our world would be if his kingdom was already here, in its fullness. Think of what this world would look like if Jesus was in charge of it all, if all this world was ruled by King Jesus.
Do you remember the song by John Lennon, “Imagine”? In that song, Lennon invites us to imagine a world without religion, a world without countries, a world without possessions, where there is no hell below us, and above us only sky. He invites us to imagine a world without all of the things that we fight about. Imagine a world where everyone was living in peace. It isn’t hard to do, he sings.
Well, I am not trying to rewrite his song, but imagine a world ruled by King Jesus. It would also be a world where there was nothing to fight about. It would be a world without hunger or hatred. A world without poverty or prejudice. A world without evil or injustice. A world ruled by love. A world where everyone would be treated as they would want to be treated. Because it would be a world where everyone would be doing God’s will, and living as God intends.
Imagine a world where God’s kingdom is here, fully, and where God’s will is being, here, as in heaven. Think of how much better our world would be! You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
A Glimpse of God’s Kingdom
When we read the gospels, we catch a glimpse of that world. Just a glimpse. Even in the gospels, the world is not yet as it will be. But we do catch a glimpse of what life will be like when Jesus is in charge. When Jesus is king. And it is enough of a glimpse to make us long for it. We all become dreamers, imagining that day, when the kingdom of Jesus is finally here, in all its glory.
That day, at least so far, is not today. So what are we doing today, as we gather to celebrate Christ the King Sunday? That’s what I would invite us to think about today. What does it mean to recognize Jesus as our king, if his kingdom is not from here? How are we to live in this in-between time, this time when Jesus has already come to offer us a glimpse of his kingdom, but he has not yet returned to bring his kingdom to us in its fullness?
We live in this in-between time, this time when we still live by faith, and still live by hope; this time when we pray for his kingdom to come, and for his will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus is our king now. But his kingdom is not from here. So, what does all of that mean for us? How can we live faithfully in his kingdom, even while we wait for his kingdom to come? That’s the question I want us to consider today.
Martin Luther on How God’s Kingdom Comes to Us
And I want to start by looking at what Martin Luther has to say about all of this. He tells us (in his Large Catechism) that God’s kingdom comes to us in two ways:
First, it comes here, in time, through the Word and faith, and second, in eternity, it comes through the final revelation. Now, we ask for both of these things: that it may come to those who are not yet in it and that, by daily growth here and in eternal life hereafter, it may come to us who have attained it.
So, God’s kingdom comes to us in these two ways. One way happens now, when we receive God’s kingdom through the Word and faith. The other way happens in eternity, when it comes in “the final revelation.” And Luther teaches us that when we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we are praying that it will come in both of these ways – we are praying that God’s kingdom would come to our world now, through the Word and faith; and we are praying that God’s kingdom would come in its fullness, through the second coming of Christ our king.
But, to take it one step further, it seems to me that the more we receive the kingdom in the first way – through God’s Word and in faith – the more we want the kingdom to come in the second way. Why? Because we have caught a glimpse, through the Word and our faith, of what his kingdom is like. And we want to live in it, and we want everyone to live in it, now and forever.
But we also see clearly that it is not easy to live in a kingdom that is not yet fully here. It is not easy to give our allegiance to a king who has not yet returned. It is challenging to confess Christ as king in our daily lives, and to live faithfully in his kingdom in this world. There are many forces in our world that compete for our allegiance. As we try to put God’s kingdom first in our life, there are many forces that compete with this – because God’s kingdom can now only be received in faith. It’s not easy to follow our King in this in-between time, when the kingdom has come to us in faith, but has not yet come in its fullness. It’s not easy, but it’s also not impossible. Which brings us to today’s gospel reading.
Belonging to the Truth
In today’s gospel reading, we get a snippet of an important conversation that Jesus has with Pilate, after he is arrested and before he is crucified. When Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king – a claim for which he can be executed – Jesus doesn’t deny it. But he helps Pilate to begin to see the truth, that his kingdom is not like the one that Pilate is living in. Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world. But Jesus also invites Pilate to see the truth that everyone who listens to Jesus already belongs to his kingdom, even now. In fact, this is why Jesus came into this world, he says to Pilate: to testify to this truth. And to offer to his followers a new way of living in this world, through the freeing truth of the gospel.
Do you remember what Jesus told his followers about this freeing truth? Back in John 8, he said:
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” – John 8:31-32
It is the truth that makes us free, once we embrace it. And what is this truth? The truth that Jesus tells Pilate is the reason for his birth:
“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” – John 18:37
We celebrate with other Christians today that Christ is our king. We belong to this truth, and we listen to his voice, the voice of our king. We have received the kingdom of God into our lives through word and faith. And so, we have been freed from captivity to all other kingdoms and rulers; to all false gods. We know the truth – that Jesus came to free us from captivity to all these other kingdoms and rulers – and the truth has made us free.
Bringing His Kingdom to Earth
And since we know the truth, and belong to the truth, we can act in response to that truth. We can listen to the voice of our king. We can serve him and him alone. We can share, through word and deed, the joy that we have in serving such a wondrous king. We can invite others to come and meet our king. We can pray that his kingdom would be seen by others through us, and that others would receive his kingdom in word and faith, just as we have. And while we wait for his kingdom to come in its fullness, we can get to work. We can work toward making this world look more and more like his kingdom.
Think about how amazing it is that Jesus has entrusted us with the mission of bringing his kingdom to earth. Not fully. Only he can do that. But we can get things started. We can begin to make this world look more like his kingdom, while we wait for his return. And knowing that he is returning means that we don’t have to finish this task. We just have to get it started.
I remember the night I began to see all of this in this new and empowering way. It happened to be while I was cleaning the kitchen one night. Now, to be honest, I used to get a little nervous about cleaning my wife’s kitchen. She always does such a wonderful job with that, and I could never be sure that I was cleaning to her high standards. But then, one night I realized that I could clean the kitchen most of the way, and then let her finish the job. And I found that much more relaxing. I didn’t have to get it all perfect. I just had to get things started.
And isn’t that what we are called to do as Christians? We are called to get the job started of bringing God’s kingdom here. By caring for the sick, by loving the stranger, by working for justice and peace, and by doing all of the things that you Jesus taught us to do. Not perfectly. But we can get the job started, trusting that when Jesus returns he will complete the task.
What a privilege it is to live in the kingdom of God right now. To live this life with Jesus as our king, even as we wait for the day when he returns in all his glory. And what joy we will have when we finally get to live in the kingdom of God in all its fullness. We can’t do that now. But we can imagine it now. That’s not hard to do. And we can get to work now, making this world look a little more like heaven, while we wait for his kingdom to come.
It isn’t hard to do. So, let’s do it. Let’s get to work helping God’s kingdom to come. Let’s help our corner of this world look just a little more like heaven. Let’s help those around us imagine a world where Jesus is king. And help them to see how wonderful it will be. And let’s do all of this faithfully, and persistently, until that glorious day when all the world will receive its loving king. To the glory of God. Amen.