Jesus is our Shepherd who cares for us, our leader who gave himself for us and fights for us. He is also our absolute ruler. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus has some pretty strong words for those who would claim to follow him. Jesus is a despot. A benevolent despot, but a despot nonetheless. He expects nothing less than total allegiance to him. It is hard for us to grasp the ramifications of this. We live in a democratic republic where we have a say. We tend too easily to give our allegiance to things of this world, whether it's a person, party, ideology, country, church, or denomination. None of these things can come before our King. They may be good things, but they are still things of this world that will pass away.
Even those who live under dictatorships can possibly overthrow their rulers. Jesus cannot be overthrown. His power is absolute and his word is law. When he commands something, he doesn't put it up for a referendum. His commands are so vital that they carry eternal significance. There is a bit of tension when we talk about following Jesus and then read about obeying his commands. I thought we were saved by grace, not by keeping the law. Why does Jesus give us all these commands? When you look at Jesus' commands, they are actually quite impossible, if we try ton keep them in our own strength. That's what makes the kingship of Jesus so different. His commands are not just a new law, a new list of do's and don'ts. They are what Kingdom people are, how they live. Not only does our King give us commands, he also gives us the power to obey them. As we grow more and more into Kingdom people, we take Jesus' commands more and more seriously, realizing that we can only do what he says through the power of his Spirit in us. That's where grace comes in. Our King knows that we are weak and falter in our walk with him. He doesn't cast us into a dungeon or out of the Kingdom. He pulls us up and reminds us of who we are.
So, what does this mean for us here in the 21st century? First, we must realize that while the Kingdom has been inaugurated, it is not fully realized. In a very real sense, Jesus is a King in exile. We, his subjects, are here to work for his Kingdom. We are citizens of a Kingdom that is not like the kingdoms of this world. Second, we must learn what following the King means. As we look into Scripture, we must do so with the commitment to do what Jesus says. Third, we then are to teach one another, in community, how it all fleshes out in our day-to-day. We show what our King is like by sacrificially loving and serving others. We live out his words that those who belong to him are family.
As we do these things, we must remember that we can not live this way in our own power. We can do so only in the power of the Holy Spirit. We must also remember that we will not do this perfectly in this life, and that our brothers and sisters also will falter in their walk. Patience and grace is vital.
To quote one of my favorite passages from Tales of the Kingdom, "How goes the world?" "The world goes not well." "But, the Kingdom comes!" Let us be people in whom the Kingdom comes more and more each day.
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