I spent part of this morning listening in on an assassination plot. Well, that probably sounds a bit more dramatic than what actually transpired but, you know, click bait and all that. I was having coffee with an older gentleman that likes to get together periodically to talk about what he’s been reading in his bible. He speaks quietly so I have to really work to listen. The peripheral noise can quite easily take over.
In this case, the peripheral noise was two men at the table beside us loudly pontificating about Canada’s “pretty boy” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his idiotic policies and about how he should get his act togther and support Trump’s moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Right about the time that they had progressed to Trudeau’s expensive holiday to the Aga Khan’s private island and all of the clueless rich entitlement that this bespoke, one of them mused, “I wonder if $250 million would be enough of a bounty for someone to just off him?” I nearly choked on my coffee.
My friend hadn’t noticed any of this. He was deep in thought about Jehoshaphat, of all people. As in the king of Judah, circa 850 BC. He had evidently been reading the books of Kings and Chronicles. As far as kings in the bible go, Jehoshaphat wasn’t terrible. Which is about as good as you can hope for, when it comes to kings in the bible. He reformed a few things. He countered a bit of idolatry. He ruled (mostly) fairly. There was a measure of peace and prosperity during his reign. Not so bad, all things considered.
But again, there’s a reason Jehoshaphat stands out. The bar for kings in the bible was rather low. At times it seems like each successive king in the OT is trying to outdo the previous one when it comes to iniquity. Almost like an arms race of ineptitude and greed and the flagrant misuse of power. It’s pretty uninspiring reading. Right from the beginning, God told Samuel that the people’s desire for a human king was a rejection of God, their true king. It was, it seems, a flawed institution right from the start.
And so it goes with kings. Whether they’re pretty boys parading around private islands on the taxpayers’ dime or loud-mouthed Neanderthals trying to bully their detractors into submission (or at least silence) or dudes with hard-to-pronounce names marauding around the pages of our Bibles abusing and exploiting their power, kings who aren’t much interested in God quickly become very interested in conceiving of themselves in God-like ways.
Except for when they don’t. In a few nights, our church will hold our Christmas Eve service. The last song we will sing together will be Joy to the World, which contains the well-known phrase, “Let earth receive her king.” Leaving aside the fact that earth did not, as it turned out, receive her king very well (unless regicide counts as a good reception), the line is a powerful reminder that brings us all the way back to Samuel. God alone is king. And when God shows up as Jesus, we see what the true king’s reign looks like.
He was born in humble surroundings and in a profoundly ordinary way. As Brian Zahnd puts it, “Like all of us, God was pushed from the womb through contractions, labor, agony, and blood, to enter headfirst into the beautiful and horrible mess that is our world. This is not Athena springing fully formed from the head of Zeus, this is Jesus born of Mary.”
He rejected wealth. Spoke of the love of it as the root of all evil, actually. Hard to fund a luxury holiday, much less a kingdom that way, but that’s the way he operated.
He set aside the prerogatives of power. Didn’t seem to crave it. Certainly didn’t use it as a way of fortifying his own status and security. Even flat out rejected it in the wilderness. Most kings are deal-makers. Not this one.
He talked a lot about the lowly being lifted up and the proud and the arrogant brought down. Who knows, he might even have been speaking literally. Wouldn’t that be something?
He spoke the truth. He had not mastered, or did not care to master, at any rate, the political “art” of using an awful lot of words to obscure the truth and say very little of substance or value. Jesus would have been terrible on TV.
He cared little about his own popularity. He actually told people not to talk about the good things he was doing. Political suicide, that.
And then, of course, he died. At the hands of his subjects. In the place of his subjects. Despised, humiliated, decisively rejected. Like a common criminal. Nothing terribly kingly about not fighting back or defending the interests of your people or at the very least expressing your outrage at something.
And then, incredibly, this king was raised from the dead, thereby validating and elevating the preceding kingly agenda.
Christmas is where Christians, at our best, proclaim that it is this king and his kingdom that will have no end. It seems counterintuitive, I know. Hard to believe, quite frankly. It’s tempting to wish that Jesus would be more kingly once in a while. You know, flex his muscles, settle the score, act a bit more impressively or, at the very least, more conveniently. But then we remember where those roads lead. And we think, maybe we’ve all had enough of smaller kings and their selfish kingdoms by now. We’ve seen enough of Jehoshaphat and Justin and their ilk. We’ll take the third king, thank you very much.