A Clash of Kingdoms
History is in interesting thing. We were reading about George Washington the other day during school. We discovered that George Washington didn't really want to be president. He didn't want to leave his home and "be in charge". He wanted to stay home and fox hunt. He wanted to stay home and manage his gardens and farm. He wanted much more comfortable things that what he ended up doing. But, he did the hard thing because he understood the greater picture that life wasn't about him. In fact, after eight years as President, he determined that no one person should have power for longer than that because it would go to his head. Someone else needed a turn. He didn't try to take over; he didn't want praise and pomp and promotions. He wanted the cause of American liberty and freedom to prevail. When I think about the fledgling America and the leaders that we had, the conflicts they endured, and the circumstances they suffered, it's amazing that America survived. Really. But, as we read about those early days, one thing we notice is that God was given top priority in the leaders' lives and in their creation of a new government. Those leaders understood the government wasn't just about them or their personal ideas. This new country was not dependent on any one person. No, the leaders understood, and were striving together, for a goal of "one nation, under God". The early leaders understood that a nation that honored God would itself be honored. How did they know this?
From the Word of God itself.
A kingdom, a people, an individual who honors God will be honored by God.
This seems like an easy thing to say, but what does living for the kingdom and honor of God actually look like? And, why is it so important?
We were learning in church about the message of the Gospel which Jesus came “to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). This message was “about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). And, what exactly is that kingdom? The kingdom of God is where God rules as King. Sounds pretty simple, right? In a perfect world, yes.
But, as we quickly see, our world is not one where God reigns as King.
There are all kinds of conflicts in our world, our country, our work places, our churches, our homes, our families, our relationships. Conflicts of every shape and kind. People striving against others for the sake of well, themselves. For example, this week, whenever the boys have been arguing or squabbling over a particular toy or “thing”, I have heard the older one emphatically say (yell), “This is what Pastor talked about in church on Sunday. You are wanting your own kingdom!” (The older one, of course, is wanting his own kingdom as well; it’s just easier to say it to someone else.) We each want what we want when we want it. Be it a toy, a food, time alone, space, a promotion, a new “thing”, a different situation, a different spouse, a different car, a different home life, a different living situation, a better wardrobe…. And then when something clashes with that goal or opportunity, we get mad. We get frustrated. We lash out with words we wish we could take back. We huff and complain and walk around with a cloud of dashed hopes and dreams floating around us. We get a bad attitude. We yell. We respond in a way that is less than patient. We slam doors. We throw stuff. We clank the dishes louder than we should. We give the silent treatment. We negotiate. We criticize. We manipulate.
And what for?
To get what we want.
And, yet, when or if we do get what we wanted, we are left feeling empty, guilty, and a bit deflated. Our desires flare up again and again, an endless cycle of self-promotion.
I was reading the end of II Samuel and the beginning of I Kings this week. What a terrible time in the life of King David! He had his sons fighting against each other, one killing the other. He has a son convince the people that he himself should be king instead of David. This causes an insurrection, resulting in the death of that son. We also see other smaller conflicts within this larger conflict. Conflicts between king and subjects, between fellow soldiers, between father and son, between brother and brother, between friends, between co-workers. It’s a whole litany of conflict… all swirling around and about King David.
Now, we could certainly say that David did not handle all the conflicts the way he should have (i.e. in parenting or in his responses), but we do recognize that David sought the glory of God in all his ways. In II Samuel 22, we read a song of deliverance, by David, which he sung after defeating the Philistines. Scripture records he also sang this song after God delivered him from the hand of Saul (see II Samuel 22:1). In this psalm, David praises the name of the Lord, thanking him for the ways God has protected him and been his rock, fortress, deliverer, shield, strength, salvation, and so much more. This attitude of humble praise contrasts sharply with the attitude of his sons and others who attempted to promote themselves as king or take matters into their own hands! And, the results of each person’s attitude couldn’t be more different.
Those who planned insurrection and destruction and the exaltation of their own kingdoms quickly found themselves in a self-destructive spiral.
Yet, in all this, David remained king. His family was not destroyed. God's promises to him did not fail. God was still in control.
This example was further emphasized as the boys and I read about King Joash (II Kings 11). We read about wicked Queen Athaliah, who wanted her own kingdom and no one to interfere with her plan so badly, that she had all her family members killed. This wicked queen would stop at nothing to get what she wanted when she wanted it, namely her kingdom and her kingdom now. In this reign, the queen allowed idol worship and all other manner of evil in the kingdom.
These were God’s people. This was supposed to be his kingdom, and yet, regard to God’s ways and God’s kingdom was not a part of Athaliah’s thinking and plan.
However, we read that there was someone who feared God and his ways, a priest, Jehoiada, who fought for the name of the Lord, overthrowing the queen, and anointing the rightful king (seven-year-old Joash who had been rescued as a baby and had been in hiding for those years with Jehoiada). This brought about the destruction of Queen Athaliah.
Her own self-gratification and self-exaltation resulted in her self-destruction.
And, God's power and promises prevailed again.
As we look around us, we see this pattern further emphasized throughout Scripture, throughout history, and even, in our present-day circumstances.
Those who seek self-gratifying methods of self-exaltation typically find themselves in a self-destructive end. Man-made kingdoms will be destroyed. Every. Time.
And, even if the king is good or isn’t such a bad guy, people don’t live forever. Kingdoms here on earth don’t last forever. They can’t.
But, there is still one king who has seen all these kingdoms rise and fall and who still reigns over them all.
His kingdom is not measured by time or space. His reign is not hindered by someone’s attempts to thwart him. His rule is not inhibited by death or destruction. His is an everlasting kingdom. And, those who seek to destroy it or malign it or disregard it for the sake of their own kingdoms will soon find themselves standing before the One who is, and always has been, King. And, in that moment, all their dreams and hopes and selfish ambitions will be nothing. That moment, and the moments forever after, will be his. He will be king. Forever.
This matters, friends.
Because this is why Jesus came. Not to bring more rules or regulations or stringent guidelines by which to please God. No.
He came “to do and to teach the kingdom of God”.
And what is that kingdom? A kingdom where God reigns as king. And, the Gospel is that.
The Gospel is trading your self-exalting, self-gratifying, self-promoting heart for a heart where God reigns as king. Where Jesus’ righteousness reigns. Where the Spirit guides you into all things.
Why is this necessary?
For the glory of the King’s name.
And, you are either a part of that kingdom or you are not.
The funny thing about the Kingdom of God is that it never exalts you. It isn’t based on promotions or commission or working hard to get a raise.
Because the requirements for the kingdom of God have already been done. The price has been paid for you to enter. You just have to accept it. And, in that acceptance, the King asks that you promote his kingdom above your own. He asks you to work for him, to lay aside your former ambitions for the immeasurable riches he promises you.
This further coincides with an Ephesians study where Paul gives the Ephesians all these things that are promised to those who are part of God’s kingdom, which was given “as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance… according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. …[I pray for you] that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches or his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1: 10-12; 17-22)
Not only has God given us the opportunity to be a part of his kingdom, but he has also promised that we can have access to his power, to the richest blessings he will provide, and intimate, hopeful knowledge and wisdom in him.
Knowing we have access to these promises (and more) should motivate us to wholeheartedly exalt the name of our King! And, thankfully, we will do that, perfectly, one day.
But, for now, we still live as strangers in a kingdom that constantly promotes self. So, this takes work. Endurance. Prayer. Confession. Striving. Laboring. Encouraging. Pressing forward.
For the sake of the King and his kingdom.
What does that look like now? Our pastor explained it this way (I furiously wrote it down in my Bible, so hopefully, I wrote it down correctly!): “If Jesus is the King of my life, I can have all the confidence in the world, without pride. I can have humility without despair. I can pursue holiness without being harsh. I can love without fear.”
Read that again.
I can be confident in Jesus. Why? Because I understand I am living, not based on my performance or good deeds, but on what Christ has already done. So, I don’t have to promote my “big deal ideas” or how I look or make excuses for why my family does “this” or feel intimidated by someone who thinks “I am religiously weird or church-y”.
I can be humble and serve and give without a “woe is me; I am so humble” attitude because I understand the privilege and the joy it is to serve the King who has granted me hope. So, I serve without complaining or “clanking the dishes louder than normal” or thinking about "what's in it for me".
I can pursue becoming like him in his holiness, but not with judgmental looks, remarks, or assumptions. Why? Because I understand the King is the one who judges, not me. I am instead called to pursue him (not the correction of someone else), and in that, I live to the praise of HIS glory- not mine.
I can love others without fear of rejection. Why? Because God has so loved me. And, his love far exceeds any love I can show here on earth. The love I am called to show will be different. It won’t hold grudges. It won’t self-promote. It won’t manipulate.
Certainly, in this flawed kingdom we live in now, our striving for the perfect Kingdom will be hard. But it matters. For the praise of the King. The King who has given us everything we need to live for him. The King who always keeps his promises. The King who never fails. The King who reigns forever.
These are convicting, yet encouraging thoughts to me. I am easily distracted by the glittering, wailing, convincing circumstances and relationships of the world. I quickly want to please everyone and smooth things over- you know, not cause ripples, in the lake of my world, so to speak. Yet, how much more freedom, confidence, and hope I have when I surrender the things I can't control into the hands of the King who does control them- perfectly and with good, always the best good, in mind. Confession has needed to happen in my life this week- constant surrender. Areas where I am trying to push, pry, and promote. Circumstances I am trying to control. People I am trying to "get to do what I want", subtly, but the intentions and motives still push at my heart and mind. I cry with King David, "The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; ...I call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. ...For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God? ...For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing praises to your name. Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and to his offspring forever." (II Samuel 22)
Our King has done great things for us! And, the king or kingdom we live to exalt will affect every area of our lives. Do you know this King? Do you remember your King? Do you praise him? And, how, then do you live?
Whose kingdom does your life promote? Your kingdom or the King's kingdom?
Not just on Sundays, but every day?
"He is God, who FOREVER reigns!"