Study Guide: Celebrating a Subversive King

Sunday November 28, 2010 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

Jesus was born a subversive King. He was born to show the world the true Kingdom and the True God, and in so doing, showed the world how the Roman kingdom was false. In the spirit of Jesus’ subversive intention, Greg shows us a way to be subversive with the Christmas culture of the western world.

Extended Summary:

Christmas is right around the corner, and in celebration of Christ’s birth, we take a look at what Jesus’ birth meant to this world. Our traditional understanding of Christmas, with spending billions of dollars on gifts to those that aren’t in need, is in dire need of review. In order to understand how to live in honor of Jesus’ subversive Kingdom, we need to take a look back at what Jesus’ birth meant in the ancient world.

The story of Jesus is not an abstract story. That is to say, it is located in a specific time and place, and Jesus was born for a specific reason. Jesus was born when the Roman empire was in full swing, and Caesar was the self-proclaimed son of a god. The unifying Roman slogan was “Caesar is Lord”, and Caesar was worshipped as a god. He was called the bringer of peace and savior of the world. He was celebrated as euangelion (the good news) and the Roman empire was “the kingdom of Caesar”. The Romans used the idea of Pax Romana which means the peace of Rome. Ironically, Rome enforced this idea through violence and terror.

If you recognize some of these terms, it is because Jesus came to subvert the way the world worked, and Jesus subverted this language to serve His purpose. Part of Jesus’ subversive plan was to undermine the authority and agenda of the kingdom of Caesar and replace it with the Kingdom of God. We must understand that to follow after Jesus and declare that Jesus is Lord–early Christians were saying that Caesar was not Lord. To say that Jesus is the Son of God, worship Jesus as the Son of God, and to say that Jesus is the bringer of peace means that Caesar is none of these things. Jesus didn’t come as a nice addition to what the Romans were doing—in fact, Jesus came to lead a rebellion against the entire world system, from the way Caesar (or any world power) ran the world to the sins of the world. Following Jesus in this way could get a person killed, and it usually did.

This subversive language is prevalent throughout the New Testament, and especially throughout the book of Revelation. John, in the book of Revelation, uses lots of violent imagery, but violence is never something Christians use. They are only the receivers of it. The imagery is the Kingdom of God battling Satan and his puppet empire Babylon. And our job as followers in the Kingdom of God is to keep following in the way of this subversive King. We must refuse to conform to whatever culture that isn’t the Kingdom of God.

With Christmas season coming around the corner, we encounter an ironic idea. The original idea of Christmas was to be subversive, serve the poor, and not cling to power, possessions, or life. One would think to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we would do something subversive to our culture to celebrate it. Instead, to celebrate Christmas, the values of the world are more on display than the values of the Kingdom of God. Instead of a holiday that is honored through being subversive to consumerism, people spend billions of dollars on things they don’t need or other people don’t need, all the while there are more than a billion people on the planet who are dying because their basic needs are not met. This is all done in the name of the One who taught us to manifest God’s love by generously serving the poor. The question then becomes: How should we who identify ourselves as a follower of the subversive Kingdom celebrate his birth?

There are several options—one could opt out of the holiday all together. If God calls you to this, then by all means do it. However, it could be perceived as self-righteous, Scrooge-like, rude, and un-loving—something the Kingdom is not built on. We might also be surrendering an opportunity to recapture the subversive message of Christmas. A more balanced approach to being subversive at Christmas is to include people who have desperate needs.

In fact, this Christmas, Woodland Hills Church is feeling a specific calling to be subversive this Christmas. Haiti is in desperate need of clean water, and there has recently been an outbreak of cholera associated with drinking unclean water. There have been 1400 deaths so far. Woodland Hills Church feels called to raise $21,000 over the next month. With this money, Woodland Hills Church will work with two ministries that have come out of Woodland Hills (COFHED and Providence ministries) who will make sure that every dime gets to the people of Lougou who have no source of clean drinking water.

If every adult who regularly attends Woodland Hills Church gave $10 this Christmas season, we would more than meet this goal. And if every podrishioner gave $10, we would easily raise five to ten times the amount of our goal. Please pray about how you can be subversive this Christmas. If you feel led to help the town of Lougou, and you want to be truly subversive, don’t spend this money in addition to what you normally do—instead, use it from the gifts that you were going to purchase. Spend $10 less supporting a consumerist culture and spend $10 more on being a part of a subversive Kingdom. The world wants you to spend your money on yourself and your loved ones, but our King calls us to remember those brothers and sisters who are thirsty and dying. Remember the reason for the season and remember to honor the birth of our Savior by being subversive this Christmas.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What stood out to you from the message and the supporting texts?
  2. Discuss the historical context of the birth of Jesus. What would the result of being subversive in that culture be?
  3. Discuss the context of the culture that you live in. What would the result of being subversive in this culture be?
  4. In what ways could you be subversive in your everyday life? In what ways could you spread love, hope, and peace where the world says that you should be angry, depressed, or violent?
  5. In what other ways can you be subversive this Christmas in non-monetary ways?