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What Does It Mean To be In Charge?

by Justin Simmons

     Much of the world fights for the right to call the shots, because being in charge means power. Sometimes that power is won by accomplishment. In the Roman Empire of Jesus’s day, triumphs were held for conquering heroes. The victorious general would ride at the end of a long parade of captured prisoners and the spoils of war. As the emperor consolidated power, the practice of awarding a triumph to anyone other than the emperor himself all but disappeared. You see, power is a finite resource. Though a conquering general’s triumph would not necessarily be a tragedy for the emperor, it would create a situation where someone other than the emperor was being honored.  

     Sometimes being in charge is less about brute force and more about influence and prestige. In 1953, an estimated quarter of a billion people viewed Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on television. Granted, the world’s population was significantly smaller then, and television was not yet ubiquitous. Nevertheless, 10% of the world’s population found a television set so they could watch a crown be placed on a young woman’s head.     

     Sometimes being in charge means brute displays of force, parading your conquered enemies in front of you as a demonstration of your power. Other times it means pageantry, inspiring awe with splendid centuries-old cathedrals, silk gowns, and jeweled crowns. But is that all there is to being in charge?  

      Jesus offers an alternative way of being in charge, a way that focuses not on power for himself but on taking responsibility for others. Jesus reveals what it means to be king, and he does so not from a chariot as a conquering general or from a grand cathedral with a jeweled crown, but from the cross. Luke’s Gospel paints a picture of what Jesus’s kingship looks like.  

     First, for Jesus being king means placing himself among the guilty (Luke 23:33)! I doubt you would have found Augustus spending a lot of time in Rome’s prisons. And though Queen Elizabeth makes a number of public appearances, they typically are not in jails. Jesus, however, not only appeared with the guilty; he was executed with them.  

     Second, for Jesus being king means forgiving the guilty (v. 34)! Pope John Paul II famously met with and forgave the man who tried to assassinate him. The event was lauded as reflective of the mercy of Christ, yet Jesus’s forgiveness was even more impressive because it happened while he was being killed! As he was hanging on the cross, Jesus interceded for those who put him there.

     Third, Jesus is king despite the world’s protests and the crowd’s derision (vv. 35-38). The crowd mocked him as incapable of saving himself, ignorant of the fact that, by refusing to save himself, he was saving us. Jesus’s reign as king doesn’t depend on the mandate of the people; he is the king we need rather than the king we want or the king we think he should be.

     Finally, for Jesus being king means pardoning the penitent (vv.39-43). You know why the thief on the cross accepted Jesus while so many others didn’t? He recognized Jesus as his only hope. The religious leaders thought they could do enough. The political leaders thought they could gain enough power. Yet this thief was painfully aware of his own failures, and when he looked beside him, he saw a king willing to suffer with him and for him. When the thief saw Jesus, behind the cross he saw a throne.  

     The king this world needs is not one who rides on chariots or one who processes through grand cathedrals wearing the most precious of jewels. What this world needs is a king who surrenders his garments to the soldiers who beat him. What this world needs is a king whose crown is a crown of thorns, not a crown of gold.     

     What this world needs is a crown who reigns not from a throne, but from a cross.

Cyril of Alexandria encourages us to follow the example of the thief on the cross:

Let us look at this most beautiful confession of faith. He says, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.” You see him crucified and call him a king. You expect the One who bears scorn and suffering to come in godlike glory.

     As the church, what image of kingship do we promote? Do we buy into the world’s way of being in charge? Do we think that leading means having power, amassing wealth for ourselves, and promoting policies that benefit ourselves? Or do we promote the leadership style Jesus modeled from the cross? Jesus reveals that true leadership is about taking responsibility for others, not amassing authority for ourselves. The true king does not just wear a crown but also bears a cross.

     In England there has long been a tradition. Upon the death of a monarch the proclamation is made, “The king is dead. Long live the king!” In one statement, the death of one ruler and the ascension of another is acknowledged. Theoretically, the monarch is never dead, because the moment the reigning king or queen dies, the heir apparent assumes their place. In the kingdoms of this world there is always a king (or president or prime minister). As one dies, resigns, or finishes their term, another immediately takes their place.

     As Christians we make a similar proclamation, but with a significant difference. We proclaim, “The king has died. Long live the king!” Our proclamation acknowledges not the passing of authority from one person to another, but that our eternal king has experienced death, which could not hold him. The world may choose to marvel at the magnificent thrones and glorious crowns of the world’s kings and queens, but I have been far more blessed by the wood of a cross than the wood of a throne, and I choose to bow before a crown of thorns, not a crown of gold.


Justin Simmons is the minister at Glenmora Church of Christ, Glenmora, LA.

This article came from http://mosiacsire.org

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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