King & Kingdom
This past Sunday in our Home Fellowship we took a look at the wise men, scribes, and King Herod in Matthew 2. One big point of discussion was how these non-Jewish wise men traveled cross country prepared to worship the King. One side note we briefly discussed was how all “kingdom work” scripturally is somehow rooted in worshiping Jesus as King. It made me think about how in modern evangelical Christianity we throw around the term “kingdom work,” yet we somehow can still separate this idea from the King Himself. So, what does “kingdom work” practically mean? Here are some of my thoughts on the topic. (warning: this is a longer than usual post)
Kingdom work requires…
*Identifying with the King.
In Luke 9, Jesus makes it obvious that following Him involves denying self, taking up our cross , and identifying with Him regardless of personal cost. In vs. 26, He makes the radical statement: For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
Over the next century, the early church was made up of people from a diversity of cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. As they became followers of Jesus, identified with Him as Lord, and the Holy Spirit transformed their lives, Paul challenged them to let their new common identity in Jesus to eclipse all secondary identities. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Colossians 3:11 (also see Galatians 3:28)
A snapshot of the early church included…
Religious and nonreligious
Ritualistic Jews and “anything goes” pagans
Philosophical Greeks and redneck Barbarians
The educated wealthy upper class and many of the poor
Even slaves and slave owners
People from all of these different backgrounds who would rarely associate with each other were now part of the same spiritual family. The common ground for this diverse group was Jesus. We still discover incredible common ground in the realization that we are more messed up and sinful than we’d ever want to admit yet more loved, forgiven, and accepted by God than we could ever expect through the cross of Jesus. When Jesus enters our life and permeates all that we are and everything we do, He becomes the most important part of our identity. One phrase best describes this—it was a common confession that the early church shared: JESUS IS LORD. This one phrase trumps everything else. It is a radical statement. In this one statement we recognize that Jesus is God and that He hasthe right to be the ruler of their lives.
In the 1st Century, for Jews this was about recognizing that Jesus was in fact God, and that just as the Yahweh in the Old Testament was Lord over every aspect of their lives both individually and collectively, now that Lordship belongs to the person of Jesus—their Lord and Messiah. For Gentiles who often came from a polytheistic background (the clearest example being the gods of Greco-Roman mythology) where different gods oversaw different spheres of life this was a recognition that Jesus was the one God who was supreme over all the universe and every aspect of their lives.
*Operating under the authority of the King.
In the 1st Century both Jews and Gentiles lived under the rule of Rome and therefore under the rule of Caesar. As Rome would conquer different territories they would allow them to keep their gods and religious practices as long as they recognized Caesar was lord over them. For Christians to say that all of life in general and their lives specifically are under the lordship of Jesus created a bit of tension. Although their commitment to Jesus often made them better citizens, the Roman government often saw this as subversive and rebellious. Christians would not allow Jesus to be just another god on the smorgasbord of gods, nor would they limit His rule in their lives.
“Jesus is Lord” is true Christianity but can look very different than our American brand of Christianity. American brand of Christianity—we go to a church worship service where everything is decorated nicely (nothing wrong with that), where we do rituals to help us in worship (nothing wrong with that either), where we hopefully have a spiritual encounter with God (definitely a good thing), and then go back to the rest of our daily life until we can get our next dose of Jesus (not OK at all). What we’ve done is moved God to nothing more than a pit stop in the middle of a frantic fast paced life.
To say “Jesus is Lord” means He invades every area of our lives—it all belongs to Him. Maybe we don’t have a pantheon of Roman gods that we worship, but we still have our own unique cultural pantheon of “gods” competing for our attention and allegiance.
*Accurately representing the interests of the King.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:20 that we are ambassadors for Christ. As His ambassadors, God has entrusted to us His message of reconciliation and God is making His appeal through us. An ambassador does not represent his own interests, but the interests of the ruler he represents. The big question, then, is what are the primary interests of our King? What are His desires, values, and priorities?
Jesus was incredibly clear about His mission: proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). As we read through the gospels He may restate it somewhat, but He returns to this over and over again. We can repeatedly see Jesus living this out as He seeks the lost and serves the least. The ultimate goal in all of this is for people to be reconciled with God, experiencing what Martin Luther described as “the great exchange”- our sinfulness for God’s righteousness.
As someone who enjoys social justice initiatives, serves Burlington’s at-risk populations, and mobilizes other Christians to serve “the least of these”, I need to be reminded of this goal. Eliminating pain, poverty, and suffering are noble goals, BUT the elimination of these things alone will we not bring people true contentment. If modern western culture has taught us anything it is that we can have access to everything we want, attempt to minimize pain and suffering, and still live empty lives. Is that what we’re offering?
C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain says, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (p 91) It is God’s way of reminding us that we can have everything this world has to offer- EVERYTHING- and we can still miss the one thing at the center of our lives that will truly complete us- GOD. Lewis goes on to say, “No doubt Pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument: it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.” (p 93)
By addressing the obvious external needs we win the opportunity to address the most important spiritual needs of people’s lives. This is Jesus 101. Jesus always addressed both the obvious external needs and the deeper internal needs. We see Jesus healing a paralyzed man, casting demons out, stopping religious leaders from stoning a prostitute, and addressing the deepest need of their souls.
If we don’t address the deepest need of the human soul which is to know God, we’ve just given people in our community, our culture, and this world a repackaged version of empty consumerism.