Ambassadors of the King

In literature, inclusio is a literary device based on a concentric principle, also known as bracketing or an envelope structure, which consists of creating a frame by placing similar material at the beginning and end of a section. (Wikipedia)

Kak Pet used the inclusio technique (which was superbly done, very Kak Pet-esque) on his yesterday’s sermon at Bukit Batok, where he used an illustration of mobile phone at the beginning and end of his sermon (by the way, for those who attended the service, mania + phobia = phonia… just saying). The text of the sermon was taken from Acts 1.1-11, and perhaps not so coincidentally the literary device was used by Luke, as well, on his account of the Acts of the Apostles. The inclusio centred around the phrases of “kingdom of God”, “power”, and “the Holy Spirit.”

The Acts of the Apostles started with Jesus who “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1.3) And it ended with Paul who lived in Rome and “welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” (Acts 28.30-31, cf. 28.23) So it started and ended with the proclamation of the kingdom of God.

Jesus said to his disciples that they will receive power, and it ended with Paul proclaiming the kingdom “with all boldness and without hindrance.” He also promised that the Holy Spirit will come upon them, and Paul argued with his interlocutors about what the Holy Spirit had said through Isaiah about the salvation to the Gentiles (28.25-28). The inclusio, then, was established through these links: kingdom of God, power, and the Holy Spirit.

The inclusio served to illustrate what kind of kingdom that Jesus envisioned. It would not be like the old kingdom of Israel as the disciples had thought (Acts 1.6), but it was not like the Roman Empire, either. The kingdom of Jesus didn’t have any specific territory on earth for a specific ethnicity or race, nor did it try to expand by waging wars over other areas like the Romans did. It is neither exclusivistic nor triumphalistic. We don’t have any promised land on earth, or, to put it in other words, the whole world is the promised land (Rm 4.13). However, even if the whole world is his, neither we try to rule the earth like the nations do now and then. Indeed, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil 3.20) We are neither the Israelites nor the Romans. The gospel is for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

If “our citizenship is in heaven”, what kind of people, then, are the Christians on earth? We are the ambassadors of the kingdom of heaven: “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 1.8) We are to be his witnesses.

Every states on the earth have their own ambassadors. And they would assign their ambassadors in other countries as witnesses of their diplomatic relationships. And we witness, in words and deeds, to the rule of our King. The citizens of the kingdom are living in a foreign land, and hence all of us are ambassadors and witnesses. As the writer of the Epistle to Diognetus put it, “They live in their respective countries, but only as resident aliens; they participate in all things as citizens, and they endure all things as foreigners. Every foreign territory is a homeland for them, every homeland foreign territory.” (Ep. Diog. ch. 5)

Kingship is also related to power. Although the kingdom of God is not like the Roman empire, who ruled with its militaristic effort to conquer the whole world, it also uses the language of power: “But you will receive power.” (Acts 1.8) But, would we use it as the Romans did? By no means! Power, is meant for witness: “But you will receive power… and you will be my witnesses.” Indeed, the kingship of Jesus must be proclaimed in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth, but it would not be done by violence. The kingship is proclaimed through witness. To witness means that we didn’t make Jesus to be king. Jesus is king, and we are merely witnessing to the reign of Jesus. So, in some sense the kingdom doesn’t ‘expand.’ The kingdom is already his. And we are testifying the reality of his kingship.

And the Holy Spirit shall be our guide, our motor, our advisor, our comforter, in helping us to proclaim the kingdom of God. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness… and with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 4.31-33)

Happy Pentecost.

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