“Oh, I already know how this story is going to turn out.” My all-knowing seven year old leans back from our history lesson with an air of exaggerated patience, rolls her eyes, and rattles it off. “The guy becomes king, conquers all the other kings around him, builds a big empire, and dies all of sudden. Then everyone argues about who should be in charge and the kingdom falls apart. Then another king takes over.”
And, when I look at it, she’s right. With a major exception.
As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus came to earth to establish His kingdom. Forerunners prepared the way. A messenger told the people to get ready for their new king. And after Jesus’ grand entry before the crowd at the Jordan, God Himself anointed Him, pouring down His Spirit and thundering out Heaven’s affirmation that Jesus had every right to be king.
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”
But this King had competition. The kingdom He was claiming was already ruled by a prince and his legions of allies. Jesus’ first step toward conquest was a trip to the wilderness for a face-to-face confrontation with their overlord. Grueling test. Proven strength. Trick questions. Overcoming answers. The negotiation ended and Jesus left the room triumphant, but His opponent wasn’t going to quit that easily. He would wait for a more opportune time.
Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”
“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!”
The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.”
Mark 1:23-24; 3:11
As Jesus moved about the territory He was claiming, He constantly ran into His opposition, legions of smaller, local tyrants who oppressed their subjects and resisted His reign. When He entered a synagogue, they screamed out their terrified questions about what He planned to do with them. When He walked through the countryside, they fell at His feet in resistant obeisance. And when He stepped off the boat into a new region, they stormed at Him, first threatening to drive Him out and finally begging Him for permission to stay.
The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. …
Then he rebukes them in his anger… saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance…
Jesus slowly but surely spread the kingdom of God, confronting the renegade rulers of the earth with His words and with His very presence. He was the Son of God come to reclaim His inheritance, and they knew it. But that didn’t mean that they would give up without a fight.
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. … He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
Raging fevers and deathly pallor. Shrieking voices and shaking frames. Lashing winds and violent waves. Wherever Jesus turned His enemies opposed Him. But at His rebuke, they had no choice but surrender. Convulsing bodies gave way to perfect calm. Writhing seas settled back into life-sustaining eco-systems.
“If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? … But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.”
Driving out demons and healing the sick were at the core of what Jesus had come to do. With each oppressed captive that He liberated, He was transferring one more subject out of the kingdom of Satan and into the kingdom of God. His method of conquest matched the mustard-seed growth curve of His kingdom: slow but sure, small but unstoppable.
Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me. … Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.
Each confrontation ended in victory for Jesus, in one more person or bit of space added to His growing kingdom. But His enemies didn’t quit. They rallied to turn one of His own disciples against Him. And when they actually succeeded in nailing Jesus to the cross, all Hell broke loose to torment their vanquished foe.
The surprise twist in the story is us.
For a brief moment in cosmic history, it looked like Jesus’ kingdom would go the way of all others. Shepherd struck. Sheep scattered. After all, fierce competition had always plagued Jesus’ disciples. Who was the greatest? Who would inherit His kingdom?
…he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church…
But God intervened in this story. He resurrected the King, raised Him off the earth, and gave Him an even higher throne. Enemies scattered. Lost sheep gathered. A kingdom without end. Heaven and earth brought in line under His righteous reign… almost.
…you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:2, 6-7, 10
The surprise twist in the story is us. Jesus handed over the keys of His kingdom to His Church, delegating to us the role of finishing what He started on earth. Through the power of His Spirit, He has called us to continue His work. Liberating political and spiritual captives. Healing the physically sick, emotionally wounded, and mentally ill. Preaching the kingdom. Loving our fellow heirs of the kingdom. Advancing His kingdom where darkness still reigns.
And there is the rub. The battle for God’s kingdom isn’t over. His enemies are still at work, and we are an active threat to their power. We all know who wins in the end, but the end hasn’t come yet. In the meantime, we fight His battle, exchanging blows with the powers of darkness. And this will be our lot until every knee in heaven and on earth bows in its rightful place before the throne of Jesus the King.