The Kingdoms of Power and Grace

FILE PHOTO -- U.S. Marines from the The 11th MEU fire their M777
Lightweight 155mm Howitzer during Exercise Alligator Dagger, Dec. 18, 2016.
(U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Zachery C. Laning)
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“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
“Ours is a world that is governed by the aggressive use of force.” That’s Rush Limbaugh’s Undeniable Truth of Life #6. In Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky says power is derived from two sources—money and people. “Have-Nots” build power from masses of people, corporations and governments use cash. 
Limbaugh and Alinsky, opposite ends of the political spectrum, but they agree on one thing: Kingdoms of this world are built and kept and defended by power. It’s true. Kingdoms are built by cruelty, coercion, and compulsion; by brawn, battle, and bloodshed. You must have an awful lot of muscle if you’re going to make a kingdom in this world.
Furthermore, if you want to build a kingdom you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. You must be willing to exploit your enemy’s weaknesses. If your opponent stumbles in any way, use it against him. Shame him into silence or make him the object of scorn in the court of public opinion. 
And, of course, there’s no room for humility or mercy in kingdom building. You must have an incredible ego. You must be 100% committed to your cause. And be aware that, to build a kingdom, you will often have to tear down another one to make room. If people don’t agree and don’t want to do things your way, crush them, dehumanize them, demonize them if you must.
Because of such abuses of power, some have suggested that Christians have no part in such a kingdom. However, our epistle makes it clear that such power is necessary in this world. God appoints rulers, and they are obligated by the Lord to rule justly, to punish the evildoer, and to wage war to protect their citizens.
Christians are therefore to support their rulers, provided their rulers are using such power righteously. It is among the duties of the Christian as a citizen to pray for his leaders and nation, pray for the enemy as well, serve his neighbor, and even lay down his life in service to his country.
We live in a world where kingdoms are built and kept and defended by power. You are therefore a citizen of a nation which relies on power to endure. This is not a bad thing. As long as there is evil in the world, evil must be curbed by law and force. This is how the Lord has established things to be.
But for you, dear Christian, this is only part of the story. You are also a citizen of another kingdom, because the Lord Jesus Christ has brought you into His kingdom. But His kingdom is not built upon money or power or number of followers. In fact, when Jesus first sends out His disciples to proclaim the kingdom, there are only twelve of them who left everything to follow Him.  
It’s a kingdom of grace. In other words, Jesus does not add you to His kingdom by saying, “As long as you prove your worth with hard work I’ll make you Mine.” He does not declare, “When you no longer sin, then you have proven you have the loyalty to become My citizen.” And Christ most certainly does not say, “As soon as you go out and kill my enemies with the sword, then you belong in My paradise.” He says none of these things, because this is not a kingdom of force. Instead, He says things like, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made in perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The Lord makes you His by His work and His invitation—by His calling you by the Gospel and His work of taking away your sins. He declares that you are forgiven because of what He has done. And rather than a show of power, He calls upon you to humbly confess your sins and repent. He gathers a kingdom of the weak, the humble, the lowly, the penitent. These are most certainly not the usual qualities that one desires in the citizens of a nation.
Furthermore, listen to how Christ commands His citizens to act: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17).
Remember, building a kingdom of power involves exploiting weakness and using it as a weapon. But when a Christian sins against you, how are you to react? As gently and discreetly as possible. If it is a private sin between him and you, go and show him his sin privately. If he doesn’t repent, take a witness or two along. If the matter continues, it may be necessary to tell it to the church.
What is the purpose of all of this? To shame and exploit his sin? To force him into submission? Not at all—the goal is to bring him to repentance, so that he might be forgiven. In an army of a kingdom of power, such a rebellious soldier would be thrown in the guardhouse, dishonorably discharged, perhaps even placed before the firing squad. But this is not a kingdom of power, but of grace; and Christians are thus to make all attempts to bring grace to the sinner.
This is how the kingdom of grace operates. The Lord Jesus gathers sinners, who confess their sin and inability to serve Him. He forgives them and strengthens them, and then He calls for them to forgive and serve each other. It’s a Church built on forgiveness, not force. It’s a kingdom of grace, not power.
And the world will never understand. In fact, it’s a mystery to the world that the Church has survived this long, and no surprise that it expects the demise of the Church to come soon. This is for two reasons: The world is blinded by sin and thus cannot comprehend forgiveness, and the world is so accustomed to kingdoms of power that a kingdom of grace sounds like nonsense.
It doesn’t make sense; the world will tell you. Forgiveness is nice and all, but it doesn’t get the job done. A message of a cross and forgiveness isn’t going to go very far. If the Church is going to have authority in this world, it had better rebrand itself, focus on felt needs, and take up some social causes instead.
It’s a terrible misunderstanding of the difference between the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of power. But think about it. Are we Christians any less guilty of confusing this kingdom of grace with a kingdom of power? On a personal level, consider the Lord’s words about forgiveness, and how tempting it is for us to ignore them in favor of power: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone” (Matthew 18:15).
The right thing to do is to respond to the brother’s waywardness as discreetly as possible, to gain the brother back by the forgiveness of sins. However, the right thing is not the easy thing. It is far easier to gossip, to complain to others how you’ve been wronged. Or, if you do go to him, it’s much easier to read him the riot act. These aren’t attempts at reconciliation, but plays for power.
Of course, the brother who has sinned may also be guilty of going for power instead of grace. When called upon to repent, he may obstinately refuse. Instead of confession, he might go on the offensive and bring up past—forgiven—sins of others, or he might slander those who seek his repentance. This is not the way of grace. This is using power to get one’s way, to create one’s own little kingdom.
If the sinner persists, the Church eventually must dismiss him from among the faithful. This is not an act of vengeance. It is recognition that he has chosen his sin and his private kingdom of power over forgiveness and the kingdom of grace.
Because the Church, this kingdom of grace, is made up of sinners, such sins are far too commonplace. Each sin is a quest for personal power instead of service to God or neighbor. In this regard, we must agree with the world: It’s a wonder the Church has survived this long. In fact, it’s nothing short of a miracle.
Remember, this is a world in which kingdoms are built, kept, and defended by power. They remain because battles are fought and blood is shed to make sure the kingdom remains. They end when one more powerful comes along. Ah, but here’s the thing—the reason why the Church has survived. The blood has already been shed to establish this kingdom. The battle’s already been fought. And the outcome was so decisive that this kingdom of grace will remain forever.
To be sure, it didn’t look like much of a battle—it looked like one side had all the power. A group of soldiers, an angry mob takes a severely beaten man to a hilltop outside Jerusalem. They crucify Him and watch Him die. Some battle.
But this is no ordinary man. This is the Son of God become flesh, and His battle is not against the soldiers and the mockers. He is fighting against sin, death, and the devil. By His death, He destroys the power of sin to condemn, because He has died for all the sins of the world. His shed blood covers all our sins. By Christ’s resurrection, He destroys the power of death. Death can no longer hold His people in the grave. By defeating sin and death, He robs the devil of his weapons of terror; and thus the devil is defeated forever.
The kingdom of grace stands forever, but there will still be skirmishes as the devil seeks to destroy Christians before they reach heaven. Therefore, the Lord Jesus Christ visits His people, gathers them in and continues to strengthen His kingdom. How? Where? Jesus promises, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
Christians are gathered in the name of Jesus when we gather around His means of grace. In Holy Absolution, Christ’s called and ordained servant speaks forgiveness in His name. God’s people are gathered into His kingdom in the triune name of God through Holy Baptism. They are gathered together for His Holy Supper, where Christ gives them His body and blood “for the forgiveness of sins” and strengthening of their body and soul unto life everlasting.
Do you see? Your King of grace is not far away. He is present with you, in His Word and in His Sacraments. He is there when only a few, two or three, are gathered. To be sure, that doesn’t look like much to the world; but the number of believers isn’t what matters. What matters is that the Lord is present, forgiving sins and giving salvation.
The Lord is with His people at the time of death, whether in a hospital bed or on the battlefield. To the world, death signals the end of power and the loss of strength. But the Lord declares that He has destroyed the sting of death, and that He uses this ultimate physical weakness to raise His people unto life everlasting.
The Lord is present with His people in a Sunday school that struggles on a given Sunday to even gather two or three little ones in His name. Again, such a scene is hardly a show of force to the world; but the Lord is there to work miracles of faith and salvation. He is with His Church, and He is her life. When opposed by kingdoms of power, the Church will suffer indignity and even bloodshed. But she will endure: Christ has died to make her His, and He will deliver her to eternal life.
Today, you find yourself in two kingdoms—a kingdom of power and a kingdom of grace. As citizens of this nation, you pray for our rulers and serve our nation, that peace may be established for the good of all. As citizens of Christ’s kingdom of grace, you give thanks for His enduring victory, His forgiveness, and the freedom He gives you to serve and forgive one another. When you fail to love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself, you confess those sins and trust in His grace once again, believing Jesus died for those sins, too.
Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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