The Weight of a Kingdom

My daughter owns a tea set, made of molded plastic. Included is a small, pink plate. One night, after digging under the couch for a few seconds she pulled this pink plate from under the darkness and held it out in triumph. One of our dogs promptly relived her of the plate, and trotted away with it hanging from his mouth.

She was confused, but not upset. She waddled over to the dog, wearing a curious expression.

I took the plate from the dog’s mouth and gave it to its rightful owner…who then put the thing in her own mouth and raced off, with a look back, hoping the dog would take chase.

That was pretty much the highlight of the night, up to that point. My daughter’s desire to do what the dog did and see how it worked out caused a break out of the giggles.

It also scared the crap out of me.

Not immediately, of course. True laughter and joy demands the whole man in the moment of experience, not allowing the moment to be wasted by second guessing. But introspection can come later when the breath is caught.

One time. She saw the behavior just one time before she imitated it. Imitated a dog being a dog. She is a sponge ready to soak up anything.

And so she will imitate me. For better or worse, whatever I do, she will do.  Whoever I am, she will be a version of that person, in some way. I am one of the first instruction manuals she will read about what it means to be a human, and the lessons will stick with her forever, tattooed in permanent ink. Some days I wish they were just those cheap little tattoos that you lick to stick, and then they come off after a few baths. I don’t want her to learn those lessons.

Paul: “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.”

Me: ….

I can’t repeat that and be honest. But I don’t get to pull myself out of the game. There are no timeouts. There are no substitutions. I don’t get to rest on the bench. She will look where I am going…and then follow.

A realization like that should make you want to beg for God’s grace and mercy, that you will imitate Christ, not just for your own sake, but for the sake of your family. And so I do. Sometimes. My prayer life isn’t exactly Christ-like, after all. Not yet, anyway.

Solomon: “I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?”

Amen Solomon.

But go on further. Who is able to govern even the littlest of His children? A single one?

It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. (Luke 17:2)(ESV)

As fathers, we each have the weight of a kingdom on our shoulders. We are responsible for those we are given, and that should get our knees to knocking a little bit. Thankfully, we can ask for the same thing Solomon asked, for who is able to govern, even over the least of these? Because as the king goes, so goes the kingdom.

May we rule wisely, like the High King. May we imitate Christ.

Thrones of David and Living Stones

Jesus sits on the throne of David, as the King of kings. But we modern Christians forget that there is more than one throne.

David writes in Psalm 122:

Jerusalem— built as a city
that is bound firmly together,
to which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the LORD.
There thrones for judgment were set,
the thrones of the house of David. (Psalm 122:3-5)(ESV)

Who sits on these other thrones?

Who is the Greatest?

In the gospel of Luke, in the context of the last supper, the disciples begin arguing over who will be regarded as the greatest. Who is going to be chief viceroy in the Messiah’s new kingdom?

Jesus responds by talking about the rulers of the Gentiles, and how the disciples should not be like them. He concludes with:

And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:29,30)

Matthew records a similar exchange in chapter 19, but including the word “twelve” before “thrones”, giving greater significance to the apostles. This flows into Revelation 21:14, where the apostles are seen as the foundations of the New Jerusalem, the capital city of the new heavens and new earth. Thrones.  Foundations. Living stones, with one cornerstone: Christ.

What’s remarkable is what Jesus does not say during these exchanges. He does not rebuke them saying that his kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. He does not roll his eyes and say “You are thinking too much like first century Jews. The kingdom is purely in the heavenly realm, and is about personal salvation. There aren’t really any rulers in the sense you are thinking about. Read more Plato.”

What does he say? He tells them to be better rulers than the Gentile rulers. To be the greatest ruler in the new kingdom, one would need to be a servant instead. Put another way, “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”

But there are more living stones than just the apostles. (1 Pet. 2:5)

More than Just Twelve Thrones

This promise of authority in the new kingdom is not just for the Twelve. 1 Corinthians is packed full of similar language.

Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are your’s; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are your’s; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s. (1 Cor. 3:21-23)

Paul rebukes the Corinthians for taking fellow believers to pagan courts. Why does he say this practice is wrong?

Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? (1 Cor. 6:2-4)(ESV)

Since Christ has been resurrected and enthroned, things have changed, and the old order has been turned upside down. The church should be acting as if this is true, instead of pretending it isn’t. When the Corinthians brought a fellow brother before a pagan judge, they were pretending that Christ was still in the grave, and that he wasn’t really King of kings and Lord of lords. Because if they really believed that Christ is King, they would know that they should be able to handle such trivial matters themselves.

Why?

Because they will help judge the world, and with it, those very same pagan judges.

By going to pagan judges to settle church or “kingdom” matters, they were acting like the Israelites of old, reversing the conquest of the land. Or plundering the temple to pay off foreign kings.

Fellow Heirs

I have explained elsewhere that the promise of Abraham was really for the inheritance of the world, and that through Christ, as the new Israel, we are the recipients of the same promise. The twelve tribes of Israel have now been expanded to include all of the nations of the earth, and the promised land expanded to mean the entire world.

“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5)

“And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Rom. 8:17)

“…we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Rom. 8:37)

You have a throne and crown waiting for you.  You are a fellow heir of the King of kings. You are part of his body.  What he possesses, you possess. You have a throne of David waiting for you.

And are you going to be timid? Are you going to act as if you are never going to wear your crown? Are you going to despise your inheritance?

Don’t Worry About the Donkeys

The second time Joseph’s brothers go to Egypt to buy grain, they are sent to Joseph’s house. This causes some comedic (to me, at least) dialog among themselves.

And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph’s house, and they said, “It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys.” (Gen. 43:18)(ESV)

They are worried about their donkeys.  While they were certainly important and would allow them to carry back more grain than they could carry by themselves, its a strange bookend to their list of worst case scenarios.  If they were assaulted and made into slaves, their pack animals would be as useful as a blind man’s pair of contact lenses.

“Reuben, what if they beat us and we become slaves?!”

“Not sure, Levi. I only hope the donkeys will come out of it alright. As long as they’re OK, we’ll be OK.”

Levi nods his head. “Yes, I hope the God of our fathers grants the donkeys safe passage through this situation. Everything rests on them!”

But what actually happens?

The brothers are welcomed.  They are pampered.  Their feet are washed and they feast with the second most powerful man in Egypt (or the world), drinking and being merry. And the donkeys they were so worried about are fed and taken care of.

This is one of those mirrors in Scripture that show us ourselves in high resolution.

In fear and doubt, we hold on to garbage scraps, not realizing that God has a feast prepared for us if only we would throw the scraps away. Scraps have no place at the table of God.

Or we cling to the worn, dirty rags covering our bodies.  God is ready to dress us in royal robes and place a crown upon our head, and we ask “But what about my rags?” How pathetic we must look.

And yet he loves us. Not only that, he wants to flood us with blessings.

In Luke 18:18-30, after the rich ruler goes away sorrowful because he has many possessions, Peter boasts on behalf of all the disciples: “Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.” We have done what this ruler did not do.  Aren’t we special?

And Jesus answers him:  “Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.” Stop bragging.  You are simply trading for treasure that is worth many times more than what you are giving up.  What you gave up is nothing in comparison to what you will receive.

Paul seems to echo this in Phil. 3:8

I count all things [but] loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them [but] dung, that I may win Christ

We need to realize that, when we worry and cling to the things in this life for security – our houses, our savings accounts, our investment portfolios, our jobs, our government, our youth, western medicine – we are clinging to dung. We need to release our tight grips, before the grip becomes reality in true rigor mortis.

But when we relax our grip, we will be blessed beyond our wildest dreams.  God even tells us to test him in this:

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. (Mal. 3:10)

Like Joseph’s brothers, we are okay with being slaves just as long as nothing happens to our donkeys. God is ready replace your scraps with feasting, your rags with robes,  and your sorrow with joy.

So let go of your scraps and rags. And don’t worry about the donkeys.

And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls? And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith? And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Luke 12:22-31)