A strange kingdom – the Kingdom of Responsible Freedom
It is an unusual kingdom, this Kingdom of Responsible Freedom. In most other kingdoms, the rulers keep order by force. People pay their taxes and obey the laws of the land - or else. But in the Kingdom of Responsible Freedom, the king and his forces keep such a low profile that some people wonder if he exists at all. Oh yes, there are stories of the great deeds he has done in the past, how he led his people out of slavery, how he broke the rod of the oppressor and guided his flock into a land of milk and honey. But where is he now, people are asking. Where the heck is he now while innocent children suffer and those who do evil prosper?
But something remarkable happened a few short years ago. A wild man appeared in the desert proclaiming that the time of liberation was at hand. No-one would normally give much credence to a wild man in the desert; society was full of deranged people who were either prophesying doom or professing that they themselves were the Messiah. But this wild man was different. He wasn’t talking about himself, but about someone who was infinitely greater. And there was a power in his preaching that seemed to come from beyond this world.
The next thing that happened is so strange that I am not sure whether to believe it or not. One day while the wild man was baptising, a dove descended from the skies and alighted on the man who was immersed in the waters. Onlookers claim they heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom my soul delights. My favour rests on him”. Now this was just the start of a strange sequence of events and many things have happened in the meantime. This “beloved son”, Jesus by name, was acclaimed by the people as a king while he rode on a humble donkey into our capital city. But within a few days he was abandoned by everyone, handed over to the Romans and crucified. Then his body went missing and there was talk that he had “risen from the dead”
Apart from the talk of his resurrection, none of this is all that strange. Plenty of “saviours” have come and gone these past twenty years. What is really strange is what the followers of this Jesus are saying about the Kingdom in which we allegedly are living. They are baptising people and claiming that the person baptised becomes a child of the Kingdom, filled with the Spirit.
Do you realise how strange this is? Every other kingdom on earth rules by force of law. To be an upright member of the kingdom is to follow the rules and behave like a servant. But these people are saying that the baptized person is no longer a slave of the kingdom, but an heir! When Jesus immersed himself in the waters of baptism, he was actually gathering us into the waters with him, washing us by the blood he would soon shed on the cross. When the Father said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I delight”, he was actually saying to all of us who conform to Jesus in baptism, “This is my beloved child in whom I delight”.
Make no mistake, this Kingdom of Responsible Freedom is one heck of a strange kingdom! We looked for a strong king who would rule by force and put our enemies to the sword. Instead we got a king who was put to the sword himself and calls us to submit ourselves to whatever suffering comes our way. I keep thinking, wouldn’t it have been better if he had sent his army of angels to put this messy world in order? Wouldn’t it be better if those who do evil had their arms restrained by a powerful angel? Even I myself wouldn’t mind if an angel or two popped up and held me back before I embarked on a course of selfish action! But rather than using the vast resources of power that he has at his disposal, he instead comes among us as a lowly man and descends into the waters of baptism. Then we are invited to enter those same waters and receive his Spirit. The idea, so we are to believe, is that our inner freedom is to be strengthened so that we actively do good, instead of being made to do good by external coercion. We are to become children of a loving Father, instead of being slaves in a well-oiled machine. We are to become agents of good in the world, sons and daughters of a benevolent dad.
Do I really want to be a child of this loving Father? How am I to overcome all of those evil tendencies that live in me as a result of the fall and that have become more powerful in the wake of my own sin? Is this really what authentic life is like – being filled with the Spirit of our King and exercising self-control from within? Is this why his Son came among us in such a humble manner, so that we might learn to be sons and daughters from within, instead of being coerced from without? His disciples have invited me to enter these waters. Last Sunday they celebrated the anniversary of his baptism. What am I to do?