When Martin Luther stood confidently before the Diet of Worms in 1521, he was emboldened by his devotion to the Word of God. Luther lived much of his early life oppressed by the guilt and burden of religion. But a careful reading of God’s Word and the conviction of the Holy Spirit offered him freedom. Luther achieved liberty by faith in Jesus Christ. His voice sparked the Protestant Reformation. Yet, Luther faced an almost certain death unless he would recant and soften his position on the authority of Scripture. His response was this:
I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.
Here I stand; I can do no other, so help me God.
Some 450 years later, another Martin would initiate a fire of change in America. Martin Luther King, Jr. became an iconic figure of the Civil Rights movement. Dr. King preached nonviolence in a war against segregation and discrimination. He was committed to non-retaliation; he preached the merits of love and a passion for peaceful, civil disobedience. And the backlash was intense – Dr. King was sharply criticized by both blacks and whites. He was beaten and struck with bricks; his house was bombed, and ultimately he was assassinated.
Both Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr. suffered persecution as they prompted and promoted change. But it was not only they who suffered—men and women who chose to follow these great leaders suffered consequences for their commitments to truth and justice. They understood that to share a leader’s vision meant that they might share in his persecution as well.
Admirer or Follower?
I have been greatly intrigued by the biographies of both of these great men. Studying the contexts of their lives and the effects of their ministries inspires me. I am staggered what they endured. I admire them greatly. But to be honest, I don’t know if I could have followed them. Why? I am a chicken at heart. Daily, I pray for the grace to overcome obstacles that cripple my pursuit of truth. I want God’s will. I want to do more than admire the right path; I want to follow it.
The study of the Kingdom of God proposes a question for each person. Are we satisfied to be admirers of Jesus, or are we willing to become followers? What are the implications of being a fully devoted follower of Christ?
What is the Kingdom? The Kingdom of God is His domain, God’s sovereign rule.
The demands of the Kingdom (reign) of God are absolute; Jesus holds complete authority to ask anything of his followers. To enter into the kingdom of God is to acknowledge His rule as full and final.
Thanks be to God, his reign is good. I believe the Gspel teaches that God’s will is relationship through Jesus Christ. It is a relationship based on mutual joy. In the Kingdom, it is joy, not obligation, that makes serving Jesus “do-able.” Love, not fear of punishment, is what motivates our service. Hope in the glory of Christ supplants our selfish desires. Note the words from W. Cowper’s hymn, Constraining to Obedience:
To see the law by Christ fulfilled
and hear His pardoning voice,
transforms a slave into a child
and duty into choice.
The Big Picture
The Sermon on the Mount is not a random sampling of Jesus’ teachings. The Sermon is a beautiful panoramic picture of God’s rule and how followers, not admirers, will bring about His good and righteous Kingdom. Jesus raises the highest possible standard for His followers—that standard is God’s love. Why love? Because love never fails.
(Look, I buy chocolates for my wife because I love her. I don’t do it because it’s her rule. I don’t do it because I have to. I want to. That’s how a love relationship works. The day I start buying chocolates begrudgingly or out of fear, that’s the day our relationship has changed. And that’s the day she tells me what I can do with those chocolates. The best gifts are always gifts of love, mutual joy.)
He Makes All Things New – – – Are You Good or New?
When we look at the big picture, we see that love motivates the followers of Christ in His Kingdom. This is not a Kingdom of rules, but a Kingdom where we are restored to right relationship with our King.
Therefore I offer this question—Has your faith made you good or new? The Bible tells us that if we are in Christ we are new creations. It says that if we are in Christ the old is gone and the new has come. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus, and He is turning the world as we know it upside-down. This is the rule of Christ! See Him on the throne as He declares, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)
So, pursue your own newness through Jesus Christ. Allow Him to make your life a Kingdom project. Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart and manifest Christ’s love as you encounter this day.
Seek ye first the sovereign rule of God,
and His righteousness; and all these things
shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)