This post is by Matt Ritchie, who collects some lines in Christmas songs that declare that Jesus is King:
Most American Christians tend to think of the gospel in soterian terms. That is, we think of it as a description of the means by which God saves (usually) individual people. When the gospel is reduced to soterian terms, the emphasis rests on Jesus’ atoning work for our sin – a work which ends our alienation from God.
The problem with this perspective is not so much that it is wrong about how atonement/salvation works, so much as it is wrong about what the New Testament writers meant when they talked about the gospel. For the New Testament writers, the gospel was the enunciation that God has placed Jesus in authority over our world, and that God’s grand project of setting the world to rights has now begun. Atonement and salvation are (and should be) a part of the backdrop behind the message, but they are not the central message.
In his most recent book, which I have not yet had a chance to read, Scot McKnight has given this gospel a name: The King Jesus Gospel. I really like this name, because – in four words – it manages to re-frame the concept of the gospel in terms that are more in tune with the Biblical text.
As we have been getting closer to Christmas, I have been thinking about the way the sacred music that we hear this time of year emphasizes the theme of King Jesus in ways that we don’t usually encounter in our soterian-obsessed world. It is almost as if, for eleven months out of the year, we get exposed to a lot of hymns and preaching about personal salvation, and then – all of a sudden – for one month, we get the “big picture” gospel.
Joy to the World!
The Lord has come!
Let Earth receive her king!
Christ, by highest heaven adored
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!
The libretto of Handel’s Messiah, lifted entirely from scripture, returns to the King Jesus theme time and again:
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations
Lift up your heads, o ye gates, and the King of Glory shall come in.
For unto us a child is born. Unto us, a son is given.
And the government shall be upon his shoulders.
Even those parts of the libretto that are not explicitly about King Jesus still seem to emphasize the theme of God’s renewed sovereignty over the world:
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, and be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together…
The climactic Hallelujah is perhaps the best example of the meaning and tone of the King Jesus Gospel. Handel’s triumphant chorus, which gives the feel that it could keep building and going on and on forever, as the lyrics themselves suggest, conveys a sort-of spiritual “high” that accompanies the enunciation of God’s reign in the world.
This flash mob performance by the Opera Company of Philadelphia (which I linked to last year) perfectly captures the sheer sense of joy behind the thought of God’s renewed authority, and its implications for our future. Just watch the way people – everyone, really – reacts to the song:
So, as you listen to sacred music on your iPhone or CD player this week, I hope you’ll spend some time reflecting on the King Jesus Gospel. The thought of God’s movement to bring healing and relief to the all-too-real crises of our own world is far bigger, far more hope-filled, and far more joyful than one which reduces it all to personal sin management.