Rev. Ross L. Riggs, D Min. True North Ministry
From the days of the earliest kingdoms, in lands far across the globe, intrigue, the lust for power, the plotting of unscrupulous persons and often the murder of those who stood in the way of an elevation to the throne were the hallmarks of the ascension to royalty. When Joseph’s brothers, all sons of Jacob, patriarch of Israel, learned of God’s plan to anoint Joseph as ruler, they plotted to kill him; eventually selling him into slavery and telling their aging father that Joseph was dead, mauled by wild animals. Entire families have been decimated to clear the way for a rival to take over the throne.
In 2 Chronicles chapter 22 is the story of Ahaziah, Athaliah, Jehosheba and Joash. Ahaziah had been an evil king following in the idol worship by his predecessor, King Ahab. Ahaziah’s kingship was jealously guarded by his mother, Athaliah. When she learned that her son had been killed “…she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family of the house of Judah… But Jehosheba took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes who were about to be murdered and put him and his nurse in a bedroom… He remained hidden with them at the Temple of God for six years while Athaliah ruled the land.”[i]
The Roman Empire fared no better. The evil among the ruling class was known across the Roman world. The famous line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, when the ego maniacal Caesar looks into Brutus’ eyes, even as his lifeblood flows from the stab wound inflicted by Brutus; he says,
“Et tu Brute?”[ii]
“Good” King Henry IV of France around 1600 survived at least 12 assassination attempts until finally succumbing to a stab wound by a fanatical Catholic who believed that Henry was too much a ‘Calvinist’ to hold the throne of France. Even so, Henry’s son succeeded him.
In the early period of the Turkish Ottoman Empire (from the 14th through the late 16th centuries), the Ottomans practiced open succession, or what historian Donald Quataert has described as “survival of the fittest” not eldest, son.”[iii] The Turks, though not the only group to use violence as the path to the throne, were certainly known for their brotherly approach to it. The practice of fratricide, first employed by Mehmed II, soon became widespread. Both Murad III and his son Mehmed III had their half-brothers murdered. The killing of all the new sultan’s brothers and half-brothers (which were usually quite numerous) was traditionally done by manual strangling with a silk cord. As the centuries passed, the ritual killing was gradually replaced by lifetime solitary confinement in the kafes (“Golden Cage”) from which escape was impossible.
In November of 2008, modern science unraveled the mystery of the murder of one of the last emperors of China. The murder, over one hundred years old in its setting, was ready for a resolution. Mystery writers have been ahead of the curve for some time realizing that if the method of doing the dastardly deed is that of poison, one might expect that it will been orchestrated by a femme fatale. And that appears to be the case in the murder of Guangxu who ascended to the Chinese throne in 1875, around age 4. Because of his youth he was under the watchful eye of his biological aunt, the Empress Dowager Cixi who arranged to adopt him just before he became emperor. Even when Guangxu was in his twenties he remained, to a degree, under the thumb of his driven aunt. As he sought to modernize China, she found a way to have him placed under house-arrest in 1898 where he remained the rest of his life and she, Empress Cixi maintained the throne. In 1908 Cixi knew she was soon to die. Investigators believe that she feared Guangxu would retake the throne on her death, so, it appears; she poisoned him! Former Emperor Guangxu was dead at the age of 36. Empress Cixi, however, committed the murder for naught for within 22 hours, she died at the age of 74. Upon her death, a new emperor was named, and Puyi ascended the throne at the age of 2. Within a very short time the Peoples’ Revolution took place and Communism fell to be the lot of the Chinese people. “The revolution ended with the abdication of the ‘Last Emperor Puyi (who was only six years old) on February 12, 1912, that marked the end of 2,000 years of imperial rule…”[iv] (Note on Puyi’s age added by author)
In the United States of America, shortly after the Revolutionary War, a Constitutional Convention worked diligently to lay the foundation for the new Republic. There was pressure for George Washington to become the first king or some other fashion of ruling monarch, which he thankfully turned away. The Office of President of the United States remains, however as close to royalty as can be held in the U.S. with the amount of prestige, honor and standing that is given the person who holds that office. Whether it is the total access of the motorcade or a right to supersede any event in the country by executive privilege, the perks of the position are many. According to a NY Times article in 2011 “some analysts believe that President Obama, who raised and spent about $750 million in the 2008 campaign, will come close to $1 billion in the 2012 campaign…”[v] A November 2012 article reported that Romney and Obama combined to spend $2 billion on the campaign.[vi]
Every position of royalty that has ever been filled by some personality, whether obsessed with themselves or serving gallantly on behalf of the people they represent, has commonalities. Each is temporary, finite and restricted by the ruler’s own mortality. There is but one, and only one, who has ever deserved all of the honor and glory of the highest of all royals, ever in time. And it was that one, the single highest of all royalty, the King of kings and the Lord of lords who loved and cared for his people so much that he was willing to give it all up so that he might save them. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi explaining that of Christ Jesus, “Who being in the very nature of God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in the appearance as a man, humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place, and gave him the name that is above every name.”[vii] The Apostle Paul used the example of Christ to encourage his readers that they should consider Christ’s example and “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”[viii]
Can you imagine, if just for a moment, what our world, our nation, even our cities would be like if those who hold powerful offices took on the humility of Christ? He loves His people so very much that He was willing to turn His back on every great joy of being the exalted God, Creator and Master of the universe and beyond so that He could reach out to the lowliest of the low and give them His righteousness, to impute upon them His holiness. And He did it all so that each person who accepted His gift could live throughout eternity with Him, enjoying all the abundance of every spiritual blessing!
As citizens of our country, our local cities or states, we cannot even get an appointment to speak to most of those in public office much less to have them seek us out, in our home, at our employment (unless they are campaigning en masse for our votes) to learn how they can be of service to us. That brings to mind a term that one does not hear much any longer, public service. There are accounts as to how, as recently as President Lincoln in the 1860’s, the Chief Executive of our nation would hold sessions each week, if not sometimes daily, where his office door was open and, though still in an orderly fashion, citizens could come and present their concerns or questions directly to the president. It was expected that this public servant was there to help them and, more often than not, each received a response if not immediately, within an appropriate amount of time.
Sadly, some of our mega-churches in the U.S. and abroad have become so large that it is difficult, if not impossible, to gain time to speak to the senior pastor. Mission organizations have become so modeled after the hierarchy of the world business model that you cannot get an audience with the president or CEO without jumping through several hurdles. Even some in the mission who have some responsibility of supervision or administration have elevated themselves in such a way that even getting a reply to a letter or e-mail is difficult. When Christians have done that in such a way within their organizations, how can it ever be expected that those same folks will do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit and focus on reaching out to the most humble of the lost? Hopefully, the percentages of these folks in organizations are smaller than those who are still there with a desire to help.
There is a child’s television program that features a young cartoon girl whose mother is a doctor. The child imagines herself a doctor to her stuffed animals that seem to come to life and talk to her as she plays make-believe. In the process, this young ‘Doc’ will usually come up with an interesting diagnosis for whatever is ailing a given stuffed animal or toy. The diagnosis is then recorded, with the help of her stuffed hippopotamus nurse, into the Big Book of Booboos. Well, when it comes to many in the church today and for some mission agencies, as the cartoon ‘Doc’ would say, “I have a diagnosis:
You’ve come down with a case of Ascension to Royalty – osis!”
A quick view across history, as we have taken here, has shown that selfishness, ambition, malice, ego and just plain ol’ pride has led to the most horrific of results in the worlds wherein the ‘royals’ reside. How awful to consider that rather than living out the example that Christ gave us, some in Christianity have fallen into the trap of what the world sees as power and authority. It comes to light as avarice and a loss of vision for service above self. We must follow the admonition of the Apostle Peter to “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God so that He may exalt you in due time.”[ix]
[i] II Chronicles 22:10-12 The Life Application Bible (NIV) Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton IL 1991
[vii] Philippians 2:6-9 The Life Application Bible (NIV) Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton IL 1991
[viii] Philippians 2:3-5 The Life Application Bible (NIV) Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton IL 1991