Today is a daily devotional that helps God's people refresh, refocus and renew their faith through Bible reading, reflection, and prayer.
Earlier in his ministry of teaching and healing, Jesus had fed 5,000 people with a boy’s small lunch. The response of the people was to try to make Jesus king by force, but Jesus slipped through their fingers and withdrew (John 6:1-15).
In today’s reading from John 18, Jesus stands in front of Pilate, the local representative of Caesar, the most powerful man on earth. Pilate asks what should be a simple question: “Are you a king?” The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all speak of Pilate asking this central question.
But the answer is not so simple. Jesus has questions of his own for Pilate. Here Jesus seems to be getting at the motive for Pilate’s question. Jesus repeatedly claims to have a kingdom, so that’s a partial “yes.” But he states that his kingdom “is not of this world.” Pilate has his hands on the levers of power here, but Jesus shows that he’s the true King.
This month, we have been pondering the Bible’s message that Jesus is King. But if we insist on giving our own definitions to the ideas of “king” and “kingdom,” Jesus’ kingship and kingdom will slip through our fingers.
Jesus fulfills the world’s longing for a true king, but he also redefines what it means to be King. That is because the kingdom Jesus brings is wholly other—it comes from the very heart of God.
Revealing the Lord of Kings
The world needs a true king. The whole Bible proclaims and points to this fact. Many stories, plays, epic poems, mythologies, and fairy tales echo some version of the theme too. This world is messed up; it has lost its true ruler; it has tremendous potential but falls terribly short. We are all waiting for the world’s true King to be revealed, to pull together all the diverse and tangled strands of hope and longing, promise and potential.
In the New Testament we come to the arrival of Jesus on the scene. He comes “preaching,” a term that means “to herald, to make a royal proclamation.” The Bible’s core message is a royal proclamation and announcement of truly good news. This is the news that in Jesus, the kingdom of heaven has come near.
What is the kingdom of heaven? It is, most simply, wherever God is King—where God is in charge, shaping people’s lives and ruling the world. Jesus comes to embody and announce that kingdom. He is not a politician seeking someone’s vote or generous donations. He is the King calling us to true allegiance: “Come, follow me.” He makes us participants in his kingdom’s advance: “I will send you out to fish for people.”
He continues calling today: “Repent. Come. Follow me. The kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Today’s reading from Zephaniah is lyrical and beautiful. It speaks of a coming day when God’s care for his people is so close, so complete, so strong, and so sweet that it almost sounds like a dream. It evokes the hope of a future day when God’s favor and love will be complete and wondrous.
But we live as fallen people in a fallen world. We experience grief, loneliness, frustration, and injustice. It may be good to realize that much of the book of Zephaniah speaks of things we might see in a bad dream. It speaks of God’s judgment against human sin and evil, of sweeping and destructive chaos on the earth, of trouble and ruin, of darkness and gloom (Zephaniah 1:2, 15). In fact, it sounds more like a nightmare.
But finally, in God’s faithfulness, a day of rejoicing comes. God works to call a remnant of people as faithful worshipers, humble and honest (3:10-13). And then comes the day of God’s love and favor and delight. On that day the Lord and King, “the Mighty Warrior who saves,” will hold us and love us like a delighted parent cooing love songs over a beloved child.
In Jesus, our Lord, King, and Savior, the dream of this future day begins to be part of our reality even now!
Joy to the World
Joy is one of the highest and holiest experiences of human life. Joy has been defined as the response we have to being united with what we love. To journey to a desired destination brings joy. The arrival of a child at the end of a pregnancy brings joy. To experience freedom after a time in confinement brings joy.
Psalm 98 calls God’s people to active expressions of joy. Why? Because the Lord “has done marvelous things.” God’s saving love throughout the ages brings his people to new lands, new life, and new freedom. And the right response to all this is joy and rejoicing.
Music is especially well-suited to rejoicing. Musical melodies and rhythms get into us. They set our mouths to humming and our toes to tapping. Music involves our bodies, minds, and emotions. So, fittingly, the psalmist says, “Sing to the Lord a new song,” and invites the accompaniment of a range of instruments to celebrate the Lord’s kingship.
On this day, known as Christ the King Sunday, we lift songs of joy to celebrate that we have been reunited with God through Jesus. In him all our lesser experiences of joy find their eternal source and goal. And beholding him face to face one day will bring joy that resonates and resounds eternally.
The King’s Shalom
Psalm 72 is a hopeful prayer for the king who rules over God’s people. Shalom is a key word in the original text, often translated as “prosperity” and “peace” (see verses 3 and 7). Shalom carries the idea that something broken has been made whole. When you are restored to health and wholeness after battling an illness that has badly weakened you, maybe even to the point of death, that is an example of shalom. Another example could include being restored to a meal around a table with loved ones after being cut off from family and friends for a long time, or after enduring a period of great loneliness.
This psalm dares to hope and pray for shalom to be restored throughout the earth. This happens in the context of righteousness (being right with God) and justice (living in right relationships with people). Righteousness and justice go together like the two sides of a coin. The great hope and prayer is that God’s shalom comes on the earth through the right king.
Trusting in Christ as King, we can live with a heart of wisdom, identifying places and situations where things are broken, and seeking to make them right.
The shalom of Christ the King comes as we repent, believe, and follow Christ as King. We receive his reign and pursue it in whatever ways his Spirit leads us.
Laughing at Kings
It is not easy to be hopeful and prayerful people in a world of politics. For people of faith, it is easy to be intimidated. In a world of powerful corporate interests, global economies, and systemic injustices, what difference do our puny prayers and little acts of obedience make?
Psalm 2 speaks of the nations and peoples of the world, with their powerful kings and rulers, conspiring against the Lord. They say that following God and his ways is oppressive. God’s ways of justice and truth hold them back and get in their way; it’s much easier to throw off those chains, they say.
What can Christ’s followers do in a world where the majority and the powerful reject God’s ways? One answer might be to listen for God’s laughter. The Lord’s laughter in Psalm 2 shatters the illusion that the wicked will have their way forever. The Lord laughs when presidents and prime ministers speak as if their plans are ultimate and their victories are final.
The Lord announces in Psalm 2 that he will appoint his own Son as King over the nations. And in Jesus’ ascension to the throne of heaven, this process has already begun (Acts 2:31-36). Trusting wholly in Christ, we can pray that his kingdom keeps coming, and we can be assured that God’s ways will prevail over the unjust powers of the world.
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