We had already gone a few minuets past 8pm, and honestly I found myself stealing glances at the clock. It's not that I don't mind staying later than 8, I usually do. But I like getting done when we say we are going to get done. More than that, I like knowing what is going to happen.
But as we went around the room with one last question around ten past eight something happened that has become a rarity in most midweek church groups, someone was honest. Not the vague type of honestly that makes people think you're opening up but the real type of honesty that places the speaker at the mercy everyone else.
The question was a simple one that is all too often only said in groups like this because it's expected, "How can we be praying for everyone?" I have to confess that far too often I allow myself to keep silent when this question is asked, or I say enough to let people know I'm still in the group but not enough to allow myself to be vulnerable. But in contrast to my secure silence one of the people sitting in that living room opened up to wrestling with something that I still find myself fighting against.
This person, who I'll just call Mary, stated that she was struggling with parts of the Bible that she didn't agree with. She admitted that she wanted to, desired to, even fought to believe all that was placed down in Scripture. But at the end of the day there were things that the Bible called her to believe that she wrestled against.
For many of us there is a gut reaction that would say that this is nothing more than the wrestling of a young believer. But I believe that for the honest among us this is something that we all still wrestle with.
In the Church today we often celebrate the fact that God is our loving Father (John 1:12, Matt. 10:29-31, 1 John 3:1, Phil. 4:20) but at the end of the day a father can be rebelled against. Isn't that just what teenage years are for? We also celebrate that the Gospel allows for Christ to be our friend (John 15:15, Proverbs 18:24) but the advice of a friend can be ignored and the friendship can continue. And both of these are true in every way. But if we only only accept the parts about God that we want and reject the aspects of God that we dislike, all we have done is create a caricature of the Creator. Or as St. Augustine put it, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.”
What Mary was wrestling with, and what I wrestle with far more often than I would like to admit, is the Kingship of Jesus. Because long before Kanye dropped his latest album, Jesus has always been King (1 Tim. 6:15, Rev. 15:3, Luke 23:3, Phil. 2:10-11, Is. 44:6). But in the 21st Century the idea of a king seems long outdated. We want to have a say, we want leaders that do what we want. And if they don't we fight against them. One only need look at the last 250 years of world history to see this to be true.
As the news will show you, we want leaders that can be called out and kicked out when they don't do what we like, how we like, when we like.
But Jesus can't be impeached if we don't like what He says or what He does. He sits on a throne (Ps. 110:1, Rev. 3:21, Rev. 20:11) and from that throne He will judge the world (John 5:22, Matt. 25:31-32, Acts 17:31).
Don't get me wrong, there are times when the idea of Jesus as my strong and powerful King is what gives me hope and strength to continue. For as Romans 8 says, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" But there are also those times that I come across things in Scripture that are hard for me. There are parts of the Book that when I am at my most honest, I must confess are hard to swallow.
And it's in those times that Jesus being King is hard. I want to have it my way, in my time, most of the time. But if Jesus is King...then it's His way, in His time, all of the time. And He's not swayed by any opinion poll nor worried about any heavenly election that may result in a change of policy. He alone is God and He will not change (Heb. 13:8). He is now in Heaven and He does whatever He pleases (Ps. 115:3).
If this is true than those of us who call ourselves by the name of Christ must submit to the kingship of Christ. And Jesus makes the point clear in John 3. Most people can quote verse 16, but know little to none of the rest of the chapter. The end of the chapter finds Jesus saying, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." And that is hard, because I know how often I don't obey. I know how often I wish there was a footnote next to more than a few commands that stated such hard lines were optional.
Christ calls us to perfection (Matt 5:48). He makes it clear that the only way to come to God is to have a completely clean slate. And that is impossible. Jesus' own disciples were driven to despair when they came to understand this and asked "Then who can be saved?" But Christ answers then back that what is impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:26-27).
To prove this point Christ took all the sins of all of His people and in return gave them all of His perfection (2 Cor. 5:21). And this is the point of the Gospel, the King who died for the convict. Because that's what we are, convicts. Each time we decide that Christ is not King we commit treason, yet instead of covering each of us with His wrath Christ is a King full of grace and mercy.
For to us who belong to Christ, He is not simply the king. He is our King. And though He calls us to obey, He also knows that this will impossible. And knowing this He gives us His own Spirit to lead us into holy perfection (John 14:15-17, Ep. 3:16-17) so that we will come to the place where we can echo St Paul who said that he worked with all the strength of God, not the strength of his own will (Col. 1:29).
So next time that you come to a place in Scripture that is a pill hard to swallow remember that Christ is King. And as your king He can call the shots. And when you begin to think that harsh, remember the nature of your King. Remember what He has done for you. For He is a good king. And when it looks as though He is a hard and heavy-handed king remember the words of an old preacher, "God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart."