Last time we looked at Abraham and we learned that he always felt like an alien or foreigner, even when he was in the land God had promised to him.
If anyone had a right to feel like he belonged, it was Abraham. All of the Old Testament, from Genesis 12 onward, hinges on the promise that God gave that strip of fertile land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River valley to Abraham and his children.
I wonder if Abraham understood, at some level, that even that inheritance was just a placeholder until the real king would come to introduce a new kingdom.
So let’s talk about that king! The one I'm speaking of, of course, is Jesus!
In a sense, Jesus was the ultimate alien. Why do I say that? Becuase even though the entire world belonged to him, he was not received by it!
His status as an alien was confirmed shortly after his birth when his family fled because of a bloody disaster in his hometown. You know what I'm talking about, right? Herod called on his army to slaughter all the infant boys of the region in hopes of destroying the new king. Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt in order to save Jesus's life. Thus, Jesus was not just an alien, but also a refugee.
This, in itself, is a powerful reminder to us. It's no wonder that Jesus declared that whatever you do for the least, you do for him (Matthew 25:40) – he identifies with the alien and the refugee, because He was one!
This concept is what will give us impetus, in the messages following today, to recognize that though we don’t belong to this world, we have great responsibilities to it!
As we consider Jesus as the King of the Aliens, there are several passages of scripture that refer to his kingship, and I'd like to look at some of them with you.
First, let's jump over to John 6. It's a familiar chapter, and I probably don't need to go over the story with you. In this chapter Jesus performs the extraordinary miracle of feeding five thousand people with just two loaves of bread and five fish. That in itself is a story worth telling, but what interests me today is what happened after the feeding of the five thousand.
Now that reference to "the Prophet" may or may not mean much to you, so in case you're unfamiliar with it, let's take a quick detour to the book of Deuteronomy. In chapter 18 Moses is speaking with the people of Israel, and he says to them:
Throughout the Old Testament times, the people of Israel were waiting for the fulfillment of this promise. A prophet like Moses. They'd had great leaders, and great kings, and great prophets, but they were still waiting for a prophet who would be as great as Moses. And when the people saw what Jesus had done, they said, "This is the guy! This is him!"
Because they were so excited, and convinced that Jesus was the promised prophet, they decided that he should be their king. In fact, they weren't even going to ask him if he'd like to be king; they were going to grab him and force him to be king. Look at how Jesus reacted:
I love it! This is such a beautiful quality in Jesus -- that he doesn't feel the need to be the top dog. He's so very different from what we find in modern day, when people are far too eager for power.
As we’ll find out shortly, there’s a reason why he’s not interested in being forced into a position of power.
So now let's switch gears and look at an event called the "Triumphal Entry." We can find this event in all four of the gospels, but we're going to go to Mark 11. Jesus is approaching the city of Jerusalem for the last time before His death, and the crowds of people -- perhaps some of the same ones who wanted to take him by force in John 6, were forming a parade, waving palm branches and shouting things like: "Blessed is he that comes in the name of the lord! And Hosanna to the son of David!"
But as many times as I've heard Palm Sunday sermons, I don't think I've ever heard someone preach on the Mark 11 version of their chant:
What's remarkable about this is that the phrase "coming kingdom of our father David" indicates that there is a strong political component to their declaration.
To put this in modern day terms, this is the equivalent of a campaign slogan or chant. It’s the equivalent of:
"Feel the Bern," or "Make America great again," or "I’m with her."
They want him to be the king of their physical, geographic kingdom.
So now let's take another leap, and look at John 18, where we find Jesus standing on trial before Pilate. Note that right off the bat, Pilate wants to know about these rumors that Jesus intends to be king.
Verse 36 is Jesus's answer to the accusation that he was trying to make himself king (since he’d committed no crime, this was the only way to convince the Romans to put him to death).
There are two important prepositions that Jesus uses in his answer. They are “of” and “from.”
The word that is translated "of" here is most frequently used in the “begats” of the Bible. The meaning of the word is “originate with.”
For example, “And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” In that sentence, we could rephrase "of whom was born Jesus" to say, "Jesus originated with Mary."
So what is Jesus saying? That his kingdom does not originate in this world. It’s a different kind of kingdom.
Then there's the other preposition: "from." This word means “on the side of” or, “belong to.” So when Jesus says his kingdom is not from this world, he's telling us that not only does it not originate with this world, but it also doesn't belong to this world; it doesn't derive its power and authority from this world.
You may remember that Peter attempted to fight on behalf of Christ in the Garden of Gesthemene, but Jesus prevented him. In effect, Jesus was telling him, "My kingdom does not need to be defended by earthly means." That should remind you of Ephesians 6:12- we’re not fighting a flesh-and-blood war!
What Jesus is saying here, when he announces that he has a kingdom that's not of this world, would have been startling to the Jews of his day. It was different than anything they had ever heard before.
You see, for all of its history, the nation of Israel had been given this remarkable promise that they were God's chosen and beloved people. They were waiting for "the Prophet." They were waiting for that extraordinary son of David who would rule and reign forever on the throne of Israel.
And the notion that someone would say, "Naw, no thanks, I think I'll pass on that," would have blown their minds. But from another perspective, it makes perfect sense. If you consider the promises of scripture about what Jesus will reign over (read Philippians 2 sometime!), it suddenly becomes ludicrous that he would get fired up over ruling a kingdom of this world -- even one as special as Israel!
Understanding that Jesus is king of a kingdom that surpasses all earthly kingdoms puts the temptation of Christ in a new light.
Satan was offering a trade, and it was a lousy trade – it wasn’t just “worship me in exchange for power,” it was “exchange the heavenly kingdom that is rightfully yours for all these pathetic little earthly kingdoms.”
Even at his best, Satan had nothing of worth to offer Jesus. Why would Jesus take the throne of Israel, of Rome, or of any other kingdom, when every one of these would be a step down from an eternal kingdom that would span all of history, and have as its citizens, people from every nation and tribe of the entire world?
Repeatedly, throughout his life, Jesus rejected every offer of earthly thrones.
This year, an evangelical leader, in defense of the moral failings of one candidate, commented, “Jesus is not running for president.” I’m glad He’s not – what a huge step down that would be for him to be president of the United States!
For all of history, nations have built walls and borders as a way of keeping undesirables out, or to keep their own people in, but the kingdom of Christ ignores every wall, infiltrates every earthly kingdom, and welcomes even the most undesirable, whoever they might be, into its fold.
And every kingdom of this world has a beginning and an end. Laura and I honeymooned in Scotland, and loved visiting the ruins of ancient castles that have been around since before the United States was even imagined. The kingdom of Christ predates even these ruins, and will continue to exist long after these castles, and their nations, have disintegrated to dust.
Why would Jesus surrender an unending kingdom for earthly kingdoms, constrained to borders, and constrained by time? There are no geographic borders, no temporal borders that will ever constrain the kingdom of Christ!
The Kingdom of Christ is “Jesus without borders,” not that borders don’t exist, but that Christ transcends them all!
There is a power to this kingdom that cannot be imagined. In Matthew 16:18, Christ declares that not even hell, with all its power, can defeat His eternal kingdom.
We need to take this powerful declaration to heart. For 240 years, this particular country has declared that religions will be neither established nor discriminated against. We rejoice in that, and we celebrate it, but we have fooled ourselves into thinking that the church of Jesus Christ needs the protection of this nation. It. Does. Not.
The only way Christianity needs the protection of a kingdom of the world is if it’s not true. Gamaliel said this in Acts 5:
If our faith is true, there is nothing a human government can do to stop it, and there’s nothing a human government can do to protect it. Let’s stop talking as though we need a politician to protect Christianity; it sounds lofty and idealistic, but it’s counter to scripture.
My faith is in Christ, and in Christ alone.
Last week we talked about the fact that our allegiance is to the kingdom of Christ, rather than a kingdom of this world; today, we need to talk about where our hope is.
When I was a kid I remember listening to a radio preacher talking about how the United States of America is the “new Israel,” the new “Promised Land.” I thought this didn't sound quite right, so I asked my dad, and he offered an answer of few words: "Don't believe everything you hear on the radio."
Often, the evangelical church has taken promises made to Old Testament Israel and we’ve lifted out of context and made them about the USA.
Look at it this way. If, at my wedding, I promise to love Laura and cherish her for better or worse, and some other woman who was there in the congregation expected me to treat her that way, because “You promised!” -- that would be utterly bizarre, wouldn't it?
Israel was God’s chosen bride, and we can’t assume that her promises belong to us as a nation, without a strong theological defense of that idea.
In the New Testament, due to the fact that Christ refused the throne of an earthly kingdom, his bride is not a nation at all – it is the church, which transcends all earthly boundaries.
But that means we cannot grab Old Testament promises to Israel and assume they apply to the USA. Consider this promise to Israel which has been frequently appropriated from its original context:
This verse does not say, "If the United States humbles itself, God will Make America Great Again!" God never promises to “Make America great again." If we can appropriate anything from this verse, it would be a promise to “make the church great again.”
We can’t use this verse to point outward and say, “If only those heathens would get their act together, our country would be great.” But rather “If only we would get our act together, the church will be great.” After all, judgement begins with the house of God, as Peter says.
Our goal is not to “Make America great,” but to make the church great, and magnify its King.
We’re so steeped in this belief that our country has been somehow “chosen” that the church has been desperate to find the USA in scripture. As a child, we’d have prophecy conferences with guest speakers who would analyze the book of Revelation to the last detail in hopes of offering us proof that the USA is mentioned in end times. My favorite was the declaration that the eagle described in Revelation 12 was the United States Air Force.
It may be an indication of just how much our hope is misplaced if it actually bothers us that the USA doesn’t seem to merit a clear mention in the Bible. Maybe, like so many other nations before it, the USA will have come and gone by the end of all things. Maybe it won’t even exist. As a citizen of the Kingdom of Christ, I have to be okay with that possibility.
Again, don’t get me wrong – I’m not anti-USA. I love the country I was born into. I love the freedoms I have. I love that I can say “My allegiance is to Jesus Christ,” without police knocking at my door. (In the 2nd century, by the way, Polycarp was burned at the stake because he refused to declare allegiance to his country and its king.)
But my hope is not in this country. It’s not in any politician or any political party, or any set of laws. It’s not even in the Constitution of the United States, as extraordinary a document as that is. My hope is in Jesus Christ.
Ben Sasse, a senator from Nebraska, said this: “There is a great risk in our time that our people who are scared and who are disoriented will vest too much in politics, and they will believe that their American-ness is the center of their identity. And I am here to tell you, brothers and sisters, that is idolatrous.”
Christians are beginning to make an important leap in understanding – “My hope is not in a political party. It’s not in the Democrats, it’s not in the Republicans.” This is a great leap, and an important leap, but we have to take that leap one step further: “My hope is also not in the country which those political parties represent. My hope is not in this country at all!”
Malcolm Muggeridge was once a guest at a breakfast in Washington, D.C. He made a number of comments about world affairs, all of which were very pessimistic. One of the Christians present said to the speaker, "Dr. Muggeridge, you have been very pessimistic. Don't you have any reason for optimism?" He replied, "My friend, I could not be more optimistic than I am, because my hope is in Jesus Christ alone." He allowed that remark to settle for a few seconds, and then he added, "Just think if the apostolic church had pinned its hope on the Roman Empire!"
My hope is built on nothing less / Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; / I dare not trust the sweetest frame, / But wholly lean on Jesus’ name. / On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; / All other ground is sinking sand, / All other ground is sinking sand.