When the Empire gets Baptized

Below is the text for our last week in the Jesus for President series as well as two questions that guided our discussion time following the message. This morning we are wrapping up our 3 week series entitled Jesus for President. 2 weeks ago when we started we talked about Before there were Kings and Presidents, and we talked about 1 Samuel 8 where the people of Israel when to Samuel and demanded a King. They wanted a flesh and blood King who would fight for the nation, and would sit on the throne. They took the King of the Kingdom off the throne and put a human on the throne. Don’t we all do that as well?

Last week we talked about A New Kind of Commander-in-Chief. We talked about the coronation process of Caesar and the upside down Coronation process of King Jesus. We talked about the upside down Kingdom of God that followers of Jesus need to live out, in following our King.

Today our theme and topic of conversation is entitled “When the Empire gets baptized.” And so I thought I would kick off our conversation by asking, when have you seen or do you have an example of when the empire got baptized?

One example of when the empire gets baptized comes from the debate from the other night. At the very end of the debate Mitt Romney said these words, “America is the hope of the world.” Another example is closely tied into that comment but comes from a former president who said these two things, “There’s power, wonder-working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people.” And “The ideal of America is the hope of all mankind…That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” But of these statements are ripped from the Kingdom of God and used to describe the Kingdom of the World. The wonder-working power, in that quote, is not the blood of the Lamb (which is a hymn) but puts America there. And the other quote comes from John 1:5 and originally was addressed about Jesus, but the politician who said it said it wasn’t about Jesus, but about America. If that isn’t when the empire gets baptized, I don’t know what is.

To talk about when the empire gets baptized we’ll be looking at two different Scriptures. The first one is from John 18:36 and the second is Revelation 18:2-5, 11-14. So let’s take a look at John 18:36 which says, “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.”

This Scripture is in the midst of the trial of Jesus before Pilate. Jesus response in verse 36 is derived from a question that Pilate asks in verse 33, “Are you the King of the Jews.” Pilate’s only understanding of King was based on worldly Kings and worldly Kingdoms and probably from his viewpoint; Jesus didn’t quite fit that label. Jesus Kingdom and his kingship, as he says in verse 36, is not of this world. This doesn’t mean that it is only concerned with another world, and another time. It doesn’t mean that he is only King of heaven and that the Kingdom of God is only for the hereafter. No, that isn’t what Jesus means when he says that his Kingdom is not of this world. What Jesus is really saying here, is that he is a King all right, and that he has a kingdom. But that he is a King and his Kingdom are both radically different than the Kings and the Kingdoms of this world. His Kingdom is one that doesn’t have soldiers to protect it, not does it come, like most kingdoms, through power, force and violence. But instead comes through love, sacrifice, freedom, and grace.

The early church theologian Augustine observed from this verse that earthly kingdoms are based upon force, pride the love of human praise, the desire for domination, and self interest, all of these displayed by Pilate, the Roman Empire, and honestly America as well. The Kingdom of God, unlike the Kingdom of the world, which is exemplified by Jesus and the cross, is based on love, sacrifice, humility and righteousness/justice. So that is why, to Pilate, it didn’t seem like Jesus was actually a King. He was having his blood shed by “his enemies”, instead of shedding the blood of “his enemies.” He was showing power not by dominating and having people serve him, but by taking off his outer garment, getting a basin of water, and taking on the role of a servant and washing the feet of his disciples.

We need to really take a look at that idea again, that true power, true leadership, true change comes from serving, humbling yourself, and sacrifice. As followers of Jesus must take care that we live and serve with the power of the cross and not by the power of Rome (or America). The key to living in Jesus’ Kingdom is not found in trying to rule over things or others, but in being more fully ruled by God. You see, however, that in Jesus’ day (and ours as well) they were conditioned to look for salvation in political solutions- we are also tempted to further the purposes of the Kingdom by the power of this world. To seek to bring the Kingdom of God though the power of the Kingdom of the world, and that never ever goes well. Just look at the Crusades as an example when the empire gets baptized. How did the Kingdom of God come through the violence, murder, and power in the Crusades? It didn’t and it never does.

We need to come out of that understanding, and that way of life, that the Kingdom of God can be brought through Kingdom of the world values. That the Kingdom comes through power over. That the Kingdom of God can come through voting. That the Kingdom of God can come through the American lifestyle or foreign policy. Or that the empire of the United States is actually part of the Kingdom of God, or put in another way, that the United States is a Christian nation. We need to come out of that. After all, as writer, speaker, theologian and professor Tony Campolo said, “We may live in the best Babylon in the world…but it is still Babylon and we are called to come out of her.”

Let’s look at what John the Apostle, said about Babylon in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, Revelation 18:2-5 and 11-14. With a mighty voice he shouted: “‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’ She has become a dwelling for demons and a haunt for every impure spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal. For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.” Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “‘Come out of her, my people,’ so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.” “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore— cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves. “They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ Some very interesting points can be found in this passage. First we see that Babylon and the merchants who live under her rule and reign are drunk, drunk on the blood of the saints. Her wineglass is filled with the blood she has shed throughout the earth of “saints, prophets, and all who have been killed on the earth.” Her is the cup of empire, slaughter, genocide, and power over. Everyone has grown drunk from the blood, and they stand back and marvel, ‘Who is like Babylon?” Babylon the beautiful. But there are those who do not drink from her cup, who do not grow drunk on the cocktails of culture. Their cup is filled with the blood of the lamb. It is the cup of the new covenant. The question for you and I is which cup will we drink from? The cup of the empire or the cup of the Kingdom of God? One that sheds others blood, demands power, force, and power over or one that has his blood shed, and is all about the power under of service, love, and peace? Also John was seeking to make a point about the empire of Babylon and the Kingdom of God. You can’t walk the line between them. John’s language couldn’t be clearer. We are to come out of her, literally to pull ourselves out. Let’s be honest, this is Rated R. Scholars point out that this is erotic language and that the words John uses are the same ones used for coitus interruptus- to interrupt sexual intercourse before climax. As John is speaking of this steamy love affair with the empire, he calls the church to pull out of her, to leave the romance with the world and be wooed by God, to remember our first love, to say no to all other lovers. To say no to the empire of the world, whether that was Rome or America, and to say no to the values of the empire, and instead say yes to the Kingdom of God and it’s values, which are totally upside down from those of the Kingdom of the world.

But what does that mean for you and I gathered together here today? What does it mean to say no to the empire and the Kingdom of the world and say yes to King Jesus and the Kingdom of God? Well let’s unpack that together now.

Discussion Questions: 1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc... do you have regarding the Scriptures and/or message? 2. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?