We are living in a time of momentous events. Over the past 12 months our lives and routines have been upended by a global pandemic. The unexpected impact has disturbed the collective psyche of our communities. In the midst of this, the ever shifting responses of national leaders and muddled messages of policy makers and experts have increased the anxiety of many. Issues of police brutality, racial injustice, economic insecurity, and mental health have been brought to the forefront of the national conversation. Through this all we have been expected to carry on with the usual concerns and affairs of daily living.
With all of this in mind, it is understandable that we are looking for answers. We need a way out and many expect our leaders to formulate and present a path forward that eases our concerns.
Here in the United States, the recent election cycle has aroused strong passions about who should lead. We have witnessed lies, exaggerations, and manipulation of the masses on a level that many have never before seen. Extreme viewpoints have emerged to take center stage. Proponents from every political affiliation and all flavors in between believe theirs is the cause of what is just and right. They whip out what they believe to be persuasive arguments and categorically and caustically dismiss those who fail to walk lockstep with every line of their logic.
Sadly in some circles these views have begun to compete and in some cases been merged with the name of Jesus. To listen and observe, the impression is given that Jesus Christ would endorse the platform of the Democrats or the Republicans. Or perhaps He is actually backing the candidates they put forward. To top it off, alongside endorsing the philosophical and political party lines, we hear many say ‘God is still on the throne.’ The disturbing reality is that these words seem to be spoken in a tone of resignation. As if, well if all else fails we still have God.
Is this the proper viewpoint? Is this the impact the reality of the kingdom of God should have in the life of one who has placed his or her faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior? Is the kingdom of God a fallback position, a backstop for when all else has failed?
We should acknowledge that our varied backgrounds and life experiences can color our expectations and desires for equity, justice, and security. It is easy to formulate a plan which seems to be reasonable, fair, and solves problems and believe it is God’s way. However, we must understand that the kingdom is God’s and Jesus is Lord, not for our own temporal concerns. It is to His name and glory, until every knee is bowed before the Lord and every heart fully submitted to Him.
While current events may seem to be unprecedented, in reality they are nothing new. Pandemics, epidemics, economic instability, oppression, racism, injustice, corrupt and failed leaders --- all of these have been the burden of society ever since the rebellion in the Garden of Eden. So too, the answer has always been the same. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matthew 6:33
The kingdom of God has been and is the answer to all that afflicts humankind. Jesus’ words in this section of scripture are noteworthy because they go to the root cause of many of our problems. Anxiety. Anxiety over how our lives will unfold. He reduces the anxieties of life into a few major concerns. “Do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink, nor for your body, as to what you will put on.” (Matthew 6:25) That’s it in a nutshell. All that would consume us in anxious concern centers around these things. Jesus did not say we should not be interested in meeting these needs. He did not say we should not take steps to address these needs. He did not speak to minimize the reality of our concerns. He did say we should not be worried or anxious. And what is anxiety? Anxiety is an apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness over an impending or anticipated event.
Is not this what many of us have felt in this current season? Anxiety over COVID, anxiety about a job, anxiety over the election, anxiety over conspiracies, anxiety over when school will resume, anxiety over when we can travel again, and so on.
Again Jesus speaks to the heart of the matter as read from Matthew 6:27, “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” Wow! Just stop and marinate in that thought.
Then He follows up with a revelation to some, a reminder to us all. “For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” Well duh! What He has given us is found back in verse 33. Rather than live in anxious concern, seek first the kingdom and ‘His righteousness.’ Seek the righteousness of God. Seek His favor. Seek to know and fully comprehend His ways and His justice.
I believe included in God’s justice is God’s timing. God always intervenes at a time, the time that is best for all persons and matters that are involved in an issue. And that is one thing that we as humans cannot say. Our timing is awful. Our understanding of matters is severely limited. We almost expect to live with unintended consequences and collateral damage. Not so with God.
And yet again, here we are in a season where many are responding as if we are presented with something new, something unseen, outside the realm which God can redeem. Based on how so many are responding, this would appear to be the case. Add in human sinfulness which is involved in racist and unjust actions, and we can begin to see the underpinnings of much of what we have witnessed of late.
It is at this point, that I wish to address a related outcome of succumbing to anxiety. The belief that we must take matters into our own hands, in the name of Jesus, to fix all that ails mankind. The idea that the faithful are called to impose the will of God upon a nation and its citizens. How quickly we forget that this is another failed attempt at human independence, a failure to submit to God, and an exaggerated sense of importance.
The most qualified individual to rule mankind has already walked this earth in the person of Christ Jesus. He did so at a time when the Roman Empire dominated his land and his people. People lived under oppression, injustice, and their lives were cheap. The wealthy took advantage of the poor. The political leaders were corrupt and the religious leaders viewed themselves as above the commoner.
So imagine when Jesus appeared on the scene. He spoke of justice and the equality of man. He fed the hungry, healed the sick and expelled the unclean spirits. Surely here is the candidate to take on the mantle of leadership. Let’s get this guy to run for office. Let’s take over! “So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. - John 6:15.
And again when Jesus was wrongfully arrested and tried. Brought before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, the issue of kingship is raised. Pilate asked Jesus in John 18:33, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Let me frame it in today’s language. Jesus are you a Democrat or are you a Republican? Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world… My kingdom is not of this realm.” (John 18:36) Think of the impact of Jesus’ reply. Jesus said His kingdom is does not derive its legitimacy from the institutions of men. It is not from this place. It is out of and above this world.
The argument he puts forth is telling too. In that same verse 36, Jesus argues, if My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over.” Whoa! If we were from here and about this life, yeah there would be a fight. Hmmm. The import of Jesus’ reply was quite clear. His kingdom is not advanced by carnal weapons.
This is a truth that many who call on the name of Jesus fail to understand. The history of religion is littered with examples of the sad and harmful outcome when the power of the State is wedded with the ecclesiastical authority. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of the limitations of our fallen natures. God has not endorsed any of men’s governments or leaders no matter how lofty or pure their platforms appear to be. Truthfully God never intended us to rule apart from Him. He does not need our placeholders. He has tolerated them for a time. But we dishonor His name and reputation to allow that these failed substitutes can ever approach anything close to what He has in mind.
So what are we to do? Each of us are called to be a bearer of light. To allow the transformative power of the gospel and a life submitted to Jesus to shine in our spheres of influence. To demonstrate the power of God in our lives. To use our time and resources to render aid and relieve the suffering of one another. Jesus did not enlist the Roman legions to force discipleship upon society. After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the young church was a persecuted church because of their gospel preaching. They did not seek to seize power nor curry favor with the powers of their day. Their influence was felt because of a Holy Spirit directed and empowered manner of living. The framework was provided to address every spirit and “ism” which can divide mankind. In a living breathing community of believers they faced up to the challenge of submitting all things to the life of Christ.
We invite you to connect with us as we explore the depth of God’s riches and wisdom as revealed in the gospel and person of Jesus Christ our Lord.