Returning to Egypt

In Isaiah’s prophesy he describes the people’s reliance on human power-structures and war as returning to Egypt.  Egypt was a strong, powerful nation.  They had chariots, horses, advanced weaponry, and struck fear into the hearts of their enemies.  With this backdrop, Isaiah says, “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!” (Isa. 31:1).

The world operates by a different system of power and victory than God and his kingdom.  The kingdoms of the world rely on exerting one’s will over others, power and violence to conquer enemies and establish dominion.  But Christ came, not wielding a sword, but dying on a cross.  He came not to institute an earthly kingdom defined by military and political power, but he initiated a kingdom of love and justice, peace and reconciliation.  He showed the way to victory was through suffering and sacrifice.

Do the people of God today make the same error as the people of God of old?  Have we traded the message of the cross and the kingdom of heaven for the sword and the seduction of power in the world?  Do we look to Christ, the “Lamb that stands slain”—or have we regressed to fighting for political power in the corrupt systems of this world?  I hope I’m not the only one tired of hearing a false gospel of violence and war proclaimed over the true gospel of love and peace.  I think if Christians truly “consulted the Lord” they wouldn’t seek after nationalistic control but would pursue the reconciliation of all in Christ—not a kingdom of this world, but a kingdom modeled after Jesus (John 18:36).

We return to Egypt when we think our spiritual security is tied to national interests.  We return to Egypt when we prefer war over peace.  We return to Egypt when we fight with the weapons of this age rather than implement the kingdom of God through non-violence and sacrificial love.  A culture saturated in apocalyptic eagerness with a thirst for blood and temporal power certainly reads Scripture in reverse: this kind of culture sees Christians conquering the same way as the world does—as if because we have Jesus we can destroy them before they destroy us.  But when Jesus’ disciples asked the risen Christ when he would restore the kingdom to Israel (still anticipating an earthly kingdom with political power) what did Jesus say?  “He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).

Do we spend more time doing precisely what Jesus said not to do (speculating about times and seasons)?  And again, do we still seek an earthly kingdom rather than living as witnesses (the Greek word is the same word for martyr) for Christ?  Jesus diffuses the disciples’ Jewish nationalism and directs them toward world evangelism.  Perhaps we today need to hear this same reminder.  Let’s not return to Egypt, where the true gospel of Jesus Christ is traded for a secularized, nationalistic kingdom that chooses sword over cross.  Instead, let’s be witnesses—martyrs—ministers of reconciliation, peacemakers, loving our enemies—in all of this showing the world the way of Jesus that will one day bring healing to the nations (Rev. 22:2).

How then shall we live in response to this gospel of the cross?  The writer of Hebrews says this:

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.  Let brotherly love continue…For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 12:28-13:1; 13:14).  That city isn’t a more powerful, political center, but a tangible and eternal manifestation of the glory of God among all people.  It’s a city whose center isn’t a physical Temple, but the risen and glorified Lamb of God (Rev. 21:22).  It’s not a city for one nation but a city for all (Rev. 21:24).  It’s a kingdom not procured through violence but, as John says, “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:11).

This kingdom has infinite worth beyond any temporal, political manifestation of power.  This is the kingdom which I serve, for which I will give my last breath, and for which I am eternally grateful.

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