I guess we’ll come out swinging…
Why does God have to be so big and so great? Why does God’s holiness have to be so ‘perfect’ that He can’t even look on sin? Why do we have to appear so detestable and disgusting in His sight? Why does God have to be so obsessed with Himself? What’s up with God’s ‘god-complex’? In an attempt to ‘glorify’ Christ, a picture is painted, not of a gentle, meek, lowly, servant-hearted leader, but of a cosmic dictator. Isn’t that what we want? “Give us a king!” – Israel
In short, we are painting a picture of God that is domineering, coercive, and tyrannical. A ‘god’ who delights himself in the very fact that he is in control. In fact, we’ve created a monster and called it lord. We created domination and called it wisdom. We created selfishness and called it justified. We created exclusion and called it embrace. We created murder and called it righteousness. We made a ‘god’ in our own image. We have claimed Caesar as Lord, but in a matter of semantics, simply replaced his name with Jesus. The problem? When God became a man, He looked and acted nothing like that.
Jesus is Lord. Caesar is not.
“..if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
There is one word to describe this statement: provocative. At a time when currency read “Divine Julius” or “Divine Augustus,” emperor worship was reinforced in Rome, and perhaps the most common idiom heard from the mouths of all generations within the empire was ‘Caesar is lord’, Paul boldly declares “Jesus is Lord!” implying that Caesar was not. Paul made a clear and definitive affront to the kingdom of the world by claiming the Kingdom of God. This is more than semantics. This statement is radically opposing from every possible angle.
Most clearly, Jesus inaugurated His Kingdom by dying on a tree. Before that, He told people that if they were struck on the cheek, to offer the other– if they were forced to go a mile, to voluntarily go another– if someone were to steal their shirt, they were to offer their coat as well, and many other radical(seemingly foolish) teachings. Why? Jesus was teaching people how to react to the world’s system a much better way. Jesus confronts the kingdom of the world by allowing it to continue in it’s ways until it is exhausted (like a small child wrestling with his father; eventually giving up from exhaustion– completely unsuccessful). To respond to the world by means of the world is circular reasoning– destined for cyclical oppression and disappointment.
The better response– Love.
“Just as the oppressed must be liberated from the suffering caused by oppression, so the oppressors must be liberated from the injustice committed through oppression.” -Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace
This quote sums up the two most prominent motivations of the Cross– Self-donation and Atonement. Through the combination of these, Christ emerges utterly victorious. (But we’ll get to that in a bit)
On the Cross Christ didn’t experience momentary humility in order to ‘earn’ eternal supremacy. Christ showed us who He is, always has been, and always will be– humble. For instance, God has no intrinsic need for suffering, yet He suffered. Paul explains with “I have been crucified with Christ…” [Eph 2:20]. Christ died with us, meaning He joined the world in it’s sufferings, and brought hope for vindication. Paul is expressing the Faith of choosing to join Christ in His death, in order to join Him in the following vindication– resurrection from the dead. In short, Jesus died for the oppressed in order that they might live in freedom from oppression.
In addition, and Perhaps the more radical notion of the Cross is that, the same Jesus who died with and for the oppressed, simultaneously died for the oppressor. If Romans 5:6 is to be thought through and taken seriously, then Jesus (God) is massively concerned with loving those who hate Him. So, which side is God on?
“…Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us or for our adversaries?’ ‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’” (Joshua 5:13-14)
God chooses to respond to our cyclical system of oppression with a whole new way of being. We cry “Are you for me or for those who hate me?!” And He responds, “I am for neither of your agendas. I am for my own agenda– reconciliation.”
Within the essence of God is the willing desire to reduce Himself below Himself to the point of the humiliating/cursed destruction of Himself, for the sake of those who hate Him, in hope that they would find new life. Christ doesn’t ‘tolerate’ the ‘Other’, He dies for them.
How could a system like this ever work? It is in rigid opposition to the historically observable ‘solutions’ of war, oppression, and retaliation! Of course, I’m being sarcastic. Humans have only been at total peace 8 percent of the time in all of recorded history. Also, at least 108 million people were killed in wars in the twentieth century alone. Did Albert Einstein not define insanity as attempting the same thing repeatedly while expecting a different result? So what are we?
The deliverer of Israel. Charged to free the People of God from oppression (political and spiritual) and to rebuild the (actual) temple, where God would finally dwell as He did in the first temple (and had not during the post-exilic times). Not only did Jesus fulfill all of these expectations (and many more) in Himself, but He extended His messiahship to the bounds of the Earth, and over all creation in His Divinity.
This is an incredible revelation, but the practicality of such a magnificent claim is in the methodology. How did God inaugurate His Kingdom? Was Jesus just a better king? Was Jesus just a ‘Christian-Caesar’? In short– no…absolutely not. That would imply that worldly systems are even close to the Kingdom of God. And they are not. Not with the murder, corruption, and self-glorification that plagues them.
Jesus’ crown was thorns. His triumphal entry– a donkey. His cleansing of the temple– the removal of corrupt Jews (not Roman). His response to violence– turn the cheek. His disposition toward those who hated Him– Love. All of these responses were in stark contrast to Israel’s expectations of the Messiah, and continue to be opposed to the methods of our current worldly systems. Jesus delivered the oppressed by making a way for both oppressed and oppressor to become Children of God– not by slaying the enemy, but by slaying Himself.
Jesus wasn’t just reaching for Rome. God used Abraham’s Seed(Jesus) to save the whole world– Just like He promised He would [Gen 22:18]. God never called Israel to hide away from the world, hoping to be glorified above the Gentiles. God called Israel to be a light among the Nations, not to be a spoiled only-child. This was always God’s purpose, going as far back as Abram. God didn’t set apart a People just so He could have someone to bless. God set apart a People so He could make them like Him again, thus they would pursue the lost and broken with unconditional Love– just like God.
Jesus became King by exhausting Death of it’s power, and emerging triumphant in the Resurrection. Now He rules the world in the same way. Instead of overpowering people into moral submission, He comes from ‘under’ as a servant and washes their feet. At such kindness, men and women are drawn to repentance. Now the moral state is achieved by the changing of hearts in covenant, rather than the forceful mandate of obligation. Jesus is Lord– and His People reign in His Image.
The Supremacy of Christ is achieved, maintained, and defined by the self-donating, freely forgiving, unconditional, perfect Love of God. It’s not about what seems to ‘work’ best, it’s about who God is. It’s from there that God acts in everything. It is from there that He will be “All in all.”
“Love is the language spoken in Heaven.” – N.T. Wright