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Long Live God!

By Mark Horne

This was a newspaper column that I wrote for the Minco Millennium back in January of 2000 when I had first moved to Minco, Oklahoma to pastor First Reformed Presbyterian Church.

copyright © 2003

I wasn’t able to catch the recent performance of the musical, Godspell, in Oklahoma City. However, my dad loaned me his cd of the original recording, and I’ve been listening to it a lot. Especially moving is the next-to-last piece, which begins with the death of Christ (appropriately presented through a killer guitar solo) and then breaks into a very simple joyous refrain: “Long live God!” It is in that chorus, I think, with it’s overtones of royalty, resurrection, and deity, that the musical most truly lives up to its name and really presents listeners with what Jesus and the Apostles (and the Hebrew prophets, in their own premonitory way) referred to as “the gospel” (from the old English godspell).

In the midst of our transition from Auburn, Washington, to our new home in Minco, I missed most of the celebration surrounding the inauguration of our new president. But thinking about it brings the following scenario to mind: Imagine someone coming up to you and saying, “Have you heard about George W. Bush? Would you invite him into your heart right now, so that he can be president of your life?” Or, “Do you feel in your heart that somehow your life is empty because something is missing? Invite George W. Bush to become your personal president and you will feel complete.”

The fact is that such a presentation would be incoherent. You don’t choose whether an inaugurated president is to be the president in your life. George W. Bush is your president, regardless of your decisions, commitments, or feelings for or against him. His inauguration was a public event, and his present office is a public fact. All that I’m saying about President Bush was equally true in regard to Bill Clinton. It was also true in regard to much more dictatorial rulers in the past. For example:

The providence which has ordered the whole of our life, showing concern and zeal, has ordained the most perfect consummation for human life by giving to it Augustus, by filling him with virtue for doing the work of a benefactor among men, and by sending in him, as it were, a deliverer for us and those who come after us, to make war to cease, to create order everywhere . . .. ; the birthday of the god [Augustus] was the beginning for the world of the gospel that has come to men through him.

I got the above translation (as well as most of the ideas for this column) from N. T. Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said. But the quotation is from an inscription engraved around 9BC. And it uses the same term “gospel” to describe the proclamation of Augustus’ birthday. The Greek term could better be translated as “good news” or “glad tidings.” In the ancient world, the term, “gospel,” was used to describe a regal announcement of the assumption of authority. This could mean the notice of the birthday of a king like it does in the inscription I have reproduced, or it could mean the proclamation of a great victory in battle, or of the ascension to the throne. In essence, it is the victorious cry, “Long live the King!”

Believe it or not, the birth announcement of Jesus uses the term in exactly the same way as the pagan inscription for Augustus. Consider Luke 2:10 & 11 with my bracketed comments:

And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you the gospel of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David [the royal dynasty] there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ [i.e. God’s promised anointed king] the Lord [a claimant to the same title which Roman Caesars like Augustus and others claimed for themselves as world rulers and alleged gods].”

The office claimed for Jesus was no less public than that of Caesar or any other ruler. One implication of this fact is that “the Gospel” is not simply a message about how to get “saved.” It is rather the announcement of a new King.

Make no mistake; the gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who trust in Him. But the personal results of the message should not be confused with the public nature of its content. Yes, the results of the message of the Gospel for those who trust in this new king is that he will deliver them from all the power of death and darkness because he has triumphed over all such powers. But the content of this message is that a new king is now on the throne. He will one day judge us all.

How will he evaluate our response to his reign? Will we be identified as disloyal subjects or loyal ones? As traitors who refuse to trust him, or as friends who rely on him as their rightful sovereign?

My sincere advice is to start singing, “Long live God!”

copyright © 2003

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