May 27, 2001

THE KING AND I

Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Psalm 2:10–11

Once upon a time, there was a king who lived in luxury. This king had comforts and conveniences that many other kings would envy. His palace didn’t get too hot or too cold like many other palaces. The temperature was always kept at the exact level the king wanted. His palace had a system of pipes that gave him cool drinking water or hot bath water any time he wanted. A system of lamps made the palace as bright at midnight as it was at noon. A system for rapidly sending and receiving messages kept him in touch with people and events. A system of smooth roads and speedy chariots made it possible for him to travel widely.

The king was healthy and wealthy and secure. He had doctors and nurses who knew a great deal about the human body and about how to cure various diseases. He had people show him various exercises to stay fit. He had money to spend on luxuries that others could only dream of. He also had money stored away for the future, to insure continuing security and a comfortable old age.

The king had every kind of pleasure he wanted. For food he could eat any kind of meat or fresh fruit, not to mention a splendid selection of delicious desserts. For drink, he could choose from milk, juices, beers, wines, and various exotic drinks, all kept ice‑cold by a special cooling system.

For entertainment, all he had to do was twitch a finger, and the funniest jester in the land would enter his room and start performing. With another twitch of his finger, he could dismiss the jester and bring in a group of performers who would offer him a show filled with excitement and violence and blood. With still another twitch of his finger, he could dismiss the gladiator show, and it would parade some of the best‑looking people in the kingdom, who would then strip naked and perform for him to watch.

Being a ruler, the king bowed to no authority but himself. He could say whatever he wanted and do whatever he pleased. His philosophy was, “If I say something, then it is true for me. If I do something, then it is right for me. I am my own person.”

Living Like Kings

How would you like to live like that king? You’re probably already doing so in more ways than you know. “Once upon a time” is right now. The average person today has many things that in the past only kings had, and other things that no king enjoyed. Our plumbing and electric lighting surpass anything of the ancient kings. Our phones, faxes, and computers surpass the most elaborate system of carrying messages. Our cars are the fastest chariots in history. Our doctors, hospitals, medicines, investment programs, and retirement accounts offer health and wealth and security far past the age most ancient kings could expect to live. Our stores and supermarkets, refrigerators and freezers, offer a selection of foods and drinks surpassing the kitchen of any ancient monarch. For entertainment, a twitch of the finger on the TV remote control gives us an array of jesters, gladiators, and sexual performers beyond what any ancient palace could boast.

Our comforts and conveniences and entertainment mean that most of us are living like kings, whether we realize it or not. And, sad to say, many of us are also falling into the trap that kings tend to fall into. We are corrupted by power. We become proud and self‑sufficient. We answer to no one but ourselves.

As kings and queens, we can do what we want without regard for others. Many a king has figured that anything in his kingdom was his for the taking. He could confiscate other people’s wealth and land. He could enslave people and even kill them, if he thought it would strengthen his position, increase his wealth, or advance some pet project of his. It’s a fact of human nature that if we see no power higher than ourselves, we tend to be heartless and ruthless. As more and more of us live like kings, we’re more concerned with increasing our own wealth and security than with who might get hurt in the process. Other people matter only to the degree that they can do something for me.

This kingly mindset doesn’t just affect the way we treat strangers or people in the workplace. It can even corrupt the way we treat the people closest to us, our own family members. Many ancient rulers had a lot of wives, and some had extra mistresses as well. They saw no need to stick with just one woman. That narrow morality was for lesser mortals. A king could have any woman he wanted! If the law said no, then the king will just change the law. Nobody could tell him otherwise.

Like kings, we don’t let anybody tell us what to do. If we get sick of our spouse and want someone else, who can stop us? There was a time when divorce laws got in the way, but so many people were wanting to switch spouses that they simply changed the law and created no‑fault divorce. Isn’t democracy great? We have no king but ourselves, no law except the laws we want, and that means we can change the law and engage in serial polygamy to our heart’s content. We can be just like Henry VIII. He made up his own laws and set up his own church, with himself as the head, so that he could get divorced and have any woman he wanted.

When we hear about adultery and divorce in a royal family or about movie stars breaking up, we may act shocked, but it’s really no surprise. It’s nothing new for the rich, famous and powerful not to be faithful to just one spouse. Rulers in the past have often tended place themselves beyond the morality of ordinary people. What’s new these days isn’t that royals betray their family commitments, but that so many other people who don’t have any royal title or superstar status are indulging in the same behaviors that were once more common among royals but less common among ordinary working people.

Why is this? Well, here’s one possible explanation: With democracy and free markets, many of us now have the prosperity and independence and freedom that once belonged only to kings and nobles. And, unfortunately, we imitate the lifestyles of the rich and famous, right down to the ruthless treatment of the weak and the betrayal of our family members. We are living like kings.

A Different King

Once upon a time, there was another king. He was so powerful that there was literally nothing he couldn’t do. He was so rich that there was literally nothing he didn’t own. He was so comfortable that there was literally no happiness he didn’t enjoy. But this king did something very strange. He left his power and riches and comforts behind, and he went to live among the poorest of the poor. He befriended outcasts. Eventually he got on the wrong side of some local power brokers. When he told them who he really was, that he was their king, they wouldn’t believe him. Instead, they tortured him and killed him. The king could have stopped them and rescued himself, but he didn’t. He chose to die instead.

But although this king was willing to die, he wasn’t willing to stay dead. He came to life again. He went to some of his poor friends and told them to spread the word about him. Then he returned to his palace to reign.

This king’s name is Jesus. The Son of God was willing to leave his heavenly throne for a time, but he wasn’t willing to give his throne to anyone else or to stay away from his throne forever. He humbled himself to poverty and even to death, but God exalted him again to the highest place and gave Jesus a title above every other title, so that at the name of Jesus every knee must bow (Philippians 2:6-11).

I’ve spoken about two kings. Now let me ask you: Which do you prefer? Do you follow the path of King Self or follow in the steps of King Jesus? Do you use your prosperity and freedom to be like a wealthy tyrant who ignores God and pursues your own pleasure and uses people to your own advantage? Or do you use your freedom and blessings to honor the Lord and to help the people around you? If you want to live like a king, you’d better know which king is the best model. And you’d better know, too, that he’s not just your model. He’s your King. He is your supreme ruler, whether you want him to be or not.

These days many of us have a hard time taking royalty seriously. Many countries with free elections have no king or queen, or else, if they do have royalty, it is largely ceremonial. But Jesus is still as much the true King as ever, and his rule is real, not just ceremonial. We can’t vote Jesus out of office just by holding an election. And we can’t change God’s laws just by having a referendum. So when we ignore the Lord and start living like kings whose highest authority is ourselves, we are making a monstrous mistake.

This past Thursday was Ascension Day. On Ascension Day Christians celebrate Jesus’ return to heaven and his enthronement as ruler of the universe. It’s a time to acknowledge in a special way that Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords.

Neither Poverty Nor Riches

Everyone, no matter how rich or powerful must submit to King Jesus. That includes kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers, and all other rulers and leaders–and it includes all of us who are free and prosperous and see ourselves as our own highest authority. Not everyone lives like kings, of course. This worldwide broadcast reaches people in many countries, and some of you have the opposite problem: you feel poor and powerless. However, most of you have great freedom and have the kind of homes, food, medicine, security, and entertainment that once belonged only to royalty.

In the Bible book of Proverbs, there’s a prayer which says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I might have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8–9). It’s dangerous to the soul to be living in a world where the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer. In such a world, the poor are tempted to dishonor God through crime and despair, while the rich are tempted to disregard God and disown him altogether.

Jesus quoted from that prayer in Proverbs when he taught his disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Many of us say that from time to time as part of reciting the Lord’s Prayer, but how many of us really mean it? When you ask for daily bread, are you saying, “Give me neither poverty nor riches” or are you just saying, “Give me neither poverty!” Most of us are more than happy to be given riches. We enjoy the freedom and pleasure and security that comes with prosperity. We like living like kings.

But living like kings can be dangerous. We’re tempted to forget that we’d have nothing if it weren’t for God, and we’re tempted to forget that we are responsible to him for how we handle what we have. We’re tempted to say, “I’m a self‑made person. I am my own boss.” We forget that Jesus is on the throne of the universe, and we put ourselves on our own little throne.

Freedom and prosperity can be dangerous to our souls. So does that mean we should glamorize persecution instead of freedom or poverty instead of prosperity? Or course not. Persecution and poverty are great evils and tempt people toward despair and theft and lawlessness. But as dangerous as poverty can be to souls, prosperity can be even more dangerous. The poor may dishonor God and need his pardon, but the rich are tempted to do something far worse: ignore God and declare independence from him altogether. When we live like kings, we’re tempted to rebel against the true King.

A Doomed Rebellion

The Bible describes such rebellion in Psalm 2, saying, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters'” (v.1-3).

These big shots oppose the Lord and his Anointed One. The Hebrew word for Anointed One is Messiah, and the Greek is Christ. These kings are against Christ the King, and they want to get out from under God’s rule and reign. How does God react? Psalm 2 says, “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, ‘I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill”(v. 4-6). God laughs at the crazy notion of anybody thinking they can topple him, and he unleashes his fury against those who won’t bow to his chosen King.

Psalm 2 shows the folly of living like kings who don’t want to answer to anyone, and it gives prophetic insight into the ascension and enthronement of the Lord Jesus. After Jesus’ humiliation and suffering, God the Father exalted him to heaven and placed him on the throne and gave him the place of supremacy reserved for him. In Psalm 2 was written long before Jesus’ ascension, but through prophecy it helps us to overhear God’s royal decree. In Psalm 2 God’s Anointed says,

I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery” (v.7-9).

In other words, God the Father has given his Son Jesus absolute authority over the entire world, and he has given Jesus the power to crush any who oppose him. Jesus came to this world in humility, and he calls us to himself in love, but he also reigns in power and majesty and demands our complete loyalty.

So how should we respond? Psalm 2 says to get smart. “Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (v. 10-12). That’s how Psalm 2 concludes. To be on the wrong side of the King means disaster. To serve and love and trust him means blessing.

If you’re living like a king, you may want to keep your throne to yourself. You want make up your own mind, do your own thing, enjoy your prosperity, and exercise your power, regardless of what God wants. Like a king, you’re so used to getting your way that you won’t submit to any other King, not even the Lord Jesus himself. But that rebel attitude is a sure way to be destroyed. The true King of heaven scoffs at such rebellion, and unless you repent, you will perish in your rebellion.

Do you have any idea how insulting and offensive it is to God when you ignore him and act like you’re in charge and pretend that you belong on the throne instead of Christ? Maybe you’ve heard the statement from the Bible that all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. You might wonder how that could be. Aren’t there people who do lots of good things who don’t follow Jesus or believe in God at all? How can God see all those good deeds as disgusting, filthy rags? Well, it all comes down to who is king. If you don’t worship God and acknowledge him as your Savior and King, then you are putting yourself on the throne. And everything you do from your own throne is an offense to God. Everything you do from your own throne, no matter how good it might seem, is an act of defiance and treason.

There is no such thing as simply living without Jesus, where you do your thing and Jesus does his. Jesus’ “thing” is to rule all things, and if you don’t want Jesus to rule you, if you declare independence from him, it is an act of rebellion that provokes his wrath. Jesus is king. You’re not. Deal with it.

Rejoice with Trembling

In ancient times, one way to show submission to a king was to kiss his feet. Psalm 2 says, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed.” Now, if you think this means the Lord is just a cruel bully, think again. If all God wanted to do was use his immense power to crush his enemies. He could have done that at any time without any warning. But what does he do instead? God warns us to stop rebelling, and he calls us to take refuge in him. God urges us to receive his blessings instead of bearing the brunt of his wrath.

Don’t forget what I said earlier. This Almighty King came to live among his subjects, to be one of us, to show us his love and call us back to himself. The King’s supreme act of love was to allow himself to be killed by his own subjects. In that act of sacrifice, Jesus paid the price for all our sin and rebellion. He did all this so that we could be forgiven and benefit from his exaltation instead of being crushed by it.

If you’ve been running your own life and occupying your own throne, isn’t it time to get real? Jesus is an awesome ally but a terrible foe. If the love of the crucified Jesus doesn’t melt your heart, then at least the sheer majesty of the ascended Jesus should shatter your heart. Give up on yourself. Give thanks that the Lord cares about you enough to warn you before it’s too late. Bow before your one true King. Repent of your sins. Trust that his life and death and resurrection are more than enough to undo your sin. Hand your entire self over to him to do with as he pleases. Love and obey him with joy and awe. As Psalm 2 puts it, “Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.”

And once you submit to Jesus and take refuge in him, never stop rejoicing, and never stop trembling. That’s how the first Christians responded to the ascended Christ. Shortly before Jesus was taken up to heaven, he told his followers, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). All authority! When Jesus’ disciples heard him say this, and then saw him taken up from the earth, they realized that Psalm 2 had come true: God had given the highest position in the entire universe to his Son, the very Jesus of Nazareth they had known so well.

This filled those first Christians with awe: the lowly carpenter, the wandering teacher, the warmhearted friend, the crucified outcast, was now reigning on the throne of heaven. And through God’s Holy Spirit, those believers had a deep sense of the power and majesty of the exalted Christ. The most common statement of faith among the early Christians wasn’t, “Jesus is my pal.” It was “Jesus is Lord!” When the apostle John, Jesus’ closest friend on earth, had a vision of the exalted Christ, he didn’t say, “Hey, old buddy, how’s it going?” He “fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17).

Trembling is something that a Christian never outgrows. It is a joyful trembling, a sense of being overwhelmed by a Lord so mighty and majestic. So be wise. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Take refuge in him.

One last thing: if you face opposition because of your faith, or if people in positions of power resist the Lord, don’t panic. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t start thinking that everything depends on power brokers and politicians. If you’re feeling powerless, let Psalm 2 encourage you. God scoffs at his enemies, so why should you be afraid of them? Once you bow and tremble before the Lord, you don’t need to tremble before anybody else.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Live the way Jesus lived. Be humble. Love others. Stand for the truth. Serve your King. And if serving him brings persecution or trouble, remember: you have direct access to his heavenly throne room. Through prayer you can go straight to the King of the universe and call on his power to deal with your struggles. Count on his power right now, and look forward to a splendid future when the King will give you a permanent place in his palace and you will reign with him forever and ever.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.