Jesus was born about 4 BC. Caesar Augustus had been the Caesar for about 20 years. His face was on all the coins. The Roman senate would vote upon him certain titles, and these titles would be on the coins. Son of God, king of kings, prince of peace, savior of the world, were some of the titles given to the Caesar, printed on all the coins used in the empire. Caesar was savior of the world, the world was saved from chaos from by Caesar Augustus. He was prince of peace, bringing Pax Romana, the peace of Rome. Except Tacitus, the ancient historian, tell us “Rome creates a desert and calls it peace.” I’ll let you ruminate on that thought for yourself.
Caesar Augustus, and nobody else, would have ever imagined all these titles would begin to be re appropriated within 40 years to a crucified Galilean Jew. But this is the revolution that came into the world with the coming of Jesus.
Pagan astrologers read in the stars, a new Jewish king had been born. Unfortunately, they crossed paths on the way to see this king with the current king of the Jews, King Herod. Herod was a very powerful man, but he also had a very fragile ego. This is always a dangerous combination, powerful men and fragile egos. So King Herod heard a baby had been born who fulfilled ancient prophecy concerning the coming messiah, king of the Jews. The result is what follows. If you’ve never read this before, or even if you have, read it again let it settle in, the tragedy that unfolds because a fragile ego lived in a brutal tyrant committed to protecting his own power.
“After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.” Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A cry was heard in Ramah— weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.” When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.” So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee. So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.” Matthew 2:13-23 NLT
Death squads sent by a despotic King, because a child had been born who might somehow threaten his power. This resulted in the born king of the world, and his family, being forced to live as refugees in a foreign land. Let that settle in, forever. If you believe in Jesus you worship a former refugee whose family had to flee their homeland for political, not spiritual reasons. Just like He was executed for political, not spiritual, reasons. Just like the early Christians were persecuted for political and not spiritual reasons…Jesus is Lord.
So why did Herod try to kill Jesus?? Not because he would grow up to die for the sins of the world. That was and is all true, but Herod didn’t know that. Herod tried to kill the boy because he had a correct instinct that the baby might be a challenge to the status quo. The baby just might change the world. The very rich and very powerful fear change above all else. It might somehow impinge on their position of power and privilege. When you’re at the top, there’s nowhere to go but down.
In our world, billionaires might be much more resistant to a new revolution of love coming into the world than the homeless in the street. Tell both groups we are going to change the world with a revolution of love. The homeless would have nothing to lose…SIGN ME UP!! The billionaires would want to, maybe, hear more about it. After all, Jesus is telling us that many who are first are going to be last. Many who are last are going to be first. The homeless might just call it…GOOD NEWS.
The homeless would immediately call it good news. The billionaires might not see it as good news, even though it is, even for them. They are going to have to work in it. It’s going to take a little bit of time to sink in. Come to think about it…we are far from billionaires, but maybe not as far as we think, are we?
And no, Jesus message was not received as good news by all who heard it. Some thought it was very bad news. Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate, and Caiaphas the high priest. They all thought it was bad, even dangerous news.
Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate had been enemies until Good Friday, after that they became friends. “(Herod and Pilate, who had been enemies before, became friends that day.)” Luke 23:12 NLT
They conspire together to kill Jesus. They became united in the common cause of killing Jesus. They had to kill Jesus Because Jesus might change the world, and they don’t want the world to change. They want the world the same. It’s set up just right for them.
Remember…”Blessed are the poor...”, because the rich might just be too attached to their stuff!! “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”” Mark 10:25 ESV. The coming of the kingdom of God, right here and right now, is subversive. Of course, Jesus also went on to say “….”With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”” Mark 10:27 ESV. So..it’s not impossible. It’s not easy for them (us) but it’s not impossible.
Jesus is not talking to us here about going to heaven when we die. Jesus is talking about entering king the reality the kingdom of God here and now. The Kingdom of God is God’s alternative arrangement for human society built around Jesus. It’s not heaven. Yes, we will be in heaven with the lord when we die, but that’s not what Jesus is talking about. The kingdom of heaven (the phrase used often by Matthew) is the government from heaven come to earth. We’re more trying to get heaven into earth than people into heaven. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10 ESV
As Dallas Willard puts it, the eternal life talked about by Jesus starts right here, right now. We begin our eternal lives at the moment of conversion. So when Jesus talks about building on a solid foundation of rock which will never be moved…he is telling us that our eternity has already begun. Our eternal lives don’t begin when our last living breath has gone, but while we are still walking and talking and breathing among our brothers and sisters.
Gods alternative arrangement built around Jesus leads to human flourishing. If we go our own way, we mess it up and people hurt and suffer needlessly. We as human beings made in God’s image have the capacity to solve most of our pressing problems. As Christians, we know our only hope for ever doing so is form an allegiance around Jesus and do things the Jesus way and live it. Beyond that, we have no hope.
Jesus is Lord. Not lord elect. Not lord someday. But lord right now.
Under King Jesus, we confess that the kingdom of God has come and continues to come under Christ.
Therefore we confess that –
The poor are blessed.
The sick are healed.
War is abolished.
Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Love trumps everything.
But this DOES pose a challenge to the status quo.
How much do you want the world to change.
If we are toward the top (and we are)…we get a little nervous at this point.
But if we are one of the 2 billion desperately poor…let’s change it yesterday. You don’t need any details.
We confess that Jesus came to save the world by changing the world.
It’s not just about going to heaven when we die. Yes we do go to be present with the lord when we die, but this not what Jesus was talking about. Jesus talks almost exclusively about the kingdom of God coming to earth. “The Kingdom of God is at hand…”. The Kingdom of God is near…”. This is all Jesus talked about. About how healing, forgiveness and restoration of all things can happen through what he’s announcing and enacting in his life, his ministry, his death, his burial, his resurrection and ascension. And it is truly revolutionary.
Which is why principalities and powers fight against kingdom of God. Which us why we have the final beatitude – “”Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10 ESV. Blessed are those who are persecuted for the right reasons.
The kingdom of God…part of what makes it of God and not of man is that it is without coercion, it comes without force.
We don’t convert people by force. A forced conversion to Christ is an oxymoron. It’s a contradiction in terms.
The Kingdom of God never comes by force. We convince by love, witness, spirit, rhetoric and if need be martyrdom. But never by force.
But…there are consequences to opposing kingdom of God. They might take a century or more to unfold, but they do unfold. Opposition to kingdom of God always leads to a self inflicted hell of self destruction.
From Pastor Brian Zahnd – “Opposition to the kingdom of love is the highway to hell.”
Not the retributive post-mortem hell, even though that exists. But we are talking about our space and our time, as we understand it and see it…now.
Think about Jerusalem AD 70. They resisted the message of Jesus and wound up being destroyed, just as Jesus predicted.
It’s America in 1860s heading into civil war, when white southerners refused to learn to love their black sisters and brothers as themselves. They resisted the kingdom of love, and put themselves on the highway to hell. 750,000 people would die, including 1 in 3 white men in the American south of fighting age.
Think about Germany in 1930s…in the name of nationalism they hurled themselves down path of self destruction. They didn’t think so at the time…but it came to fruition.
But…Some in Jerusalem did not follow false messiahs to their doom.
There were abolitionist in the 1860s on the right side of history.
There was the confessing church in Germany. In the German Evangelical movement 9 out of 10 pastors signed allegiance to Hitler.
But 1 in 10 publicly signed the confession that Jesus not Germany us where our allegiance must lie. God can not serve the interests of nationalistic empire.
Peacemakers in Jerusalem, abolitionists in 1860s America, and the confessing church in Nazi Germany were all revolutionaries in the Kingdom of Christ. Revolutionaries in Jesus army of love.
There were Jews who knew that love does advocate killing your enemies.
There were Americans who knew that Love cannot cooperate with slavery.
There were Germans who knew love must resist the lies of nationalism.
We have our own nationalism, our own racism…we still gave lots of -isms of hate.
If we try to fight hate with hate wins. The Devil doesn’t care which side of hate you’re on, as long as you’re on side of hate. Only love can conquer ugly -isms of hate. The world is calling out for us to pick sides in the kingdom of hate.
But Jesus invites us to join the revolutionary kingdom of love. There are only Two laws in this Kingdom. “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”” Mark 12:30-31 ESV. Only two laws, but we can never pull these apart.
How do you know if you love God – you love your neighbor as self. And who is my neighbor? Jesus has a parable for that. Remember the Good Samaritan? You neighbor is the person in need whom you can help.
“”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17 ESV
Jesus’ birth began a revolution. A revolution the paranoid principalities and powers fought with infant death squads and crucifixions.
You are invited to join the revolution. It will cost you. What’s it going to cost you? I don’t know. It is potentially dangerous. Take up your cross. It’s not likely for us that we will be threatened with death, but it’s always on the table. First thing we do when you confess faith in Jesus is we bury you. Then we raise you to newness of life. So we’ve already died. We died when we were baptized. We’ve already laid our lives down. We are now hidden with God in Christ. Once you’re not afraid of death, or any other form of loss, you just not afraid anymore. Fear has gone, and love can flourish. And when principalities and powers can’t use fear, they can’t control to kingdom of love anymore. Jesus invites, Jesus wants, Jesus needs you to be part of his revolution.