English service on April 18, 2021
Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison
Saying No to the Kingdoms of This World
If you have been here at Open Door in person or online for the last couple of months’ English worship services, you recall that we have been in the message series: “Living in the Kingdom of God.” We’ve looked at God’s plan for His kingdom and His call for us to live in it, not only in its fullness at the end of time but even here and now, every day. We’ve contrasted the kingdom of God, where His peace (shalom) is the key feature of life, with the kingdoms of this world, which often run on selfishly-used political, military, economic, or other human powers.
We’ve learned that God’s great plan for human beings is not just to get us out of this messed-up, sin-filled world. It’s not like the old Star Trek shows some of us have watched. Remember when Captain Kirk and others would go down from the starship Enterprise to explore some strange new world and get in terrible danger? Someone would use their high-tech communication device to call the ship and say, “Beam me up, Scotty!” Then he would somehow transform them so that they would disappear and instantly re-appear back in the Enterprise, safe and sound.
That’s how some Christians imagine salvation works. But the teaching of God’s word is that He saves us not just to get us out of trouble so we will go to heaven instead of hell when we die. More than making us a way to escape this world, He wants to bring the kingdom of heaven into this world. We can call that “bringing up there down here.” He wants to restore this world to the type of place it was before sin came in and began ruining it, then help us as humans to make a life here based on peace, justice, love, and all the other things that show His glory.
Easter has come and gone since last month’s message, and I hope you noticed in hearing again the stories of the cross and resurrection how many times the theme of the kingdom of God appears there. The actions and words of the characters and visual images you would see if you were there at that time, again and again point to the kingdom of God (or “the kingdom of heaven” or “. . . the heavens”). For example, Mark 15 shows how soldiers mocked Jesus before putting Him on the cross.
The soldiers put a purple robe on Jesus. Then they twisted thorns together to make a crown. They placed it on his head. They began to call out to him, "We honor you, king of the Jews!" Again and again they hit him on the head with a stick. They spit on him. They fell on their knees and pretended to honor him.
When someone was killed on a cross in those days, above that person’s head would be written the crime the Romans said he had committed. Matthew 27:37 tells us that over Jesus’ head was written, “THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
In these examples, you see how the people who call Jesus king do not really mean it at all. They are making fun of Him personally and the core message of His teaching. Yet the gospel writers are pointing to something greater that is happening at the same time. These people are saying more than they know. They seem to think they are doing something funny or cool, showing their power, and probably trying to keep the Jewish people afraid so they will not rise up and try to take back their country.
But God is at work, too. Even through the arrogance and cruelty of the people holding in their hands the political power at that moment, God is showing an eternal truth—the reality of His own reign over the entire world. The kingdom of God will last far longer than any human kingdom. Two thousand years later, we know that the Roman Empire has been gone for many centuries. No human nation stays on top forever. Many go out of existence completely. But God continues to rule over all. He never changes, and His kingdom will always be the dominant reality of our world. Not even the cruelest oppression and injustice can change that.
When you see that theme running throughout the gospels, you can understand in a clearer way Jesus’ words and actions at earlier points in His life. For example, in the temptation of Christ after 40 days in the desert, we read the following (Luke 4:5-7).
Then the devil led Jesus up to a high place. In an instant, he showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. He said to him, “I will give you all their authority and glory. It has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Yet Christ refuses. Why? Is it because He has no interest in “the kingdoms of this world”? Is He showing us that following Him means separating ourselves from the messy and divisive matters of politics? No, not at all. He speaks very directly about political issues, many of the heroes of the Bible (which Jesus said openly is God’s word) are political leaders, and many followers of Christ have begun careers in politics because they believed the Lord was leading them to do so.
But it seems that Christ’s particular mission and calling are not focused on politics and leading a government during His time in this world. He came to begin a movement which goes far beyond particular nations and systems of control over territory, people, money, and so on. And He will not sacrifice this greater mission to gain control over the kingdoms of this world. He rejects Satan’s offer especially because accepting it would mean taking power by giving up His integrity and purity. In order to live in the kingdom of God, we too will have to make choices not to take power in ways that require us to compromise our character and beliefs. There will be pressure from the outside or temptation from the inside to do that. But those who choose to live in the kingdom of God will say no to the kingdoms of this world.
When we come to today’s Bible story of Christ standing before the Roman governor, Pilate, we see Jesus speaking and acting in ways that are very consistent with the rest of His life and teachings. He receives a direct question in v. 33, “Are you the king of the Jews?” But He does not give a yes or no answer at this point. He seems to know that there is something behind this question besides a sincere desire to understand Him.
He answers with a question, “Is that your own idea? . . . Or did others talk to you about me?” Pilate does not answer directly either but with a question (“Am I a Jew?”). Yet soon Jesus does give a more direct reply to Pilate’s original question. In v. 36, He says, “My kingdom is not part of this world. If it were, those who serve me would fight.
They would try to keep the Jews from arresting me. My kingdom is from another place.”
What He says here matches with the story beginning in Luke 22:47. Sasaki-san mentioned it last week in talking about the Mount of Olives, where Jesus goes to pray before being arrested. Then He directly stops His disciples from fighting the people who have come to arrest Him, just when one of His followers has cut someone with a sword to protect Him.
“My kingdom is not part of this world.” When Jesus says this to Pilate, the governor sees that Jesus does believe He is a king, but of a different type than he (Pilate) has the job of standing against. Christ says openly (v. 37), “You are right to say I am a king. In fact, that's the reason I was born.” Then as Jesus continues talking about His kingship, He brings the matter of truth into the conversation. He says, “I came into the world to give witness to the truth. Everyone who is on the side of truth listens to me.”
Inside these words is something that Pilate and the whole Roman Empire would be worried about if they understood it and took it seriously. It’s the reality that, even if you have all the land, money, weapons, connections, votes, or whatever it takes to keep the power of a kingdom of this world, if keeping it requires you to stand against the truth, in the end, you are going to lose. You will have to stand before God one day and give account for your choices, and He will punish evil in the end. A price must be paid for it.
Pilate knows a key truth here—Christ is not a criminal and does not deserve to die. Yet the governor does not have the courage to make the legal decision about Jesus based on that truth. The religious-political leaders of Jesus’ nation are the same in this way. They cannot make a claim against Him that is based in fact and would lead to His death as punishment. (That is what they really want.) So when Pilate asks them in v. 29, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” they can’t give him a clear name of the crime and set of facts to back it up.
The best they can argue is (v. 30), “He has committed crimes. If he hadn't, we would not have handed him over to you.” Really? “Trust us. Would we lie to you?” To put it far too mildly, they have not convinced Pilate. By the end of this conversation, the chief priests are saying words that normally would shock the ears of Jewish people who heard them. When Pilate asks them (19:15), “Should I crucify your king?” they give the amazing reply, “We have no king but Caesar.”
They clearly are using words they do not believe are based on justice in order to reach a political goal they have chosen. And this day, it looks like they achieve their aim of getting Jesus killed. But in the process, they have shown how corrupt they are and what evil they are willing to do in order to hold power in the kingdom of this world.
One of the ways this story guides us today is in showing the kinds of leaders we should be when we lead and should choose to lead us when we have the chance to do that. Even in an age of postmodernism, there is still such a thing as truth. Today, too, we need leaders who are willing to stand on it, while respecting others’ views, even when it is not popular. When our cultures or governments or others pressure us to stay quiet in the face of evil, followers of Christ must be like Him in telling the truth. That truth may be about racism or biased reporting or laws that favor the powerful over the weak or some other issue. But walking in the truth as far as we know it is a key part of what it means to live in the kingdom of God.
When there is a price to pay for telling what we see as the truth, God may still lead us to speak out. It may be about the morality of using human embryos in science experiments, even if they could lead to medicines or other means of reducing human suffering. It may be about human sexuality, orientation, and gender and what it means to treat all people with respect while also speaking honestly, even when there is a price to pay for doing so.
These are only examples of what it may look like to say no to the kingdoms of this world in order to say yes to living in the kingdom of God. (I hope we can learn about this saying yes next month.) And the ones I mentioned just now have to do with speaking or remaining silent. But many of the things we have to face in our daily lives are about our personal thoughts, the actions that grow out of them, decisions, planning, relationships, and much more.
How about in your life where you are right now? What would it look like for you to live more fully in the kingdom of God? To make that possible, what do you need to let go of, turn your back on, cut ties with in order to more completely live with God as your King? Whatever the issue, Christ our Savior and Lord was not afraid to follow a different King than the powerful people of this world wanted Him to obey. He kept taking the next step of faith to be His true self, the person God made Him to be. He asks us to follow Him in doing that as we learn to live in the kingdom of God. Will you join with me in asking Him to help us do that?
Lord, we need you to free us from our fears, our pride, our habits— from all that keeps us attached to the kingdom of this world and keeps us from living under your leadership. So we thank you for the teaching and the perfect example that your Son Jesus has provided for us to help us learn to know you as our King. But we also pray for courage, for the desire to humbly obey, for the knowledge and will and partners all it takes to live as your people more and more in each day ahead. In your love and power, grant these gifts, dear Lord, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Ortberg, J. (May 3, 2020). Eternity is now in session. Highland Park Presbyterian Church. Retrieved April 11, 2021 from https://assets.speakcdn.com/assets/2226/eternity_is_now_in_session_5320.pdf?1588706473702