Reflection by Revd Simon Aley
Loving the King of Love
Just sometimes don’t you want to hug the compilers of the Lectionary (although we cannot because of COVID!) for combining 3 Scriptural passages together so well? These three readings are an example of that.
I suggest we start in the middle with Ephesians – the promise of the glory that is to come because of your faith in Christ the King; your hearts enlightened to know what is the glorious hope, the riches of His glorious inheritance and the immeasurable greatness of His power. Not just for this age but the age to come. Note the validation of entitlement in verse 1; a) faith in the Lord and b) love the believers have for the saints, the haggios, the holy ones, the elect, who themselves are inheritors of this great reward. For Paul as also with Jesus, love in action clearly flows from faith.
Let us next turn to Ezekiel and that pastoral image of the King caring for His sheep. Note here, how God takes on the role of shepherd personally; “I myself” in verses 11 and 15 + 9 other personal pronouns in 5 verses! The King acts like a shepherd, an often-despised individual in Biblical times, who did not keep feasts, go to Church or Bible study and worked on the Sabbath! The very same image that Christ the King ascribes to himself in John 10 and in the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew 18, demonstrating the love that He has for each of us. No wonder the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy. Except that as we now know, there was no blasphemy because Jesus is Lord as well as King. When God says in verse 24, that he will set up His servant David as the one shepherd, God is neither contradicting himself, abdicating His role as shepherd nor referring specifically to King David, who has long been and gone. He is referring to the second person of the Trinity. This is a messianic prophecy, given a regal tone by reference to David, of whose line Jesus is adopted through Joseph. It also is a warning, to be the right sort of sheep. The distinction is made between lean and fat sheep, but it is really a judgement on the behaviour of those fat sheep who push and but the weaker sheep.
From these two passages, we see a picture of love of the King to those who have faith in Him and love His saints; a love promised and demonstrated by God in sending His Son and how we should respond.
Now we can turn to Matthew and we should start to see similarities with the other texts in this apocalyptic passage. Jesus is leaving his hearers in no doubt who He is. When the Son of Man comes in his glory, with his angels, he will sit on his throne. No doubt again who this is – Jesus is Lord as well as King. Like a shepherd He divides the flock, here sheep and goats, the sheep to the right and goats to the left. We can see where this is going; we know we want to be on the right. But, whether sheep or goats, neither can understand when it was, they saw Christ the King hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, a stranger or imprisoned? The dispute of the hearers is not their destinies, which are vastly different but what they missed seeing. The King answers, when you responded to the least of those who are members of my family (verse 40) you responded to me. Well that is a bit of a shock? No as we have seen, Scripture has been pointing in that direction for centuries. How God cares for His elect, His holy ones, His saints – All saints, greatest and least and how the believers should respond.
On the whole, I have not missed hymn singing this year as much as I thought I would but when we come to this season, the absence is felt more and it starts with the feast of Christ the King. As an admirer of Isaac Watts (perhaps a lingering Congregational trait!); this Sunday might have been the opportunity to sing “Jesus shall reign wher’er the sun”. Even if we could, we probably would not have sung all the 14 verses, Watts wrote! We would not have sung:
The Sceptre will become His hands
All Heav’n submits to His commands
His justice shall avenge the poor
And pride and rage prevail no more
God’s justice is borne of His love for the poor and we, who love God, reflect His love to us on to others. So, should we be making a list, brushing up our CV for God? On an individual basis, no, a) because God knows already and b) because our inheritance is not dependent on our works but on God’s grace. Because we love God, we will willingly welcome, clothe, visit, and offer food and drink to Christ the King by providing for the needs of His subjects, His saints. Collectively we should be ready to demonstrate our love for God in action. This revelation of Jesus is a very public affair with all the nations gathered before Christ the King (Matthew 25:32) and this leads to a verse from another Isaac Watts hymn, sung every year, leaving to poor Isaac spinning in his Walthamstow grave(!) as we treat it as a carol:
He rules the world with truth and grace
And bids the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
Jesus says in John 14:15 “If you love me you will keep my commandments” – because we love we obey and Christ’s second commandment is “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) and now we know who our neighbour is and what to do about it as loyal subjects of Christ the King.