Christ the King Sunday November 21, 2021
“And He Shall Reign Forever and Ever” Revelation 1:4b-8
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
On the last day of December in 2005, 16 years ago, a fiasco happened right here, in this sanctuary. And I’m certain that I caused it. I didn’t try to cause such a disaster, in fact, as I planned it, I envisioned something wonderful and great as we concluded one year and began a new one.
This is how it went: a few years before that evening I had been at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Lakewood for their New Year’s Eve Service. At the conclusion of the service they invited everyone who wanted to participate to come forward to the altar area and sing “The Hallelujah Chorus”. My, was that good!! Lots of people singing loudly – right up my alley!! I think they had those big kettle drums helping us keep the beat. That is how New Year’s Eve should end.
So, in 2005, weeks after being coronated king around here, I wanted us to be like the big dog. I told Stephen Pruitt, our organist, that we were going to conclude the service that way. We didn’t need practice. Enough people had heard it, or sung it, or thought they could sing it – we could pull it off. This would be our new tradition. About half way into the piece I realized that we shouldn’t have started and we should probably end it right there, but we limped to the end. After our noble effort, I gave the embarrassed smile, spoke a benediction, and we haven’t done it since.
The words from “The Hallelujah Chorus”, like much of Handel’s Messiah, are from the Book of Revelation. Revelation 11 says, “The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The Kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever.’” (Verse 15) In this book of Revelation that has much that we can’t understand, we are able to understand this – Christ wins!! He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. He didn’t lose against the devil and hell and sin and death but He was victorious. And He shall reign forever and ever!!
We need to know about the strong hand of God today. Some of the challenges of 2021 have been pretty heavy. This is how life is. But remember – He shall reign forever and ever!! In Revelation 1 the opening words about the brilliance of Christ is written to 7 churches in Asia who were struggling. They were little – house churches with a handful of people worshipping. They had great opposition. They had many challenges to abandon their faith and go the way of the world around them. And so do we. How is your endurance? Running out of gas? Running out of hope? Faith teetering?
There are other kings that want to rule over us. They call for our heart and our will. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed as a Christian at school. The ways of our friends and the pressure to do things that are not right or consistent with our faith make it hard to be a Christian. It may be hard to be faithful to Christ within our work place. The attitudes shared, the ethics or morals that are publically boasted make it difficult to remain strong. It may be difficult to be a believer within our own homes – the ways of God are not honored among those that we love the most, and such ways are upsetting.
And sometimes the phony king that wants to rule over us is not from the outside – the challenges at school and at work, among friends or with our family – but within us. We are not faithful to our God. We do and say and think things that are dirty or wrong or weak. Other kings seek to rule over us.
But those kingdoms crumble and fall. The sooner we come to the brilliant revelation that sin-centered kingdoms fail and fall, the sooner we can truly get on with the full life that God has for us. The day that we can come to repentance for our sin and weakness, is the start of the new day for the right king. In the Gospel reading for today, Pontius Pilate, who had his own kingdom in Jerusalem, comes face to face with Jesus and asks Him the question, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33) What a silly question!! This arrested man didn’t look much like a king!! A king has power. A king has an army behind him. The army would be able to fight, and be violent, and plot to do harm against their enemies. After some of the questioning Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jews. But now My kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36) When Pilate hears this he says, “You are a king, then!” And Jesus agrees, “You are right in saying I am a king.” (John 18:37) When they nailed Him to the cross they mocked Him with a sign that was placed over His head, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” They mocked Him in His suffering and death, but we look at the same event and find His great glory in such a sacrificial gift. On the cross He reigns forever and ever, our new life began there.
When we are puny and weak, when we struggle and fail, when we have made a mess of things, we come to words such as the ones in Revelation One and find ourselves strong once again. We find that we are lifted up by our God who reigns over all things – including our lives and struggles and sins and mortality. If such words were given to them in their hard times, these words are given to us in our hard times. Let me read these words again. Let them soak in. Listen to the verbs – all actions of God for us. Listen to all the triplets of phrases.
Grace and peace to you from Him who was and is and is to come, and from the seven spirits from before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins with His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father – to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen! Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of Him. So shall it be! Amen. I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:4b-8)
His reign is seen in who He is and what He has done and still does. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet. That is to say Jesus is the essence of all life, that which starts the day and concludes it. If one does not have Him, they exist but don’t live. They can enjoy the here and now but they will miss out on the best that is to come – enjoying being in the presence of God forever. Because this same Jesus is Almighty there is nothing in all the world that can pluck us out of His hand. He is not weak but mighty and ever present. When we hear words like, “Who is, and was, and is to come”, we know about His past, present and future, and ours as well. That phrase can be likened to the one in Hebrews that speaks of the certainty and steadiness of our Savior, Jesus – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) His reign is forever. We exalt not just in His being but in His actions as well. He loves us, frees us and made us. He frees us from our sins with His blood. He makes us into a kingdom and priests to serve Him. Christ reigns is us, for us and even through us every day.
If you have attended The Messiah by George Frederick Handel and when you get to the part of the Hallelujah Chorus you know what to do, right? You stand. Now this is what I read about the origin of that tradition. “When the German prince, George II, became king of Great Britain, he had a special fondness for the music of his fellow countryman, George Frederick Handel. At the premiere concert of Handel’s Messiah in 1743, the king and the crowds were deeply moved by the glory and grace of the masterpiece. When the musicians swelled the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’, and thundered those mighty words, ‘And He shall reign forever and ever!’ King George (whose English wasn’t all that great) jumped to his feet, thinking they sang of him! The whole crowd followed suit – for a different reason, of course, and a different king!”
When we sang it here 16 years ago on New Year’s Eve we didn’t do it well. Our notes weren’t perfect and our rhythm was off. But in some ways it was the most perfect music. It spoke of the most important truth that could ever be spoken. It was given in praise and adoration. In faith it came from the bottom of our hearts. Maybe the imperfections with which we offered the gift show us how any gift is given – but when He speaks of Him who “was, and is, and is to come”, and of Him “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His own blood” the song becomes beautiful.
Everyday, in the worst day or the greatest, in the darkest moment or the most brilliant, live in the truth, “and He shall reign forever and ever.” Amen!!
(This message was first preached to God’s saints at Ascension on November 22, 2015, and now again, 6 years later)