Who’s In Charge Down Here?

Who is in charge down here? Life can make us wonder. Is God in charge? Are we ever in charge? It might feel like the battle goes to the strong and the bullies are in charge. World history reads like a list of bullies giving way to bigger bullies. Personal relationships are marked by bullies taking charge. This past Sunday marked the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women. How long has humanity been around and women are still being bullied by men? Perhaps disease is in charge, or finances, or whatever we might be addicted to. Who is in charge down here?

It is a question the people of God in Daniel’s day could ask. They were well acquainted with big, brutal empires. If it is not the Egyptians, it is the Assyrians, and if not them it is the Persians. The first part of Daniel chapter seven affirms that this has been and will be the experience of God’s people. Daniel was given a vision of four terrible beasts arising out of the Sea. This is symbolic of the rise of four successive empires that are brutal. Bible scholars have seen these as symbolic of a mix of the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Greeks and Romans. Whichever empires they refer to, the bullies are in charge. This is an affirmation of what God’s people were experiencing; yes, it seems that bullies are in control down here.

However, there is a crucial moment spoken of in Daniel 7:

As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened. Daniel 7:9-10 (NRSV)

Brutal empires seem to be charge down here, but that is only until we are reminded Who really sits on the throne in the heavens. The imagery used in the passage above speaks to the wisdom of God and to judgement. Indeed, judgement comes next:

I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. Daniel 7:11-12 (NRSV)

The Kingdoms are stripped of power.  So who is in charge?

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Daniel 7:13-14 (NIV)

The Son of Man is in charge. In other words, the beast-like empires give way to someone who knows how to rule like a real gentleman. According to some Bible scholars, the original readers would have focused on this as a promise to the whole people of God rather than to the Messiah. That is, Israel will someday rule instead of these empires. However, Jesus did something remarkable. At various times he referred to himself as “son of man.” He goes on to explicitly make himself the focus of Daniel 7:

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
62 Jesus said, “I am; and
‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’
63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard his blasphemy! Mark 14:60-64 (NRSV emphasis added)

Looking back to Daniel 7, Jesus is the one who “approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence” (Daniel 7:13). We see elements of this is what we call the ascension of Jesus:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:6-11 (NRSV)

While the disciples were asking about the kingdom of Israel as a political entity, fact is, Jesus is now the king. As per Daniel 7, Jesus has taken his rightful place as the one in charge, now all nations are to worship him. His disciples are to be members of His kingdom, calling others to trust and worship the true king:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

Jesus is the rightful ruler, the better ruler, the one who reigns as a good and humane king unlike the empires that were described as beasts in Daniel 7. Jesus is a better ruler than anyone or anything else that tries to take charge in our world or in our lives. The awful things in life can make us wonder who is in charge. It might not feel like God is. It certainly might not feel like we are. Part of trusting Jesus, is to trust that Jesus is the king,  the good king, the coming king, and we are already his kingdom people.

Though the bullies may take charge and we may be victimized by life circumstances, when all is said and done we are not victims, but victors in Christ. Let the bullies do their worst, the true king has done and will do his best!

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (NIV)

What a Really Great Ruler Really Looks Like

small__13898487621Whether we think of heads of state, or heads of families it seems so many rulers are prone to questionable, even unconscionable, decisions. What does a really great ruler really look like? Psalm 72 points the way (I encourage you to read it by clicking the link). There are some things to note:

First, this psalm is a prayer. And so we are reminded to pray for people in authority. We may hear of decisions made by dictators and elected officials, mums and dads, and shake our heads in disgust. But do we bow our heads in prayer for them? What a great change there can be for many people when there is godly change in the life and thinking of a person in authority. And if you and I stand in places of authority, we stand in the need of prayer.

Second, what is the key word of this prayer? Let us consider the first two verses:

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. 2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. Psalm 72:1-2 NRSV

While justice and righteousness are important words, there is one word in the first two verses that shows up more often: ‘Your.’ Here is a plea for a ruler not to rule with their own sense of justice and righteousness, but to rule with God’s. Also, we are directed to the think of the people we have authority over not as ‘our’ people, but God’s. Rulers may think they are tops, but they are really stewards accountable to a higher authority. I might be pleased with how my young boys are becoming young men. But is God? They are His, my leadership in their lives needs to please God, not me. And it needs to be according to God’s standards, not mine. Notice too, that the call is made for the authorities to take special notice of the poor. Yes they are God’s too, and how they are treated will not go unnoticed.

Third. What rulers throughout history have shown themselves to be answers to this prayer? Sadly, far too many have fallen far too short of a godly rule. This is true within nations and within families. But there is one who fits this prayer precisely, Jesus the Messiah.

In the Christmas story, the magi serve a theological purpose, they point to Jesus as being the ruler this Psalm longs for. Though not precise in the details, the nations have arrived bearing gifts:

10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts. 11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service. Psalm 72:10-11 NRSV
11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:11 NRSV

The book of Revelation paints a picture of the ruler this Psalm longs for. The king’s reign is eternal. The king reigns with justice and righteousness. The reign of the king is good news for the oppressed. The kingdom is secure. People blossom. These are things common to the king longed for in Psalm 72 and the King of kings and Lord of lords revealed in Revelation.

Jesus points to himself as the one who fulfills the longing of this prayer. He describes himself as the good shepherd. He is the good shepherd who loves the sheep, not like the bad shepherd, Herod, who killed off many young boys in an effort to rid the world of Jesus. Jesus is the good shepherd who loves the sheep, not like the bad shepherds, the religious leaders, who would seek his life. Jesus is the good shepherd who loves the sheep, not like the bad shepherd, Pilate, who would authorize his death. Jesus is the good shepherd who loves people, who helps people. The psalm longs for a king who

delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. 13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. 14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight. Psalm 72:12-14 NRSV

So precious is our blood in His sight that He shed His own blood to help us in our greatest need. All our earthly needs come and go, but our need for salvation from the sin that separates us from God is something we carry into eternity, unless of course there is an authority that can help. In Jesus there is.

If you are a person in authority, are you an answer to this prayer? Whether you are a person in authority or not, do you know the One who is the greatest answer to this prayer?

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc