Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sermon for Ascension Day (May 29, 2014)

Wordle: Untitled

“The Coronation of the King” (Psalm 110:1-5)

Americans aren’t necessarily fond of monarchs.  The Revolutionary War was about declaring independence from one.  Yet for some reason, many people are still kind of attracted to the English monarchy.  The lives of royalty find their way into news stories and magazine articles.   Maybe it’s our old family ties.  Maybe it’s the beauty and glamour of the pomp and ceremony that surrounds them.  Although we accord a certain dignity to the office of the president, it’s still not the same as the royals.

The last coronation of an English monarch was in 1953.  That was 12 years before I was born, so I’ve never witnessed the coronation of a king or queen from among our English cousins.  Elizabeth II is 88 years old, so God only knows how many years she has left on the throne.  Perhaps those of us living right now will get to see the crowning of a new monarch before too long.  A great procession of royals, church officials, and other dignitaries will march into Westminster Abbey.  An oath will be taken by the new monarch followed by an anointing with oil.  Following this, a royal stole and royal robe will be placed upon his or her shoulders and two scepters are placed in his or her hands.  Finally, the Archbishop of Canterbury  lays the crown upon the new monarch, and the gathered assembly shouts, “God save the Queen!” or “God save the King!” as the case may be.

The coronation of Jesus was nothing like this at all.  His royal robe was on loan while he was on trial, the fabric sticking to his blood-soaked back.  His scepter was a simple reed.  His crown was made of thorns that painfully plunged into his forehead and scalp.  And there were no cries of “God save the King!” from the crowd that day.  The soldiers sarcastically said, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  The crowd in the courtyard cried, “Crucify him, crucify him!”  And he was led out to Calvary where a cross became his throne.

This was a coronation that was seen with the eyes.  But there is another coronation that is seen by faith.  This is Christ’s Ascension.  This is the Lord Jesus taking his rightful place at the right hand of the Father.  This is the coronation we celebrate today.  The Lord Jesus died with your sins laid to his account.  Three days after his death Jesus rose from the dead, proving that his death was accepted by the Father as the once-for-all atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.  For 40 days he showed himself alive to his disciples.  Finally, he led his select group of disciples to the Mount of Olives.  There he lifted up his hands and blessed them.  Carried up into heaven, a cloud took him out of their sight.

David, writing about a thousand years before this, described in advance this heavenly coronation in Psalm 110, from which our Introit is taken.  At first glance, Psalm 110 seems to be about the coronation of an earthly king.  Yahweh invites the king to sit at his right hand as his representative.  He promises an expanded territory, loyal subjects willingly offering themselves, refreshed and ready to fight for the king.

But something more is being described in this Psalm.  When David says, “Yahweh says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool” he is speaking of another Lord, David’s Lord, the Lord Christ.  In fact, Jesus applies this Psalm to himself in Mark 12.  He says that David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was speaking about the Son of David, the Messiah (Mark 12:35-37).  And the right hand of God is not a concrete location, but rather is the position of all power and might in all creation.  Jesus, risen and ascended, now fully uses all his divine power as both God and Man.  His divine power and might are everywhere at all time and all places.  HE is everywhere at all times and all places, including every altar where bread and wine are the Holy Communion of his Body and Blood.  All of our Lord’s enemies – sin, death, hell, and all that are opposed to him – have been defeated in his cross and resurrection.  His ruling scepter goes forth from Zion – that is, from his Church – as the Gospel is preached to all the world and his territory is extended from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). In Ephesians 1, St. Paul puts it this way as he writes about

“the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked 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 above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things 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” (Eph. 1:19-23).

Furthermore, we know that this coronation of which David sings is something quite different because this king in Psalm 110 is also given priestly duties.  He is “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”  Melchizedek is a mysterious figure who appears on the scene in Genesis 14.  He is called “king of Salem” and “priest of God Most High” (Gen. 14:18). He blesses Abram and Abram gives an offering to him.  So how does this relate to Jesus?

The name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness.”  He is king of Salem, which means “peace.”  Jesus, in his office as Messiah, is king and priest for us.  He is the one who rules for us.  He is both the one who intercedes for us and the one who offers himself as a sacrifice for us. He gives us his righteousness.  He brings peace between God and man through his shed blood.  Listen also to what Hebrews 7:3 says about Melchizedek: “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever” (Heb. 7:3).  Therefore, this is a picture of Christ’s eternal kingship and priesthood.  Nothing will ever supersede him.  Again, Hebrews 7:16 says of Jesus that “he has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life” (Heb. 7:16).

Therefore, there is no fear when Christ shepherds us and rules as our king.  There is safety in foreign territory, even when threats from our enemies abound.  Nothing can take away the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that our Lord Christ has won for you.  Because you are God’s forgiven, baptized, believing people, verse 3 of the Psalm is true for you, too: “Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments.”  With the Holy Spirit empowering us, clothed in the holy garments of Christ’s own righteousness … not our own … we willingly serve our King.

Knowing that our King is risen and ascended, this changes our perspective on our lives in this world, especially when we feel as if we are not risen and ascended but rather sunk down and in the depths.  This is the perspective Paul commends in Colossians 3: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).  Jesus is with us now in the midst of our troubles.  Our old self died in the baptismal waters.  We are covered in Christ.  Now we await the resurrection of all flesh and the visible return of Christ.  On that great day, we will appear with him in glory … the glory he received at his Ascension.

So, as an American, I realize that you might not be all that fond of monarchs.  This whole king and queen thing isn’t quite for you.  But remember … ultimately, you are a citizen of another land, another country, another kingdom.  “Our citizenship is in heaven,” Paul writes in Philippians 3.  “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20).

God save the King?  No.  God IS your King.  He has saved YOU.  And his name is Jesus. 


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