A Revolution in a Manger: (The Restorative Justice of the King); Part 4 of 4

Today a Savior has been born to you . . . (Luke 2.11)This week, I want to wrap up our four-part series. In Part 1, we discovered that Jesus came to this earth as a new King. In Part 2, we saw that this King came to give us freedom from the fear of death. In Part 3, we saw that this King called us to enact and enlarge His reign as His followers through the way of peace. In the final part, I want to look at what the reign of this new King looks like.

We get the clearest picture of what the world changed by Jesus looks like in Matthew’s sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 and Luke’s sermon on the plain in Luke 6. Let’s begin with Luke.

Luke portrays Jesus as looking at his disciples one day and saying, “Blessed are you who are poor right now for this Kingdom of God that I have come to establish here on earth is slanted in your favor. Blessed are you who hunger now for in this Kingdom I have come to establish you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, whom the present structure of this world oppresses and keeps pressed down, languishing in need that are never met, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you [and they will hate you when they see how much of a threat this new Kingdom is to their current structure], when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of this new Kingdom (see Daniel 7.13,14). Rejoice in that day and leap for joy because great is your reward in this Kingdom from heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. But woe to you who are rich right now for you have already received your comfort. You are going to struggle with the changes I have come to make. It won’t be impossible, but it is going to be difficult for you (see Matthew 19.23). Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now for you will mourn and weep. You will view me as the enemy and see this Kingdom as a threat to your way of life, which benefits you at the expense of so many others. Woe to you when everyone who benefited from this world’s present unjust power structures speaks well of you for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets” (Loose paraphrase based on Luke 6.20-26).

As we covered last week in Acts 17.6-7, from the perspective of those who benefit by the way this present world is structured, it may seem as if Jesus is ruining your life! It may seem that these changes Jesus has come to make are a threat. Jesus is initially perceived to be the enemy. It looks from their perspective that Jesus, His Kingdom, and His followers are “turning the world upside down!” But remember, what Jesus is really doing is turning the world right side up once again. The world is already upside down. That’s the problem. Jesus has come to restore, heal, and turn the world over, placing it back on its feet once again. To those at the top of the pyramid, the proclamation of this good news doesn’t seem like good news at all. But to the masses at the bottom of the pyramid, pressed down and slaving to benefit those at the top of the pyramid, the coming of a new way of doing life on earth is gospel. It IS good news!

But again, to those who presently benefit from this world’s current unjust power structures, everything about this new King’s reign may seem backwards. His Kingdom will benefit the current poor, rather than the present structures, which benefit the rich. His reign will benefit those whom the present structure causes them to morn. He will bring them comfort by contrast to those who are presently living in comfort and ease within a system that gives them blessings at the expense of causing untold sorrow for others around the globe. Christ’s Kingdom will benefit the meek by contrast to the present structure, which benefits those who know how to play the game, who are competitive, ambitious, bold, brave, and uninhibited. It will favor those who practice mercy, by contrast to our present structure that is rooted in retribution and the an eye for an eye way of defining justice. It will favor those whose heart is pure, even if this present structure has judged them as inferior based on their inability to outwardly conform to society’s standards or whose exterior performance doesn’t measure up. This is in contrast to a world where favors come to those who know how to play the game, be it religious, political or economic, with little regard for an integrity that can be seen only when one looks below the surface. It will be a reign of peace makers rather than war mongers. And yes, it will be comprised of those who are persecuted by the present structure and those it benefits for simply believing life on this earth can be, and should be, different. To those benefited presently, it will look like the world is being turned upside down, but to those who have eyes to see, they will perceive the world as being put right side up once again.

All of the changes this Baby will bring to the world had been foretold by the seer Isaiah long before this Baby’s birth:

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear, but with justice he shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips He shall topple the wicked. Justice shall be the belt around His waist, and faithfulness the belt around His loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,

the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,

and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

They will not hurt or destroy all on my holy mountain for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. On that day, the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples. The nations shall inquire of him and his dwelling shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11.1-10, emphasis added).

There are three things I want you to notice in this passage. First, He will restore justice for the poor and the meek. Second, He will topple the present structure NOT with force of arms, but with a force that proceeds out of His mouth—truth. This is what Gandhi called “Truth” force, or what Dr. King called “Soul” force. This is what we covered in Part 2 of this series. Third, this is a reign where the relationship between predator and prey is radically revolutionized. When reading this passage, remember that Isaiah was not speaking literally, but as a poet. The great problems of this world have nothing to do with predatory animals, but predatory people (Daniel and Revelation both portray visions of Predatory animals, which symbolize the kingdoms of this world, being conquered, subdued, and changed by a little Lamb who was slain.). The reign of this Baby lying in a manger brings a world where the smallest among us, the little children, will be perfectly safe (Isaiah mentions children in this passage three times as if to say, “don’t miss this.”). The world we see around us presently is a world run by lions, tigers, and bears. OH MY! But this prophecy speaks of a “child” that will lead them to a new way of doing life? Who is this child? I submit to you the Baby lying in a manger. Because of the death and resurrection of this Baby born in Bethlehem that day, this world is now ruled by a Lamb! This causes those who follow this world’s new King to rethink everything! He is the Lamb slain, now reigning and ruling, and we are called to follow Him in executing that reign, in putting on display a world where children and elderly are safe, where the marginalized are welcomed and allowed to experience empathy rather than judgment, and where the poor are fed and kept warm. As we saw two weeks ago in Part 2, the reign of this Baby lying in a manger will be a Kingdom where He “will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2.4). What I want you to see this week is that we have been called to proclaim the reign of Christ, a reign already begun, a reign that we see around us by faith not by sight, a reign that we call this world to embrace. This is not to be confused with Christian Right or the Moral Majority of the 80’s and the 90’s, which sought to simply take over the top power positions of this present corrupt structure. We are talking about a revolution where everything is rethought and radically reimagined—a world of love, justice and peace, especially for the religiously marginalized and the politically oppressed.

Take an imaginative look at these passages:

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11.15)

Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language, and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give Him glory because the hour of His reign has come.” (Revelation 14.6-7)

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree. He said to me, “You are my son. Today, I have become your father. Ask me and I will make the nations your inheritance and the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalms 2.7-8).

Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established. It cannot be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens rejoice. Let the earth be glad. Let the sea resound and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant and everything in them. Let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the Lord for He comes. He comes to reign on the earth. He will judge [reign over] the world in justice and the people in his faithfulness (Psalms 96.10-13, emphasis added).

Coming out of his MOUTH is a sharp sword with which to topple down the nations. “He will shepherd them with an iron staff” (Revelation 19.14-15, emphasis added).

To those who are victorious and who will do my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—they ‘will shepherd them with an iron staff and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ [Hebrew idiom for toppling their governments]—just as I have received authority from my Father (Revelation 2.26-27, emphasis added).

To those who are victorious, I will give them the right to sit with me on my throne [over the nations] just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne (Revelation 3.21, emphasis added).

“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5.10).

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to reign (Revelation 20.4).

The nations will walk by its [the New Jerusalem’s] light and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it (Revelation 21.24).

The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22.2).

“Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to Your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before You, for Your just acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15.3-4).

A new world is coming. In fact, it has already begun!

Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her King!

Our job is to 1) proclaim this good news to the world, 2) put on display what the world looked like after it was changed by this new King, and 3) call this world to receive her new King, restore justice, healing and reconciliation His reign brings. “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation [new world] has come!” (2 Corinthians 5.15, TNIV)

I want this to be clear. It is the politics of Jesus as seen in Matthew 5 and Luke 6 that we are to be put on display. We are not called to force Jesus’ politics to the world. No. We are called to put on display what the joyous vision looks like and to invite those around us to “receive their King”. The church, far from being an entity that is vying in culture wars for top power positions in this presently flawed, upside down system, are to put on display the beauty of God in Jesus is as well as a radically new way of doing life here on earth that stems out of that very beauty. Again, this will not be perceived as good news to those who are in the top positions of the present power structures, who benefit greatly at the expense of those further down the pyramid. Our living demonstration will be misrepresented, attacked, and portrayed as a pernicious movement that must be crushed. It will be a threat to “our very way of life.” Lowering the standards! Unsafe! Dangerous! They will threaten with violence (John 16.1,2). They will cry out that it is “better for you that one man dies for the people than for the whole nation to perish” (John 11.50; Luke 9.23). Our call is to live in freedom and to avoid the fear of being put to death, which this little Baby from Bethlehem has given us. This Baby we follow was killed for this dream, too (Mathew 6.10), but God raised Him from the dead and has promised that to us, too! Our call is to provoke both the religious systems that marginalize as well as the political systems that oppress by putting on display how the world, which has been changed by Jesus, looks like and to voluntarily embrace the Cross, which they will put us on, for in the same enemy loving, enemy embracing, enemy forgiving our new KING so beautifully modeled for us. This is what will change the world!

It is to embrace the just and equitous, restorative reign of our new King.

It is to embrace the freedom from the fear of death, the way of peace, the way of the Cross of our new King.

It is to embrace the reality that our King is truly “making everything new” (Revelation 21.5; 2 Peter 3.13).

Our call is to believe that this world can be and will be different under the reign of this Baby born to us in that manger long, long ago. We are not just to believe it; we are to give everything in our lives to become bent, re-formed, and re-fashioned in that direction.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her King!

HeartGroup Application

I have something special for the HeartGroup this week:

1)This week, with Christmas being celebrated by so many, I want you to take some time each day to meditate on what I have compiled for you here. This is a paraphrase based on the passages that I have listed at the end.

Comfort, comfort to this world, says your God. Speak tenderly to its inhabitants and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed; that her sin has been pardoned. There is a voice calling in the wilderness: “Prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low. The rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together”. He has come to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. He has shaken all nations, and what is desired by all nations has come, and he has filled this house with glory. But who could endure the day of His coming? Who could stand when He appears? For He was like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He sat as a refiner and purifier of silver, refining people like gold and silver. He has given us a sign: the virgin has conceived and given birth to a son and He was called Immanuel. You who bring good news, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news, lift up your voice with a shout. Lift it up. Do not be afraid. Say, “Here is your God!” Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. To those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. For to us a child is born. To us a son is given, and the government is on His shoulders. He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Understand that there were shepherds living out in the fields near Bethlehem one night, keeping watch over their flocks. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone all around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” Rejoice and shout inhabitants of the earth! See, your King has come to you, just, fair, true and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will take away all the war chariots and all the warhorses, and the battle bows will be broken.He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. He wills the nations like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart. He gently leads those that have young

(based on Isaiah 40.1-5; Haggai 2.6-7; Malachi 3.2-3; Isaiah 7.14; Isaiah 40.9; Isaiah 60.1-3; Isaiah 9.2, 6; Luke 2.2-14; Zechariah 9.9-19; Isaiah 35.5-6; Isaiah 40.11).

2) Each day, as you meditate on the themes represented here, I want you to make a journal. Write down the thoughts, ideas, questions, and inspirations that Jesus, our new King, shares with you.

3) This week, I want you to share what Jesus teaches you with your HeartGroup.

For everyone else, Merry Christmas! For the final time, may the truths proclaimed by the events that this season brings to the minds of so many be ever-present in your heart.

There will be no eSight next week. I am dropping off the map for a bit to spend some much needed time with my precious family. However, we will resume the following week with a whole new series on the Kingdom for 2014.

I love you guys. I’ll see you next year!

A Revolution in a Manger: (Peace on Earth); Part 3 of 4

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2.14)A Revolution in a Manger: (Peace on Earth), Part 3 of 4

“Peace on those whom he favors.” That was the promise Rome was making to the people. (See Part 1) These were the words Luke placed in the mouth of the angelic host. Peace, not through the militaristic violence of Rome, but peace through the other-centered, enemy embracing, self-sacrificial, enemy forgiving, humble, servant love of a new kind of King—King Jesus.

The prophecy had been given by Isaiah:

“In days to come the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2.2-4)

This was why this Baby had come! This is Jesus’ dream, his pearl of great price, for which he gave up all and asks us to do the same. It is the restoration of his reign, the reign of Christ, The Kingdom, on earth, once again, as it is in heaven. (See Matthew 13.45-46, 6.10)

But what I want you to notice in particular is what the nations would actually learn from this new King. “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” A few chapters later, Isaiah refers to this King again in a passage that is quoted over and over this time of year: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority [remember Luke 4.5-6 and Matthew 28.18-19] rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9.6, emphasis added.) Yet what is missed so often is the very next phrase that follows this, “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace.” (Isaiah 9.7, emphasis added.) What Isaiah is telling us is that this little Baby lying in a Manger, in a very real sense, is not just your average baby. THIS Baby, is an incarnate Revolution of Divine origin, which would continue to grow until eternal peace would, once again, reign on earth. (Luke 2.14. Matthew 6.10)

How did this revolution begin? Not only were the angels of Luke’s story proclaiming another King other than Caesar, not only were they proclaiming peace through something other than the Pax Romana, they were pointing to a helpless Baby, wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger as the means through which all of this would be accomplished. With keen perception, Dorothee Sollee looks into the manger of Bethlehem and has this to say:

“In Jesus Christ, God disarmed himself. God surrendered himself without protection and without arms to those who keep crying for more and more protection and arms. In Jesus Christ, God renounced violence. And of course, he did this unilaterally, without waiting for us to lay down our weapons first.”

This Baby had not come to bring peace through a sword, but peace through the way of the cross, teaching us too, how to love, forgive and embrace our enemies. This is the testimony of the early church for the first three hundred years:

“We (Christians) no longer take up sword against nation, nor do we learn war any more, but we have become the children of peace.” — Origin

“And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs?” — Tertullian

“Anyone who has the power of the sword, or who is a civil magistrate wearing the purple, should desist, or he should be rejected.”—Hippolytus

“Rather, it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict it. We would rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another.” —Arnobius

“It makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited.”—Arnobius

“When God forbids killing, he doesn’t just ban murder, which is not permitted under the law even; he is also recommending us not to do certain things which are treated as lawful among men . . . whether you kill a man with a sword or a word makes no difference, since killing itself is banned.”—Lactantius

“…no exceptions at all ought to be made to the rule that it is always wrong to kill a man, whom God has wished to be regarded as a sacrosanct creature.”—Lactantius

“In disarming Peter, [Christ] unbelted every soldier.”—Tertullian

But (someone always asks) what about Jesus’ words in Matthew’s gospel, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” At face value, and taken grossly out of context, this seems to be a direct contradiction to the angelic host in Luke as well as the prophecies we have just seen from Isaiah. Just keep reading Jesus’ words in Matthew and you will see exactly what He’s saying. Here is the entire passage:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10.34-38)

What we must distinguish is peace as the means, verses peace as the end goal. I think we all can agree that Jesus came to bring peace as the ultimate end goal. We all have the hope that Christ will one day bring an end to the violence that so riddles our world. But how would the Baby lying in a manger accomplish this? This passage seems to indicate that the means whereby peace would be accomplished would not be so “peaceful.” There are two ditches that we must remain out of with this passage. The first is to say, “See, Jesus said not peace, but a sword,” and to rush into using the sword (violence) to try and establish peace. This is NOT what Jesus is saying in the least! (Verse 38 proves it.) The other ditch, which Jesus is actually addressing in this passage, is to say we are to be people of “peace” and therefore we are never to be a source of conflict in the world; we are to always simply go with the flow and not cause waves; we are to be about private piety, post mortem bliss, and personal holiness, never provoking the systemic injustice that is proliferated by the way this world is presently structured. (As a tangent, some interpret Romans 13 this way as well, but remember Paul was writing Romans 13 from a Roman jail cell.) Jesus taught neither using violence to accomplish peace nor did he teach passive nonresistance in the name of keeping the peace, which only allows evil to grow unchallenged. What Jesus taught is nonviolent noncooperation in response to evil. What Jesus is addressing in Matthew 10 could not be more clear. He is not saying that his followers should take up a sword themselves. No, NO! What Jesus is saying is in response to those who would use the label of “peace” for a veil to hide their cowardice, fear, and desire to avoid conflict. Jesus is telling us in clear tones that following Him and his revolution will produce a sword, not in the hands of his followers, but in the hands of those for whom the present structure of this world is stacked in their favor and who see Jesus and his followers as a threat.

Look at it this way. How did Rome respond to the early Jesus revolution? According to Luke in Acts 17, the disciples were accused of “turning the world upside down,” of “acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor,” and “saying that there is another king named Jesus.” (Acts 17.6-8) But what I want you to notice is that this is what was spoken from the perspective of Rome, from a Roman paradigm. It is true that the disciples were acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, and it is true that they were proclaiming a different King other than Caesar, but they were NOT turning the world upside down. The world was already upside down; the disciples were working to restore, heal, and turn the world right side up once again, enlarging the reign of Christ. Herein though, lies the rub, and that which helps us understand Jesus’ words in Matthew. The way the world was structured in the days of Rome and the way the world is structured today favors a very few at the top, at the expense of the masses at the bottom. It may help you to imagine a pyramid. What Jesus had proclaimed was this Kingdom he had come to establish would be a “blessing” to the “poor,” but it would be a “woe” to those who were “rich.” (Luke 6.20, 24) Jesus had come to turn the world right side up again, which would be a blessing to those the present structure was oppressing, but it would be seen as a threat to those whom this present structure was rewarding. How would those who were being benefited by the systemic evil of this world respond to Jesus and his followers?

“I have come to set a man [whom this present structure favors] against his father [who has decided to follow Jesus and this radical revolution], and a daughter [whom this present structure favors] against her mother [who has decided to follow Jesus and this radical revolution], and a daughter-in-law [whom this present structure favors] against her mother-in-law [who has decided to follow Jesus and this radical revolution]; and one’s foes [those whom this present structure favors who are threatened] will be members of one’s [who has decided to follow Jesus and this radical revolution] own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

What Jesus is saying is that the ultimate goal of peace is not going to be accomplished by living a life of no conflict and calling it “being peaceable.” The goal of peace will be accomplished through embracing a cross, both his and ours. Yes, Jesus’ peace, in a way, will be accomplished by a sword, but a not by a sword wielded in the hands of the peace maker. No, it will be a sword in the hands of those who are threatened by the Jesus revolution being wielded against the peace maker, while the peace maker responds in nonviolent, other-centered, enemy-embracing and forgiving love.

Remember, peace brought through nonviolent noncooperation is nonviolent, but it’s non-cooperative too. Peace is accomplished by nonviolent noncooperation in three steps, the first of which does not appear to be very “peaceful.” First, Jesus calls us to provoke that which is out of harmony with His reign on earth, which is around us today. This was demonstrated in His cleansing of the temple. Second, those who are being benefitted by that which is out harmony with the reign of Christ here on earth, lift the sword against us. The sword is lifted against us because we are interpreted as a threat to their way of life. This was demonstrated by Jesus’ arrest by the Temple police. And third, we are called to respond to those who lift the sword against us by “embracing the cross.” This was demonstrated in Jesus’ nonviolent, loving response of embracing and forgiving those who crucified him. (see Luke 23.34)

I want to wrap up this week with the words of a sermon, A Christmas Sermon, given in 1967, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which I believe is incredibly appropriate entitled Peace of Earth. Read it prayerfully.

“I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many sheriffs, too many white citizens’ councilors, and too many Klansmen of the South to want to hate, myself; and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.’”

By the time of Constantine, the Jesus revolution was growing so exponentially that it had become a significant threat to even Rome herself. Nero had tried to crush it and failed. (Remember, the way that nonviolent noncooperation works is that when the sword is raised against it, the sword/cross cause it to propagate rather than be extinguished. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the proclamation of Christ’s reign, the Kingdom.) Diocletian had tried to crush it and failed. Constantine had to do something. What did he do? With the skillful help of others, Constantine coopted the Jesus revolution from the inside out. If this had not happened, yes, Jesus followers would have still continued to have “the sword” lifted against them, and many would have continued to lose their lives. But eventually, the Jesus Kingdom would have been the last Kingdom standing. This is what Constantine foresaw and feared because it would mean the end of Rome. The kingdoms of this world would have become the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ (Revelation 11.15). History has gone a different direction now for a time. But the promise still remains:

” . . . all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2.2-4)

HeartGroup Application

1.This week, I want you ponder the last two eSights along with this one. What is God saying to you this week as you ponder Jesus’ coming being a challenge to the Kingdoms of this world? (Part 1) So far, we have looked at two ways in which Jesus’ Kingdom accomplishes this. We considered how reign of this Baby lying in a manger frees us from the fear of death (or penalty), which is the very power the kingdoms of this world use to rule over others (Part 2). And this week (Part 3), we have looked at how being freed from that fear of death enables us to follow the way of peace, or nonviolent noncooperation, like the early church, in endeavoring to enlarge Christ’s Kingdom in putting the world right side up again. (Which we will be looking at in Part 4)

2. I want you to dedicate a small portion of time each day pondering these themes. Take time to look up the passages and ponder them. During this time I want you to also write down (journal) the thoughts and insights God shares with you during this time.

3.Share what you feel comfortable sharing with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.

According to that little Baby in a manger, His way of peace implies voluntary submission to the penalty for noncooperation with evil.

The King of the Earth has come! (Luke 9.2)

Now let’s go enlarge His Kingdom, one human heart at a time!

Next week, we’ll wrap up this four-part series with a look at how this Revolution lying in a manger brings restored Justice. Nowhere do we see how threatening the Jesus Revolution is to those who are being benefited by the systemic injustice of our world more clearly than when we look the reign of Christ in relation to restorative justice. But we’ll get to that next week.

May the truths proclaimed by the events that this season brings to the minds of so many be ever-present in your heart.

I love you guys; I’ll see you next week.

A Revolution Lying in a Manger (Freedom from the Fear of Death); Part 2 of 4

“Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”—Mathew 2.2

A Revolution Lying in a Manger (Freedom from the Fear of Death)

Part 2 of 4

Before we look at this week’s subject, we must first review briefly what we covered last week. We looked at the first way in which the birth of Jesus challenged the culture of that day. We looked at how the birth of Jesus challenges every kingdom of this world (beginning with Rome) and the claims of every kingdom, nation, and superpower to be people’s lord and savior. In reality, the challenge the birth of Jesus presents to the kingdoms of this world is actually a very real challenge to the principalities and powers, which preside behind these kingdoms, and the claim of these powers over the masses. (Ephesians 6.12; Luke 4.5-6) You see, the Gospel, in its earliest form, was not an announcement of a private spiritual debt that had been paid so individuals could go to heaven when they die. The term Gospel was originally used by the Roman Empire. It was the message Rome gave to those who had been militaristically conquered to announce they had a new king (Caesar), which was their new lord and savior, bringing freedom, justice, and peace to their present hopeless state. This is why the Gospel of Jesus was seen as such a threat to the Roman Empire. It is true that during the time of Constantine, the revolutionary message of the apostles concerning King Jesus became domesticated. In order to no longer be a threat to the Empire, the Gospel then became about personal salvation, received into one’s heart and preoccupied with post-mortem bliss, rather than being about a new Kingdom on earth, a new King of this World, challenging all earthly kingdoms and the systematic injustice that the principalities and powers behind those kingdoms promote as illegitimate. The Gospel was a call to “the nations” (Matthew 28.19) to rethink their present allegiances, agendas, aims, and purposes, and to submit to the new universal reign of Christ. The Gospel in its earliest form was simply that there is a new King of the World and His Kingdom has come! (See Matthew 3.2, 4.17, 23, 6.10, 33, 9.35; Mark 1.15; Luke 4.43, 8.1, 9.2, 10.9.)

This is why Jesus was referred to as “the Christ.” As Egypt had Pharaohs, Rome had Caesars, Russia had czars, Great Britain has kings and queens, and the empire of America has a president, the Jews had been promised a Christ! He was the anointed one, the Messiah, who was to be born, from the lineage of King David, and to whom all the nations of the world would eventually bow to and worship as Lord. He would be given “authority, glory and sovereign power [a Kingdom]; and all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7.13, 14)

This is also exactly why the early Christians were martyred by the Roman Empire. Rome would not have given the Jesus movement a second thought if it only had to do with private piety focused primarily on afterlife affairs. But the message of the apostles was deeply concerned with matters of this life, this world. It was Earthly! The apostles were preaching another Gospel contrary to the gospel of Rome! They were proclaiming another king other than Caesar! They were proclaiming this Jesus as the Lord of the Earth, and the Savior of the World, who had come to give freedom, and establish justice and peace, rather than the Pax Romana. And to top it all off, they were proclaiming that this Jesus, whom Rome had executed (as Rome did with all political threats) had been raised back to life by God. They were preaching a God who had challenged and overturned Rome’s power to take other’s lives and that there was no longer any reason to fear what Rome could do to a follower of this Jesus. Jesus was offering a new world and Rome, with its threat of crucifixion, was powerless to stop it. As a matter of fact, crucifixion would only enlarge the reign of Christ faster. THIS is why Rome rightly saw the early Jesus movement as deeply subversive to its very existence. (When rightly understood, the Gospel is just as much a threat to the kingdoms of this world today.)

Herein lies this week’s point. The second way in which the birth of this little baby lying in a manger cut across the culture of its own day and continues to run crossways to the grain of our culture today is in the freedom that this baby brings.

What is this freedom? According to the author of Hebrews, this little baby, who was laid in a manger, broke “the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil [exercised through the nations]—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2.14, 15) You see, this freedom from the fear of death is not a death threatened upon us by an angry God, which Jesus has successfully appeased. NO, NO! This “power of death,” the ability to take life, is that which “the devil” wields over humanity and is exercised through the kingdoms of this world, to keep humanity subservient to their reign rather than this new Christ.

Consider Pilates words to Jesus. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” (John 19.10) Pilate’s words echo the words that every empire of this world has spoken to its citizens. It is their power to take life and our fear of having our life taken that keeps us enslaved to the kingdoms of this world, the principalities and powers to whom they belong, and the systemic injustice they together proliferate.

“Death and the fear of suffering unto death…serve as the deterrent system of every empire in history…the law of violence is that death is supreme. But if death so rules the world, what about those whose kingdom is not of this world of death? What about those who through interior struggle have been given the grace to overcome the fear of death? What about those who refuse to submit to the law of violence, who refuse to pledge allegiance to the empire of death? For those liberated from the fear of death, the law of violence is powerless…Nonviolence is the overcoming of death by a fearless love.” (James Douglass, The Nonviolent Coming of God.)

Today, everything in America is about death avoidance. When we stop to look around we see the power of the fear of death everywhere we turn. One example is the inordinate amount of money spent within American culture on modern medicine to avoid death. It is the very root and pulse of capitalism in the West. Stanley Hauerwas recently said, “The American desire to use medicine in an attempt to get out of life alive is but the domestic form of American foreign policy.” We must save an extended treatment of this specific application to another time. I only mention it here briefly to try and get you to notice again the water in which we are swimming. The fear of death actually governs our behavior in every area of our life. This is what made Constantinian Christianity so appealing to the early adherents of the American Dream. Constantinian Christianity, just like American culture, is enraptured with the goal of avoiding death. But the baby lying in a manger does not offer us a way to avoid death. On the contrary, this baby gives us a way through death. He has passed through death’s grasp and opened up a passageway on the other side. This baby has conquered death, and offers resurrection from it! Then, irony of all ironies, this baby takes death and turns it inside out as something to be embraced by His followers as the very means whereby His reign on earth is enlarged. (More on this next week.) Far from being a message about how to avoid death, the early Jesus story was a story that trained its adherents in how to die early, and how to die well. This baby conquered death and gives to the world the hope of a resurrection and a renewal where all opposition to Christ’s reign will be ultimately subverted.

I don’t want to steal too much from next week, but it’s difficult not to make certain bridges, as the freedom, peace, and justice this baby’s reign brings us are all interconnected. But in the name of practicality, it is this freedom from the fear of dying, freedom from the fear of having one’s own life taken, the willingness to have one’s own blood shed rather than to stain one’s hands with the blood of another, even in self-preservation, that keeps people from being shaped by the violence of their surrounding society and transforms them into that which shapes society instead. To say that violence must be met with violence, that violence is the lesser of two evils, only allows another person’s violence to create your environment rather than allowing that baby lying in a manger to recreate us all back into the image of the nonviolent God. It is the preservation of the fear of being killed that enables all of this. And it is freedom from this fear that makes impotent the power of death threatened by others. This is the truest meaning of being set free from the fear of death. The story of this new king lying in a manger is the story of one who came to us, giving us a better way, a way of freedom from the fear of dying, rather than being governed by it. This way is the way of a death-embracing (rather than avoiding) love coupled with the power of forgiveness for those who will take our lives. This is the story that yes, begins in a manger, and yes, includes our king’s death, but the story does not end there. The story of our new king ends in a resurrection, and not just His alone. The story of our king will climax in the resurrection of all those who follow this king, who join His revolution, His kingdom, in fearless love, and the hope of a world resurrected and transformed from the inside out by a fearless love of this nature.

HeartGroup Application

1.This week I want you to ponder these words:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2.1-13)

2.As you prayerfully meditate on Jesus’ kingship of this world and His special call to embrace His freedom from the fear of dying at the hands of the principalities and powers that now endeavor to rule this world (this really is the center piece of the Advent story), consider how the coming of these Magi was seen to be a threat by Herod. Allow these themes to permeate into your thinking today. Today we may not refer to kingdoms as such, but we do refer to nations and superpowers. What does it mean to embrace the Kingdom of Christ as the revolutionary competitor to nationalistic loyalties, loyalties to the present principalities and powers? How does the freedom from the fear of death, once embraced by the followers of Christ, liberate us to follow Him regardless of the threat of nations and superpowers today? (The fact that many here in America don’t even perceive this threat demonstrates how deeply we have been co-opted by civil religion here rather than captivated by the Jesus revolution.)

3.Share your thoughts this week with your HeartGroup.

Again, it is through the freedom from the fear of death, which enables us to lovingly embrace our enemies (with enemy-forgiving love) rather than resorting to retaliation or retreat, that the restorative justice and peace that comes through our Savior Jesus the Christ is enlarged here, once again, on Earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6.10) This was true of the early followers of Jesus for the first three hundred years, and it is to be true of us today as well. To follow that little baby lying in a manger today is to live under the reign of King Jesus in the here and now. It does not mean that we go around trying to force the world around us to change. Much more, we are called to put on display, to be an authentic revelation and demonstration of what the world changed by the reign of King Jesus looks like. To follow that little baby means to believe this unique proclamation: “Out of You, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, has come a King who will shepherd the nations!” His reign has come. Our first call is to let go of our fear of death, our striving to always be preserving our lives. Embrace the resurrection and embrace the cross. The cross is not simply part of the story we are proclaiming, it is the very means whereby the mustard seed of the kingdom subverts all the other plants in the garden, and becomes the tree in which all the birds of the heavens nest. Embracing the freedom from the fear of death, from being killed, is foundational to everything else Jesus’ reign is to accomplish. Compared to the next two aspects we will be looking at, embracing this freedom is where every follower of Jesus must begin.

Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12.25)

Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9.23, 24)

Come join the revolution, the King Jesus Revolution! For unto you is born this day a savior, who is Christ the Lord!

Again, may the truths proclaimed by the events that this season brings to the minds of so many be ever-present in your heart.

I love you guys. We’ll see you next week.

A Revolution Lying in a Manger: Freedom, Peace, and Justice; Part 1 of 4

“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10–11)The holiday season has begun here in America. Whether you celebrate the holidays or not, this time of year for many is a time when the story of Jesus (granted, a very domesticated version) is brought down from our attics, dusted off, and placed in our front yards for all to see. What I would like to do over the next four weeks, though, is offer you a very unconventional, non-domesticated, early version of the Jesus story, before the Roman Empire (through Constantine) was able to co-opt it and use it for the Rome’s own agenda and propaganda. (More on this in the upcoming weeks.) You see, before Christianity was turned into a religion, before the Jesus story was diverted from its original purpose and role during the time leading up to the fourth century, the story that many will be celebrating within Western culture actually could not be more countercultural. There are four ways in which the Jesus story cut across the grain of the societal structures of its day. We will be taking a look at each of these and pondering what they may possibly be whispering to us in our culture today. This week, let’s begin with the words in Luke’s version of the Jesus story that were, according to Luke, spoken by “the Angel.”

In order to get the full impact of the words used here, we must entertain, for a brief moment, their historical setting. Luke places these words in the days of “Emperor Augustus” (Luke 2:1). Emperor Augustus (September 63 BC – August 14 AD) is heralded today as the founder of the Roman Empire, and its first emperor. Augustus’ original name was Gaius Octavius. In 44 BC he was adopted posthumously by his maternal great-uncle, Gaius Julius Caesar, following Julius’ assassination. Together with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus, he defeated the assassins of Caesar. They then divided the Roman Republic (not the Roman Empire) among themselves and ruled as military dictators. After a period of civil war and much political unrest between these three, Augustus gained control in 31 BC. (Lepidus was exiled, and Antony allegedly committed suicide.)

Augustus restored the outward facade of the free Republic. Yet he retained his autocratic power over the Republic as a military dictator. Over the next several years, through strategy and intrigue, Augustus stealthily transformed the Republic into the Empire with himself as the sole ruler. The reign of Augustus initiated an era of relative peace, known as the Pax Romana (Roman Peace). Despite continuous wars and imperial expansion on the Empire’s frontiers, as well as a year-long civil war over the imperial succession, the Roman world was largely free from large-scale conflict for more than two centuries. Augustus dramatically enlarged the Empire. Beyond the frontiers, he secured the Empire with a buffer region of client states, and made peace with the Parthian Empire through diplomacy. He reformed the Roman system of taxation, developed networks of roads with an official courier system, established a standing army, established the Praetorian Guard, created official police and fire-fighting services for Rome, and rebuilt much of the city during his reign. Augustus died in 14 AD at the age of 75. Augustus was celebrated as a hero after the strife of civil war. Augustus was considered the great source of peace for Rome. Four themes that would permeate his reign were freedom, justice, peace, and salvation. Whenever Augustus’ great accomplishments were proclaimed, the proclamation of Augustus’ victories were called the Euangelizo (“good news” or “gospel”). Augustus, “son” of the “divine” Julius Caesar, was celebrated as a great, universal “savior” for all people who were described as previously being in a hopeless state, and who would have remained so had Augustus’ victories not been achieved. The “Lord” Augustus had brought freedom, justice, and peace as a “savior” to all who would welcome his militaristic reign. Scholars today have defined these elements as the Roman Imperial theology that was continually propagated throughout the empire in Luke’s day through poems and inscriptions, coins and images, statues, altars, and structures. Through these cultic means, the Empire would justify its violent dominance, as well as its imposed heavy taxation throughout the conquered territories.

Now, go back and re-read the words Luke places in the mouth of the Angel who appeared that night before the shepherds:

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you EUANGELIZO of great joy for ALL PEOPLE: to you is born this day in the city of David a SAVIOR, who is the Messiah, the LORD.’”

No statement could be more revolutionary or politically rebellious. As N.T. Wright has aptly said, “The birth of this little boy is the beginning of a confrontation between the kingdom of God – in all its apparent weakness, insignificance, and vulnerability – and the kingdoms of this world.” (Luke For Everyone)

Next, Luke has an angelic host appear in the night sky for these shepherds, proclaiming, “GLORY to God in the highest heaven, and on earth PEACE among those whom he FAVORS!” No statement could have been more provocative than what these heavenly messengers said. To all who would have been Luke’s original audience, these words would have been heard in stark contrast to the “glory” due only to Rome, and the “peace” Rome promised to those upon whom Rome’s favor rested.

What the Messiah of Luke’s gospel brings is not an evacuation route out of earth to heaven, but a revolution where the reign of God is once again established on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). The birth of this baby, lying in a manger, would end in the proclamation that “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)

How would he do it? In a way symbolized by the apparent peacefulness of a baby lying in a manger, born into a life of poverty. This baby, helpless as it seemed, would be the means through which the Roman Empire, as well as all of this world’s empires (including whatever empire you find yourself living in today), would crumble, not by militaristic might, but by a humble servant’s love. This baby would be the undoing of all the unjust social structures of this world, not through the power of justified violence or the power to take life, but through the power found in laying His own life down, to be taken by His enemies, coupled with enemy-embracing, enemy-forgiving love. When one sees how threatening the Jesus story is to whatever the current societal arraignments of the day are, it’s no wonder the Empire worked so tirelessly to reframe the Jesus revolution into a religion that actually supported the Empire in the fourth century. Through this baby, the truth about God, the truth about ourselves, and the truth about everyone else around us would be proclaimed. In John’s version of the Jesus story, John has Jesus, on the day of his death, saying to Pilate, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37, emphasis added). The revelation of the truth this baby’s birth would proclaim to the world would be the means whereby all of Creation might be reconciled once again to each other and back to God (Ephesians 1:10, 2.16; Colossians 1:20).

Over the next few weeks leading up to Christmas, we will be looking at how this baby’s birth (rather than the empires of this world) bring to us the justice we hunger for, the peace we so desperately need, and the freedom to make it all happen. We will begin next week with freedom, for it is through the specific freedom given by this baby, lying in a manger, that the peace and restorative justice of the reign of Christ was realized within the early Jesus revolution. The first thing we need is freedom—freedom from the fear that the empires of this world lord over us, freedom from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14, 15). It’s a game-changer once it dawns upon your heart. But we’ll pick that up next week.

HeartGroup Application

1.This week, as we enter the holiday season, take a moment to notice the water you’re swimming in. Step back and make the comparisons necessary between the Roman Empire that reigned in the days of Jesus’ birth and whatever governing structure you happen to live under today. Make a list of five similarities between Rome and whatever ruling structure you find yourself living in (for me it would be America).

2.Now look at that list of five similarities. One such example for me is the repeated slogan that democracy is the last great hope of the world. And although I will be quick to add that democracy is preferable to me than any monarchy, aristocracy, or dictatorship, it still is not the last great hope of the world—Jesus is. Now take a look at each of the five comparisons you’ve made and prayerfully meditate on how they may compete with Jesus in our heart’s devotion, and on where we have bowed to our own empires today as idols in which we hope for freedom, justice, and peace, rather than the baby “wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)

3.Be prepared to share your insights this week with your HeartGroup.

Taking time to contemplate the Advent of Christ and its meaning in its own historical context, as well as ours today, is the most revolutionary thing one can do. It is in the meditation on these themes that the early Jesus revolution was born, and Jesus’ followers were “turning the world upside down,” “acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor,” and saying “that there is another King named Jesus.” (Acts 17:6–7) May that also be said of Jesus-followers in our day.

Happy Holidays to each of you, and may the Truth proclaimed by the events that this season brings to the minds of so many be ever present in your heart.

I love you guys.

See you next week.