Standing Firm (Luke 21:5-19)

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A few months ago I read an article online about an Australian doomsday prepper. A doomsday prepper is a person who believes that a catastrophic event of some kind is coming soon and is preparing what they need in order to survive it. Usually being a doomsday prepper involves buying a property in a remote area far away from a major city, constructing a bunker or another kind of retreat to live in, stockpiling food, water and other supplies necessary for survival, and keeping a few weapons handy, just in case.

When we read the news headlines, sometimes I wonder if doomsday preppers have a point. There are armed conflicts on most continents. There are protests and other forms of serious political unrest going on in various cities around the world. The effects of climate change appear to be causing flooding, droughts and destructive storms across the globe. In this past week New South Wales endured some unprecedented bushfires, and the fires in Queensland look like they could continue out of control for some time yet.

I can understand how a doomsday prepper could look at these and other events around the world, and conclude that something big is coming which we need to prepare for.
Doomsday preppers are nothing new. Over the last two millennia of Christian history, there have been people who have looked at events around them and come to the conclusion that the world as they knew it was about to end. Often, they have used the words of Jesus to back up their fears. For example, in this Sunday’s reading from Luke 21:5-19 we hear Jesus say,

‘Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven.’ (vv10,11 NLT)

On a global scale, we could easily think that Jesus was talking about our own times with what we’re reading about in the news. Then Jesus brings things a little closer to home when he says,

‘But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers.’ (v12 NLT)

If anyone says that following Jesus means having fun, they haven’t read him very closely. Here and in other places Jesus warns us that being his disciple will mean suffering persecution. This won’t just come from wider society, but from even our closest relationships. Jesus continues,

‘Even those closest to you – your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends – will betray you. They will even kill some of you. And everyone will hate you because you are my followers.’ (vv16,17 NLT)

So far this isn’t sounding like good news for Christians. From what Jesus is saying, it sounds like a time was coming when there will be catastrophic destruction, and his followers will suffer persecution and rejection from even those who were closest to them. From an historical perspective, Jesus’ words were fulfilled when the Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in AD 70, and when Christians were persecuted by various Roman emperors in the first century. However, many also interpret Jesus words as referring to what will happen in the days leading up to his return at the end of time. This interpretation has led groups of Christians to behave like doomsday preppers over the centuries, as they abandoned their homes and families, went to isolated places, and waited for Jesus to return.

What’s significant about Jesus’ words, however, is that he never wanted his followers abandon the world. Instead, Jesus wants us to remain in the world, even if it is difficult or challenging. He says that when we are persecuted and stand trial in front of secular leaders, we will have the opportunity to tell them about him (v13). When we see the signs of Jesus’ return and are questioned by people who don’t know Jesus, God is giving us the opportunity to tell them about Jesus and the goodness of God we encounter in him. It is really important that we don’t see the end of the world as a threat to be afraid of, but an opportunity to witness to God’s love and grace for us to embrace.

Jesus also tells us not to worry about what we are going to say and how we will answer the accusations people will make against us because he will give us the words to say (vv14,15). There is always value in learning more about how to share our faith or to defend what we believe. However, when we are so immersed in our faith and so grounded in the good news of Jesus that it becomes part of who we are, when people ask us about him we can answer from a deep, personal encounter with and reliance on his message. This is more than having the right arguments about Christian teachings or doctrines. The words that Jesus will give us will come from the Holy Spirit through a deep, committed relationship with him and our own personal experiences of living as his disciples.

When we are living in the reality of the grace God gives us, we will be able to stand firm and receive the life he has promised. The words the New Living Translation interpret as ‘standing firm’ can also mean ‘patient endurance.’ As we wait for Jesus, not knowing exactly when he will return (see Mark 13:32, Luke 12:40), Jesus wants us to persevere in the hope that when he comes again he will fulfil all of his promises to us. The events Jesus describes in this passage will make it hard for us to remain faithful to him. However, when we are standing firm in the faith we have, that God is with us in all the circumstances and events of life, no matter how bad they might be, and that Jesus will come again to make everything wrong in the world right again, we will receive the perfect and eternal life that he promises us.

We can think of doomsday preppers as living their lives in fear of what might be coming. As God’s people, we don’t need to live in fear! Instead, as we wait for Jesus’ return, we can interpret what we see around us as opportunities to point people to the life-giving grace of God that we meet in Jesus, and to share the hope we have with others. As we live as people who look forward to Jesus’ return, standing firm means trusting that Jesus has taken the world’s brokenness on himself, he is making all things new in his resurrection, and he will bring a life that will never end to all who trust in him.

With My Own Eyes (Job 19:23-27a)

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I remember the first time I saw the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House for myself. I had grown up seeing pictures of these iconic Australian landmarks my whole life and had always thought they looked pretty impressive. Then, in my early twenties, I was able to travel to Sydney for a holiday. I caught the train into central Sydney, got off at Circular Quay and looked out to see Sydney Harbor with my own eyes for the first time.

Seeing pictures of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House was good. Seeing them for myself with my own eyes was so much better…

Job had everything anyone could possibly want. Then he lost it all. Job’s story presents us with a whole range of philosophical challenges which we will need to wrestle with another time. One thing that amazes me in this story, however, is that when Job was sitting on a garbage pile, with nothing but a wife telling him to curse God and die and three friends who are giving him advice which wasn’t at all helpful, Job still had hope. The optimism which is evident in his words from Job 19:23-27 is just incredible.

The hope Job had was that his Redeemer, the one who could rescue him from his troubles and give him everything he needed for life, was alive. In the context of Job’s story this doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. These words may have been written anything from a couple of hundred years to more than a thousand years before the birth of Jesus. However, in these words Job points us to a Redeemer who overcomes death, who stands on the earth in victory, and whom Job can physically see with his own, two eyes. Even in the darkest place of human existence, Job still had the hope that he will see Jesus face to face as a living, flesh and blood person.

When I think about the joy I had in seeing the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House with my own eyes for the first time, I find it hard to imagine the joy that will come with seeing Jesus for the first time with my own eyes. Like Job, the promise of seeing Jesus face to face as a real flesh and blood person can give us hope when we are going through dark times or when we wonder where God is. It can give us the hope that what we are enduring is temporary, and that what is permanent and eternal is the life of Christ which is stronger than death and is God’s gift to us through the gospel.

This is a different way of thinking about eternity than people often have. A common idea I often come across, among Christians as well as others outside the church, is that when we die, our souls go to heaven but our bodies remain in the ground. However, this is not the Bibles message. The gospels tell us about the physical resurrection of Jesus. The triumph of Jesus over death as a flesh and blood person points us to a physical resurrection for all of God’s people. In the same way that Jesus was physically raised to new life, so the Holy Spirit will also raise all of God’s people to eternal life which will be lived in real, flesh and blood bodies.

The Apostle Paul talks about the physical resurrection a number of times in his letters. In particular, in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul writes a lot about the resurrection of Jesus and the hope this good news gives to believers. He describes the difference between ‘heavenly bodies’ and ‘earthly bodies’ (1 Corinthians 15:40 NLT), ‘natural bodies’ and ‘spiritual bodies’ (v44 NLT), as well as ‘mortal bodies’ and ‘immortal bodies’ (v53 NLT). His language might sound a little strange, almost contradictory, but Paul is saying that we will have physical bodies which will be different to the bodies we now have. We will need to wait to find out exactly what our heavenly, spiritual and immortal bodies will be like. However, what we can learn from Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15 is that we will live as real, flesh and blood people, and not disembodied spirits, for eternity with God.

This is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, sometimes people might think that what is spiritual is good but the physical is evil or corrupt. While we need to take the reality of sin seriously, we also need to recognise that when God created the physical world, including people’s bodies, he said that it was very good (Genesis 1:31). Since God has created our bodies, and redeemed them through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we need to see our bodies as good gifts from a loving God and take care of them. Just like we might take care of a valuable gift that someone gives us, when we see our bodies as gifts from God, then we will look after them to honour God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19,20).
The second reason takes us back to Job. When we listen to his words and, remembering Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15, when we trust that even after our bodies have decayed we will see God in our new, eternal bodies, then we can find hope even in the middle of life’s most difficult or darkest times. Like Job, God does not abandon us. Instead, God redeems us as whole people, body and soul, through Jesus’ death and resurrection for us. Our Redeemer lives and one day he will stand on the earth in victory over sin, death and all the powers of evil. When that happens, even though our bodies have decayed in the earth or been cremated, bodies we will see God in all of his glory in our new, physical, flesh and blood bodies. With our own eyes we will see the face of our Redeemer and Saviour in perfect 20/20 vision. When that happens, all the pain, all the sorrow, all the loneliness, confusion and uncertainty will disappear as we see face to face the one we hope for, the one we hope in.

I’ve seen some pretty cool things in my life. I always find that they look a whole lot better when I can see them with my own eyes rather than just a photo. When our lives in this world are over and we finally see Jesus with our own eyes, it will be like nothing else. Like Job, I’m overwhelmed at the thought!

Until that day, we can live every day in the hope that in our bodies, with our own eyes, by the grace of our Redeemer Jesus, we will see God!

Heaven Comes Down (Revelation 21:1-6)

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What do you think heaven will be like?

There are lots of ways people answer this question. If people believe in a life after death – and it’s important to acknowledge that an increasing number of people in our society think that there is nothing after we die – then our picture of what that life looks like can vary a lot from person to person.

When I was growing up in the church, the picture I had of heaven was a kingdom in the sky where we would be living in clouds, singing old hymns with a pipe organ in a vast heavenly choir. To be honest, as a teenager it didn’t sound like the kind of eternity I was hoping for. In fact, if heaven was singing old hymns for ever, I wasn’t actually sure I wanted to be a part of it.

Thankfully, Revelation 21:1-6 gives us a very different picture of heaven to what I had as a teenager. It tells us that in eternity ‘there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain’ (v4) because the brokenness of life in this world will be gone for ever. This is an eternity that we can all look forward to, as pain and suffering of every kind is eradicated once and for all.

What can be challenging for those of us who have grown up with the ‘heaven in the clouds’ picture of eternity is where John tells us we will spend the afterlife. Instead of being taken up to God’s kingdom in the sky, John says quite the opposite. He doesn’t see people going up into heaven. John sees heaven come down to earth.

In Revelation 21:2, John writes ‘I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven’ (NLT). He then goes on to tell us,

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.’ (v3 NLT)

John locates our eternity on earth, not in the clouds. I understand that the Bible gives the impression of heaven being ‘up there’ in passages such as Jesus’ ascension (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9) and when Paul writes to the Christians in Thessalonica about Jesus’ return on the last day (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17). I don’t believe that these writers contradict each other because sometimes the Bible describes the same truth from different points of view. John’s perspective, as he relates his vision of eternity to us, is that God’s kingdom will descend to earth and God will establish his eternal reign, restoring the world to the way God intended it from the beginning.

In the next two chapters of Revelation, John gives us a fuller picture of what eternity will be like. If you’re interested in his vision of heaven, please read Revelation chapters 21 and 22 and let me know if there’s anything in there you would like to discuss or aren’t sure about. For now, though, I just want to focus on the idea that heaven comes down to us and what that means for us as followers of Jesus as we live a life of faith.

For some Christians who have held to a ‘kingdom in the sky’ picture of eternity, the world doesn’t matter. They can see it as a broken and evil place which God will eventually destroy. This idea of the material world being corrupt and sinful has lead people to wrongly think that we don’t need to take care of the world and we can do nothing as we wait for God to take us somewhere better. So over the course of history, some ‘Christians’ have sat around, waiting for heaven to arrive, letting the world get worse and worse.

If, however, we take the message of John’s revelation seriously that God is making all things new (v5), then we need to start looking at the world around us through different eyes. If God’s plan of salvation includes restoring all of creation to its original condition, then we have a part of play in God’s plan. Jesus announced God’s coming kingdom at the start of his public ministry (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15). Jesus’ miracles were evidence that God’s coming kingdom was breaking into the world through Jesus to make things right again. Every time we pray the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, we ask that God’s kingdom would come to us and our world (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2). The coming of God’s kingdom isn’t just something that will happen at the end of time, which is the way some people read Revelation. God’s kingdom comes to us in Jesus now. He is the presence of the living God among us (Matthew 1:22,23) who makes his home with us (both John 1:14 and Revelation 21:3 use the same word when talking about God ‘tabernacling’ or dwelling with us).

While we wait for Jesus to return to establish his eternal kingdom, the heavenly city of the new Jerusalem, we have an important role to play in God’s mission to restore the world to its original condition. God’s kingdom of heaven is coming into the world right now, and one of the ways it does that is through us, the body of Christ. God is calling us to participate with him in making all things new as we live like citizens of this kingdom. In Revelation, John gives us a picture of our eternal future. As we wait for its fulfilment, God calls us to live like this is where we have our home, this is where we belong, and this is what we have to look forward to. Our job as the people of God is not to sit around, waiting for him to take us to heaven. Instead, God saves us and calls us to be citizens of the new Jerusalem, God’s presence in the world, making all things new, just like God intended life to be in Genesis 1.

How can you be part of God’s work in the world this week through what you say and do? How can you work with God in bringing his heavenly city into your homes, where you work, your schools and universities, your sporting or social groups, or wherever God might lead you? As people whose home is the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, we are part of its coming when we live now like we will live in eternity, trusting in God’s goodness and grace to us in Jesus and loving others in the same way he loves us. When we live in faith and love, we are part of God’s coming kingdom and we share in its coming reality now and for ever.

More to think about:

  • What do you think heaven will be like? Spend some time reflecting on or discussing your thoughts. If you are more artistic, you might like to draw or paint what you imagine heaven to be like…
  • What surprises you about what John sees in Revelation 21:1-6? What doesn’t seem to make sense?
  • What is similar to what you imagine heaven to be like? What is different?
  • What is you reaction to the picture of eternity being spent on a restored earth which God has made new where life will be what he intended from the beginning? What do you like about that picture? What doesn’t sit comfortably with you?
  • If this is how we can view eternity, how might it change the way you see the world around you? Is it worth restoring? Share your thoughts on why you think that…
  • If we will spend eternity in a world which God has restored to its original condition, how might you be able to work with God in making ‘all things new’… in your home & family? in your paid or unpaid work? in your relationships? in your church? in the wider community? in other ways…?

The End Times (John 5:21-29)

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What would you do with your life if you knew you were going to live forever?

Most people I have known over my life, both from within and outside of the Christian church, have told me that they believe the goal of a religious life is to do enough good to get into heaven. The requirements or the standards may be different from person to person, but the one goal remains the same: do enough good and avoid enough bad so that when we move from this life to the next, we can be sure that we qualify for eternal life. So the view is that we spend our whole lives trying to do good in the hope that maybe we’ll be good enough to get eternal life.

But what if that’s actually back-to-front? What if the goal of a life of faith isn’t to try to get eternal life, but to grow into a life that has been given to us which will last for ever?

On Sunday we celebrated the last Sunday of the church year. It is often called the Day of Fulfilment because it looks forward to the end of time when Jesus will return to judge between those who will live for ever with him and those who will miss out on that eternity. It is a reminder that not everyone makes it into eternal life. Jesus teaches us what is needed if we want to spend eternity with God when he says, ‘I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life’ (John 5:24a NLT). The Christian perspective as Jesus teaches it is that all who listen to his word of grace and truth (John 1:17) and trust in God (John 1:12; 6:29) will live for ever.

The best news in from Jesus in John 5:24 is that we don’t even have to wait to get it. Instead of spending our lives trying to do good so that we might have a chance at getting eternal life, Jesus goes on to say that it is already ours! He says that those who hear his message of grace and truth and trust that God will give what he promises ‘will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life’ (NLT). I checked the Greek to make sure that the tenses of the verbs were faithful translations of the Greek test and as far as I can tell there is no mistake here. According to what the Apostle John reports Jesus said, eternal life isn’t something that we work for in the hope that we might somehow be good enough. Through his life, death and resurrection for us, Jesus has already carried us over from death to life and eternal life has already started!

Jesus goes on to say that one day he will return to fulfil all of God’s promises to us, to raise the dead to new life, and to judge between those who will live with him forever and those who won’t. He says that we don’t need to fear that judgement because we are already free from condemnation. This is the same as what Paul says in Romans 8:1, that ‘now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus’ (NLT). We don’t have to be afraid of being judged or condemned by God or anyone else because Christ has already carried us over from death to eternal life, and we already participate in the resurrected life of Jesus now because of the gift of the Holy Spirit in us.

This means that we can understand Discipleship as growing into the eternal life which Jesus has already given to us. God has a new life for us to live which is grounded in and producing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control like we read about in Galatians 5:22f. It is a life which is sustained by, flowing out of and expressing itself in the love that God has for us which Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a – love that is patient and kind, that is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude, that does not demand its own way, is not irritable, keeps no record of being wronged, does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices when the truth wins out, that never gives us, never loses faith, is always hopeful, endures all circumstances, and lasts forever. This is the love of God which is the source of our lives and which brings life to others.

The goal of the Christian life, then, is not to somehow do enough good to get eternal life. The goal of the Christian life is to grow into the life that Jesus has already breathed into us through the Holy Spirit which is stronger than death and which will last forever. Whatever we decide we want to do with the life Jesus has given us, or whatever we believe God wants us to do with this life, we can constantly be growing into the life that is described by the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians and Paul’s words description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. This is what it can mean to be Jesus’ disciples: following him into the life that will last forever which Jesus has already given us and in which we participate now.

A lot of people are afraid of the end times because they see it as a time of judgment and condemnation. We don’t need to be afraid, but we can look forward to Jesus’ return with confidence and hope. Jesus has already carried us over from death to life, and the life the Holy Spirit breathes into us now through his word of grace and peace will last for ever.

So, what do you want to do with your life, knowing that you’re going to live forever?

Looking Past What We See (2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1)

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One question in particular nagged me as I prepared my message on this text last week:

How do we ‘fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen’?

It doesn’t seem to make sense. If we cannot see something, it is out of our sight. So how are we supposed to ‘fix our eyes’ (NIV) on something when our eyes can’t perceive it in the first place?

I understand the theory behind what Paul is saying. He suffered a lot for bringing the gospel to people. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 Paul describes what he went through for the sake of Jesus – beatings, shipwrecks, various other dangers, hunger, thirst, nakedness and more. However, through it all Paul kept his focus on the glory of eternal life God promised him through the gospel. Paul didn’t go through all of these hardships to gain eternal life. Instead, he endured them because he considered the life he had been given through faith in Jesus to be so valuable that we wanted others to share in this life. He figured that if his suffering meant life for others (v15), then it was worth it.

So he kept his focus on what he had to look forward to and it gave him perspective on what he was suffering. He believed that his difficulties and hardships would one day come to an end. When they did, and he entered into the eternal life Jesus promised him, then the life that would never end would make his suffering seem very small and light in comparison.

So I think I understand the idea. I still wonder, though, how do we keep our eyes fixed on this eternity which we cannot see?

Most of the time, our sense of reality is based on and determined by what we see. One of the basic ideas of a scientific worldview which is foundational to our culture is that for something to exist, you have to be able to see it. If you can’t see it, then you can’t be sure it exists. Which, in the world of science, I understand. However, when what we see in our lives is darkness, pain, regret, disappointment, or suffering of any kind, then that becomes our reality. Sometimes it is impossible for us to see beyond our hardships or suffering. This becomes all that is real to us, and we can’t see anything else. To a small degree, I can understand what it is like to see nothing but the problems we face. At those times, it looks like there is no way out, no future, or no hope. Life can just look dark.

It is good to remember that scientists are continually looking at things they cannot normally see. They use instruments like microscopes to look at things that are too small for the eye to detect, or telescopes that are far beyond what we can perceive with the naked eye. Even from a scientific perspective, it is possible to gaze at things we cannot see if we are using the right lenses.

Maybe the key to what understanding Paul’s words about keeping our gaze fixed on what we can’t see, then, is to view our lives or our suffering through the right lens.

For Paul, that lens was Jesus.

When he looked at his life through the lens of Jesus, Paul saw that God was with him in his suffering through his suffering Son. He also saw that God had overcome and defeated his suffering through Jesus’ resurrection. In Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection we can see that God enters into our reality of suffering but also carries us through it to a better future. Like Paul, God gives us the promise of an eternal life with him where ‘will wipe every tear from (our) eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever’ (Revelation 21:4 NLT). All we will experience will be love, joy and peace. This is God’s gift to us because of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection for us. This is the good news that Paul dedicated his life to bring to others. This is the gospel for which Paul suffered. This is God’s promise to all who need hope.

Just like scientists look through a microscope or a telescope to gaze at what they cannot see, so Paul is encouraging us to look at our suffering, our hardships, our pain, grief, regrets or loneliness through the lens of Jesus. This doesn’t mean we dismiss or ignore the darker realities of life in this world. Instead it means we recognize that our suffering or hardships had a beginning and they will have an end. They are finite and temporary, but what God promises us in Jesus is infinite and eternal. Keeping our gaze on the glory that is ahead of us helps us to keep what we are going through now in perspective. It gives us the confidence to face each day in the hope that what we endure will not overcome us. It does not define us. It will not defeat us because Jesus has overcome the suffering of this life in his death and resurrection. He gives us an eternal future which will be good in every way, where what we suffer now will be a distant memory which pales in comparison to the glory of life with God for ever.

I understand it can hard to hear that when we’re trapped in our suffering or difficulties because we just can’t see it. We might be able to understand the theory of what Paul is saying, but living it out can seem impossible. That’s when we need the Holy Spirit to be working in our lives to give us this focus. As we remain in God’s word, the Holy Spirit can work through God’s promises and the stories of people God brought through hard times to give us faith. As we remain connected with Christian community, the body of Christ can walk with us, support us, and even carry us to give us a glimpse of what is coming. As we hear the stories of how Jesus brought God’s eternal realities into people’s lives, and when we bring the reality of God’s love, grace and hope into each other’s lives, the Spirit of the living God can lift our eyes from the hardships and difficulties we experience every day and give us a glimpse of what God has for us in the future.

So, how can we help each other fix our gaze on the goodness of God in Jesus, even when it’s really hard to see?

The Kingdom of Love (2 Samuel 7:1-11,16)

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I am amazed how often I see stories about the royal family in my news-feed when I open my email homepage. Australians are divided on whether the Queen should be our head of state or not, but that doesn’t stop us having a fascination with the royal family, who they are marrying, or what they are wearing. Occasionally I see people debating who will be the next King of Great Britain – whether it will be Charles or pass straight to William. It reminds me that all monarchs, rulers and governments in this world are temporary. It doesn’t matter whether they get their power from being part of a family or through more democratic means, at some stage every worldly ruler passes on their authority on to someone else.

During the Christmas season, Christians celebrate the birth of the child who has come to reign as our spiritual King and to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. This king was foretold throughout the Old Testament and God’s people waited for centuries for his coming. When Jesus was born, the prophesied king came into our world to establish God’s kingdom and to reign over his people.

There are a number of ways in which the reign of Jesus as our king is very different from the reign of earthly rulers. I would like to look at three ways in which Jesus’ kingdom is different from any other worldly government.

Firstly, as the prophet Nathan told David about a thousand years before the birth of Jesus, this king would reign forever. In 2 Samuel 7:1-16 we read that David wanted to build a physical house made of stone and word in which God could make his home in the world. God turns it around and tells David through the prophet Nathan that instead he would build a spiritual ‘house’ from David’s descendants, meaning a dynasty of kings. One of David’s descendants would reign over an eternal kingdom which would never end. This prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus who began his reign over the kingdom of God during his earthly ministry and who continues to reign over us now through faith. The promise is that Jesus’ kingdom will never end as he will rule over us for all of eternity.

The second big difference is that Jesus’ kingdom isn’t made up of a complicated legal system which only lawyers can understand. As we celebrate the fourth Sunday of Advent, we remember that Jesus’ kingdom has just one command: the law of love. Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our hearts, mind, soul and strength, and to love others like we love ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28). In John’s gospel, on the night he was betrayed, Jesus gave a new commandment to his followers: to love each other in the same way that he loves us (John 13:34). The rest of the New Testament explores how communities of Jesus’ followers were working out how this law looked in their relationships with each other. In the same way, as members of Jesus’ kingdom through faith, we only have one law to live by: to love each other in the same self-giving, self-sacrificing way that Jesus loves us.

This leads us to the third big difference between our worldly rulers and the way Jesus rules over us as our spiritual King. Earthly rulers can make all the rules they want, but they cannot give us the ability to keep them. In Jesus’ kingdom, we have a king who gives us what we need so that we can live in the way he wants us to. Jesus’ new command is based on and flows out of the love he gives us. During his time on earth, Jesus loved others perfectly, not just to set us an example for us to follow, but so that we can know his perfect love for us. We can understand grace as God giving to us what he wants from us. Jesus our king loves us perfectly by being born for us, living for us, dying for us and rising again from the grave to give us new life through faith in him. It would kind of be like Queen Elizabeth II paying the taxes she demands from us so that we can use that money to help and bless other people. Jesus rules as our king to use his power and authority to provide for us in every way, to protect us from all harm, and to keep us strong in his love. Through the experience of being loved by our King Jesus we are then able to love the people around us, not matter how difficult it might be to do that. As we live in the reality of Jesus’ Kingdom of Love, we participate in his love by receiving his love through faith in him and sharing his love in our relationships with others.

Talking about Australia as a constitutional monarchy runs the risk of people arguing over the Queen should be our head of state or not. I don’t want to get into that because, like King David about three thousand years ago, kings and queens come and go, and their kingdoms, constitutions and governments are only temporary. However, we belong to the eternal Kingdom of Love whose king will rule forever. We encounter Jesus’ love when we look into the manger in faith and see our king who is born for us in Bethlehem. This is the king who loves us perfectly in his life, death and resurrection. This is the king who still rules over our hearts with his love. And this is the king whose perfect, infinite grace will keep us in his Kingdom of Love for ever.