… there was a great King.
As I was preparing for the kids’ holiday program “Knights Of The King”, I became perplexed at the dearth of modern songs concerning Christ as King. I know that musical styles change over time. I know that different spiritual emphases ebb and flow in the life of the church. But the more I thought about it, the more serious it seemed to me.
The word “King” is not quite what it used to be. Our current sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II, for all that she is regal, is not the same thing – and she is the one monarch my generation has seen. In the 70s we used to sing a song in church that ran, “The King is coming, the King is coming; I just heard the trumpet sounding, and now His face I see.” For me as a child (and even these days) it evoked a stirring mix of adulation and anticipation that brought tears to my eyes. C.S. Lewis describes this sensation in That Hideous Strength: “She had (or so she had believed) disliked bearded faces except for old men with white hair. But that was because she had long since forgotten the imagined Arthur of her childhood – and the imagined Solomon too. Solomon – for the first time in many years the bright solar blend of king and lover and magician which hangs about that name stole back upon her mind. For the first time in all those years she tasted the word King itself will all linked associations of battle, marriage, priesthood, mercy and power.”
Where’s the power?
It seems to me (and possibly to Lewis, 50 years ago) that we have diluted the concept of king. A king in medieval, Biblical or prehistoric times was not a ribbon-cutter. More often than not, he was a head-lopper. A king had absolute power over his domain. You didn’t cross him. You didn’t argue with him. Half the time you didn’t raise your eyes in his presence or turn your back on him. You didn’t approach him uninvited. He had got where he was by one of four avenues: military conquest, nepotism, divine appointment, or conspiracy. He was therefore not someone you messed with.
No human king, of course, could have been fully responsible or righteous enough to be worthy of such a position. This is why God preferred Israel, originally, to not have a human king at all; sooner or later their feet of crumbling clay and unyielding iron would spell trouble for those in the steps thereof. The checkered history of our English monarchy is a case in point – and that’s a “Christian” nation!
The Celts apparently believed that as went the king, so went the kingdom. A maimed man could not be a federal head of state; his weakness would manifest itself in the nation’s health. What are we to make of Christ the King, with holes in His hands? He can hold out an iron sceptre in His palm but does not wield a sword in His grip, not even in Revelation (where the sword proceeds from the mouth of the Word of God, the same spoken power that created the cosmos in the first place). The sceptre is for judgment as well as concession. It is an odd coincidence that the sceptre in Esther is held out as a signal of acceptance, for the two terms (French scepter/Greek sceptrun and French accepter/Latin acceptare) do not appear to be etymologically related.
I like the picture Lewis paints in The Horse And His Boy: “For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.”
The title King nowadays has retained all of its fantasy and fairy story associations, of pomp and colour and even nobility, but retained none of the dread, the awe, the reverent obedience, the fear of the Lord. We might think of a Dumbledore-like figure who sits benignly on a gilt chair in an ivory tower, nodding in senile appreciation of some ceremony and has a blonde daughter who can’t spin. Aragorn the active warrior is probably closer to the mark (though cast too young in the movies). The real history of the world is littered with generals and pagans and womanisers and powermongers who all held the title and all fell short of it. Even in the Bible.
What’s extraordinary about our true King is the invitation given in Hebrews 4:16 for us to approach the throne of grace boldly. Boldly? With confidence! Because the Court of Heaven acknowledges the diplomatic immunity afforded us by the blood of Christ. Because our King has lived as one of us and ‘gets’ us. Because there is no axe whistling through the air where your head was two seconds ago. There was one stroke of death dealt for all unworthiness: and it was dealt to the worthiest of all men, once for all. It boggles the mind.
This is a king Who responds not to status but to faith. A safe king, and a deadly one too; for He demands that all of us swear fealty or be left on the losing side by default. You don’t have to scrub up, save up or clamber up. Only believe in His name – His identity – His character – and you’re in! I used to have trouble with U2 singing, as Christians, that they still hadn’t found what they were looking for. But Hebrews 11:16 plainly shows us that we don’t always get, in one lifetime, what we see coming; that we are longing for a better country, a heavenly one, the city where the streets have no name that we haven’t found yet, which waits for us by His good promise. The chapter that extols faith, the faith of people who wait for a promise though it exceeds their lifespan, says that God is not ashamed to be called their God even though they admit freely that they don’t have a place they belong and have not yet received their full inheritance. We’re allowed to be honest. The same Bible that preaches divine healing speaks also of people being sawn in half for His name. We are not home yet. We have come not to a physical mountain filled with either the intimidation of the old covenant or a final inheritance; but to a spiritual one, filled with joy, Jesus Himself, and a new covenant. Something worth climbing, even if we die trying. A King worth living and dying for. A King with no weakness. A stunning King, who gets personally involved in the welfare of His people, who created the ends of the earth, who lives forever and neither slumbers nor sleeps. And He invites us in.
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’”