Last Tuesday we celebrated the birth of our Saviour, the one who came to redeem us from our sin! We celebrated the birth of our king, the one who came to take His place at the right hand of the Father. Yet we were reminded that though Christ rules, He rules over rebels. This world is not the peaceful kingdom that Isaiah prophesied (cf. Isa 9:7). Though we are children of its king, this world does not acknowledge the reign of its rightful ruler. Daily we are reminded that as the World—the rebellious kingdom of sinful man and Satan—hated Christ, so it also hates us who submit to His rule (John 15:18-25).
That Jesus was born a king means that He has a kingdom, a land over which He rules and a people under His rule—or a nation. In the last post we considered the land aspect of Christ’s kingdom; He rules the entire universe. Looking from Christmas to the New Year, what remains for us to consider is what it means to be a people of a king.
In one sense, every creature is a subject of Christ’s rule. However, as we saw, much of the creation is engaged in rebellion against its rightful ruler. In the Bible, Jesus’ people, or nation over which He rules, is composed not of all those who fall under His authority—everyone—but of those who submit to Him as Lord—Christians. Christ’s kingdom therefore encompasses the entire world but focuses specifically on Christians and those who will one day bear that name. As Christ’s kingship did not originate as nor look quite like we would expect it to, so the nature of Christ’s people is not quite what we would expect. Celebrating the birth of our King this Christmas gives Christians an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be the people of a king especially a king like Jesus. As the people of King Jesus, we are under His authority, exiled in hostile territory, and His ambassadors to those in rebellion.
A Nation under Authority
Every kingdom has a structure of authority, a government or leader and those entrusted with enforcing their decrees. The entire world is under the authority structure of God’s kingdom; everyone owes their obedience to the Lord. Yet only Christians acknowledge His rule and seek to submit to His reign. Because the human race is, for the most part, in rebellion against their creator, they do not submit to His law. Therefore, human authority, given by God (Rom 13:1-7), does not make intentional effort to submit to and conform to God’s authority.
This means that the authority expressed by humanity—through its governments and social structures (family, education, etc.)—may be in opposition to God’s authority. When this is the case, Christians know who their Lord is: they are obligated to obey Jesus over any man or woman. That is, because Christ is our king not Caesar (or Trudeau, or Trump), we may at times find ourselves going against the grain of the land in which we reside. Obedience to our true king may at times necessitate disobedience towards the authorities of this world (cf. Acts 4:19-22, 5:29) (e.g. this letter, cf. this article).
A Nation in Exile
Every kingdom has a land. In a sense, this entire creation is the land over which Christ our king rules. However, as we considered previously, this world is in rebellion against its rightful ruler. Christians, as the true subjects of Christ the king, find themselves in hostile territory in this creation: the World submits itself not to Christ but the rebel Satan. For this reason, Christians are characterized in the New Testament as exiles awaiting a homeland, awaiting the consummation of Christ’s kingdom (cf. Heb 11:8-10, 13-16; 12:18-28; 13:7-16; 1 Pet 1:1).
We must, therefore, live as exiles in our homelands. This means that “Canadian” is not my true citizenship; this country does not own my allegiance. Countries will rise and fall, rulers come and go, but the Kingdom of God holds fast through the ages; that is where our citizenship lies. This means that we do not have to, and must not, let the political turmoil of our age—of every age—distract us from our true commission.
This means that we must hold our residence in a nation with an open hand, it is not our home. This means that we must not let our national identity supersede our Christian identity. Being a Christian is more important than being Canadian, American, British, Cuban, Chilean, Nigerian, Saudi, Filipino, Chinese, Taiwanese, etc. (Gal 3:23-39, Col 3:9-11).
A Nation of Ambassadors
Christ’s kingdom—in the universal sense—is in rebellion against Him, yet He is not content to let the rebels continue in their rebellion. He is merciful to offer and seek their repentance, to grant them clemency if they will only surrender their arms and submit to His rule. He has commissioned us who proclaim His name as His ambassadors to bring this offer of reconciliation to His rebellious kingdom. Therefore, we do not live aimlessly in exile; we live in exile for a purpose.
We have been entrusted with a message of reconciliation, imploring unbelieving rebels to look to the Cross of Christ, surrender their rebellion, and be saved from God’s judgment against sin (2 Cor 5:11-21). We do this by making Christ’s kingdom known on earth through the local church and bringing God’s offer of reconciliation in the words we speak. Local churches are embassies of Christ’s kingdom, consisting of people who proclaim His lordship and places of refuge where citizens of the heavenly kingdom can find respite. Together we are charged with making Christ’s kingdom known, imploring rebels to enter it, and teaching them how to be obedient citizens (Matt 28:18-20).
Last week we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ our king. As we approach the new year, remembering Christ our king calls us to remember our role as the people of a king. We are a people under authority, called to submit to Christ above all else. We are an exilic people, to identify with Christ’s kingdom above all else. And we are ambassadors, called to proclaim Christ’s lordship and beckon all to joyfully submit to His reign until He returns in glory. 2019 is a year to make Christ’s name known, to make His reign known, to train up citizens in His kingdom. This is our commission as Christians, let this be our resolution this New Year; to make the kingdom of Christ the newborn king known.
The picture is an early Ichthus inscription from Ephesus. “Ichthus,” the Greek word for Fish, is an early symbol Christians used to identify themselves, standing for Jesus Christ God’s Son Saviour.