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Christ the King (Proper 29), Cycle C (2016)

Christ already reigns! The lessons, like the festival, remind us that God and Christ reign over the cosmos and evil (Christology, Justification by Grace, Sin, and Atonement).

Luke 1:68-79
This gospel is the first installment of a two-part history of the church traditionally attributed to Luke, a physician and Gentile associate of Paul (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). Along with Acts, the author’s intention was to stress the universal mission of the church (Acts 1:8). This Psalm is called the Benedictus (so named for the first word of the Psalm’s Latin translation, meaning “blessed.”) It appears only in Luke’s gospel. It is a prophecy uttered by Zechariah after the circumcision of his son John the Baptist. He is said to have been filled with the Holy Spirit (vv. 59ff). The Lord God is to be blessed [eulogeo], it is proclaimed, for he has looked favorably on his people and worked redemption [lutrosin], raising up a mighty Savior (horn of salvation [keras sotererion], perhaps referring to a Davidic ruler, see Psalm 172:17) in the house of David (vv. 68-69). This was in fulfillment of a prophecy concerning one who would save us from our enemies (vv. 70-71). In so doing, the Lord is said to show mercy [eleos] promised to the ancestors and to remember his covenant [diatheke] with Abraham as he rescues us from our enemies so we might serve him without fear in holiness [hosiotes] and righteousness [dikaiosune] (vv. 72-75). Speaking to his son John he prophesies that the child will be called prophet [prophetes] to the Most High, preparing the Lord’s way, giving knowledge [gnosis] of salvation [soteria] (vv. 76-77). Zechariah then speaks of God’s tender mercy [eleos], a dawn when God fulfills his promise, giving light to those in darkness and in the shadow of death, to have their feet guided on the way of peace [eirene] (vv. 78-70; cf. Isaiah 9:2).

Application: Options for a sermon on this text include focusing on the ministry of John the Baptist, calling us like him to point others to Christ the King (Christology, Evangelism, Sanctification) or to focus on how God uses his messengers to tenderly give light and peace (Justification by Grace).


Psalm 46
A Korah Psalm (one of the songs attributed to professional temple singers [see 2 Chronicles 20:19]). The reference in the Psalm’s preface to Alamoth is uncertain. This is a psalm expressing confidence in God’s protecting care.

God is said to be our refuge [machseh] and strength [oz], a present help [exrah] in trouble. We need not fear [yare], for he subdued all others (vv. 1-3). This may be a reference to what God will do in the last days. God is said to be in the midst of the city, a reference to Jerusalem as God’s dwelling place. In that sense the promise is made that Jerusalem will endure forever (vv. 4-7). Reference to the river making the city glad is an image for the service of blessing. The idea of a sacred river creating joy for the faith is a Canaanite, Mesopotamian idea. The term Selah appearing after verses 3, 11 is probably a direction to insert an instrumental interlude at that point in the psalm. The establishment of God’s kingdom will bring peace (vv. 8-9). We are urged to be still and know that the Yahweh is God, exalted and our refuge (vv. 10-11). These words may be a divine oracle of salvation, giving God praise for his observance of help against enemies.

Application: Sermons on this hymn might examine our fears and troubles (Sin) with the assurance that God is still our refuge, that Christ is king over our fears and troubles (Christology, Justification by Grace). Opportunities are also provided to consider the Atonement (the Classic View, whereby Christ and God conquer the forces of evil) and also to explore how peace and refuge are afforded by these insights, how they provide a sense of freedom from anxiety.

Jeremiah 23:1-6
We are reminded that this book is a collection of prophecies of a late-seventh or early-sixth century BC prophet of Judah from the reigns of Josiah through the era of the Babylonian Captivity. He dictated these prophecies to his aide Baruch. Some of the prophet’s criticism of the house of David and the temple may relate to his having as an ancestor one of David’s high priests, Abiathar, who lost control of the temple and was finally banished (1 Kings 2:26-27). Three sources of the book have been identified; 1) An authentic poetic strand; 2) Biographic prose; and 3) Deuteronomic redaction (reflecting themes of the seventh-century BC religious reforms under Judah’s king Josiah). The interplay of these strands suggests that the final editors see Jeremiah’s prophecies as relevant in a new context.

This lesson is a messianic oracle promising the Hebrews restoration after the exile. Judah’s rulers are condemned for scattering the people (vv. 1-2). Yahweh promises to gather the remnant of the flock himself and promises that they will be fruitful [parah] (v. 3). He also says that he will raise up shepherds [raah, leaders], and the people will no longer fear [yare] (v. 4). Yahweh then promises to raise up a righteous branch [tsemach] of David who will be king [melek, Messiah]. He will deal wisely and execute justice [tsedaqah] and righteousness [tzedeq]. In his days, Judah will be saved [yasha]. He will be known by the name, “The Lord is our righteousness” (vv. 5-6).

We have previously noted that the Hebraic equivalent term for “righteousness” when applied to God does not just connote legal, judgmental actions, but concerns loyalty to his covenant in saving us, even at times as in this case God’s righteousness is declared or bestowed on the faithful (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 373, 376ff). Likewise we remind ourselves that God’s judgment (executing justice) in the Hebraic sense is a word of comfort, in the sense that it can cause positive outcomes and provide comfort, knowing that God’s just acts have an end in sight (Ibid., pp. 343, 358-359). And justice in the Old Testament seems to include a concern about the rights of the poor (Ibid., p. 322).

Application: This lesson invites us to proclaim the reign of Christ and that it has socio-political consequences. Justification by Grace, Realized Eschatology, and Social Ethics are the primary themes.

Colossians 1:11-20
The lesson is drawn from a circular letter that was either written by Paul from prison (4:3, 10, 18) late in his career or by a follower of Paul who had a hand in assembling the collection of his epistles. These conclusions follow from the fact that the letter includes vocabulary and stylistic characteristics different form the authentic Pauline corpus. The epistle addresses Christians in a town in Asia Minor near Ephesus, which though not likely founded by Paul was basically in line with his teachings, save being threatened by ascetic teachings (2:21, 23), ritual practices rooted in the Jewish traditions (2:16), and philosophical speculation (2:8, 20). Such speculations were related to visionary insights and perhaps even to the heresy of Gnosticism. Christ’s cosmic lordship is a central theme. This lesson includes a thanksgiving for the Colossians, an intercession, and a hymn.

Paul prays that the Colossians would be made strong with all the strength from God’s glorious power, prepared to endure all with patience and joy, giving thanks to the Father who enables them to share in the inheritance of the saints (vv. 11-12). He refers to God rescuing/delivering [rhuomai] us from the power of darkness [skotos] through his beloved Son in whom we have redemption [apolutrosis, a losing away, the buying back of a slave] and forgiveness [aphesis a sending away] of sins (vv. 13-14). The Greek word for darkness in this case refers not to blackness but gloom, and so redemption and forgiveness in this case sends the gloom away or loses the faithful from it.

Most of the remainder of the lesson is an ancient hymn about Christ. The beloved Son [huios] (v. 13) is said to be the image [eikon] of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (v. 15). In him all things were created (v. 16). The Son is said to be before all things, and he holds them all together (v. 17). As such he is the head [kephale] of the church [ekklesia] and the firstborn from the dead (v. 18). In him all the fullness [pleroma] of God dwelled and through him God reconciled [apokatallatto, to change thoroughly] to himself all things through the blood of his cross (Christ’s sacrificial death) (vv. 19-20). The author proceeds to note that the Colossians had been estranged doing evil deeds, but the Son has now reconciled in this body so to present them [paristemi, a technical term for bringing a sacrifice to the altar] holy [hagios, set apart] and blameless before God, as long as they continue steadfast/grounded in faith [pistis], not shifting from the hope [eipis] proclaimed by the gospel [euaggelion] to every creature (vv. 21-23).

Application: Sermons on this lesson can proclaim the cosmic Christ who holds all creation together, a word that strengthens and comforts us in our estrangement and anxieties. Christology, Justification by Grace, and Sanctification receive attention. A sermon on the Atonement (Christ’s sacrifice) would also be appropriate.

Luke 23:33-43
See the Psalm of the Day for the historical background about this gospel. This lesson narrates the story of Jesus on the cross and his forgiveness of the faithful criminal. Only in Matthew (27:33-44) is the interaction with other criminals reported, and there is no reference to Jesus’ dialogue with them. The lesson begins with Luke noting that Jesus was led to the Crucifixion site, the Skull [kranion], with two criminals [kakourgous] who were to be put to death with him, one on each side of him (23:32-33). Jesus urges that those involved should be forgiven [aphiemi, or sent away]. His garments are divided by lot (23:34). He is mocked as the Messiah who cannot save himself. Soldiers give him sour wine with the same mocking mantra. An inscription of the charge, “King of the Jews,” is placed on the cross (23:35-38). Jesus engages in a dialogue with the two criminals crucified with him, the one mocking him for not saving all of them if he is the Messiah and the other rebuking such mocking on grounds that Jesus was innocent (23:39-41). He requests that Jesus remember him when Jesus comes into the kingdom, and Jesus responds with the promise that this criminal would join him in paradise [paradeisos, or garden, a contemporary Jewish term for the lodging place of the righteous prior to the resurrection] (23:42-43).

Application: This lesson seems to be the negation of Christ’s kingship. As such it testifies to how his lordship is often hidden, but that does not negate the fact that God is ultimately in control. Providence, Atonement, Justification by Grace, and Sanctification are central themes.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen