More Reflections on Christ the King

[Shared as a devotion with the LCMS Board of Directors, November 22, 1963.]

Where were you 50 years ago this past weekend? Do you remember? Anyone old enough will remember the assassination of President John Kennedy November 22, 1963. Personally, being in 5th grade at the time, I remember coming in from recess to see all the girls in my class crying and the boys in stunned silence.

It was one of the shared experiences of our generation. It marked for many the death of the care-free 50s and the beginning spasm of the 60s. It was when many my age first realized the world is broken. Two other people died that same day, November 22, 1963, as well: C.S. Lewis, beloved Christian writer and Aldus Huxley, author of Brave New World. These two could not have had more different explanations of the world’s brokenness: Lewis, whose writings explained the Christian faith for many, and Huxley, who rejected God because God got in the way of what he wanted to do.

If you were God, how would you go about redeeming a broken world? How would you respond to a world of sinners? Who want to go their own way even if it leads to death? How would you save people from a culture that often sees death as a solution, even celebrates it?

If God can do anything He wants, why doesn’t He just, with a wave of the hand, put an end to all the evil in the world? All the sin and death with a snap of the finger? But if we are honest with ourselves, we also have to admit that, if He did, that would also put an end to me, to you.

Yes, God can do anything. “He does all that He pleases” the Psalm says (115:3). But one thing God will not do is go against His nature, His own person. God is just and cannot abide sin. God is love, pure love, and hates nothing He has made. And the mystery of both, God’s justice and God’s love, come together and are revealed in Christ, on His cross.

For Christ is King, from the cross. Read Luke chapter 23 to see it in full, in what He says and what He does. They nail Him up, but He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Of course, in their not knowing, they mock Him. Pontius Pilate, in his not knowing, ridicules Him and mocks the whole Jewish nation he has been sent to rule, with his inscription, “This Is the King of the Jews!” (Luke 23:38). The people and the soldiers do the same: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Luke 23:37).

But amazingly, one of the criminals was led to see through the mocking all the way to the truth, to catch a glimpse of the real nature of Jesus’ kingdom, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom,” your rule (Luke 23:42).

Here is the true King, the one in whom “all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Here is where Jesus rules, from the cross. Here is the mystery of God’s love revealed, and God’s justice satisfied, here in Christ the King, on the cross.

Here is God’s true response to the evil of sin, to the brokenness of suffering and death. He comes! He comes into our flesh. He comes to take it all into Himself, for us.

No, this is not some sort of divine child abuse, as some would have it, but this is the deepest love of all, as the beloved Lenten hymn, “O Dearest Jesus” will show it:

What punishment so strange is suffered yonder
The Shepherd dies for sheep who loved to wander,
The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him,
Who would not know Him.

The sinless Son of God must die in sadness,
The sinful child of man may live in gladness,
Man forfeited his life, and is acquitted,
God is committed. (LSB 439, st. 4-5)

So here is our King. King Jesus from the cross, who has reconciled to Himself all things – even me, even you! – making peace by the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20). For when we, like the thief on the cross next to Jesus, recognize our desperate need for Him, we also say, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” your rule. And He promises, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Today, you are mine, and I forgive you, He says. I have suffered your suffering and died your death. I will heal your brokenness, for I am the “first born from the dead” (Colossians 1:18), for you. I have you now. You are with Me, He says, and I am your King.

+ Herbert Mueller
LCMS First Vice President