“You’re not the boss of me”, declared the young man in the high school special needs class. “In this class, yes, I am the boss of you”, replied my wife, firmly but not unkindly. Having raised four children of her own, including three sons, she was not at all intimidated by his bravado. Although she was several inches shorter than he, she carried an authority that did not originate from within herself.
Authority. It’s a double-edged sword, isn’t it? Without a doubt it can be abused, and often is – yet without authority, true leadership is impossible. The people we respect the most are people who seem to have an inherent authority that adds weight to their words and actions, yet who aren’t impressed with their own authority, but hold it lightly and exercise it with humility.
This is the season in which we celebrate the coming of Jesus into our world. Christmas carols typically focus on the fact that he came to die for us so we could have peace with God and go to heaven. Yet I have never met anyone who admits to being excited by the prospect of spending eternity sitting on a cloud playing on a harp. That’s because God did not make us for any such destiny. While it’s true that Jesus was born to save us from our sins, His purpose for us goes far beyond taking us away to heaven. He redeemed us so that one day we can govern the earth in His name.
One day. That day is not now, not yet. Yes, it’s true that believers are called to bear witness to the authority of Jesus – but our time to reign on the earth is when He returns in His glory to banish evil once for all and establish His Kingdom. For now, He is patient, wanting to allow time for as many as possible to come to repentance.
Why is it important to get this right? Because if the church tries to bring in God’s Kingdom by taking over the power structures of the world, we only end up messing things up. Look at the Crusades. Look at the abuses in Native residential schools. Look at all the other messes created by well-meaning Christians who tried to use the world’s methods to do God’s job for him. Left to our own devices, we are not capable of expressing His righteous nature in our governance. Even the best human power structures are a far cry from the way of Jesus – the way of love, servanthood, humility and righteousness that characterizes God’s Kingdom.
The Bible tells us that even though Jesus was and is his Father’s chosen One, he had to learn obedience through what he suffered. He chose to govern his own spirit and surrender his will to the Father’s good purposes even when this meant enduring unspeakable pain. Solomon, speaking by the wisdom of God, declared that one who governs his (her) own spirit is better than one who can capture a city. What good is authority if all you succeed in doing is to make things worse? Even though we were made to rule, created to bring God’s order and blessing to the earth, we can’t get it right until we let the Crucified One transform our self-preoccupied hearts into hearts that are enthralled, not with ourselves and our amazing abilities (where did those abilities come from in the first place?), but with Him and His goodness. That process is not yet complete, and won’t be complete until Jesus returns. That’s why I say our time to rule is not yet. What we need to focus on is not our authority, but Jesus’ authority. If we focus on that, we become safe people – people who are not preoccupied with ourselves, and therefore people to whom Jesus is able to entrust greater and greater measures of His Kingdom authority precisely because we have given up striving for it.
The night before Jesus went to the cross, he took a towel and washed his disciples’ feet. This was a menial task, one that should have been assigned to the lowest one on the totem pole. Simon Peter, who always seemed to make it his business to protect the Master’s interests, protested that Jesus shouldn’t be doing this lowly job. He thought he knew better than Jesus. But Jesus had made no mistake. John records that Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was going to God. In other words, Jesus knew who He was and where He was headed, and it was in this knowledge that he humbled himself and washed the grimy, smelly feet of his friends. He had no inner compulsion pushing him to prove His own authority. He had already settled that issue and willingly surrendered to the Father’s purpose for Him, unlike Lucifer who couldn’t stand not being in charge. His sole purpose now was to reveal the Father’s love and glory to those He had chosen, so that they would be so imprinted with the goodness of the Father that they in turn would be able to bear witness to a world that was desperate for good news.
So what’s my point? It’s very simple. The good news is Jesus, not us. Am I saying that we can’t make a difference? No, not at all. I’m saying that if we want to make a difference that is truly lasting – that counts for eternity – then we need to stop being so concerned about making a difference, and simply make it our business to keep our attention on our bridegroom so that we are changed by His glory. If our eyes are on Him, we won’t have to strive to make a difference. His humility, love and power will characterize our lives without us trying to prove anything. The apostles of the first generation, who had seen the Risen One, lived this way – and they turned the world upside down.
I want the world to be impressed – I want the world to be amazed – not by me and what I can do, but by Jesus my King, who alone is worthy to rule, and who is coming soon. That’s where my hopes are fixed; that’s what I’m living for.