We worship kings and queens today. Everyone does, somewhere in their lives. Whether the king within or the megastar without. Whether the powers of this world or a seductive secular world view.
St Paul challenged the status quo, the nicely, finely balanced Pax Romana, by preaching about another King. So much so that in Acts 17:1-9 we read that his companions were dragged before the courts with the accusation that, “they are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying there is another king, one called Jesus.”
Emperor Caesar Augustus had established a relative peace after the chaotic blood letting and civil wars that marked the end of the Roman Republic.The Empire is being established where allegiance to the emperor was a matter of life and death. Rulers were given a god-like status with perpetual power. But Pax Romana had a price: total allegiance, paying taxes and obedience to decrees.
The Christmas story starts with the historical note that, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” (Luke 2:1). So hundreds of thousands of people upped and trekked to their hometown in fear of the Roman authorities. In a far-flung outpost of the Empire a village carpenter took his pregnant fiance to Bethlehem, his ancestral home, where Jesus was born – thus fulfilling the ancient prophecies in Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”
So, when the Jews decided that they didn’t like Paul’s message they stirred up the fear of the people by saying that, “they are all defying Caesar’s decrees”.
Think about someone in Syria, living in the government controlled area, claiming that there is another king or president in Syria. Or Cuba, under Castro. That would be a very dangerous proposition. Their decrees would be difficult to defy.
But Paul and the early Christians, whilst seeking to be good citizens, pledged ultimate allegiance to another King and worshipped another God. They stood out from the culture around them because they were citizens of Jesus’ kingdom and they worshipped Him alone – at great personal risk and sacrifice and sometimes paying with their lives.
So here’s the question: for those of us who declare Jesus as Lord, in what ways could we be accused of defying decrees? How do we stand out from our culture because we pledge allegiance to another king and because we worship a different God from those around us?
If I were dragged before the popular court, with what offence would I be charged as I worship Jesus (not just singing songs but living my life)?
Worshipping someone means placing my trust in them, doing what they say, allowing them to form my world-view and to give me my purpose for life, to influence my ethics. It means living by their laws, paying their bills, being seen in their entourage and under their authority.
It is very obvious and harsh choice for the Christian living in an ISIS-controlled land. In Britain we don’t have an obvious person or dogma sitting on a throne in antagonism to our faith and beliefs. In a way it would be easier to work this out if we did.
But within us there is a little king or queen who perpetually tries to gain ascendancy to the throne of our lives. A little emperor issuing decrees that happiness and comfort are the most important things in life. A ruling pride in how the world revolves around us. A fear that drives us to accumulate security and build walls. A deep lust for more, more, more.
A little voice that says, “no, Lord” when we hear God speak to us, challenging His Lordship, issuing contrary decrees.
Here are ten contemporary kings and their decrees – dare we defy them?
- The media king who decrees that: You will foster cynicism – never trusting anyone or anything at the outset
- The money king who decrees that: You shall seek financial security as a primary goal in life
- The xenophobic king who decrees that: We must protect our standard of living (the god of the gdp)
- The sex king who decrees that: Consent is the only rule that applies to sex
- The sex king also decrees that: Pornography is okay, in fact it can be good for you
- The social media king decrees that: You shall share your life on social media (and expect other people to get to know, and relate to, your presentable avatar)
- The social media king also decrees that: You will understand the world through social media (which is a terrifying thought when you consider the existence of fake news and the way that the social media algorithms are designed to feed you a mirror image of your likes and beliefs thus gradually narrowing your window into the world)
- The king of political correctness decrees that: You shall always agree with the gospel of tolerance (what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”)
- The entertainment king decrees that: You will give time and attention to celebrities and listen to their views (Hillary Clinton must have expected to garner more votes holding hands with Beyonce and Jay Z)
- The consumer king decrees that: You must copy the rich and famous and you will look better, feel better and be happy
These are all decrees that emanate from the kings and queens of this world. So which decrees are we defying in the light of scripture and the word of God? Because although we are called to be good citizens, our ultimate allegiance is to another King. His name is Jesus.
We choose another King, we choose to live in His kingdom and abide by His decrees.