Two Kings

2000 years ago the people of Bethlehem were offered a choice between two kings.

One king lived in a luxurious palace. The other was born in a stable.

One king controlled unlimited wealth. The other was born into, and lived his entire life in, poverty.

One king controlled an empire, commanded the mightiest army on Earth, and ruthlessly crushed his enemies. The other was a helpless baby who never gained any worldly power and later encouraged his followers to love their enemies.

One king formed transactional alliances based on expediency. The other stood firmly on principle to the point of death.

Many religious leaders chose to align with the first king. They knew, of course, that he was a vile, evil man, that his behavior violated everything they claimed to value. But they also knew that opposing him meant losing his political support. Their comfort would be disrupted, their temple destroyed, their religious freedom compromised. So they ignored his personal immorality and turned away when his soldiers and administrators were responsible for oppression, slavery, capricious imprisonment, even murder. They traded principle for personal political privilege and protection from an earthly king because he was the enemy of their earthly enemies.

The other king described a bigger kingdom based on love. He asked his small group of followers to trust God and seek justice. He preached hope, grace, and mercy.

This king reserved his harshest words for that first group of religious leaders. He called them blind guides and whitewashed tombs. When his criticism became too threatening to their privileged position, they collaborated with the powerful king’s allies, created false charges, lied to the public, and executed him illegally.

Since that death, the first king’s empire has faded into history. Other kings and empires have risen and fallen.

Followers of the helpless baby King Jesus became an enduring worldwide body. For two millennia those followers have grappled with an identity conflict. On one side is their true identity as an eternal kingdom based on eternal principles and a personal connection with Jesus. On the other is a human organization complete with buildings and bureaucracies. And, of course, human leaders and agendas too often driven by short-term results.

Two kings. Two identities. One choice, and we don’t always get it right. Too frequently we’re more like those first-century pharisees than we want to admit, willing to exchange long-term principles for comfort, privilege, or immediate results.

The pharisees were absolutely sure compromising with Caesar and his political/economic/military might was the best way to safeguard their religion. It’s always tempting to believe that ends justify means. Jesus didn’t call them blind because they didn’t have faith and good intentions.

He just wanted them to trust God more than they trusted Caesar.

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