Jesus lifted up his eyes, and saw a large crowd coming towards him.
Today we have come to the end of the Church year.
Our readings this morning are a kind of summing up of the year and a looking forward to the year to come.
As we go through each Church year, we are meant to come to a certain conclusion about who Jesus is. In most modern lectionaries the Church celebrates this Sunday as Christ the King – a festival instituted by Pope Pious XI in 1925. But the traditional lectionary, which we use, speaks of the culmination of the year as an understanding of Jesus fulfilling the threefold offices of Prophet, Priest and King.
Martine, mother of Eleonore who has just been baptized, has agreed to lead us through the Heidelberg Catechism, God willing, on the 9th of February next year in our Christian Classics Study Group (more information to come!). In this Catechism, which is one of the foundational catechisms in the Dutch Reformed Tradition, there are a series of questions and answers. Here is one of them (Lord’s Day 12, Question and Answer 31):
Question: Why is (Jesus) called “Christ,” meaning “anointed”?
Answer: Because he has been ordained by God the Father and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit to be:
our chief prophet and teacher who perfectly reveals to us the secret counsel and will of God for our deliverance;
our only high priest who has set us free by the one sacrifice of his body, and who continually pleads our cause with the Father;
and our eternal king who governs us by his Word and Spirit, and who guards us and keeps us in the freedom he has won for us.
Why do we need a Prophet, a Priest and King?
Why do we need a Prophet? Jesus is our chief prophet and teacher who perfectly reveals to us the secret counsel and will of God for our deliverance.
It is evident that we cannot naturally see clearly the truth about who God is – we can learn a lot naturally with our eyes from observing the beauty of the Creation around and in the wonder of human fellowship. Human beings by their very nature desire to know, says the pagan philosopher Aristotle. And we see it in the world around us – this incredible searching into the nature of things, in the sciences, and in the arts and literature and in religions a striving in many different ways to know God. When people leave the Christian faith or choose to reject it, they do not stop their searching and seeking to know.
Some of you, like me, may have had the experience of leaving the Church at an earlier age and of following a false teacher, and then stumbling again upon the words of Jesus and knowing a kind of rest and refreshment in the clarity and certainty that his words bring to guide us out of the muddle. Not words that end the search, but begin to lead us to search in the right direction and in the right way – so that our search bears fruit as Wisdom drops on us from above – real change in the way we see the created world and our place in it, and then in the way we live, which in turn leads us to see ever more clearly the Creation and to catch glimpses of the Creator Himself.
All people are looking for an authoritative Word, one that can be trusted. In the Old Testament, the Prophets declare they have heard a Word from God, Listen to the Word of the Lord. Jesus declares himself to be that Word made flesh [St John 1:14], No man has ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. [John 3:13]
In the Gospel this morning [St John 6:5-14], when the people saw the sort of miracles that Jesus performed and the Words that he declared powerfully, authoritatively, in a way that struck them at their heart (“No one ever spoke like this man!” [St John 7:46]) – they were convinced, “This is indeed that Prophet who is to come into the world!” The One promised by Moses [Deuteronomy 18:15-19], the One promised by the prophets of old, the One who sets us in the right direction and makes us dig deeper and deeper into all the Truth.
Jesus satisfies like no other our intellect, our need to know, opening the eyes of the blind to see. [e.g. Isa 42:7, St John 9]
Why do we need a King? Jesus is our eternal king who governs us by his Word and Spirit, and who guards us and keeps us in the freedom he has won for us.
What happens when there is a vacuum of leadership on earth? Anarchy, a chaos, every person for himself, the breakdown of society, and often then the promise of restoration through some tyrant, whose rule seems to always lead to a worse state. We know that good government of society leads to it to freedom the opposite to a binding and enslavement. But forget about the leadership externally, there is Proverb that says, it is better for a man to rule his own soul, than it is to conquer a city. [Proverbs 16:32] Who will save us from the disorder, the chaos, the anarchy within ourselves? [Romans 7]
Jeremiah (23:5-8), like the other prophets, promise,
Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will raise to David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgement and justice in the earth.
Jesus promises that if we love him, we will follow his commandments, his rule, the law of Christ, and he will send us His Spirit who will both show us His way and strengthen our wills to follow ever more closely in the way that leads to freedom and flourishing, to guard us from temptation, to keep us stedfast, all the way into His Kingdom. We need to depend less and less on external rules to restrain us and redirect us to do the right thing, Jesus promises us His Spirit to enjoy His rule and His freedom.
Jesus perfects like no other our will, our ability to act, enabling the lame to walk. [e.g. Isa 35:5; Mark 2:1-12, Matt 11:5]
Why do we need a priest? Jesus has set us free by the one sacrifice of his body, and who continually pleads our cause with the Father;
There is not a society on earth that does not seek some kind of intercessor to reconcile us to the powers of nature or of the higher realms or to reconcile us to one another and to ourselves. We live in a fallen world, and forgiveness and showing mercy are the only ways to get ourselves out of our muddles. How can we reconcile ourselves with God when we find it almost impossible to reconcile ourselves with others and with our own souls?
The Gospel today (St John 6:5-14) is one of the miraculous feedings, in this case about 5000 people. Jesus miraculously feeds all the people from 5 barley loaves and 2 small fish.
Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.
Jesus does this miracle of feeding the people as a foretaste and pointing to the giving of Himself for the life of the world – I am the bread of life, he says, whoever comes to me will never hunger, whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
To eat His flesh and drink His blood, the spiritual food he gives us, assures us of our perfect reconciliation with God His Father [St John 6:52-59], and we are assured that his mercy will follow us all the days of our life. [Psalm 23:6]
We don’t have to prove ourselves to others to be reconciled, we don’t need to forever strive to make up for our past failings, and we are free to share the mercy we know from God with others, to bring the reconciliation we know first with God to the whole world, and to the relationships that have been broken right in front of our eyes [2 Corinthians 5:11-21].
Jesus brings us true peace, with God, within ourselves, and, in time, with others. He makes possible the infilling of our souls with his Spirit, that our whole being might be infused and set on fire with Love. [e.g. John 14:26; Romans 5:5]
This morning Eleonore has been baptised – we believe she has been made a member of Christ, a child of God and an inheritor of eternal life.
She and all of us share in this threefold identity of Christ as prophet, priest and king.
We are all prophets like John the Baptist, you, child shall be called a prophet of the highest, you shall go before the face of the Lord to prepare his way… [Luke 1:76f] We are meant to help others in their blindness to see – prophets. We are “a royal priesthood”, kingly that is, all given a noble spirit, such dignity in our restored humanity, that we can provide leadership in the world, by grace, ruling ourselves first, guiding in humility our friends and family, challenging governments where our laws are unjust, and St Paul says we are even to judge angels! [1 Corinthians 6:3] – we are kings. And we participate in Christ’s priesthood, here to intercede for others, blessing others, with a ministry of reconciliation, peacemakers, offering ourselves as living sacrifices – priests of the Most High God!
May Eleonore be blessed and grow in grace by the help of her parents and godmother, her family and friends and Christians of whatever denomination whom she will meet throughout her lifetime on earth, to know herself in Christ – a prophet, priest and king, under Jesus our perfect Prophet, Priest and King!
Let us now be fed by Jesus, let us now enter into His rest, and then, renewed and refreshed by His love, look out into the world and help gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing may be lost.