A Kingdom Not From Here

John 18:33-38
David A. Davis
November 25, 2018
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Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world.” This king, his kingdom, it is not from this world. It is not of this world. His kingdom, it is in the world, but not of the world, not from this world. A kingdom not from here. He is not a royal commander leading the troops to a hard-fought victory. He is no political hero winning the hearts and minds of all who hear him stump from one rally to the next. He is not the offspring of a beloved king or queen, one who waited patiently in the wings for someone’s death to bring about his own coronation. He doesn’t plan to defend himself with might. He has no intention to rule by force or to silence enemies, or to crush opponents, or to ridicule any who disagree, or to occupy or takeover or destroy other lands.

This king has no subjects. He has followers. They don’t pledge allegiance, they give of themselves. Those who would follow don’t simply kneel or bow in obedience, they pick up their pallet and they walk, they open their eyes and they see, they take up their cross and they walk, they come out of the tomb and they live. His followers, his disciples, they come to know and believe that those who want to be first have to be last and those who want to lead must serve, and those who want to receive must first give.

Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world.” For him glory and adulation and praise came in suffering and death. All the power of his office, the power of his kingdom was on display while he hung on the cross. The only crown he ever wore was a crown of thorns. The crowds who called out to him in hope, who gave him the honor of their shout, they were the same crowds that demanded his death. This king was a teacher who taught what the world could never learn. He embodied a wisdom the world was never to understand. He lived with a selflessness the world would never accept. His legacy was a self-emptying that remains a mystery to most. His love and compassion for the other forever redefined “unconditional”. His welcome of the stranger, his embrace of the unclean, his preaching of good news to the poor, his release of the captives, his unshackling of the oppressed, his taking a child in his arms, his care for the sick, his stopping for the blind man, his talking to the foreign woman, his challenge to the rich young ruler, his forgiveness of the woman who had an affair, his turning of the other cheek…all of it, the world said “yeah….no”. Then, now, forever. The world says “no”.

Of course, this kingdom’s upheaval, the complete redefinition, absolute reversal of power and authority, it was there from the beginning, from before the beginning. That light that came into the world. A light the world’s darkness shall never overcome. The king born to something other than a royal family. The baby king lying in a feeding trough full of hay. No gathering crowd for the birth of a king, only a few shepherds. No shouts, no bulbs flashing, only the brightest of lights shining high up in the sky. And a mother who right then pondered the whole kingdom come on earth part, she pondered it all right then in her heart.

Pondering Christ and his kingdom. “My kingdom is not from this world.”, he said.  And yet his presence surrounds us, fills us. His kingdom embraces us. The promised presence of Christ and his kingdom. The promised and yes, sometimes unsettling presence of Christ and his kingdom. Christ behind, Christ before. Christ beside. Christ above. Christ within. The Christ who stands in royal protest when those moments inevitably come, those days of thinking that God is only here for our most recent beck and call. The Christ who rises above to sing notes of love and compassion when it would be so much easier to choose words of bitterness and hard-heartedness. The Christ who sits before us as a pressing reminder of forgiveness and life in a world so preoccupied with vengeance and death. The Christ who continues to dwell within, pointing to the parts of life so easy to keep from his reign. The Christ who looks to speak in that part of life where relationships are nurtured and relationships are crushed, in that niche where fiscal decisions reveal true priorities, in that far corner where honest fears lurk, in that vulnerable core where your true self-doubts. The Christ, Christ the king who stands watch over our ability to discern between the kingdom of this world and the very reign of God.

“My kingdom is not from this world.”  The kingdom to which we have been called. It’s not of this world. It is a kingdom of light in a world filled with darkness. The world’s darkness is real, very real. And there is no attempt in this kingdom to deny how hard it is to see, or to pretend that the shadows of grief aren’t really painful, or to gloss over the suffering that can come at the midnight hour of our lives. This kingdom, it’s not about keeping your chin up, or the guarantee of no suffering, or the promises of more cash in your pocket. It is about the divine hope, the steadfast love, and the eternal promise that breaks into the darkness, causing a flicker of light. This kingdom, it is about God’s love, God’s light, God’s hope ever breaking into the world’s present darkness. Breaking in. Inbreaking. A kingdom of God’s inbreaking.

Where tears of sadness do turn to tears of joy. Where new beginnings are offered everyday in the name of resurrection hope. Where forgiveness offered and forgiveness received both come with a taste of holiness. Where lending a hand and taking time to listen and offering a kind word and refusing to give in to hate, where all of it radiates from the sacred. Where the oldest are told to have faith like a child and the youngest are told that the king loves them like his own.

Where the grieving and broken heart knows the wordless comfort and presence of the Shepherd King even in the valley of the shadow of death. Where the wandering soul finds meaning not in wealth or success or achievement, but in the knowledge way down deep of being a child of God. Where imaginations shaped by the Holy Spirit begin to see what the kingdom come on earth looks like. Where hearts touched by God’s grace begin to crave what the kingdom come on earth looks like. Where lives transformed by the King’s own vision of what the kingdom come on earth looks like, begin to work for it.

In the world, not of it. His kingdom. But you can see it, you can taste it, you can feel it. You can see there…. when the determination to not succumb to the world’s chaos and noise is rooted in a prayerful start to each morning, words spoken out loud in the bathroom mirror: “this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!” You can see the kingdom there….where the loneliness and struggle on a crowded campus is negotiated in part with the memory somewhere deep within of hearing a familiar voice say, “This water helps us to remember that nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing can ever take away from how much God loves you.”  You can see the kingdom there….where the response to being on the receiving end of someone’s vindictiveness or nastiness at work, where the reaction to seeing the destructiveness of another’s hate, where the peer pressure to fall into despair is so high, and yet the notion to respond in kind is squelched by the feisty, counter-cultural, bold call and response that comes into the head and heart: Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!  You can see the kingdom there….where the discipline of another week sober or the determination to achieve the unexpected or the courage to speak for another who has been wronged, where it all comes from an affirmation like “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, or the deeply held conviction “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”, or the everlasting promise of the king himself, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus answered Pilot, “My kingdom is not from this world”. This king, his kingdom, it is not from this world. It is not of this world. His kingdom, it is in the world, but not of the world. A kingdom not from here. But, a kingdom that is here. A king who is here. And in that kingdom, to that kingdom, for that kingdom, his kingdom, God’s kingdom, Jesus says to you, “Come, follow me.”