As Presidents’ Day was approaching I did some reading on the history of Presidential approval ratings. It was interesting to see the various highs and lows that have happened within my lifetime. The highest approval rating was given to George W. Bush in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks: It was up at 90% in that part of 2001. And the lowest mark of 24% came in January of 1974 for President Richard Nixon in the midst of the Watergate scandal. Those are the extremes, but more generally the approval rating has hovered around 40 to 60%. There are always some people who will strongly disapprove of the President no matter who it is.
This came to mind as I was thinking of the political situation in Jesus’ time. In ancient Jerusalem there was a strong sense of disapproval for the ruling Roman regime. It wasn’t always commonly spoken of, for fear of reprisal, but nonetheless it wasn’t hard to discern. Israel had a strong heritage of its own independent, Davidic kingships. It was remembered and celebrated as a historic monarchy under the blessing of God. The Romans, by contrast, were a Gentile power-group. They were very abusive; they imposed oppressive levels of taxation, and they didn’t show much respect for the customs of the people. At best they were abrasively tolerant of Israelite faith; at worst they were downright hostile and even violent. And the practice of crucifixion fell into this category. It was done as an open display of violence before the populace with the goal of scaring people into submission.
All of this led to a deep yearning among Jesus’ contemporaries for the restoration of God’s kingdom. There was a passionate hope for some kind of supernatural action from God. The question posed to Jesus in Acts 1:6, right before His ascension, reflects this desire: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” It all goes back to a deep-set frustration with the Roman reign over Jerusalem, and a yearning for God’s corrective action to come.
In this context, Jesus taught a lot about the kingdom of God. He emphasized its immanence; we should be expecting God to act. So He said, “The kingdom of God is at hand” (in Mark 1:15). Yet this kingdom does not conform to worldly hopes or expectations – and so Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world” (in John 18:36). When people were putting too much focus on their surroundings and events, Jesus encouraged them to look within: “The kingdom is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). And yet there is also sense of promise of a kingdom that’s still yet to come, which Jesus illustrated with parables about a coming harvest (Matthew 13:24-30) and an arriving bridegroom (25:1-13).
One verse in particular got my attention: Luke 12:32 is where Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” This verse is important for several reasons…
Good things are coming, my friends. Press on!
God bless you,
Pastor Andrew McHenry
I am a husband, a Congregational pastor, and a native Kansan currently living in Thermalito, California. In the past I have also been a prison chaplain and a youth pastor. Interests include reading, railroads, prog rock, KU, and the KC Royals.