The God Who Dares Be King: The Uncomfortable Implication of Jesus?
Last week, we took a brief look at Mark 1:14-15:
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mark 1:14-15)
This is the first record of the content of Jesus’ preaching, and last week we examined Jesus’ first phrase, “The time is fulfilled,” and what it says about who and what Jesus is. In this devotional, we move on to the next phrase, where Jesus says: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
When reading this text, we must remember that the Jews weren’t just expecting a Messiah to save them from Gentile oppressors; more than that, they were anticipating a time when God’s Anointed One would reign over Israel in justice and righteousness. They were looking forward to a Golden Age of peace and prosperity under the rule of the Son of David. Jesus comes and declares, “That kingdom is at hand.”
This carpenter’s son, this rabbi, stands up and the Jewish people hear this about their hope: it’s imminent. It’s just over the horizon, just around the corner. The light is about to dawn. God’s Kingdom is just about to arrive.
The Kingdom of God is a central theme of Jesus’ preaching. In Christian circles, we can become a little deadened to the true weight of this idea. We need to ask, and really consider, this question: what is a kingdom? It’s a place or a realm that is ruled by a king. Canada is, legally, a kingdom, because we are ruled by a king or queen. The United States is not – it’s a republic. Mark’s readers would have known the difference. Just one hundred years before Mark wrote, Rome, the city he likely was writing from, was a republic ruled by a Senate. The Greeks had established republics and democracies centuries before Christ.
So Mark, writing to a largely Gentile audience composed of Romans and Greeks, was also making a point. This is God’s kingdom. This is God’s reign, the sphere of God’s sovereignty. So one implication is this: God’s world is not a democracy. God will not let his kingdom be ruled by majority vote or by the shifting tides of public opinion. What sets a kingdom apart from all the other forms of government is that it has a king! A real king, with real power and real authority, and who makes real demands of his people, who has real standards and real expectations that they must follow, and to whom his subjects owe real obedience. Real submission. Real allegiance.
A king makes demands of his people. A king lays down the law. Remember the Sermon on the Mount? In many ways, that sermon is the charter or constitution of the kingdom. In that sermon, Jesus stood on the mountain, which in Hebrew thinking was the act of a lawgiver, and like a new Moses he declared the law of the kingdom. Not a ceremonial or civil law in the Old Testament sense, though all the essential message of the Old Testament was proclaimed and then fulfilled and further applied in the Sermon on the Mount. This law, rather, was the standard of perfection that God required of his people. It is moral. It is ethical. It is spiritual. In it, Jesus dares to command the heart. Jesus equates looking at a woman the wrong way with adultery, because he’s concerned not just with the outside but with our very hearts. Jesus makes demands. Jesus raises the bar and orders us over it. Jesus lays down the law. That’s what a King does. Life in a Kingdom means obeying and serving the King, right? The Kingdom of God is at hand, and that means God is coming to claim what is his – our loyalty.
People hate that! In our culture, it’s all about freedom. Liberty. Choice. Personal autonomy. The pursuit of happiness. Human rights. Inalienable rights and freedoms. “I want to live my own life.” “No one has the right to tell me what to do.” People hate the idea of a God who’s more than a distant grandpa. They hate a God who dares to be a king. They hate a God who tells them what to do, who has the gall to hold them to his standard of life and behaviour. They hate a God who says, “This is the way it shall be,” who says, “There is only one way. Take it or leave it.” Sinful, rebellious, human beings hate a God who is a king.
I once watched a Youtube clip where Oprah Winfrey said the following: “One of the mistakes that human beings make is believing that there is only one way to live, and that we don’t accept that there are diverse ways of being in the world, that there are millions of ways to be a human being, and many ways, no, many paths, to what you call God; that her path might be something else, and when she gets there, she might call it “the light”. But her loving and her kindness and her generosity brings her – if it brings her to the same point that it brings you, it doesn’t matter if she called it God along the way or not. There couldn’t possibly be just one way!”
Now, at this point, someone in the audience challenged her, saying, “What about Jesus?”
Oprah snapped back: “What about Jesus?”
The woman in the audience: You say there isn’t only one way. There is one way, and only one way, and that is through Jesus!
At this point, Oprah was all flustered, and repeated: “There couldn’t possibly -- There couldn’t possibly be just one way! There couldn’t possibly be just one way!”
Let’s stop there for a moment. Why can’t there be only one way? If God is real, if God is truly the King of the universe, why can’t there be just one way? What about our freedom? God would be unjust to be so narrow, right?
The problem with that is, if God is really a King, we have no right to say anything God does is unjust. God defines what is just. God lays down the law, remember? God is the one who judges. That’s what human beings can’t stand. They can’t stand the idea that God is the only one who gets to make that call. We just saw that God is sovereign over history and time itself, that God is in control. See, that audience member listened to Oprah repeating, “There couldn’t possibly be just one way. There couldn’t possibly be just one way.” And so she replied, and she nailed the heart of the matter. She replied to Oprah:
“Because you say there isn’t.”
Because you say there isn’t. That’s our world’s attitude in a nutshell. Oprah could not accept the truth because she wanted to be her own authority—she wanted to decide what was right and wrong in her own life. Oprah could not accept the idea of a God who is King. And so many in our world cannot either. They’ll take, maybe, a distant uncle kind of God; maybe even a President kind of God who is accountable to the citizens and who has to be approved by them to rule. A God that human beings get to define. A God that human beings get to control.
That may be Western culture’s idea of the perfect god. But that’s not the God of the Bible. That’s not the God whose Kingdom Jesus came proclaiming, because that god is not a King. The Kingdom of God is at hand, Jesus is saying. No – you aren’t the center of the universe. No – you aren’t the ultimate standard of truth. No – you aren’t in charge of your own life.
So, here we find another demand of discipleship – being moved off the throne of your life, being displaced from the center of your universe. That’s the cost of discipleship – humiliation and helplessness before the King of All, servanthood in the court of an awesome Lord.
The Kingdom of God is coming, Jesus was saying. Now, it’s here. Bend the knee.
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