Have you been Jingle Bell Rocked yet? If you haven’t, don’t worry. Unless you go through Wal-Mart wearing ear plugs (not a bad idea, actually), it’s coming. Inflatable Santas, racks of Christmas trees, elves that chuckle warmly, and a constant stream of Christmas songs all await you at your nearest shopping center. Though we’re more than a month away from Christmas, the industrial-Christmas complex is already in full swing.
At some point, if you happen to tune in or remove the ear plugs, you’ll hear lyrics like this: “glory to the newborn king.” “Born the king of angels.” “Let earth receive her king.” Even secular songs give a nod to the idea of Jesus-in-the-manger as a royal baby. That’s completely consistent with Scripture, of course. When Gabriel told Mary she would have a baby, he gave this promise about the baby’s future: “and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).
But here’s a question: when exactly did God give Jesus the throne of David? When does the baby become the king? How did Jesus claim his crown?
In all the rest of Luke’s gospel there are only two places where Jesus is called a king. The first is the triumphal entry in Luke 19:38. The crowds welcome Jesus into Jerusalem with these words: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Then, just a few days later, Pontius Pilate stands before him to ask, “Are you the King of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus responds (Luke 23:3) – and offers no other explanation or defense. Despite the fact that Pilate finds no guilt in Jesus whatsoever, he sentences him to die by crucifixion. Then: “The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews’” (Luke 23:36-38). The only time in his life the baby “born the King of angels” is called a King is at his crucifixion, by a group of hardened, brutal Roman soldiers who spit out the words as a taunt. And yet they spoke truer than they knew.
The underlying theological fact is that the dying of Christ is a kingly act, not merely in the sense that he dies royally and with dignity, but in the sense that his dying is his supreme achievement for his people: the act by which he conquers their foes, secures their liberty and establishes his kingdom…It is precisely as the crucified criminal that Jesus is the Christ, the King; and the cross…is the scene of his victory. (Donald MacLeod, Christ Crucified)
Call that last sentence to mind the next time you hear a Christmas carol proclaim Christ as king. He is our King – but he claimed his crown by hanging on a cross.
Photo by Levente Fulop