A Stand in for Royalty / Last Sunday of the Church Year

John 18:39-37

Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

I don’t know what you plan on doing when you turn 95 years old. Have you given it much thought? I think I’ll be glad to just get out of bed and eat a nice meal and spend some time with people I love. I don’t think I’ll need an alarm clock or a daily schedule to keep up with all my activities. I’m pretty sure I won’t be as busy as Queen Elizabeth II. Her Royal Highness attends over 400 events each year, including meetings, ceremonies, presentations, receptions and charity events. That’s more than one official event each day, 365 days each year. I get tired just thinking about it. And Queen Elizabeth is 95 years old. So, it makes perfect sense that her majesty has an official stand-in to help her out.

Ella who just coincidentally was from Pontypool, Wales, was chosen in the 1980s to serve as Queen Elizabeth’s stand-in for royal dress rehearsals. Official receptions and ceremonies require a lot of planning and practice to ensure that every detail of the event is perfect. Queen Elizabeth is too busy to spend all day at dress rehearsals, so Ella serves as her stand-in for these practice runs.

How did she get such an exclusive job? Ella was working for the British Broadcasting Corporation when they were preparing to film a national memorial service. Queen Elizabeth was undergoing the dress rehearsal for that day’s ceremony and the sun kept getting in her eyes. The members of the stage crew offered to help, but they were all men around 6 feet tall. A BBC producer spotted her, who is only 5 feet tall, two inches shorter than the Queen. she was more than happy to serve as the Queen’s stand-in for the rehearsal and has served in that role ever since.

She doesn’t receive any pay for her service, but she doesn’t mind. It’s an honor to serve the Queen. And one of the fringe benefits of her job is the opportunity to meet members of the royal family and ride in the Queen’s carriage. However, she isn’t allowed to sit on the throne.

Can you imagine serving as a stand-in for royalty? Ella doesn’t get to participate in the exciting parts of the events. She only gets to stand in place, walk from spot to spot, smile and occasionally wave to crowds. It’s her job to ensure that when the Queen arrives for the official event, everything is well-organized and running smoothly.

As Christians we could claim to be official “stand-ins” for royalty too, couldn’t we? We’re representatives of the King of kings, Jesus Christ, in this world. However, we need to do a lot more than stand in one place, smile and wave in order to represent Him. What does it mean to represent the King of kings and Lord of lords in our world today? That’s what we want to explore this morning.

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church year, sometimes called the Reign of Christ. The Church year begins with a baby born in the little town of Bethlehem and ends with the King of kings and Lord of lords sitting on the throne of the universe. Whoever would’ve thought that a baby born in a stable in a little out-of-the-way town would one day become proclaimed as the King of kings?

Even today we struggle with Jesus’ identity. It’s unbelievable that the Almighty God would give up His Heavenly Throne to take on human flesh and human weakness and human struggles. I found this thought-provoking piece titled “They Missed Him!” that could easily apply to us today. Here are just a few quotes from it:

They were looking for a Lion, He came as a Lamb, and they missed Him.

They were looking for a Warrior, He came as a Peacemaker, and they missed Him.

They were looking for a King, He came as a Servant, and they missed Him.

They were looking for liberation from Rome, He submitted to the Roman cross, and they missed Him.

They were looking for a fit to their mold, He was the mold maker, and they missed Him.

What are you looking for?

Lion? Warrior? King? Liberator?

. . . He came as a Lamb to be sacrificed for your sin. Will you miss Him?

He came to make peace between God and man. Will you miss Him?

He came to model servanthood for all mankind.  Will you miss Him?  . . .

He came that we might have true Liberty. Will you miss Him?

He came to give you eternal life. Will you miss Him?

When we submit to the Lamb, we will meet the Lion.

Join with the Peacemaker and we will meet the Warrior.

Work with the Servant and we will meet the King . . .”

And that’s what I hope for us today, that we meet the King, Jesus Christ. Throughout history there were people who met Jesus face-to-face, yet they still dismissed or rejected Him. They saw His love. They heard His message of truth. And they refused to believe in Him because He wasn’t what they were expecting. How sad is that? To stand in the presence of the Way, the Truth and the Life, and to miss Him.

It was Pontius Pilate, who first asked Jesus, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

Jesus obviously convinced him that He was. Because we often see engraved on crosses the letters INRI. They stand for IESUS NAZARENUS REX IUDAEORUM, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. These were the words that Pilate ordered written at the top of Jesus’ cross. Pilate could have ordered these words in sarcasm. We don’t know what was in his heart. We do know what was in the hearts of the disciples though. There was no sarcasm. Peter would write later in his epistle, “We actually saw His majesty with our own eyes” (II Peter 1:16ff). That word majesty means “superbness, magnificence, glory, splendor or mighty power.” Wow! You can feel Peter’s excitement leap off the page when you read those words. And yet Pilate stood in Jesus’ presence and . . . missed it.

Let’s not forget that our response to Jesus doesn’t change the truth of who He is. Peter and the disciples stood in awe of His majesty. Pilate stood in contempt of His message. And whether we accept Him or reject Him today, neither response changes the truth that Jesus is who He says He is, the King of the world.

What does it mean to say that Christ is King of this world? Doesn’t it say that this is an unfinished world? This world is certainly not the kind of world Christ desires. So, what kind of world does Christ desire? What would His finished world look like? We can see the answer in His actions and teachings while He walked on this earth. Imagine a world where truly a rich man throws a party and invites the outcasts of society to come and enjoy his bounty. Imagine a world where a Samaritan goes out of his way to help the man who held him in contempt. Imagine a world where a son, who walks away from his family and curses his father’s name, is welcomed back with open arms. That’s what the kingdom of God looks like. That’s what Jesus the King came to establish.

This world is an unfinished world. But why did Jesus leave it unfinished? Why is it unfinished? It is because the world is made up of people, and people are unfinished. If I were to ask you to whistle a few bars of the song “Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding, could you do it? Even though the song came out in 1968, it’s still popular today.

If you know the song, then you know the last few seconds of the song just feature Redding whistling the tune until the song fades away. Did you know that Redding never intended to finish the song that way? He had planned to record some final lyrics to end the song. Sadly, he died in a plane crash in December 1967 and never had the chance to record the final lyrics. It was released in January 1968. It won two Grammys and ranks at #21 on the list of top songs of the 20th century as chosen by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America.

Ordinarily, unfinished work is unintentional. But we are an unfinished people, and that was Jesus’ plan all along. It wasn’t a mistake. He didn’t run out of time. Jesus returned to the Father, but He left behind the Holy Spirit to work in us to conform us to the image of God. And as we do the work that Jesus left us here to do, the work of bringing the kingdom of God on earth, we will grow in our love for God, and people will see the image of God in our actions. But God promises all throughout the Old and New Testaments that He is doing something new in His people. He is making us into a new creation (II Corinthians 5: 17). And the clincher is found in this promise from Philippians 1: 6: And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

This is an unfinished world, and we are unfinished people. Even at our best we are not all that Christ intends for us to be. But listen: Into this unfinished world has come the King of kings.

God had a plan for this world before it was ever created. He had always planned to return and redeem it. Whenever world events look desperate and hopeless, we remember that the King of kings came into this world with a message of hope and life, and He will come again to establish His Kingdom someday. He will reach us in time.

We are those who have been called to bring it to completion. This isn’t to say that the kingdom of God will be brought in by our efforts. It’s Christ who builds the kingdom, but He builds it through those who are receptive to His word. That’s you and me.

Christ needs people who are willing and able. And the ironic thing is that when we set aside our desires to His desire, when we enlist as privates in His army, when we serve as priests in His temple, which is the world, when we give ourselves in His service, it is then that we are lifted up. In losing ourselves we find ourselves. That’s the nature of His kingdom.

This is an unfinished world. But into this unfinished world came the King of kings. He made the ultimate sacrifice in our behalf. And now He has commissioned us to be soldiers in His army. Priests in His ministry. We are stand-ins for the King. And His question to us today is, I did the work I was sent to do. Now what are you going to do? Until He returns in His glory to finish the work, it’s our responsibility to see that this unfinished world becomes the kingdom over which He can reign forever.