The other week while I was in Ocracoke, my morning devotional began with this passage from Acts 1:4-9 (NKJV):
4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; 5 for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
I read that…and then read it again. And paused and blinked. And wondered how I’d never noticed that before. Did you catch it?
The very last thing the disciples are recorded as saying to Jesus…it wasn’t a question about eternity. It wasn’t begging Him for more direction on how to create a Church worthy of His name. It wasn’t something to help them seek the kingdom of God. They asked Him about politics.
“Are you going to rid Israel of Rome now, Lord?” That’s what they were asking.
Does that sound a little familiar, maybe? How often is the church today praying, “Lord, help us reclaim our country!”?
But look at Jesus’s answer. We can’t know the times. Sure, okay…but what I found really fascinating was what He went on to say. You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you’ll bear witness to ME to the ends of the earth. In my mind, a paraphrase would be, “Look, friends, stop worrying about the earthly powers and rulers and authority. That’s not your business. Here’s what you’ll soon understand, when you’re filled with the Spirit: your job is to spread the Good News. Period.”
And you know what? Never again in the Acts or the epistles do we see the disciples fretting over who’s in charge in the nation of Israel. Because immediately following this, the Holy Spirit came. Filled them.
And they knew. They finally got it. They finally, FINALLY understood that Jesus wasn’t concerned with THEIR kingdom, the nation of Israel. He was concerned with HIS.
My friends, this is still true. Jesus isn’t concerned about America-as-such or Canada-as-such or the United-Kingdom-as-such or any other country. He’s concerned with the people in those countries; He’s concerned with whether they are part of His kingdom. He’s concerned not with who was elected or appointed to or inherited a position here on earth, but on whether we’re dedicating ourselves to bringing the kingdom of Heaven near. Yes, He uses those countries, just as He did Israel. They may embody certain things or represent aspects of His will or serve as an example. But our kingdoms and countries are just grains of sand in the glass of His eternity–quickly come, quickly gone. We think the very world will rise and fall with them…but it doesn’t. Because His kingdom is so much bigger.
We tend to shake our heads at the disciples in the Gospels, don’t we, when they ask again and again about whether Jesus is a warrior king? But we do it too. We want Him to ride in on the proverbial white stallion and set everything to rights. We want Him to fix THIS world, our world, to get rid of the evil and put good people in power. We want Him to avenge the wrongs and establish His just and righteous kingdom NOW.
But I imagine He would answer us just as He did the Twelve. “The Holy Spirit shall fill you. And you shall bear witness to Me.”
That’s the answer to whether He’ll rule this world. That’s ALL the answer needs to be. How do we fix the physical world? By focusing on the spiritual one. How do we bring hope to the here-and-now? By fixing our eyes on eternity. How do we help our countries? By praying and working toward the coming of His kingdom. If we make our goals winning hearts for Him and aligning our lives to His will, then the world will change, just as it has done before. But the answers aren’t found in the earthly courts or government buildings. The answers are found in knowing that He is bigger, longer, wider, older, yet newer than any earthly law or government could ever be.
He rules our kingdoms only when we let Him rule our hearts; but when we let Him rule our hearts, we soon see the truth: His kingdom will come only when we love selflessly, sacrificially, when we’re willing to love our enemies, when we offer ourselves for them, just as He did for us.
Let’s love like that. Let’s take that love into the world and bear witness of Him. Then we’ll see His kingdom come.