The Ruler of Kings

Revelation 1:4b-8

4b Grace and peace to you from the one who is and was and is coming, and from the seven spirits that are before God’s throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ–the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To the one who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 who made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father–to him be glory and power forever and always. Amen.

7 Look, he is coming with the clouds! Every eye will see him, including those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him. This is so. Amen.

8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the one who is and was and is coming, the Almighty.” (CEB)

The Ruler of Kings

Recently, the world has seemed like it’s out of control. Maybe it’s felt that way all along, but events like Nigeria, Paris, Beirut, and the downing of the Russian airliner bring the reminder to the fore of our minds and hearts that the world is messed up. Powers are at play, vying against each other and destroying lives in the process. And we have visceral, gut-wrenching reactions to the kind of violence that happens when powers collide, when hatred rears its ugly head, and when terrorists murder people.

Social media has become the place where the majority of people vent their feelings and pour out their thoughts on everything that happens. On my Facebook feed, I’ve seen everything from You Will Not Have My Hate, to Kill Them All and Let God Sort Them Out. The hate-filled extremes that I’ve seen are the ones that disturb me the most. When we hate, we have adopted the policy and practice of the terrorists themselves. We become the very thing we hate.

Our Governor, Mike Pence, has even said Indiana won’t accept refugees from Syria. My first thought was Thank goodness Pence wasn’t the Prefect of Egypt when the Holy Family sought refuge there from the murderous tyranny of Herod. Jesus was, in the earliest days of his life, a refugee from the Middle East.

I’ve seen online petitions being favorited and reposted by Christian people which demand the president halt the settlement of all refugees in the United States.

Whether a person is a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Conservative, Liberal, or something else, whatever our politics might be, it’s a very real spiritual problem if our politics conflict with the politics of Jesus. If we don’t like the politics of Jesus, that’s okay. That’s our choice. But we need to recognize that when our politics disagree with the politics of Jesus, it means that our politics are decidedly unchristian.

We’re allowed to be angry. We’re allowed to be horrified that any human being would commit atrocious acts like these against other human beings. And we’re allowed to be disgusted that the terrorists say they’re doing it because of some false religious ideal. But our response to those who are fleeing the very horror of war and indiscriminate violence that shocks us should not be—cannot be—rejection and hatred.

The politics of Jesus Christ do not allow us to declare every Muslim guilty because the perpetrators of violence claim Islam as their religion. The terrorists killed Muslims in Paris, too. They want us to hate each other. When we respond to hatred with hatred, and to violence with a desire to do violence, we’re doing exactly what the terrorists want us to do, and exactly the opposite of what Jesus Christ calls us to do.

This text from the beginning of Revelation reminds us what we Christians ought to be about. We’re given a vision of the true king and ruler of this world, and an expectation that there is more to come. God is not finished forming and shaping Earth’s people into God’s people: a people who live with God’s love as our guide in everything we think, say, and do. Jesus Christ has more power and greater authority than any Earthly nation, ruler, or group vying for power. There is more to the dignity of God’s people than the enemies of God recognize.

The salutation, “Grace and peace to you from him who is and who was and who is to come,” dispenses with the typical movement from past to present to future. Instead, it emphasizes the present reality: God Who Is, by starting there. God is reigning now, despite the list of human tragedies we hear about or experience every day. God is present with us now, even when we feel alone and forlorn. God is acting among us now, in our midst and in the midst of those whom we call our enemies. God’s grace is always active, always shaping, always moving among people in ways our senses cannot perceive.

The God “who was and who is to come,” reminds us that God’s activity and reign spans all of human history and beyond. The God who created the universe, who hung every star, who formed the galaxies in all their splendor, who shaped the Earth and wrapped it in orbit around our star is the same God who will renew all of creation, who will set every wrong to right, who will reconcile enemies so they become friends.

We are reminded that Jesus Christ is the firstborn from the dead. His resurrection to a new and glorified body which was no longer limited in any way, but a perfect extension of his will, is a sign for us of the resurrection we shall experience.

The declaration that Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the Earth should also remind us who we are. We might live here, but it’s not our true home. Those who claim Christ are a people whose citizenship is registered in another kingdom. Christians are resident aliens living in a foreign land.

You might say we Christians are refugees awaiting resettlement.

When John of Revelation tells us that Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the Earth, that’s profound. It ought to be a comforting idea for us to know that God is really in charge. But we forget. Fear and uncertainty can make us forget. And we aren’t the first ones to give in to fear. The commissioning of the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6 tells us a similar story. It begins with the words, “In the year of King Uzziah’s death.”

When a king died in the ancient world, it was a time of uncertainty and fear. One never knew what the new ruler would be like. There were questions about security. Would the new king be able to protect the people from outside threats? Would the new king be respected or taken advantage of by the rulers of other nations? These questions, and the fears from which they sprung, were especially potent when a long-ruling king like Uzziah died. He ruled for over forty years. And the people wondered, What will happen now?

In the midst of these questions, Isaiah has a vision of God seated high and lofty on a throne, surrounded by the heavenly court. It was a vision of kingship. It was a vision of power. It was a vision of grandeur. And it was a vision that reminded the people that the Lord of Hosts still rules, still reigns, still commands with authority that is greater than any earthly king, nation, government, or group could ever muster.

Next, John reminds us what Jesus, our King of kings, has done for us. God has acted toward us with love. God has acted toward us with deep, profound love: love that is beyond imagining or expectation. Jesus loves us and freed us from our sins. The tenses of the verbs John uses here are not accidents. The love of Jesus Christ is always present with us. Christ loves us. And yet, Christ’s action on our behalf is in the past, but the results of God’s action in Christ continue to be effective into the future for us and for everyone who comes after us.

And it isn’t only what Jesus Christ has accomplished for us, but Christ has made us to be something. We are a kingdom of priests who serve God. That’s what we Christians are supposed to be. If we believe this stuff, then there’s no reason for us to be afraid of doing what’s right, of living into the love of Jesus Christ fully.

To be a kingdom of priests means we serve as intermediaries between God and those who don’t know God. It means we do crazy things like loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors. It means the heart of everything we do is an offering of worship to God. It means we do not respond to hatred with hate, and violence with harm.

We’re called to something different. We’re called to holiness. We’re called to be peacemakers.

Christ countered the violence of Empire with love for us and obedience to the Father. Even in seeming defeat, Jesus Christ was victorious. If we are citizens of God’s kingdom, we will follow Christ’s example as faithful witnesses of God’s reign. We’ll deny ourselves while searching out God’s will for our lives. We’ll welcome strangers, welcome pilgrims, and welcome refugees. We’ll care for the poor, the needy, the hurting, and the broken.

It will mean denying ourselves. It will mean living sacrificially for others. It will mean accepting those who make us uncomfortable.

We are living in the between-times, the age between ages. Christ has been raised, and we await his return. We believe the day will come when Christ comes with the clouds, when every eye will see him, even God’s enemies. Until that day, our job is to work and to pray for God’s kingdom so that even God’s enemies might become God’s friends. We have a part to play in this age-between-ages, and it is not xenophobia or intolerance.

Christ is the King of kings. God’s rule is now, even though we can only see it with the eyes of faith. The Alpha and Omega is the Lord of all human history, indeed, all time and all space. Jesus Christ, the Lord of All, will one day be seen and known by every eye. This is the vision of John. God is the one who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. And, like it or not, these are the politics of Jesus Christ and his kingdom.

Each of us gets to decide what we want to be about. As for me, I choose Christ.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

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