In the children’s classic The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis’ oft-quoted passage about Aslan (Narnia’s own Lion of the Tribe of Judah) gives the readers in post-World War II England a powerful image of the King of Kings.
I’m not so certain it is as powerful for the readers in postmodern America.
We’re not fond of kings. Our country was formed in defiance to the taxation edict of a king named George, and we decided we’d rather not have our tea taxed, and we were ready to die to have it our way.
We chose our own George and made sure that his authority was checked and balanced, and that he could not ever become a king.
The whole idea of a king is vaguely repugnant to us, unless it is attached to a symbolic monarchy, and the actual governing is done democratically. That one man (or woman) should decide what’s best for all of the rest of us lesser beings and subjects makes our skin crawl. We don’t want to serve anyone but ourselves, generally. And we certainly don’t want anyone telling us what to do.
Even with our President tightly limited by the Constitution, we hold little respect for the office anymore, claiming our constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of speech to lionize him or her in the public media to the point of hate speech and beyond.
We’re Americans. And nobody pushes us around.
But earlier empires did not always hate their king.
Israel had its share of good kings and bad, but one shone more brightly than all the rest combined: David, the shepherd king.
They loved David. David was a man after God’s own heart, no matter how fallible he was; no matter how poor a father or how willing he might have been to abandon his palace to a rebellious son. He sang of God and His love and His law. Before he became king, he soothed his predecessor’s madness with his compositions and performances of praise. When the tabernacle was brought home from enemies, he danced his heart out in praise. His people loved him for it.
When he felt himself inspired to create a palatial temple for God, and God’s prophet told him that it would not be his to build, David decided to prepare the way for his son Solomon to build it during his own reign. He gave out of his own wealth. He asked the people how many would consecrate themselves to this task, and they gave too, willingly and generously. Then David praised God in humility:
“Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”
This is the kind of king of which prophets like Jeremiah spoke when they foretold the Messiah, the promised king to come:
“‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. … For this is what the Lord says: ‘David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel, nor will the Levitical priests ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices.’”
When those prophecies came to pass in a stable in Bethlehem years after, a jealous King Herod sought to exterminate his Infant rival. When this humble Messiah rode into Jerusalem, He was welcomed as royalty. When He was arrested and tried, the charge against Him from the overlords was that He claimed to be King of the Jews. In the Revelation, the Lion-that-becomes-a-Lamb will be the triumphant King of kings and Lord of lords.
We choose to serve this King, or we choose to serve self.
We choose to serve Him and live … or we choose to serve self, and die.
The timeless truth remains that the apostle Paul proclaimed to believers in Rome:
“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. … But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We’re comfortable with the baby in the manger, admired by shepherds and soon-to-be sought by wise men from the east. He is so sweet and helpless there. He makes no demands. He issues no orders. He doesn’t tell us what to do, or how to live, or how to crucify self. He hasn’t yet lived out the power of a selfless life, or died on a cross only to reclaim life by that power of God.
He’s just a baby.
But sooner or later we have to leave this nursery in a stable. We have to follow Him as He grows and matures, and we must grow and mature too. We’re drawn to hear His words and watch His life match them. We’re compelled to climb the hills and descend in the valleys with Him until we come to that hill with a cross and that valley darkened by the shadow of death. And we have to choose whether we believe that He is more than a man, more than a teacher, more than even the Son of God. We must decide whether He is our Lord, our Master.
Whether we will run for it or continue to follow, even though it will cost us our lives, our wealth, our selves.
Whether we will serve Him and love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength – as He loves us.
He isn’t a safe choice.
He’s the King, I tell you.
And He’s good.