Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world . . .” (John 18:36).
The ride to school takes about twenty minutes on a good day. Just long enough for me to try and do some on-the-fly teaching to my two pupils in the back seat. I knew they wouldn’t engage my civics lesson for twenty minutes so I had to get right to it.
It was the morning after we had elected our nation’s first African-American President. My kids had done a mock election at school, but did they understand the significance of what was happening in the country? This is huge. Obama’s election is profoundly significant for all Americans regardless of how we voted on Tuesday.
So I told them a story, a story I’ve told here before. I told them about my buddy in second grade, the kid I most enjoyed at recess time – a black kid. This was the late 60s in Camden, South Carolina. I told them about how my teacher had phoned my parents to express her concern over my recess association, suggesting that perhaps I needed to widen my circle of friends. I remember it well.
I wanted my kids to hear how significant Tuesday was because when I was in second grade, Tuesday would have never been dreamed of – at least not by my school teacher.
History was being made, and we were watching it.
The apostle Paul wrote that Jesus came “in the fullness of time.” That phrase gets at the far reaching historical significance of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus came to change the world. God is sovereign over history, and Jesus had a keen awareness of what God was doing and how people needed to respond. “The Kingdom is at hand.” That’s they way Jesus put it.
What ought to grab our attention is the way Jesus went about defining the times and calling people to participate in the movement of history. Jesus was surrounded by others who were trying to do the same thing; define the times, shape the lives of people and nations. Jesus was not alone in his task – but his method was singular.*
Herod’s legacy was alive and well in Jesus’ day. Herod shaped people by force and manipulation. He didn’t participate in history, he made history. The way of Herod was the way of raw power used to reach goals determined by Herod himself. His way was harsh, but it got things done.
Jesus was no doubt aware of the example of Ciaphas the High Priest. Here was a religious man who was skilled at adapting secular methods for spiritual purposes. This makes sense and has wide appeal today. Watch what works in the culture and then do the same thing in the place of worship with a little God sprinkled on it.
Jesus also lived with an awareness of the Essenes. These were the spiritually elite among the Jews, seriously devout persons who responded to their times by withdrawal and seclusion. They were totally focused on God, waiting on God to act in history. They removed themselves from the worldly culture so that they could give adequate attention to the Holy.
Jesus had plenty of role models for impacting the world – and he rejected all of them. How then did Jesus bring heaven to earth? How did he live in the Kingdom he proclaimed? He did simple things that you and I can do right now. He lived in the intimacies of a small community, he prayed, he worshiped, he loved people, he engaged them in conversation, and he told them stories about God that intersected their own stories.
And he says to us, “Follow me.” We are invited to do what Jesus did. The Jesus way is the same now as it was eight years ago, as it was two-thousand years ago. It’ll be the same in January. That hasn’t changed. And we can live that way right now.
Show us how to walk as you walked, Lord Jesus. Go with us through the details of this day so that our ways and your ways will be the same. Teach us to follow you, we pray. Amen.
(Again, I am indebted to Eugene Peterson’s The Jesus Way, pp. 193-242.)