Sunday 20th November 2016, Feast of Christ the King, evening

John 18:33-37

by Elaine Ambrose

When we read this it can be easy to understand that when Jesus says his Kingdom is in another dimension, and if the nonsense the religious leaders aimed at Jesus had transpired in his earthly Kingdom, that they would be in huge trouble!  It could be easy to believe that Jesus is saying that in his Kingdom if they dared do these things, his servants would fight back and kill them dead!

But that doesn’t really line up with Jesus’ teaching, does it?  Sometimes what we think he said and what he really said can be two different things.

Jesus was asked if he believed he was a King in this world and he said… “My Kingdom is not of this world,” meaning that his kingdom doesn’t operate the same way the kingdoms of the earth act.

The word ‘kingdom’ (Basileia in the Greek) literally translates into “rule / authority”, not a literal physical Kingdom but the power, rule and authority a person is under if they are ruled by a King.  So for kingdom, we could read “what rules me.”

So here’s my version of Jesus’ answer:  I am not ruled by the terrible things that motivate human beings trapped in darkness.   I am not ruled by hate, greed, fear, or pride, which is why no one is coming to save me or fight for me, because my Kingdom is not of this world.  I am ruled by love, peace, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, joy, patience and wisdom.  So no, my Kingdom is not of this world.  If it was, then you would see people killing in my name, or on my behalf, because that is the way of those ruled by lust of the flesh, greed of the heart, and fear of the soul.  My Kingdom is not from such a place of darkness.

From their interpretation of the prophecies that were handed down by the Old Testament prophets of God, the Jews believed that when the Messiah came, he would physically sit on a literal throne (throne of King David) in the earthly Jerusalem, ruling the actual nations of the world.  The Jews did not accept Jesus as the Messiah because he came as Isaiah’s Suffering Servant who would be executed; he didn’t fit their preconceived ideas of what and who the Messiah should be.  So, instead of recognizing Jesus as their Messiah, religious leaders considered him an upstart, a false teacher and a threat to simply be eliminated; which is what eventually brought Jesus on trumped-up charges before an illegal trial under the Jewish Sanhedrin and then on to Pilate and the Roman authorities.

Okay, here’s the big question for us:  If Christ’s kingdom is not of this earthly realm, then in what realm is the Kingdom of Christ?  Luke’s Gospel gives us a huge clue in 17:20-21: Jesus taught His followers, saying, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed . . . nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There it is!' For behold, the Kingdom of God is within you."

Where is the Kingdom of God?  Within you.  Where is the Kingdom of Christ? Within you.  They are one and the same thing, and Christ is speaking collectively of those who belong to him.  He tells his disciples that the Kingdom was not coming in the distant future, because it was already present.  They didn’t have to wait for the Kingdom to arrive – because, “the kingdom of God is within you.”  It’s not an external, physical, earthly kingdom, with a King of flesh and blood sitting on a physical earthly throne.  The Kingdom of God exists in the hearts of those who know and follow Jesus.  And he is present with us by the Holy Spirit who takes up residence within us when we commit ourselves to him, witnessing to us and turning our hearts toward him.  The Kingdom of Christ is within you!  The rule of God is to be ruled by love and truth.  Which is why, the more you see the love and truth in all things, the easier it is to find the love and truth that was already hiding there in the first place.

Even so, the Kingdom of Christ is not fantastic or imaginary, like Lewis’ Narnia, or Tolkien’s middle earth, or Rowling’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  It is a real Kingdom, present in the world, exercising tremendous power, empowering its citizens, advancing and enlarging with invincible force, destroying the weapons and defences of its enemies.  So real is the Kingdom of God to those who have been born into it through Christ, and who can see it through the spiritual heart of faith, it is a solid, substantial reality while all earthly Kingdoms are frail, fleeting shadows.

There will always be a spiritual kingdom on the earth and the spiritual realm is totally different from the physical realm.   It is more powerful and in a lot of ways more important.  God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship him in Spirit and in truth.  This is why it’s good to learn, with open hearts and minds, as much truth from the Scriptures as we can, and be wary of anyone who might assert a truth of God by beginning with, “It is clear from the Scriptures that . . . “, because some truths of God are anything but clear and may even be quite the opposite to what some Christians believe them to be.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and truth is of utmost importance to God.

So let’s bring all this into something that is currently relevant.  Why are so many Christians today so concerned about politics and the likes of Brexit and the American Presidency if Jesus says, “My Kingdom is not of this world”?  Why are Christians concerned about politics?  Because politics matter to God, and they should matter to us as well, whether (from God’s perspective) the righteous or the wicked are in power.  If we have any regard for the glory of God and any love for our neighbour, it matters.

Solomon says in Proverbs 29:2, “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.”  The groaning sounds familiar just now, doesn’t it?  It isn’t necessarily true that we have wicked people in power in the West just now, but it does seem that there is an awful lot of moaning and groaning about it.

Christians should be concerned about politics - about government - because government has to do with the ethics of a nation, and the ethics of a nation are reflected in its laws and in the faithful administration of those laws.  We might say that the ethics and laws of the Kingdom of Christ are found in the Beatitudes; it’s definitely the best place to start.  And of course, the Bible teaches simply and frequently that we are to do good whenever it’s in our power to do so, and good government is something that good people will naturally desire to promote; it’s one of the ways in which we serve our neighbour.  Jesus actually said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18).  So those who hold positions of authority have that authority on loan from Jesus Christ.  They have a delegated authority, to be exercised in a manner consistent with the will of Christ.  So, if they do not act justly, with compassion and mercy wrapped up in love, they are in rebellion against the true Sovereign, and I suspect they will have to answer to him for it.

When Jesus says that his Kingdom is not of this world, he is also referring to its point of origin: the will of God in Heaven and on earth.  We pray it every week as part of the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.’   Think about those words next time we say that prayer together; because it is the duty of every Christian, as faithful citizens and ambassadors of the Kingdom of Christ, to bring Kingdom principles to bear upon our participation in civic affairs.  At the very minimum this means that we vote, and that we vote for the candidate that, in our thinking, most consistently reflects Biblical principles in his or her personal life and in his or her public policies.  Political action is not the be all and end all of Kingdom work, by any stretch, but it is most certainly part of it.  Choosing the leader of our country is a big deal, which is why we can feel so despondent or frustrated when the leaders to select from seem to have far less substance and too few qualities than we might expect from a leader.

Jesus allowed Pilate and the Jews to lead him to execution whilst confidently expressing that he was in total control.  By stating that “my Kingdom is not of this world” he gives us confidence to know that even those of the highest powers on earth cannot contend with the plans of our Creator God and loving Heavenly Father.  The history-changing decision of Pontius Pilate actually served to advance the Kingdom of Heaven, even though from an earthly perspective it looked like it a tragic and bitter end.  And let’s not forget, even Pilate, who had an eagle eye for rival kings and kingdoms concluded, on the basis of Jesus’ words that the Kingdom of Jesus was no threat to Rome as the Jewish leaders had made it out to be - a threat of plots of sedition, physical force, and revolution.  “I find no fault in him” was the verdict of the representative of Rome.  So, whatever situation we might be facing in our lands, however much we might like or fear Mr Trump in the White House, or how the UK might really look like outside the EU, we can be confident that God is neither absent, nor ignoring what’s happening, because his Kingdom is right here, right now, in each and every one of us, and we are in the Kingdom of Christ, together . . . and that is surely something to take heart in.