The return of the King

I gave another sermon yesterday, preaching from Isaiah 9:1-7 f0r Advent. I think this was a little more refined but even reflecting on it, I know I could have made a few more adjustments and streamlined it a bit better. Still, practice is practice and I feel like I am beginning to improve. Next thing, and I believe this is where I will make greater progress as a preacher, is trusting the Holy Spirit more and relying on my notes less.

Introduction

The passage we read tonight from Isaiah is noted by one commentator as being about ‘The Royal Hope’. It’s a piece of scripture that looks forward and declares a light will shine on the land, that the yoke of burden will be broken, that a wonderful child will rule the government in peace, and he will sit on the throne of David. This is an heir to the throne like no other, one that will come forth from the line of David himself to sit on the throne. He will be God’s messiah (anointed one) to the people of Israel.

Preparation for the messiah’s birth is in many respects the reason why we celebrate the season of Advent. I wanted to take a look at what we are preparing for and why. See, Advent is more than the preparation of Christ’s birth. It’s much, much bigger than that. It’s about looking forward. It’s about hope for a world ruled by a just king. Advent is a time when we should be thinking about the kingdom of God to come.

But in order to understand it we need to look at why we need a king, and indeed who that king is. To really appreciate the birth of Jesus we must understand the life of another character in the bible – King David. So what I’d like to do is explain the Importance of David, the Wait for the Heir and the Return of the King.

The King – the importance of David

Now, who is King David and why is he so important? To answer that question we have to take a step back and look at what a king is. Why is a king so important? In fact, in a time where democracy rules, isn’t the idea of a monarchy outdated?

Why a king?

I would argue that today, more than ever, the idea of a good king is craved by people. The desire is all around us. In Australia, people are desperate for strong leadership. We want leaders in society and government we can trust, who have the best interests of the people at heart – leaders that have compassion on the poor and a heart for justice. Tonga is exactly the same. The people want a government and a king that has their best interests at heart. We, as the collective community, have an innate desire for good leadership.

We desire it in every aspect of our life. As workers, we want good managers. As children, we want a good mother and father. As players in a sporting team we want a good captain. We want someone to follow, someone to trust – someone who will never let us down and pick us up when we’re weak. We want this because we know how important it is to our ongoing lives. We know that poor leadership can make life unbearable and oppressive.

Even in a work context there is recognition of how important good leadership is to the success of a business. In the United States, a man named Robert Greenleaf developed a principle of management called ‘servant leadership’. It is based on principles such as listening, empathy, healing, foresight, stewardship, building community and a commitment to the growth of people just to name a few.  In the development of this philosophy, Greenleaf writes:

The servant-leader is servant first… Becoming a servant-leader begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first… The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and the most difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?

Ironically, the major criticism to this particular style of management is ‘There are only a few leaders who can fulfil these attributes.’ So whilst this philosophy has been recognised as one of the most effective styles of management and that employees want this style of manager, it is outside of most manager’s capacity.

On a national level, it’s fair to say that when we search for leadership that impacts how we are allowed to live in the country we reside, we all want a servant leader. We want a servant leader with strength, justice, compassion, kindness, charity, wisdom, foresight, integrity, love. What I want to propose to you that what the bible says that for this kind of leadership we want a king. We want a king that epitomises all these attributes.

In 1 Samuel chapter 2, we find in the prayer of Hannah a remarkable description of the kind of king that Israel wanted. This king ‘raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes… He will guard the feet of his faithful ones.’ (1 Sam 2:8,9). He will be anointed by God and given strength by the LORD. (1 Sam 2:10) Here we find the type of king God desires for His people.

Why David?

If we follow the book of Samuel we are told the role model for that king is David, ‘… a man after God’s own heart.’(1 Sam 13:14) Even today, King David is regarded by Jews as the greatest of the Kings of Israel. So, why is he so special? What is so different about him? In short, it is the character of his heart. In 1 Samuel 16:7 we find one of the most revealing passages in the bible of what God see’s when He looks upon a person when He tells Samuel– ‘… man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.’ This is where the criteria man would use for picking a king differ to the criteria God uses.

In the ancient times, kings were picked on their physical attributes. Saul, Israel’s first king, was a tall man who stood a head above other men so he was an obvious choice as most kings would be required to fight against attacking nations. Even David’s eldest brother was seen by Samuel as the first choice for king due to his stature. But David was a smaller man – a word used to describe David in the Hebrew is smallest, or affectionately the runt, which is why Jesse didn’t bring him forward for Samuel to choose from. Yet at his heart he was a shepherd and this is why David was different. He didn’t meet the expectations of men, but he met the requirement of God.

See, symbol of a shepherd as king was prominent in the Near East at the time of David. People ‘…would readily associate it with gentleness, watchfulness, and concern[1]…’ Many Near Eastern rulers would refer to themselves as a ‘shepherd’, ‘Since it is the shepherd’s task to lead, feed, and heed his flock, [so] the shepherd metaphor was a happy choice for benevolent rulers and grateful people alike… [2]This is what God wanted in a king – someone to embody the characteristics of faithfulness, justice and loving kindness to his people, like a shepherd would his flock.

David did this. He was the paradigm of the shepherd-king. All of Israel and Judah loved him (1 Sam 18:16), because he embodied the characteristics we want in a king. David was a man who would tend to his people like a shepherd tended his flock, who would protect and lead his people against enemy nations like a shepherd would protect his flock from predators.

This is why David is different, and this why he is so highly regarded. He is the pin-up boy for ancient kings and God was with him in all He did. He defeated the enemies of Israel and led the kingdom into a period of prosperity. He was a restless fighter for the interests of his people.

The Heir – The wait for the Heir

So when Isaiah prophesies that the messiah will sit on the throne of David, over his whole kingdom and rule it for eternity – you can understand why they were looking forward to his coming. Add to this the time that Isaiah was prophesying, which was when the Assyrians were ravaging the Judean countryside, and the prospect of a king like David, who would lead them to victory, would have been a tantalising prospect for the Jews.

It’s clear from the scripture that the type of king the messiah will be is nothing short of extraordinary. People also knew that God would provide this ruler since God made a covenant with David stating He will raise up a child from David and His kingdom and throne would go on evermore (2 Sam 7:12-16). So when a young, pregnant couple rock up to Bethlehem one night, the home town of David himself, and a little boy is born at the back of an inn, I doubt the Jews would have thought this was the birth of the heir to their greatest king. Once again, it seems like mans criteria for a king and messiah is far different to God’s criteria.

See, Jesus, like David, was not what they were looking for. He didn’t meet the expectations of a king like they wanted. Even though Joseph was in the line of David, they didn’t consider the little boy in a manger, born about 2000 years ago, to be the true Son of David.

They were looking for a warrior king to liberate them from the Roman oppression; what they considered the yoke of their burden and their oppressor. Instead, they get an itinerant, homeless, healing rabbi that was more interested in giving to the sick and the poor. In 8 of the 9 cases where Jesus is called the Son of David in Matthew’s gospel it is at a time corresponding to a healing Jesus has accomplished (Matt 9:27; 15:22; 20:30-31; 12:23; 21:9, 15). Why? He was caring for them like a shepherd cares for his sheep. He was ‘raising the poor up from the dust, lifting the needy from the ash heap.’ He was serving them. And they knew! The people knew, because they kept asking ‘Could this be the Son of David?’ They knew this was the messiah because He showed the attributes of David in the way He cared for the people. But He didn’t just show the attributes of David. He superseded them. He was the greater David.

When Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew He wasn’t just declaring some pious attitude. No, He was declaring the nature of His kingdom. He was telling the people the type of king He would be – Blessed be the poor, blessed be those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied. This isn’t some ethical statement that is meant to give the poor a boost in confidence; it’s Jesus’ declaration of who He would honour as king.

In John 8 Jesus states ‘I am the light of the world’, which echoes Isaiah 9:2. In Matthew 28 Jesus says the authority on heaven and earth is given to Him, echoing Isaiah 9:6-7. And then when Jesus enters Jerusalem, proclaimed as the Son of David, He rides on a donkey. What type of king does that! Where’s the fanfare, the parades? I’ll tell you the type of king who does that – one who tells His subject ‘The Son of Man came to serve, not be served.’ Jesus is the servant-king. The king who washes the feet of his disciples, even the one who is in just a few hours going to betray him. But as the heir to David there was one last thing for Him to do – He needed to break the rod of our oppressor.

There’s a story I heard a pastor once tell about a woman who came to his church. She had been working in a firm that was very demanding on its employees but needed the job. She was given a task by her boss to complete while in the initial stages of her employment there. This task was quite important but unfortunately she failed in such a way as she could have been released from her contract. But to her incredible surprise her boss told his superiors the he had been the one to fail the task.

This woman was quite shocked at what he had done and not long after the event she asked her boss why he did it. Her boss explained to her that he knew she would get fired if he didn’t take the blame but he knew that he had enough good standing in the firm that he decided to take the blame instead, knowing he wouldn’t be fired. But the woman, believing there was more, persisted in her line of questioning before finally the man caved in and told her the real reason. He told her he was a Christian and he believed in serving those who needed his help and he knew that substituting himself for her to prevent her getting fired was the best way he could serve her.

This example is a shadow of what Jesus Christ did on the cross for us. The only way that we could be reconciled to God was for the King to go to the Cross. The one enemy that David couldn’t conquer, that no human king can overcome, the enemy of death, was defeated on Calvary when Christ took the hit we deserved. And finally, the rod of our oppressor, sin and death, was broken.

The one thing we couldn’t do ourselves, the removal of sin and reconciliation to God, was done by the one who didn’t have to do it.

The promise of return – The return of the King

When we consider the type of king Jesus is, it’s hard not to look around at life and think ‘I really wish He was here now.’ We have famine, civil rights issues, wars, natural disasters, tyrannical leadership and a world that is crying out for someone to lead us out of this mess. Think about it, we live in a world that is cracked by sin. It’s not the way it should be. We all want justice but it is served out sparingly. We want strong leadership yet cannot find men and women who embody this leadership in. We want the perfect leader yet none are around.

We want the hero of the story to ride in and save us.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece ‘The Lord of the Rings’, there’s a scene at the climax of the second book where the Battle of Helms Deep is being fought. In the book the battle is being lost and the forces of evil are overtaking the fortress. At the last possible moment, however, salvation arrives as Gandalf the White crests the hill overlooking the battle – a white rider with the saving force behind him. In a stirring scene, Gandalf and his army rush down and sweep away the enemy and save the day.

Tolkien’s scene is an enduring image of what we want and how we feel. We live in a world that is struggling under the weight of sin and we desire someone to rise up and correct the wrongs in the world, to serve the people in righteousness. We want a victorious king to save the day.

In Revelation we find that king. Revelation 19 tells us about a White Rider called ‘faithful and true’ who is righteous. On His robe and on His thigh He has written the ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’. His name is ‘The Word of God’ and this chapter describes the return of the King. Jesus will sit on the white throne, David’s throne, and rule over His kingdom with justice and righteousness from this time forth and evermore. He will bring to fulfilment Isaiah’s prophesy.

A black Baptist preacher, S. M. Lockridge, once delivered a famous sermon describing Jesus as king, saying ‘He’s incomprehensible. He’s invincible. He’s irresistible. The heavens of heavens can’t contain Him, let alone some man explain Him. You can’t get Him out of your mind. You can’t get Him off of your hands. You can’t outlive Him and you can’t live without Him. The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him, but they found out they couldn’t stop Him. Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him. The witnesses couldn’t get their testimonies to agree about Him. Herod couldn’t kill Him. Death couldn’t handle Him and the grave couldn’t hold Him. That’s my King.’

This is what Advent is about. It’s about waiting for the birth of Jesus, but it is also looking forward to the return of the King. As we dwell on this, as we consider its meaning, we come to realise that this is a king who has done it all for us.

Listen, we live in light of the return of the king, oh boy, it will change our entire life. This is the hope that nobody, not even death can steal from you. This is service to a King who serves us. This is a life in a righteous kingdom of no end. The more we see this, the more our heart is set on the hope of His return, it will change the very way you live. You’ll serve people different; you’ll live for treasure that makes the gold in this world seem very dull. This is a hope that not even death can take away from you because death is no longer the end.

When our hearts behold Jesus as king in the way the bible presents it, it will humble and embolden you. It will humble you because the greatest king in the history of the universe left His heavenly throne to serve mankind. It means the greatest served the least, and so our lives should be lived in this light.

But it will also embolden you because we have the king above all kings as our Lord. We can boast in the power of Jesus Christ as the salvation of mankind. We can fight for the rights of others knowing they deserve the kingship of Jesus Christ. And it is in this way that the Gospel changes the lives of the people in this world. In this way we will live as a light unto others.

This is what we can look forward to. This is the kingdom we are assured is coming. This is what can change our life and the lives of others as we  live in anticipation of the return of the king. As the old hymn by Charles Horne goes:

Sing we the King Who is coming to reign,
Glory to Jesus, the Lamb that was slain.
Life and salvation His empire shall bring,
Joy to the nations when Jesus is King.


[1] Youngblood, R. F. (1992). 1, 2 Samuel. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 3: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (850). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[2] Youngblood, R. F. (1992). 1, 2 Samuel. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 3: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (850). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

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About Drew

Trying to walk in line with the truth of the Gospel
This entry was posted in Musings and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The return of the King

  1. Jenny Larkin says:

    I LOVE that quote by Lockridge!!! I’ve never read that before – it brought me to tears!

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