Over the weekend the Bulls won the Super 14 in the last minute of the match. To the unbelief of millions of rugby fans Brian Habana scored the final try and thereby sealed a famous victory for the Bulls. What ensued after the match has sparked immense debate in South Africa. For those of you who missed it, Jaco van der Westhuizen climbed onto the posts to celebrate the victory and after that he took off his rugby jersey to reveal a shirt stating that “Jesus is King”. The debate whether it was appropriate for him to do this has been raging on the internet and in the local press.
It seems that Christians are mostly happy with Jaco’s actions. The main sentiment among them is that we live in a country where there is ‘freedom of religion and speech’ and that it took guts for him to make a bold statement like that. Not only was this boldness appropriate, it should be emulated …
The dissenters to this view feel that it was highly inappropriate to hijack the airtime in order to force a particular point of view on people ‘who just wanted to enjoy the rugby’. One of my good friends, an agnostic, sent me a text message after the game telling me tongue-in-cheek that ‘Jesus got a lot of free publicity today’.
Personally, as a pastor I found this ‘free marketing’ a little disturbing and I have a few reasons for this:
– It polarized God. Even though it probably was not Jaco’s intent (I don’t know him or his motivation), it portrays the picture that God answered the Bull’s prayers and helped them to beat the Sharks. It is one thing to thank God for the talent to play rugby but quite another to thank him for giving a victory over the opposition.
– It communicated that God is on the side of the victor and the powerful. It is striking that this kind of ‘testimony’ always accompanies occasions of victory. Why is it that team members on the loosing team never take of their T-shirts revealing a “Jesus is King” slogan? Personally I think this would be a truer reflection of the gospel where God seems to have a ‘preferential option for the poor’ and the oppressed. When I read through the gospels the distinct pattern of crucifixion leads to resurrection …
– It is not relational. Like all things abstract, this incident leaves room for so much interpretation. In my conversation with Christians I find as mentioned above a very positive feeling about this incident. Not so with my friends who are not in the ‘Christen laer’. Here the principle in 1 Peter 3:15 is useful: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. The old maxim ‘earn the right to speak’ has definite truth to it. This brings me to the next point ….
– Speak with your life. If a player kneels before a game to pray and ten minutes later knees a guy in anger then one wonders what the prayer was about. Maybe it was, as my father jokingly commented ‘a prayer of forgiveness for what is about to happen’. Unfortunately little children will not only remember Bakkie’s prayer but his aggressive behaviour as well – and associate that with the Christian faith. Is this the King Jaco proclaims? This picture is definitely consistent with the Christian witness of the Crusades and the colonialism that has ravished our country under the banner of “Jesus is King”. As a good example of earning the right to speak followers of Christ can take a leaf out of Hashim Amla’s book. This brings me to the last point …
– Jesus is King! But …
Today we live in a democracy where our imaginations don’t grasp the implications of a kingdom. For the early Christians this was not a problem. In their Roman occupied world the king was Caesar (Augustus, Tiberius, Nero, and Domitian). “Jesus is King” was therefore seen as a statement that was anti-state, anti-religious and totally unacceptable – punishable by death. Making that statement for them didn’t bring them any kind of celebrity – it cost them their lives. “Jesus is King” wasn’t just a statement about Jesus saving me from my sin and taking me to heaven. It meant that He reigned in their lives now. Eugene Peterson in his latest book describes it succinctly:
Jesus’ metaphor, kingdom of God, defines the world in which we live. We live in a world where Christ is King. If Christ is King, everything, quite literally, every thing and every one, has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-oriented to a way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus. This is not easy. It is not accomplished by participating in a prayer meeting or two, or signing up for a course in discipleship at school or church, or attending an annual prayer breakfast. A total renovation of our imagination, our way of looking at things – what Jesus commanded in his no-nonsense imperative, “Repent!” – is required.
It might be that non-Christians are so repulsed by Saturday’s incident because they perceive in Christian’s a radical reduction of Christ’s kingship – a baseless marketing stunt. Jesus is King and yes He does ensure us eternal life but this statement has implications for all areas of our lives now! Implications like:
– Loving other people regardless of race, class and socio-economics (this includes becoming friends with the poor and destitute).
– Limiting our natural desire to acquire more stuff and be known as givers and not receivers (tithing ten percent has traditionally been a good starting point in this regard – Jesus is King not Mammon!)
– Serving other people in a manner that is consistent with the way of Jesus who was known as a ‘friend of sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors.’
I know it is easy to stand on the sideline and criticize. Yet I strongly believe that we have to rethink the implications of what we are saying. The early followers of Christ can serve as our guides in this regard. I conclude with two statements, one from an ancient Christian philosopher – the other from one of the ancient Kings.
But the Christians, O King, while they went about and made search, have found the truth; and as we learned from their writings, they have come nearer to truth and genuine knowledge than the rest of the nations. For they know and trust in God, the Creator of heaven and of earth, in whom and from whom are all things, to whom there is no other god as companion, from whom they received commandments which they engraved upon their minds and observe in hope and expectation of the world which is to come. . . . And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food. They observe the precepts of their Messiah with much care, living justly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them. Every morning and every hour they give thanks and praise to God for His loving-kindnesses toward them… (Aristides to Emperor Hadrian)
“Atheism (i.e. Christian faith) has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help we should render to them” (Emperor Julian to the priests of the Roman religion)
Jesus is King is a profound statement, may those of us who believe it unpack that statement in the details of our lives.