“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:9–13 TNIV)
“His own did not receive him.” It’s a sad little line from the beginning of John’s gospel, succinctly noting a reality that was true of Jesus in the time of Herod and that we see is still true today. The world doesn’t really want Jesus to rule it.
Now, this isn’t a cue to get your protest signs out or to start throwing rocks…this isn’t just about the secular world. John wouldn’t have been surprised by the pagan reluctance to trading Caesar for Jesus. The real disappointment was that the people of Israel weren’t ready to allow Jesus the sort of messiahship he intended. Particularly, the religious leaders of Israel became Jesus’s most vicious opponents. The insiders couldn’t allow Jesus to set the agenda for their kingdom, leading them to resent Jesus rather than respect him, to show him hostility rather than hospitality. Jesus’s intent to disarm the powers of the world wasn’t just a foreign policy, but a domestic one as well—the way of Jesus shakes the structures of the oppressive religious world just as thoroughly as it fractures the foundations of the oppressive empire.
Even his own disciples were repeatedly shaken, at the very places where they sought to establish their own thrones alongside his. In Mark 10, James and John begin with the sort of open-ended question everybody with wisdom resists: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” The whole exchange is tainted by the posture of this question, which requests (before their request) that Jesus kindly hand over control to them. They ask for permission to set up their thrones on either side of Jesus when he establishes his rule, but Jesus responds with a stunning reversal of their desires, capturing their misunderstanding of what it means to be a part of his kingdom. “Can you drink the cup that I drink? Can you be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” He is always doing this sort of thing to them; Jesus shakes every foundation on which a throne might be built, whether it be their own righteousness, their wisdom, or even their loyalty to him.Jesus shakes every foundation on which a throne might be built. Click To Tweet
Jesus still shakes us, even in the religious orders and communities that bear the Lord’s name. Wearing the Christian label won’t shield us from our tendencies to build our own kingdoms. Participating in a Christian church doesn’t insulate us from the desire to retain control over our lives. Baptism alone won’t stave off the cravings of power and status that have driven so much of the evil in the world. Being a part of a Christian culture or subculture can’t protect us from that most basic and threatening of questions: will we submit to Jesus or not?
I’m sure that question will come up for you sometime today. I find it challenges me constantly, if I’m paying attention. Following the Lord isn’t a one-and-done decision, but one that has to be made over and over again. It isn’t something only determined in the moment before we’re washed in the baptistry. It may not be framed explicitly, rather, the question of Jesus’s lordship is posed in a thousand different ways, and in the most surprising contexts.
In my home, in the tumult of the bedtime hour.
In the office, when we negotiate tasks nobody wants to do.
In the community, when we meet rude, mean-spirited behavior.
Online, where thousands chime in and listen, anonymously.
In sport, while I play the roles of competitor, spectator, coach, and parent.
In the marketplace, where my choices affect unknown myriads. .
And yes, even in the church, where my sense of spirituality is challenged by flesh and blood.
In all of these places, and in every other one, I still face the question: Is Jesus Lord, or not?