5 Strange Things
This Sunday at Emmaus we will have the third message of a four-week sermon series called Gospel Life. The driving question in this series is this: What is the good news about Jesus? In other words, what is the gospel message?
Over the past two Sundays, I’ve suggested that the good news about Jesus can be summarized like this: The good news about Jesus is that he reigns as God’s true king. God has enthroned Jesus as the rightful king of all creation.
So how did Jesus establish himself as the king? In a word, strangely. The way that Jesus became enthroned as the king of the Jews, and the king of creation, is unlike any rise to power the world has ever seen. Here are five examples from the bible of just how strange it was:
- Jesus filled his kingdom with all the wrong people.
If you were the president of the United States, who would you put on your cabinet? Or if you were trying to start a movement, what sorts of people would you recruit at the ground level? I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to put it this way: think of the exact opposite kinds of people that you’d want on your cabinet or in your movement, and you’re close to what Jesus had.
It isn’t just that Jesus “took what he could get” in some attempt at getting a critical mass for his movement. No, Jesus went out and actively recruited all the “wrong” people. He recruited simple fishermen and hated tax collectors. He ate in their homes. Jesus did not only accept despised prostitutes into his movement, he elevated them as key members of his community. Jesus even implored his followers to be like children as they came under his reign as king. We often receive this advice with warmth and affirmation now, but there is no doubt that it would not have been received quite so willingly in the 1st century AD.
- Jesus didn’t use violence to establish his reign.
We often take for granted just how peaceful transitions of power are in the United States. When we elect a new senator or president, we assume that the one voted in will be allowed to take their new seat without having to physically fight the old regime. Without exception, this is what happens in our country. But for much of human history, and in many places in the world today, this smooth rise to power is not the norm. Many kings, rulers, and leaders use force to grab power. They recruit armies, take up arms, and use violence to take their throne.
The way of Jesus is much different. Jesus understood his rise to power in very different terms. Even labeling it as a “rise” to power is misleading. Jesus wasn’t climbing a ladder to kingship. Jesus was climbing down, as low as he could go, in order to become the king of his people. This meant giving up any notion of physically fighting for the throne in Jerusalem. It meant that his followers would need to be people of peace, not people of the sword. Jesus even taught his followers to “take up their cross” if they wanted to follow him. This meant that following Jesus might lead to death, but not a death by violent fighting. Jesus’ own death on a cross made it crystal clear what he meant by “taking up your cross”.
- Jesus willingly accepted and endured being crucified as the way he would become king.
Governments take great efforts to preserve the lives of their leaders. In the US, the president goes nowhere without the protection of the secret service. It was not much different in the ancient world. Wherever kings and leaders went, they were protected against those who might want them dead.
Yet, Jesus believed that it would be through his death, particularly the way he would face his death, that his kingship would be established. With two thousand years of Christian history behind us, and with the relatively respectable standing that Christianity holds as a major religion in the world today, the absolute absurdity of this point can get lost. There is a foolishness to this claim: Jesus became king by being executed by the state. Yet this was the conviction that Jesus held as he willingly walked to his own death.
- Jesus blessed and prayed for those who wanted him dead.
Sometimes (and I don’t know how this will sound), but sometimes I can appreciate how tough of a spot the leaders of Jerusalem were in with Jesus. Here was a movement that had masses of people behind it. Jesus, while a man of peace, had a history of sticking his proverbial finger in the chest of the authorities. He seemed to undermine the most sacred of institutions, like Sabbath and Torah. The people seemed to follow his lead on this. And now, things were on edge. People were beginning to claim Jesus was the king. Alright, fine. Except that there already was a king.
So what do you do? If you put Jesus in prison, a revolt might likely be on your hands. If you leave him alone, who knows what might happen. Better to just cut the head off the snake. So these leaders devise a solution that includes arresting Jesus and killing him.
And yet, as the arrest and trial unfold, there is a strange posture that Jesus takes towards those who are going to execute him. Jesus does not curse them. He does not display hatred towards them. In fact, as the conviction and execution are carried out, Jesus blesses the very ones doing these things to him. Jesus asks God to forgive them. I have a hard time blessing people who cut me off in traffic. So I am always speechless when I consider this aspect of Jesus’ death.
- God vindicated Jesus as king by raising him from the dead.
The Christian proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection is a treasure trove of hope. By raising Jesus from the grave into new life God has conquered death. God has proclaimed life as everlasting. By lifting Jesus from death to life, God has paved a way for all people to enter this life, namely by trusting Jesus as king.
Furthermore, when God raised Jesus from death into life, God proclaimed that the ways of Jesus were God’s ways. The resurrection is a giant “YES!” from God to all the things Jesus taught, to all the actions Jesus lived out, and also to all the ways that Jesus walked into his kingship. With the resurrection God affirmed that the kingship of Jesus is exactly the kingship that God wants for all of creation. This is indeed good news.