Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“The King of Grace” (Colossians 1:11-20)
November 24, 2019
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Today is one of my favorite Sunday’s of the year, the final Sunday of the church year, Christ the King Sunday.  Today we are reminded that Jesus Christ is not only our Savior and Redeemer, but also our King, the King, the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Today we are reminded that one day Jesus will indeed return to complete the establishment of his kingdom, and as we prayed in the collect for today, “to restore all things.”  And what will this look like?  As we also prayed, “the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, (will) be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule” (The Book of Common Prayer 236).  One day we will all be set free and all be brought together under the “gracious rule” of Jesus Christ, the King of Grace.

Earlier this year one of the most successful and controversial television shows ever, HBO’s epic fantasy series Game of Thrones, concluded.  Please do not mishear me, I am not recommending that you watch Game of Thrones, which is not at all Christian, but actually quite pagan—there is very little gospel in Game of Thrones.  Rather, there is an overabundance of violence and lust and debauchery and duplicity and ambition and betrayal and treachery and death.  In other words, although extreme in many ways, the seven kingdoms in Game of Thrones are like our world, “divided and enslaved by sin.”  Throughout the series the kings and queens of these seven kingdoms do everything in their power as they scramble to be seated on the Iron Throne over all the seven kingdoms, as they scramble to be the “winner” of the game of thrones.

While our lives may not be as extreme as those portrayed in Game of Thrones in our own little kingdoms—like our families, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our schools, and yes even sometimes our churches—this human tendency to scramble to be the king or queen of some throne is alive and well.  What is true on the micro level is also true on the macro level, as throughout history the nations of our world have continued to scramble for supremacy—the game never ends.

Throughout scripture there are many kings and queens portrayed—from kings like David and Solomon and Hezekiah, to queens like Jezebel and Athaliah and the Queen of Sheba.  And just like in Game of Thrones and just like in our own day, these kings and queens scrambled for supremacy.  And yet, ultimately every earthly king and queen will submit to the King of kings, Jesus Christ.  In the Old Testament Book of Psalms the psalmist put it this way:

Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us” (Psalm 2:1-3).

The psalmist later continues:

I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.  Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.  You shall break them with an iron rod, and dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalm 2:7-9).

Several centuries after this psalm was written Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, was born into this world “divided and enslaved by sin,” into a world full of kings and queens whose real life atrocities dwarf even those of Game of Thrones.  After Jesus was born, upon hearing word about a king, and therefore rival, being born in Bethlehem, King Herod ordered Roman soldiers to slaughter all toddlers two years old and under in Bethlehem and its environs.  It was unspeakably awful, and the cries of these toddlers and their bereaved families echoed throughout the streets of Bethlehem, but Herod was utterly ruthless and would not stop at anything to win his game of thrones.  Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus fled to Egypt and remained there until Herod’s death.

Perhaps somehow in your life you have played some kind of game of thrones, treating other people as pawns in your game, or being treated as a pawn in someone else’s game.  Either way everyone gets wounded, and everyone loses.  You know this.  But Jesus, the King of kings did not come to earth to play game of thrones or any other game.  Jesus preached, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also…Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:39, 44).  Jesus was a different kind of king, the King of Grace.

In today’s lesson from the Letter of Paul to the Colossians the apostle unpacks what it looks like to be under the “most gracious rule” of Jesus Christ:

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:11-14).

And then Paul describes the supremacy of the King of Grace:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:15-20).

On Good Friday Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, took the iron rod of judgment upon himself in your place.  On Good Friday Jesus Christ turned the other cheek repeatedly as the Roman soldiers struck his sacred head again and again, and loved his enemies—loved you—even unto his final breath, and prayed for those who persecuted him—prayed for you—“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  On Good Friday Jesus Christ willingly lost the game of thrones that Pilate and Herod and our human race “divided and enslaved by sin” has always played and continues to play even now.  On Good Friday Jesus Christ revealed himself as the King of Grace.

On Good Friday Jesus Christ rescued you from the power of darkness and transferred you to his kingdom of grace so that you are no longer subject to anyone’s game of thrones but rather protected under God’s “most gracious rule.”  On Good Friday Jesus Christ, in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” reconciled to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, reconciled everything in your life, “by making peace through the blood of his cross.”

I am going to close by juxtaposing two of my favorite songs about Jesus being our King.  The first is called “Hold Me, Jesus” by the late Christian singer-songwriter Rich Mullins, who died in a car accident in 1997.  During my twenties, as a young father and youth minister, I listened to this song again and again, especially when weary from whatever kind of game of thrones I found myself in:

Well sometimes my life just don’t make sense at all
When the mountains look so big and my faith just seems so small
So hold me, Jesus, ‘cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been my King of Glory, won’t you be my Prince of Peace?

Surrender don’t come natural to me
I’d rather fight you for something I don’t really want
Than to take what you give that I need
And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
Now I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees
And the Salvation Army band is playing this hymn
And your grace rings out so deep it makes my resistance seem so thin
So hold me, Jesus, ‘cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been my King of Glory, won’t you be my Prince of Peace?
(from his album A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band).

The second song is by Bob Dylan.  In the late seventies he experienced a radical conversion to Christianity.  Skeptics dismissed his conversion as a publicity stunt, but it was no publicity stunt, and he released three overtly Christian albums: Slow Train Coming (1979), Saved (1980), and Shot of Love (1981).  Although often overlooked, each of these albums has several anointed high octane, gospel saturated songs, especially the final track on Slow Train Coming, a song called “When He Returns.”  In this gem of a song, one of my top five favorite Dylan songs ever, he contrasts the kingdoms of this world “divided and enslaved by sin” with the “most gracious rule” of Jesus Christ, the King of Grace:

The iron hand ain’t no match for the iron rod
The strongest wall will crumble and fall to a mighty God
For all those who have eyes and all those who have ears
It is only He who can reduce me to tears
Don’t you cry and don’t you die and don’t you burn
Like a thief in the night he’ll replace wrong with right
When he returns

Truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow that it passes through
He released his power at an unknown hour that no one knew
How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?
Can I cast it aside, all this loyalty and this pride?
Will I ever learn that there will be no peace, that the war won’t cease
Until he returns?

And in the final verse Dylan shifts to the second person with good news for those worn out by the game of thrones:

Surrender your crown on this blood stained ground, take off your mask
He sees your deeds, he knows your needs, even before you ask
How long can you falsify and deny what is real?
How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?
Of every earthly plan that be known to man he is unconcerned
He’s got plans of his own to set up his throne
When he returns

Indeed Jesus Christ, the King of kings, the King of Grace has “plans of his own to set up his throne when he returns”—plans that include setting free and uniting a world “divided and enslaved by sin” with God’s unconditional, healing, forgiving love—love that will indeed “restore all things.”

When he returns each and every game of thrones will end, and the incessant scrambling for power will cease, and the cries of despair of all those wounded in these games will be replaced by cries of joy and praise to God.  And everyone in your life and everything in your life will all be brought together and restored under the “most gracious rule” of Jesus Christ the King of Grace.