Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The good news and bad news about the kingdom

When Jesus says, "The Kingdom of God is here, repent and believe the good news," there were was implicit in His pronouncement that there was also a king in charge of said Kingdom. That can be good news or bad news, depending on the King and depending on our desire to be ruled.

First, the character of the king shapes the kingdom. If the king is good, just, kind, and governs his people with their good in mind, it's good news that there is a king. It can be freeing to know that there is someone in charge who has your best interests in mind and also has the power and authority to do what is best. But if the king is a tyrant, bent on getting his own way, leading by fear and eager to prove his king-ness by pressing his thumb down on the people, it's bad news that there is a king. It can be paralyzing to know that there is someone in charge who sees you merely as a disposable component in his Me-Machine.

The movie "300" (and the book "Gates of Fire" by Stephen Pressfield) come to mind, as there is a great contrast between two kings during the battle of Thermopylae - King Xerxes of Persia and King Leonidas of Sparta . Xerxes is bent on his own name and he magnifies his name by crushing those who oppose him, by feeding the senses of those who will bow to his whims, and he will stop at nothing to extend his kingdom. He sends waves and waves of soldiers, sacrificing thousands while he stays far away from the battle lines. He leads with whips and chains. Leonidas is bent on the name of his country, desiring that Sparta be known as a great nation and that its people remain free. He does not send his men to fight and die alone, but instead he goes and lives with them, leading them from the front lines, steeling their courage with his own. He leads with freedom and by example. As I raed "Gates of Fire" years ago, I couldn't help but see Jesus in King Leonidas. Jesus did not stay far off from His people during the battle, but instead came to lead by example, to show courage and compassion and to reveal the face of the king to his subjects, eventually laying His life down for the freedom of the people.

Second, our desire to be the king instead of the kingdom member can affect how we hear the good news of the Kingdom of God. If we are eager to rule our own lives, it is bad news that there is a king, because our place on the throne is being challenged. And all of us start out in this place of rebellion against God's kingdom, thinking ourselves the masters of our own universe, and the world around us reinforces and encourages this thinking, telling us that we deserve to be the king and to have life our own way. If we're not careful, we can live our whole lives in the shadow of this lie, and that includes people who have trusted Christ for salvation, because all Christians (me included) struggle with giving lip service to God as King while maintaining our own kingdoms.

But to all of us, God gives us the gift of brokenness, if we will receive it as such. The brokenness in our lives is meant to show us the truth that we are not in charge, that there is a king and it's not us. If we are humble, we will see our failures and struggles and the failures of those around us as signposts pointing to the only One who is good. Looking at our world today, we truly need a king who will rule with justice and kindness, with righteousness and integrity. And that King exists, if we would receive Him. Sadly, we too often prefer the way of Psalm 2:1-3, seeing God's reign as confining and as something to be thrown off, forfeiting the grace that could be ours.

There is a King and we are not it - this truly is good news.

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