This article is adapted from a sermon I preached of the same title. You can listen to the full sermon below
Generally speaking, Americans don’t like kings. We had a king once, and we didn’t really care for it. When many of us hear the word “king,” one or two images typically come to mind:
The first is that of a distant tyrant across the ocean who mistreats the people and taxes their tea. The second image is that of a now-meaningless figurehead; a historical office held over from the past that no longer wields any real power.
But when we speak of Jesus Christ as our King, we are not alluding to either a tyrant or a figurehead—or even a benevolent king who rules for a season. We are instead speaking of a perfect, righteous, and loving King; one who is absolutely sovereign in His authority and eternal in His reign.
In both the Old and New Testaments we find explicit reference to Jesus—the Messiah—as being a king. The angel Gabriel, when he announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus, said in Luke 1:32-33:
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. 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.
This passage speaks of Jesus being of the lineage of King David, appointed to the throne by God the Father to reign over an eternal kingdom.
Elsewhere Jesus is referred to as the King of the Jews (Matthew 1:2), the King of Israel (Mark 15:32), the “the blessed and only Sovereign” (1 Timothy 6:15) the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16). Even this term Lord, used so often of Jesus, speaks of His supreme power and authority.
Ephesians 1:20-22 tells us that Jesus is now seated at [God’s] right hand in the heavenly places, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”
We have a King, and His name is Jesus. And He is not just A king but The king—the King of Kings, with authority and dominion over all things.
Jesus did not usher in the same type of kingdom that David or Solomon ruled over. He did not come to overthrow Roman rule by force, as some expected, but instead rules and reigns over the hearts and lives of His people.
Look at John 18:33-38:
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
Jesus Christ is a king, and yet His kingdom is not of this world. He came to bear witness to the truth, and those who are of the truth listen to His voice.
Pilate didn’t understand what was meant by Jesus when He spoke of the truth. However, as followers of Christ we know that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and no man gets to the Father but through Him.
We are those who are “of the truth” and therefore we are subjects of the kingdom which Jesus rules over.
Citizens of Heaven
Since Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, it follows that those who belong to Him are also not of this world.
The Apostle Paul tells us this in Philippians 3:17-21,
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
We have a king, and we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom. Because our citizenship is in heaven, we are pilgrims in a foreign land. The church is, in effect, a colony of Christ’s heavenly kingdom.
Remember, This World is Not Our Home
But if we lose sight of this reality we can start to live as though this world is our home.
And we do, we do just we encourage others to do when they come to our home: we make ourselves comfortable! We busy ourselves with enjoying man of the wonderful things available to us.
But after we’ve made ourselves comfortable, we go to great lengths to avoid discomfort. When this happens, we often cease to live as effective subjects of our king.
- We do not take great steps of faith because we fear risk, and so we never see how God can provide far beyond what we could have imagined.
- We only half-heartedly fight against sin and temptation because anything more requires great effort, and so we stunt our spiritual growth.
- We do not stand for truth because we cannot stand being labeled as narrow-minded, or bigoted, or as being on the wrong side of history.
- We use up the resources God has given us to bless ourselves instead of others, because we have bought into the consumerism of our age, and our wants have become needs.
These are a few examples of how we pour our lives into things that have no lasting value. Our hearts are in the wrong place. Far too often we seek comfort more than Christ. This is what we are treasuring in our lives.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
When we live as though this world is our home, we begin to treasure the comfort and the temporary pleasures this world has to offer.
Ultimately, this stems from holding Jesus Christ as being a higher priority than any other aspect of our lives. And yet this is exactly what we are called to do.
We see it in verses like Luke 14:33, which says “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
If we are honest, this verse strikes us as being extreme. “Surely Jesus didn’t mean that we give up claim to everything we have to follow Him….”
Our eyes dart to the bottom of the page, hoping that a commentator’s footnote might rescue us from this level of commitment. We look around and we find that this verse comes at the end of a section which clearly teaches that this life isn’t about being comfortable or giving half-hearted devotion to Jesus. We must make every other priority in life secondary to following our king.
And when we read our Bibles we find that Jesus often said such things.
He has similar words in Luke 9:23 where he says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
To take up your cross daily does not mean to bear the burden of a difficult experience for a season. The cross means death. It means that we would die to self and follow Christ. We are to live each day under the authority of our king.
We too often forget who our king is and where our true citizenship lies. If our focus becomes living comfortable lives in this world, what we’ll be left with is a mediocre faith, characterized by a mediocre commitment to Jesus and resulting in a mediocre impact on the world around us.
But we do not serve a mediocre King; we serve the risen Christ! We serve a king who came down from His throne and was born in a manger. He lived a sinless and selfless life, and died on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
After His resurrection He ascended to His thrown in heaven, where he continues to reign as we await His return – when He comes again as a conquering king, and there will be “… loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever’” (Rev 11:15).
That is our king!
What would it look like to stop treating Jesus as simply a role model and start serving Him as our sovereign king? To deny ourselves, take up our cross, and make serving Jesus our highest priority?
We wouldn’t be content with blending into the world around us. We would live as loyal subjects of a heavenly kingdom, giving our lives in service to Christ our King and we will “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).
We would joyfully identify with the words of the apostle Paul in his 2nd letter to the church at Corinth. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
Ambassadors for Christ
The old has passed away, and because of Jesus we are a new creation that has been reconciled to God and entrusted with the Gospel. We are to be ambassadors for Christ!
Charles Hodge elaborated on the term ambassador by saying:
Ambassadors Are the King’s Messengers
As citizens of a heavenly kingdom, we are to be ambassadors for Jesus. One of our primary tasks is carrying the king’s message.
In Matthew 28:18-20 we have what we know as the Great Commission:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Here we have a direct command from our King to carry His message. We are to make disciples. We are to share the gospel and teach others to observe all that the king has commanded.
This can be a scary and uncomfortable thing. But when we recognize that this world is not our home, we begin to wake up to the fact that this world isn’t anybodies home. Not eternally speaking.
As C.S. Lewis pointed out, “you have never talked to a mere mortal.” By this he means that all people are eternal souls, bound for either heaven or hell. We have been tasked to carry the gospel – literally the Good News – that we can be free from sin and death and spend eternity with our King in heaven.
This truly is Good News. Yes, it is still scary for us. But we recognize that as ambassadors, we are merely speaking on behalf of our king. Our words carry authority because they are the words of Jesus, to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given.
Ambassadors are the King’s Representatives
We recognize of course that we are not only messengers sent to speak truth to the nations of the world, we also live here. So how can we live as ambassadors in the world while fighting the temptation to look and live like the world?
There are many passages of Scripture we could look to. For our time this morning, let’s look back at what we saw earlier in Luke 9:23: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
We are not made to be following our hearts, or letting our conscience be our guide. Our lives are to be directed our king and His Word. Rather than indulge ourselves, we are to deny ourselves.
What does denial of self and following Jesus look like in our daily lives?
- It means we fight against the sins which ensnare us, because we want to conform to the image of our king.
- It means we don’t buy in to the world’s definition of success, because we live to make an impact for God’s kingdom.
- It means we care for others to the point of self-sacrifice, because we recognize that all those around us are also eternal souls.
- It means using our time and resources on things that have lasting value, that strengthen our faith and point others to Jesus.
Yes, denying ourselves and picking up our cross means that we will give up things in this life. It means that we must give up sinful and selfish activities, certainly. But it also means that we must sometimes choose between things that are good and things that are best.
But please don’t misunderstand; ours is not a dreary existence of depriving ourselves as some sort of religious duty. We are not called to all put on gunny sacks and take vows of poverty so that we can be seen as extra spiritual and dedicated to God.
And this isn’t an exercise in sheer will-power either. We cannot do these things at all apart from the grace of God. As we read in Philippians 2:13 “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
So we must be obedient, knowing that God will give us the strength and the desire to serve Him more fully. Serving Jesus Christ becomes our ultimate priority not to earn favor with God, but because we recognize that our King is infinitely more valuable than anything else in this life.
Jesus helps us understand this reality with two short parables. We find them back-to-back in Matthew 13:44-46:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
What do these parables teach us? In each case, these people gave up something in order to obtain something of much greater value. But there is no loss here; there is only gain.
Notice that the man who found the treasure goes with joy to sell all that he has so he might purchase the field. Jesus does not call us to a sad existence filled with self-pity.
Our obedience to him in denying ourselves an indulgence in lesser things brings us to a place where our joy and our delight is far greater, as they are found in Him and His eternal blessings. These parables are a picture of how we are to live. The kingdom of God is infinitely more valuable than the temporary pleasures, and possessions, and comfort that this world distracts us with.
This is what denying ourselves looks like. It is not a call to a joyless existence. It is a call to greater pleasure, and greater joy, and greater comfort that can only be found in Him.
We have a king in Jesus. And just as His kingdom is not of this world, this world is not our home. When we do not hold tight to these truths, we are likely to drift into living mediocre lives, treasuring comfort above Christ.
When this drift occurs, we must remember the majesty of our king! We must remember that our citizenship is in heaven. We must deny ourselves so that we may live as ambassadors for Jesus Christ, carrying His message of hope and salvation to a lost and dying world.
Those of us who are citizens of Christ’s heavenly kingdom: Are we living a life that tells others that Jesus Christ is the most valuable thing in our lives? Are we allowing every other throne in our lives to fall before the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords?
Missionary C.T. Studd, who gave up wealth, fame, comfort, and many relationships to be a missionary in China once said “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.”
A question that all believers must ask themselves is this:
How can you better serve your king?
1 Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Crossway Classic Commentaries, 118.