Sunday, November 26, 2017
It was one of those events that you can never forget. A skyscraper being built. Hundreds of people stopped by every day to look up at it. One day they watched as a giant metal beam was being raised so it could be placed high on the enormous steel skeleton. And then something occurred. As the girder came close, a man leaned out from the sixteenth floor to grab it. You could hear the crowd gasp as he lost his balance and fell. Fortunately, he was able to catch the end of the giant beam with both his arms and his legs.
The crane operator stopped lifting so the man could hold on, but the man's weight on one end started to tilt the beam, if it kept going that way he would lose his grip and fall to his death.
Just when all seemed lost, something else happened that seemed almost miraculous. Without thinking, another worker on the same floor, seeing his friend in trouble, jumped through space and landed on the other end of the girder, where his weight leveled the beam. The crowd went wild as both men were safely lowered to the street.
It pays to have a friend in high places, doesn’t it? Someone who’ll literally risk his life to save yours? Of course, it pays to have friends in high places, even if they never risk much in your behalf. What is it we say? It’s not what you know, it’s who you know that counts.
A little boy came home from the playground with a bloody nose, a black eye, and torn clothes. It was obvious he’d been in a fight and lost. While his father was patching him up, he asked his son what happened. Well, Dad, I challenged Larry to a duel, and I gave him his choice of weapons. Uh-huh, said the father, that seems fair. I know, the boy said, but I never thought he’d choose his big brother! You know where I’m heading, don’t you? Thank God, we have a big brother! Thank God, we have a Friend in the highest place possible.
Today is the last Saturday/Sunday in the church year. Next Saturday/Sunday, the First Saturday/Sunday in Advent, begins a new calendar for the church year. Next week we begin preparing to celebrate Christ’s birth; then, in the following months, we move through His life, death and resurrection, then to His ascension to be with the Father, then the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church; then we have the Sundays following Pentecost. Which again brings us this point when we’re about to begin the cycle all over again. Now this Saturday/Sunday is referred to as Christ the King Saturday/Sunday [or the Reign of Christ] and it’s the climax all that Christ means to us, we celebrate His exalted role at the right hand of the Father, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:21).
In other words, we have a big brother, or, better yet, a Friend in the highest regions of heaven. Garth Brooks sang about having friends in low places, which, of course, is what country music is all about. But you and I have a friend in the highest place possible, at the right hand of God.
Today, I want to focus for just a few moments on why Jesus is so important to us. I'm not sure if you’re aware of this, but that there are two hundred and fifty-six names given for Jesus in the Bible. It’s because Christ is infinitely beyond all that any one name could express. I could never in one sermon explore all the greatness of Christ, but, for a few moments, I want to focus on the most critical reasons we celebrate the coming of Christ into our world.
First, we celebrate Christ as our King because He reveals to us the very nature of God. He reveals that nature in His teaching, and He reveals that nature in His own life.
The Hebrew Bible uses beautiful, poetic language to describe the majesty of God. But did you know, Jesus was the first person to actually call God Abba, Father? As you know, Abba is translated as a term of intimacy, Daddy. Jesus would pray, Abba, Father.
There’s no example of the use of ‘Abba’ as an address to God in any of the prayer-literature of Judaism. There’s no record of somebody doing that before Jesus did. The Hebrew Bible tells us many wonderful things about God, but it never calls God Abba. Only Christ was that daring. He taught us that God is like a loving Father who never turns His back on His children. Indeed, because of Jesus we’ve come to know that God’s very nature is love. If we understood God’s character in the Old Testament, there would’ve been no need for Christ. But God’s character in the Old Testament is mixed. In some places, He’s a tender shepherd, but, in other places, He calls for innocent people to be slaughtered. Christ’s life and teachings present a different kind of God altogether. We see in Christ’s life and death; an agape love, love that’s unconditional and never-ending. And He even makes this statement; anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father (John 14:9).
Back in the sixties my brother and I were a part of The University of Minnesota’s study of identical twins. I learned one specific segment of this study focused on twins separated at birth. Though separated for thirty to forty years, they were still alike in many ways, for example in the way they reacted to smoke; the way they crossed their legs; the similarity of their toothpaste. One set of these twins separated at birth even used the same rare cologne from England.
The physiologist who directed this study drew his conclusions by taking readings of their responses. He found that their reactions to stimuli were identical. The twins listened to symphonies and their responses were the same. Their brains responded the same. The twins had the same genes; the same chromosomes; after being separated for thirty to forty years, they were still very much alike.
We then can make this observation: what the Bible is saying is that Jesus is identical to the Father. Christ is the same substance of the Father, the same nature. If you want to know what the Father is like, look at the genetic reproduction of the Son. That’s the first reason we celebrate Christ the King [the Reign of Christ] Sunday. Christ revealed to us the nature of God.
But there’s another reason this day is so important to us: In His death on the cross Christ made it possible for us to have new life in Him. He died that we may live.
Sometimes we question just how Christ’s death on the cross covers our sins. I have heard many a confirmand ask that question and even some lifelong members. And I have read many theologians that have their own theories. But this we do know: God’s grace and forgiveness are at the very heart of the Gospel. Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 15: But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
Christ not only revealed to us the nature of God, but in His death on the cross Christ made it possible for us to have new life in Him. When we stand at the foot of the cross and look at His hands and feet which were punctured in our behalf, we know just how much God loves us and we’re led to live for Him.
But one thing more needs to be said: Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ is our constant companion today as we seek to live for Him.
A man worked in New York City for many years. During this time, he used his office to counsel with people who were struggling with their faith. Often, they walk from his office down to the RCA Building on Fifth Avenue. In the entrance of that building is a gigantic statue of Atlas. He describes this portrayal of Atlas as a beautifully proportioned man who, with all his muscles straining, is holding the world upon his shoulders. There he is, the most powerfully built man in the world, and he can barely stand up under this burden. Now that’s one way to live, trying to carry the world on your shoulders. But now come across the street with me.
They would then walk across Fifth Avenue to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. There behind the altar of that church is a little shrine of the boy Jesus, perhaps eight or nine years old, and with no effort He is holding the world in one hand. His point was illustrated graphically.
We have a choice, we can carry the world on our shoulders, or we can say, I give up, Lord; here’s my life. I give You my world, the whole world.
What a simple but beautiful reminder of a choice we make every day, to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders or to yield that burden to our friend who sits at the right hand of God.
Phil Rizzuto was the shortstop for the New York Yankees in the forties and fifties. In one game Rizzuto jogged out to his position in the top of the ninth inning, with the Yankees behind 9-0. Before the opposing team came to bat, Rizzuto turned away momentarily, too disappointed to look. It was at that moment that he saw the great Joe DiMaggio in center field. Immediately Rizzuto said, we’re going to win this game. All it took was knowing that Joe DiMaggio was on his team that gave Rizzuto the confidence to play on.
Knowing that Jesus is on our side should be enough to make us winners in the game of life. We have a champion, a big brother, a friend in high places who will accompany us into any battle, help us carry any burden, even give His life for us. Don’t give in or give up. After all, you have a friend in the highest of all places. His name? Jesus the Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.