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Making Jesus King by Force

At Saturday’s breakfast we considered the story of the feeding of the five thousand in John ch 6. We were all particularly struck by the comment in verse that the people wanted to come and make Jesus king by force. I’m not sure what that means or how that works. How do you insert someone as your king if that person doesn’t want it, or doesn’t want it that way.

And yet the church has insisted on doing this down through the ages, whether by the crusades, or forced conversions or at the point of a gun or, in more pietistic terms, by programmes and systems of evangelism and church growth. In NI in the next few weeks, some will try to make Jesus king by force in a series of big rallies in the Odyssey Arena. But Jesus will not have it this way….our way.

Instead, buried in same section of John’s Gospel is the hint of the Jesus way.

Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
John 6:11

John in his account of the feeding of the 5,000 records these actions of Jesus as a conscious, but hidden, hint for those of us who are this side of the events of Holy Week. These words should call to mind for us the words of Jesus at the Last Supper before he moves out to Gethsemane and the subsequent events of his crucifixion.

If there is to be a king, that kingdom will be in inaugurated by self-sacrifice, by the washing of feet, by those who want to be first choosing the last place. It cannot be by force.

So this deceptively simple story lays out the stark choice, the two ways, and we must choose. The Way of force and might? Or, the Way of service and sacrifice? This is the choice we continually make. The choice the church continually makes.

One final thing. The sadness is that, in a sense, making him king by force is exactly what they did in the end. Pilate writes an inscription in three languages, Jesus the King of the Jews, only not the king anyone imagined.

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.
John 19:19,20

7 thoughts on “Making Jesus King by Force

  1. It is interesting that your suggestions come as the elections in November approaches. So many Christians that by electing the “right” candidate, he can elucidate the proper ways in which we can make Christianity the forefront of the American nation. The problem that most of them don’t realize is that, if we were to elect a truly Christian leader, our nation would no longer be the greatest. He would steer us into a way where we would be the servants of the world—washing the world’s feet. We would have to make great sacrifice to truly elect a Christian leader.

  2. Someone once wrote,

    ‘Some trust in chariots and some in horses (some even trust in missiles and guns) but we will trust in the name of Yahweh our God’ (Psa 20:7)

  3. That’s an interesting verse ‘the people wanted to come and make Jesus king by force’, I hadn’t noticed that before. The choice of force and might vs service and sacrifice has been a major issue in bringing more of God’s kingdom onto this earth. I know what you mean concerning crusades where the main focus is how many people can be ‘converted’,before I was a christian I would have run a mile from such an event. Although the holy spirit can move powerfully at such meetings, and major events where christians can come together and worship God are so needed here. The major problem with the force and might approach is that it emphasises authority at the expense of relationship. This passage also reminds us that ultimately it is not up to us to try and ‘make’ people experience God, our job is to relate our experience of God and demonstrate his love through service to others. In this way God can move and his power is free to transform.

  4. Interesting theory with intuitive appeal. I don’t think it’s that clear-cut, however, especially when you lump evangelism (persuasion) in with force (coercion). Lumping them together makes nice rhetoric but in my experience is often a smokescreen to excuse oneself from preaching to anyone but the choir.

    The synoptics have Jesus traveling to the Gentile side of the lake after the feeding, where people come in droves with the sick for Jesus to heal. Perhaps the reason there were droves is because Jesus earlier told the healed demoniac to “go and tell” everyone what Jesus had done for him (Luke 8, Mark 5).

    It’s easy to draw sharp lines between a supposed way of “force and might” vs. a way of “service and sacrifice.” I think you have a good point but make too much of it by lumping in evangelism and church growth. Evangelism (persuasion not coercion) is a clear imperative of the gospel. Unless we give up on the notion of a life after this, it appears to me that sharing the good news (which is a kingly, political term on Roman imperial inscriptions) is itself a way of “service and sacrifice.”

  5. I’m not sure we are disagreeing John. The ‘force’ element for me, in terms of evangelism, is there in the systematising – that’s why I used the phrase ‘systems of evangelism and church growth’. It’s no secret that large evangelistic rallies seek to remove any doubt about converts by attending to lighting systems, voice tones, programming etc. all designed to lead to ‘inevitable’ decisions. Church growth models can do the same – do this this way and provide this and your church will grow. The system removes the role of the Holy Spirit, who alone does this work.

    This seems to me an attempt by us to make Jesus King by force. What do you think?

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