Last week in our Bible study on the book of Psalms we looked at many of the places in the Psalms that talk about the reign of God. Over and over again, we read the phrase “the Lord is King!” Indeed, the whole book is undergirded by the assumption that all things fall under God’s rule – all nations, all people, all leaders, all creation. Even the trees of the field, mountains, oceans, and stars of the sky shout their praises to God.
Many Bible scholars believe that one of the reasons this theme comes up so often is because of Israel’s need to be reminded of God’s kingship. As we know from reading the prophets, Israel sometimes had difficulty remembering in whom they should place their trust. When one King failed to deliver the prosperity and power they longed for, they were quick to pin their hopes on a new leader. (Sound familiar?) And when they weren’t placing their trust in new leaders, they were misplacing their trust in other things: wealth, military power, alliances with foreign powers, and worst of all, the gods and idols of their neighbors.
It was only when Israel was defeated by the Babylonians – its temple in ruins and its people in exile – that they came to understand that God reigns even when they don’t. It was out of that horrible mess that was born the insight that God truly is the great King above all kings.
The ultimate consequence of that insight is that all other commitments and devotion to leaders, nations and ideologies are made relative to our first commitment – God. We are by virtue of our faith citizens of God’s kingdom – a kingdom without human borders, or leaders.
In the United States (and most of the world), a disciple of Christ can say “Jesus is Lord” with little or no fall-out. However, there have been times in history when that simple statement was considered treasonous. For instance, before Emperor Constantine, if a believer in ancient Rome said “Jesus is Lord!” it was also understood to mean that “Caesar is not.” Acknowledging that the Lord is King above all kings can be threatening to the “powers and principalities,” particularly when you learn the God of Israel and the Lord of the Church has an agenda of His own that often runs counter to those in power.
I am grateful to live in a nation where I am free to be a disciple of Jesus, a subject in God’s kingdom, and an American citizen. That has been the genius of the American experiment from the beginning! In the wake of this week’s election, I can easily say that I am proud to be an American! However, I say that as one who stands on the shoulders of believers from nations long dead and renew my commitment to my first love when I say: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)