Yesterday, many of us celebrated Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year. The season of Advent—that glorious anticipation of hope, love, joy, and peace—begins next Sunday. Soon we will push ourselves to the limit to meet all the requirements placed on us by others—and ourselves—at this busy time of the year. But, for now…let’s stop. Just for a moment. And consider this amazing, “upside-down” kingdom of Christ as the Bible describes it.
A Very Different Kind of Kingdom
We get an early hint that God’s kingdom is not like man’s when we read of Esau’s forgiveness of Jacob in Genesis 33:4:
But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.”
Once Jacob finally got away from his Uncle Laban, he faced another challenge—his twin brother Esau, the same one he had deceived out of his first-born child status and blessing. He certainly had no reason to expect Esau to be anything but angry and bent on revenge, even after twenty years had passed, so he sent gifts ahead with his servants to ‘soften him up’.
Jacob soon discovered, however, that it was not Esau who would be given gifts in this situation, but Jacob himself, for Esau had forgiven him and greeted his younger brother with affection. Jacob, who deserved justice, received not just mercy, but grace.
In the 21st century—as in Jacob’s time—most people want to see justice done, especially justice for everyone else. When a wrong is done, we want to see that wrong avenged—someone must pay!
We see justice as “getting what you deserve.” Mercy, on the other hand, comes by throwing ourselves at the feet of judgment and pleading for the opposite of justice—“not getting what we deserve.”
What, then, is grace?
Is grace just another word for mercy? Not exactly.
Grace, as dispensed in the Bible both here by Esau and later by Jesus from the cross, can be defined as “getting something you do not deserve and have not earned.” It is more than mercy—more than “not getting justice”—as grace is a gift of new opportunity, new life.
In Jacob’s case, he deserved anger and conflict from his brother because of his actions toward him twenty years earlier. If Esau had stood aside and let him pass through his land without harming him, he would have demonstrated mercy toward his brother. But Esau did much more than that—he hugged his brother, kissed him, and offered him hospitality and gifts.
Jacob, who deserved death, received forgiveness and a new chance at life…just as those who believe in Jesus Christ receive forgiveness and abundant new life, despite their brokenness and sin-filled lives. This is grace. And, this is the nature of the kingdom where Christ is King.
Later, we meet Ezekiel, whose prophecies occur during the last days of Jerusalem, making him a contemporary of Jeremiah. There is a significant difference, however.
Unlike Jeremiah, Ezekiel is already in exile, ‘watching’ the events in Jerusalem through visions and speaking to his fellow exiles in Babylon.
In Ezekiel 16:60 we read God’s promise of hope for a new kingdom:
Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.
This is what the Lord God says: ‘Remove the turban, take off the crown! Nothing will be as it was. Bring down the exalted, and exalt the lowly.’”
Does this sound familiar?
You may have heard of Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:30,
Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
and in Matthew 20:16
So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
We read in the Gospels that many who heard Jesus’ words rejected them, including the most learned men of the Law, the Pharisees and Sadducees.
And we still struggle with these words today, along with other revolutionary statements from Jesus like:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”
Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6).
Jesus brought an “upside down kingdom”, and Ezekiel gave the exiles a hint of what the kingdom of God will be like. Nothing will be as it was.
Anticipating the King
And finally, as we anticipate the season of Advent, we find in the second chapter of Luke the traditional Christmas story most often read in churches and homes on Christmas Eve—and even in public schools back when I was growing up.
Joseph and Mary must go to Bethlehem to register for taxation. Mary is very pregnant and gives birth while they are there staying in a stable (more likely a cave) due to the crowded conditions in town. To the casual observer, it is an unimportant event, ordinary in every way. Not hardly!
In Luke 2: 8, 10-11 we read:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord.’”
On this far from ordinary night, the heavens opened and God’s angelic choir sang to…shepherds. And note that in this—Jesus’ birth announcement—he is not described as a teacher, or healer, or prophet, or even a great role model. He is given the name Savior making his mission perfectly clear.
The shepherds go to find the baby in Bethlehem and worship Jesus in the stable. No doubt you’ve seen a nativity scene or two in your lifetime. Typically they include Mary, Joseph, Jesus, an angel or two, some animals, the shepherds, and the wise men we read about in Matthew.
Biblical historians are fairly certain that the magi were not actually there on that first night, but that’s the way nativities are often depicted. And, while they may not be historically correct, they are a perfect visual representation of the “upside down kingdom” Jesus brings.
Think about it: Jesus’ birth was not announced to kings or rulers or even the magi. It was announced in glorious fashion to shepherds, a low rung on the first century social ladder. The magi, in fact, had to find the baby by following a star and stopping to ask for directions. Still, they all ended up there together, on their knees in worship and in wonderment at the star—and, indeed, the stir—this tiny king had brought to their very different worlds.
What does this say about who Jesus came to save?
Not just the saints, but the sinners. Not the religious elite, but the ones who have been forgiven much. Not just his chosen people the Israelites, but everyone. You. Me. The world. This is the realm of Christ the King. Hallelujah!
The 10-Day Bible Companion
Would you like to read the Bible with a friend? Someone to keep you motivated. To answer questions when you get confused. To explain how everything fits together. To help you make sense of the big picture. The 10-Day Bible Companion is that friend.
More than a study guide, it’s a complete book-by-book synopsis of the Bible, Genesis to Revelation, perfect for anyone who wants to understand the Bible’s grand story of creation, covenant, and salvation.
From Rev. Jim Turley, United Methodist pastor and former Senior Vice President of Texas Methodist Foundation:
Pam’s Bible Companion is simply the best resource I’ve seen for helping anyone understand the Bible’s big picture—not just for those who’ve been blessed by her marvelous High Seas Ministries and other teaching but for anyone who needs a special “companion” to enhance the amazing feast God has prepared for us in his Word. Pam has simply nailed it!”
From Laura Naiser, founder of Making It Real Ministries and author of Remaining in the Vine — Cultivating an Intimate Relationship with Jesus in an Insanely Busy and Superficial World:
I’ve had the pleasure of attending Pam’s course on which this book is based. It is a moving and enlightening journey through the Word of God. Pam strings together the individual stories in such a beautiful way as to reveal the one continuing story of God’s redemptive grace. Whether you’ve been hesitant to read the Bible because you don’t think you’ll understand it or you’ve been a serious Bible student for years, you will love having Pam as your friendly tour guide from Genesis to Revelation.
To purchase the book:
The 10-Day Bible Companion is a wonderful gift for anyone–first-time readers of the Bible or many-time readers. It’s also a great tool for individual or group study of the Bible’s amazing, overarching story of God’s love. Copies are available at www.highseasministries.org or on Amazon. For more information or to purchase a copy, just click the button in the picture below. All proceeds go to support High Seas Ministries.
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