The cross is where sin and evil were defeated. The cross is where the rulers and authorities were disarmed. The cross is where Jesus became King. If we proclaim that Jesus is Lord, then where is He with all the evil and suffering and injustice that continues on and on in this world? If Jesus is King, then why are there tyrants who still dominate their subjects, and all sorts of governments riddled with corruption and injustice? I think these are fair questions, and they have much to do with the theme of my previous post about the hiddenness of God. Why doesn’t Jesus come in full force and wipe out all sin and evil? It’s another way of saying if God is all-powerful and all-good, they why does he allow evil? Except in this case we aren’t merely saying that he is omnipotent and omni-benevolent, we are saying that He is this world’s rightful ruler.
Perhaps the answer lies in the kind of kingdom that Jesus inaugurated in His death and resurrection. When Jesus stood before Pilate, he asked Jesus if he was a king. Jesus answered saying that His Kingdom is not of this world, that if it was “my followers would have fought to prevent me from being handed over.” Contrary to what many Christians think, Jesus is not saying that his Kingdom is in heaven and those who believe will leave earth behind and go to heaven to live forever. No, the kingdom of the Messiah is for this world, and to be lived out in this world, even though it is not from this world (or not of it in the sense that the kingdoms of this world are corrupted by sin). He is not just King of our hearts, but the King of everything. Jesus says in Matthew 28, that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. However, Jesus radically redefines what the Kingdom of God would look like on earth. His Kingdom is the way of self-less love.
Two more examples will show this. When Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God, this was a title of Kingship. In making this confession Peter and the rest of the disciples were expecting Jesus to establish His reign over Israel with force and overthrow the Romans. Jesus, though, would have none of it. He redefined before the disciples what it means to be the Messiah, the King of Israel, and the world. He must suffer and be killed, and on the third day be raised. That was the vocation of the Messiah. That is how He would become King. So foreign was this to the disciples that they did not get it until after the resurrection.
Another example comes in Mark 10. James and John ask Jesus if they may sit on his right and on his left when Jesus comes in His glory (His Kingdom). They have no idea that they have just asked Jesus if they can be crucified on His right and left, because the cross is where Jesus comes in His glory. The twelve were angry with James and John for asking this, but Jesus said to them
You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be the slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Jesus reveals through his life and teachings that His Kingdom advances and lives through the power of love, not the power of force. His Kingdom is about serving others, rather than dominating others.
In John 12, Jesus reveals that when He is high and lifted up (on the cross), the world will be drawn to Him. That will be how the Kingdom is won. His death is the way the Kingdom is achieved, the victory one, and advanced. Acts, Paul’s letters, the general epistles, and Revelation continue to affirm this. Our victory over sin and evil is achieved through living in the suffering of Jesus. Through suffering in His name the victory is ours. That is how we are the overcomers. Love does not compel and force. Love invites. Love calls for mercy and grace and healing. God’s rule is achieved through his saving, redeeming royal love. As N.T. Wright has said it is not love that conquers all, but “suffering love that conquers all.” God will not force us to come with great and marvelous displays of glorious luminescence and power. God will beckon us to come and die, through his great and marvelous self-sacrificing love, and find that we are made anew. It is not gaudy and arrogant, but humble and meek. God surprised the Jews in coming in a way they never would have expected. May he surprise us today, when we look at Scripture afresh, when we see the wounded in our churches, and we see Jesus in the least of these. Because these are the places where God is hidden, and the places where Jesus makes his kingship known. This is how our God reigns.