Who Are You?

Who Are You?

(Christ the King Sunday)

November 21, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 23:1-7 John 18:33-37 Revelation 1:4-8

You’ve probably heard the song, but in 1986, singer-songwriter Pat MacDonald wrote a song for the band Timbuk3 as an expression of his pessimism about what he saw as impending nuclear destruction.  But the song gained notoriety and popularity because most listeners ignored the grim tone of the lyrics and focused instead only on the chorus which says, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.” And so, rather than being seen as a commentary on nuclear proliferation, MacDonald’s song has been widely adopted as a hymn or a theme song for students at their graduation from high school or college.

And for their part, graduation is a moment when many of us are filled with optimism and hope for the future.  We know that nothing in life is certain, but what we have accomplished so far will, we hope, set the table for future success.  But of course, sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way that we expect, there are no guarantees in life…

…except in those rare cases when there are.

In 2 Samuel 23:1-7, near the end of his life, God gives King David an oracle, a vision, of the future.  And in that vision, David sees a bright future for his family, his descendants, and for his nation.

23:1 Now these are the last words of David:

The oracle of David, son of Jesse,
    the oracle of the man whom God exalted,
the anointed of the God of Jacob,
    the favorite of the Strong One of Israel:

The spirit of the Lord speaks through me,
    his word is upon my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken,
    the Rock of Israel has said to me:
One who rules over people justly,
    ruling in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning,
    like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
    gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.

Is not my house like this with God?
    For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
    ordered in all things and secure.
Will he not cause to prosper
    all my help and my desire?
But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away;
    for they cannot be picked up with the hand;
to touch them one uses an iron bar
    or the shaft of a spear.
    And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.

Even though he is at the end of his life, David knows that the future is bright for his family and for his nation.  As long as they remain faithful, and rule over the people justly, and in the fear of God, David’s descendants will lead the nation of Israel forever.  This isn’t just the boundless optimism of a graduating senior but is the revelation and eternal promise of God.  But, although David heard God’s promise, and although he saw a bright future for his descendants and for Israel, he almost certainly did not envision or imagine how God was going to bring about such a future.  Rather than pass the mantle of leadership and kingship from generation to generation, and hope that each generation would remain faithful to God and maintain their connection to the God that made it all possible, God had an entirely different solution in mind as we see as we read the story of Jesus in John 18:33-37.

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Despite the confusion of the disciples, Pharisees, Sadducees, Pilate, and almost everyone else, Jesus never had any calling or intention of being and earthly king.  Although he was the descendant of King David, and even though Jesus would claim the fulfillment of God’s promise to David and rule over Israel forever, Jesus wasn’t going to physically sit on a throne in Israel (in this creation).  The kingship that God had in mind was spiritual, not physical, and the borders and boundaries of that kingdom extend far beyond the borders of one tiny country in the Near East.  The kingdom of God is a kingdom of truth, and his followers listen and obey the words and the instructions of Jesus in places and in times far beyond the imagination of Pilate, or anyone else of that era.

But the time will come when all of us move on from this life into the next, when this world ends and another begins, when the present Israel and the present Jerusalem pass away and the followers of Jesus move into a new creation and a new Jerusalem.  Then, Jesus will sit on his throne and rule over all the earth.  And that is the vision that John saw and recorded for us in Revelation 1:4b-8, where he says:

John, to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freedus from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Look! He is coming with the clouds;
    every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
    and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.

So, it is to be. Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

John begins by bringing what can be read as both a blessing and a prayer extending grace to the seven churches of Asia Minor from God, from the seven spirits, and from Jesus.  I thought the reference to the seven spirits might be a reference to the seven churches, to whom John’s letter was written but, with a little research, found that the “seven spirits” can probably be understood, from the way in which similar language was used by Isaiah and other Old Testament writers, to mean the Spirit of God, the third person of the Trinity, so the entire greeting can be thought of as being a prayer to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  John then reminds us that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was a twofold action that both rescued us from sin and called us to something bigger.  John’s reference to “a kingdom and priests” reminds us that we are not just saved from our sins, but also saved for “a destiny as his agents and worshipers”[1][emphasis mine].

But then, after the greeting, and a reminder that we are God’s agents in the world, John shares his vision of the future in which he saw Jesus descending to earth from the clouds, and a waiting world below standing in fear as they realize that the rescuer and redeemer that they rejected is indeed the creator of the world, and the God of the universe.   And, as if to add emphasis, Jesus then pronounces that he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and in doing so reminds us that God is eternal (and we are not).

Before he died, God gave David a vision of the future that assured him that God would keep his promise to place one of David’s descendants on the throne of Israel for all time.  And, with the coming of Jesus, his death, and resurrection, God kept that promise in a way that David almost certainly never expected.  Like David, we too look to the future and wonder what that future holds for us.  We might not want to sing, like Pat MacDonald and Timbuk3, that our future is so bright that we gotta wear shades, but from John’s vision, we know that we do have a future… an eternal future, with God, because of our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Without Jesus, the day of his return will be a day of fear, embarrassment, terror, and regret.  But because we have faith in Jesus, we eagerly look forward to that day with optimism and hope because although we might not need shades…

…that future looks pretty bright.


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[1] Craig S. Keener, The New Application Commentary: Revelation, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2000


*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/.  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Peace in the Present Promise

Peace in the Present Promise*

December 06, 2020

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 40:1-11                                    2 Peter 3:8-15a                      Mark 1:1-8

How can a pandemic possibly be a good thing?

Certainly, current events will give us much to complain about and mourn over for years to come, but we also get glimpses of the occasional silver lining in our ongoing battle with the coronavirus.  Certainly, among these are an array of new medical technologies that have been brought to bear as our doctors and scientists seek new medications and new life-saving treatments, as well as new technology that has allowed us to develop multiple vaccines in just 18 months when the previous speed record for such an accomplishment was five year long rush program with the Ebola virus that was only recently approved.  But another important silver lining may be the attention that our forced lockdown and resulting isolation and seclusion has brought to those among us who suffer from depression, suicidal thoughts, and a variety of other mental illnesses.  While isolation is difficult for all of us, it is harder for extroverts, and disastrous for many people who suffer even in ordinary circumstances.  And while today’s message isn’t going to solve these difficult mental health issues, perhaps by shining a light, and continuing to raise our awareness of these problems, we can begin to make a difference in the lives of the suffering. 

But for the rest of us, as we struggle with our isolation and lack of human contact, many of us, the midst of a pandemic, and the resulting upheaval of everything familiar, which is, of course, piled on top of our normal level of change and upheaval, are wrestling with how can we possibly find… peace.  Our minds are constantly pulled in a hundred directions at once, we worry about our employment, we worry about our families, we worry about our health, about our church and other institutions and business that we care about, and in the midst of our whirling, dizzying, wrestling match with fear, worry, depression and despair, we hear the prophet Isaiah calling to us as we prepare for the arrival of the Messiah.  In Isaiah 40:1-11 we hear these words, spoken to Israel as their nation, their religion, and everything they knew, faced destruction at the hands of the Assyrian empire.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem

and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”A voice says, “Cry out.”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”

You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
    and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

Even as the disaster they are expecting approaches, God promises to bring comfort after Israel’s hard service was completed and her sin paid for on the day God would send the messiah to rescue them.  God declares that people are like grass because we fade, fail, and fall away.  Our failure comes because our faithfulness fails and not because God has failed.  We know that God never fails, and that God endures forever.  And that is why in this dark hour, Israel could find hope in God’s promise to send a messiah that would make the world right again.  Like us, Israel looked forward to the day that God would return their world to normal.  Best of all, was knowing that God wasn’t doing to do fix things with floods, fires, earthquakes, or destruction, but like a shepherd gathering his flock and carrying his lambs close to his heart.

And, because we get to read their story, we know that after their time of suffering in Babylon, the people of Israel, at least the few that had remained faithful, returned home to rebuild their nation just as God had promised.  And much later, in Mark 1:1-8, we hear the story of the coming of God’s promised messiah. As Mark writes:

1:1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you withwater, but he will baptize you withthe Holy Spirit.”

Echoing Isaiah’s message, John the Baptist preaches a message of baptism, repentance, and a return to faithfulness.  And this time, the people are ready, and Israel answers John’s call.  Mark says that the entire city of Jerusalem, and the whole Judean countryside went out to hear John, confess their sins, and be baptized by a man who spoke like, and dressed like, the ancient prophets.  Of course, we understand that Mark is exaggerating.  We know that the entire city of Jerusalem and the entire countryside of Judea did not go out to hear John preach and to be baptized, but the numbers must have been so large, that it seemed as if everyone was going.  And we can certainly understand that so many people went to hear John that almost everyone must have known someone who had done so.  But even though the people came, and even though John looked, dressed, and acted like a prophet, John’s message is that the people must be prepared for imminent arrival of messiah that God had promised.

God’s redeemer had arrived, and in the middle of an enemy occupation, and their struggles with Rome, the people were reminded of God’s words that they had heard from the prophet Isaiah, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed.”

But then what?  Two thousand years have passed between them and us, between then and now.  What can those two-thousand-year-old words have to tell us during a modern pandemic?  But that isn’t a new question.  The church has been asking that question from the beginning and Peter wrote to his church friends and explained it this way (2 Peter 3:8-15a):

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.

Peter wants the church to remember that God hasn’t forgotten us.  What seems like a frightfully long time to us, is not a long time to God.  Rather than hurrying, God is being patient and giving people time for a second chance.  We are reminded that Christ’s return, and his judgement, are still unpredictable and may come at any time, like a thief in the night.  As such, we must be prepared for his arrival by living godly lives, to watch, and look forward to his coming.  On that day, everything physical will be destroyed but we are more than physical.  What is physical will be destroyed, but what is spiritual will remain.  It is for this reason that we must do everything that we can to be as blameless and perfect as we possibly can.  On that day we will see a new heaven and a new earth, where everything will be right once again.  Finally, the world will return to normal, and we will live in peace with one another the way that God intended.  And it is for this reason that we look forward with hope.

God’s promise, given through the prophet Isaiah, to the people of Israel came eight hundred years before the arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem.  And, since then, we have waited another two thousand years.  But God’s promises remain.  The people of Israel held on to God’s promises as they endured the loss of their homeland, the loss of their freedom, and the loss of God’s temple and their freedom to worship.  But God kept his promise and many people returned to Israel and rebuilt it.  As we endure a pandemic and wrestle with our feelings of separation, fear, depression, worry, and despair, we too hold on to the promises of God.  As we celebrate Advent, we are especially reminded of God’s promise of redemption and rescue and we look forward to celebrating his arrival both at Christmas and upon his return someday in the future.  God’s promises are not just something that we read about in the distant past, but an ever present, immovable rock upon which we build our lives, safe from the storms that swirl around us.  God’ promises are not a thing of the past, but an anchor for our present lives in which we find hope…

…and peace.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/NHijitBg6cY

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.