We know that Christ takes on the role of prophet, priest and king for His people, and in His role of king he will also assume the role of Judge, in Greek being called the Παντοκράτωρ (“pantokrator.”) Christ who will say to those on His left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” but the righteous will be invited to eternal life. (Matthew 25: 41, 46) We know Christ has this authority, for as it is written in Philippians 2: 9-11, “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, 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.” In the words of our hymn, Christ’s “Head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now; a royal diadem adorns the mighty Victor’s brow.” The suffering of Good Friday has become fulfilled in the Resurrection, whilst the Final Judgment reminds us of the reason for the historical events of Holy Week—so that Christ might earn our justification that we might be the ones on His right, ushered into heaven.
Most of us, even in cycles of economic difficulty, are not starving or malnourished. Presumably, those reading music notes live in homes rather than cardboard boxes. However, we must not take this for granted and we should realize that, like the early Christians, there may come a time during which we are persecuted for our beliefs. We may undergo the same hardships many Christians have experienced throughout the centuries, echoing stanza five of this hymn, “They suffer with their Lord below, they reign with Him above, their profit and their joy to know the mystery of His love.” The writer to the Hebrews says thus: “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God. . .” (Hebrews 4: 16-17a) Having come afresh from the penitence of the Lenten season, this is still on our mind.
One time, when the anonymous writer of music notes had to report for jury duty, he found himself on a panel of 50 potential jurors, before which he enjoyed wandering about the courthouse, seeing all the judges and lawyers going about their daily duty. (Fortunately, the fact that he had played for both the defense attorney’s and the assistant district attorney’s weddings relieved him from actually being chosen.) The writer of music notes admired the efficiency and respect with which the courtroom and the courthouse in general were run. Having heard horror stories about jury duty before, he found it not to be that way at all, at least in this case. However, he pondered the notion of an entire system being established to deal with sin and the law—which whether secular or Old Testament really is the same thing. If you break it, you must pay the consequences. This is actually a rather discombobulating concept! Not only to those condemned, but to those whose job it is to prosecute or defend them must live under the rules and regulations established by this wide-ranging, but specific, code of law. They must interpret that under which we must live. Although he enjoyed the morning, the writer of music notes came away with a renewed appreciation for this New Covenant.
Christ is Judge, but he is also the Good Shepherd, as we celebrated two weeks ago. God will “Search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep; I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered. . .” (34: 11-13) This, then, is that dichotomy and ever-present tension between Law and Gospel. Whilst we are condemned by any interpretation of the Law, we are also sought out by that same Law-giver and given a reprieve. This doesn’t make human sense—the prosecuting attorneys generally do not prepare their cases against an offender simply to drop their case when the judge calls the court into session. Yet, this is similar to what Christ does for us. (In actuality, he is both judge and defense attorney, the priest and the king. . .) He is simultaneously Judge and Shepherd. He was both God and man. God can choose to do what He wishes with His own omnipotence—even by putting it aside for awhile and becoming human, as this hymn so aptly reminds us.