Reflections on the Queen soon to become our longest ever serving monarchPosted in Blog, Christianity
On 9 September 2015 Queen Elizabeth II is set to become the longest ever reigning monarch in British history. She will pass the record set by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. In December 2007, the Queen became the longest living British monarch, overtaking Victoria who died when she was 81. Queen Elizabeth, who is 89, came to the throne when she was older than Victoria. Victoria was only 18.
Princess Elizabeth was born on April 21, 1926, in London, and became Queen on February 6, 1952, on the death of her father King George VI, and was crowned on June 2, 1953. No-one in Britain who is younger than their mid- to late-sixties can remember a different monarch.
I was six when she became Queen and eight at her Coronation. We didn’t have a television but someone in our road in Exeter had a cine projector and came to our house to show a film of the Coronation. We were joined by a roomful of excited neighbours.
Today she is more popular than ever. No monarch in our history has performed their duties more conscientiously. And she has adapted to a changing Britain being the first of our monarchs to have sent an email, to have a message put on the moon, have conducted a royal “walkabout” and to have held a public concert in her back garden. She is also the second longest-serving current head of state in the world after the King of Thailand, who took to the throne in 1946 but who is now rarely seen in public.
The first recorded words in the public ministry of Jesus are at Mark 1:14-15: After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
These words marked the beginning of Jesus’ public activity and encapsulated the central thrust of his message. They are the core of the Gospel: the Kingdom of God is at hand; a milestone is set up in the flow of time – more significant than the milestone which will be passed on 9 Sept! – a milestone so significant that we date our calendars from the coming of Christ.
When Jesus comes something new is happening. God’s kingdom is at hand. It is a gift from God which demands a response. It is at the heart of everything that Jesus says and does. The phrase Kingdom of God occurs 122 times in the New Testament. God’s sovereignty in the world is becoming an event in history in a new way. When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God he is quite simply proclaiming God and declaring him to be the living God – a God who acts in the world and in history and is acting now.
Jesus is saying, “God exists. God is really God. He does hold in his hands the threads of the world. God is acting now. After several hundred years when the voice of the prophets has been silent, God is showing himself in history and to individuals as Lord, as the living God, in a way that goes beyond anything that has been seen before.
Having said that, it’s a message that’s founded in what we read in the Old Testament. It’s a story which begins with a promise to Abraham and continues to today in another kingdom, the United Kingdom.
Psalm 47 is just one examples of a whole series of Psalms which proclaim God as king and that his kingship extends not just over Israel but over the whole of the cosmos. The psalm is all about the excitement of an enthronement. The king is God himself. The opening summons to “all you nations” sets the scene and phrases like this dominate the Psalm as does a note of joy. Verse 9 is a wonderful fulfilment of the promise to Abraham when he received his call to leave Ur of the Chaldees (the site on the river Euphrates has been systematically excavated) “… all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). Those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
We can think of the whole Bible story an outworking of that promise to Abraham. The key point in the long story of the coming of the kingdom is that when Jesus came it is near because it is found in Jesus himself. Through his presence and his words and his actions God has entered the world and history in a wholly new way. It’s a time of joy because in Jesus God draws near to us. In Jesus, God is the one who acts and rules as Lord – he rules in God’s way, without worldly power, through a love which reaches “to the end” (John 13:1) It is a love which will be demonstrated at the cross but which he begins to demonstrate (in John 13) by washing the disciples feet – giving them an example of servant love. If you read through the gospel of Mark you will see that as Jesus gradually tells the disciples that he is going to suffer he is fulfilling Old Testament prophecies about a suffering servant.
Go forward in your imagination to the scene at the cross where they crucified Jesus and you see a notice which Pilate had prepared and fastened above the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS (John 19:19). The sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek for all the world to read and understand. The chief priests protested to Pilate, “Don’t write ‘The King of the Jews’, but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews”. You can almost hear the irritation in Pilate’s voice as he answers, “What I have written, I have written.”
I often think about Pilate. Over and over again he tried to free Jesus as he said to the people “I find no fault in him. What crime has he committed?” In the end he was weak and gave in to the shouts of the crowd that Jesus should be crucified. But I believe that this man, who had spent his life listening to often contradictory evidence from witnesses (so much so that he wearily asked Jesus the question “What is truth?) had enough insight into character to realise that there was something remarkable and unique about Jesus. So he insisted that his declaration that Jesus was a King should stand.
Today migrants attempting to enter the United Kingdom to find a better life dominate the news and are the subject of much debate. The United Kingdom government has established rules which distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants and set out the conditions of entry into the United Kingdom which potential immigrants have to satisfy.
But what are the conditions of entry into the Kingdom of God? I said earlier that the message of the kingdom demands a response.
Jesus said to Nicodemus: “No-one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). There are not two classes of Christian: those who are “born again” and those who are not! No-one can see the Kingdom of God unless he or she is born again. There has to be a deep, inward, revolutionary change of heart which can only be brought about by the Holy Spirit. Baptism is the sign and seal of that change.
But how does this change come about? Are there any conditions of entry? Yes there are.
First, repentance. John the Baptist’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. We have thought about the first words of Jesus in his adult ministry which insisted on repentance. A particular sin which had to be renounced was an unforgiving spirit.
Second, faith. In those key opening words of Jesus (Mark 1:15) we see the need for faith: not just faith in the facts of the good news – but faith in Jesus himself.
Third, self-surrender. “If anyone would come after me,” Jesus said to his disciples one day in a village near Caesarea Philippi, “he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). There must be a willingness to “lose yourself”, abandon the throne of your own life. It may mean – and has for some – giving up wealth and possessions. It will always mean renouncing self and selfishness. No wonder Jesus warned people to count the cost and cautioned that the gate was narrow!
Jesus says (Matthew 13:44-46) it’s like treasure buried in a field. A man finds it, buries it again, and joyfully sells everything he has to buy the whole field so that he can own a treasure that will satisfy all his deepest desires. It’s a costly pearl which a merchant, an expert in pearls, has been searching for all his life. He finds it and sells everything he has to buy it.
This is a challenge for us today. Jesus never encouraged half-hearted discipleship. He asked for all or nothing. Asking for all he gave his all at Calvary.
The little child supplied him with the best illustration of all these conditions of entry into the Kingdom. The child is humble enough to trust and obey, receive gifts and submit to authority. “He called a little child to him,” we read in Matthew 18:2-3, “and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’.”
Such self-denial is true self-discovery. “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35). This is the key to all those today who, often in great agony, want to “find themselves” and establish a purpose in life, a reason to live.
The invitation to follow him is an invitation to follow him courageously, leaving everything else behind. Why? – because he is the treasure; communion with him is a pearl of great price.
John Stott, who was one of the Queen’s chaplains, told me that the Queen’s faith in Christ was very real to her and of reported conversations he had with her after he had preached at Sandringham and elsewhere. We got a flavour of this at the end of her message to Britain and the Commonwealth at Christmas 2011. “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness,” she said, “history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive. Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.”
You do not have to make a choice between being a citizen of the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of God. If you were born of British parents you are a citizen of the United Kingdom. But being born of Christian parents does not make you a citizen of the Kingdom of God. You must respond to God’s free gift and the invitation of Jesus to follow him. You must fulfil the conditions of entry which will make it possible for you to be born into God’s kingdom.
Who reigns in your life? Chris Bowater produced a wonderful answer in this worship song:
Reign in me, sovereign Lord, reign in me,
reign in me sovereign Lord, reign in me.
Captivate my heart,
let your kingdom come,
establish there Your throne,
let your will be done!
Reign in me, sovereign Lord, reign in me.
Reign in me, sovereign Lord, reign in me.