Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
…Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”—John 18:33-36
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”—John 16:33
Pastors have the awesome responsibility of teaching the Word of God faithfully. Our job is to get up on the platform and say the things God wants to say, the things He has said in His Word. If we use our position to spout off about things that we can’t back up with the Bible, we misunderstand our role. The church doesn’t need to hear me rant about pet peeves and personal opinions, it needs to hear from God.
That being said, pastors do have opinions like anyone else. In fact, the truth is that our opinions can’t help but affect the way we teach the Bible at least a little bit. And as long as we’re aware of that, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. God wants his messengers to be humans, not robots. Unavoidably, a little bit of me sneaks into my Bible teaching and gives it a certain slant, and causes me to emphasize some things more than others, and God is gracious enough to use me despite my quirks. Those of you who have listened to me preach for a couple of years now have probably started to recognize some of the things that I feel strongly about, things that come up again and again as I do my best to teach the Word.
And of course, all of that is just to say that what follows is my opinion. You don’t have to agree to be a Christian or to be a part of the church. Other believers see things differently, and I respect that. But for what it’s worth, here goes:
In my opinion, if there’s one thing that the last two years in our country have revealed, it’s that American Christians have not read John 18 very closely. When Jesus stood trial before Pilate, He could not have been more clear when he said that His kingdom was not of this world. He actually said it twice: My kingdom is not of this world. My kingdom is from another place. So why do so many believers carry around so much anger and disappointment that our society doesn’t look more like the kingdom of God? Why do we expect secular government and secular culture to honor Christian values? Do we not think Jesus meant what He said?
What did Jesus mean that His kingdom is not of this world? He explained it in the sentence between those two statements. If His kingdom were of this world, His followers would have fought to prevent His arrest. They would have used earthly, physical means to accomplish the physical goal of saving His life so He could sit on an earthly throne. But because his goal was spiritual (dying on the cross to pay the price for human sin), it was just fine that the bad guys appeared to have a victory. A false trial and an unfair crucifixion were no threat to God’s purposes, because God’s purposes were not the kinds of things that make sense to the people of this world. Jesus wasn’t running for office, He was saving our souls.
Of course, his followers never really understood this during His earthly ministry, so maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that we struggle with it as well. But in their defense, they didn’t have the indwelling Holy Spirit leading them into the truth. In that sense, we have an advantage that, in theory, should mean we’re quicker to grasp the things of God than they were. They spent three years watching Jesus’ life and listening to his teaching, and still their hopes were focused on the day their Messiah would lead their nation to an earthly, military, political victory over the Roman Empire and make Israel great again. He told people that if they trusted in Him, He would raise them up at the last day, and their response was “Yeah, but can you do something about all these taxes?”
If we fail to understand that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, we will live with a lot of disappointment. We’ll be frustrated with God for failing to do things that He simply never said He would do in the first place:
“Why did Jesus allow my loved one to die so young?” Well, He didn’t promise to give anyone long life. Giving people long lives in this sinful world was never His goal.
“Why does Jesus allow me to continue to struggle financially?” Well, He talked a lot about treasure in heaven, and being “rich toward God,” but it was never his goal to make his followers prosperous in an earthly sense.
“Why does Jesus allow human government to be corrupt and unfair?” Well, He said a lot about His followers being lights in a dark world, which means we can expect the world to be dark. The Bible is clear that society won’t be moral and just until Jesus comes back and sin is finally judged. He never promised a fair tax structure or guaranteed the protection of our gun rights. Those things are important to us, but they aren’t priorities for Him.
In fact, what Jesus did promise is that in this world we would have trouble. He promised that the world would persecute His followers as it persecuted Him. He promised peace in the storm, which means that we can expect life to be stormy. And then, just in case it wasn’t clear enough, He did something no one striving for earthly power would ever do: He allowed His enemies to drive nails through His hands and feet, raise Him up on a cross, and mock Him as he suffocated to death. At that point, it was clear that either He was a great failure, or His goals were not what everyone assumed they were.
But after saying that we would have trouble, He said “Take heart! I have overcome the world.” This coming Sunday, we will celebrate the fact that Jesus has overcome. He has overcome sin and death, which is even better than overcoming the Roman Empire, or whatever the modern equivalent would be. Yes, we live in a difficult, frustrating world, and it’s confusing sometimes that Jesus doesn’t do more to change that. Again, His Kingdom is not of this world. But His kingdom is coming. Until it arrives, may His peace be more than enough for us.
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…—Philippians 3:20