The climax of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost was a bold confession: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this,” he proclaimed, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36).
Peter’s confession stood in marked contrast to that of the chief priests: “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).
These two confessions expressed alternative gospels. The first centered on Jesus, who fulfilled God’s promises to Israel by taking humanity upon himself and becoming their King. The second centered on a human being who came out on top through the ruthless accumulation of power.
Caesar became king by sending his enemies to their crosses. Christ became King by going to the Cross for His enemies.
Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Caesar came to be served.
No one comes to praise Caesar anymore. Today, the Roman emperor has become the autonomous Self. Everyone now is sovereign. The confession of our age is, “Customer is king.”
In practice, this means we get what we want, and there are no moral limitations on our desire for money, sex, and power — except consent. This is consumerism in its purest essence, and it pervades modern society. It explains the transvaluation of values by which wrong has become right, most notably with regard to sexual desire and expression.
Christ places limitations on all our desires, however. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” dethrones money (Acts 20:35). “When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Mark 12:25) dethrones sex. And “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27) dethrones power.
Jesus’ statements don’t mean He is anti-money, anti-sex, or anti-power. All these things are good if used as God intended. In a gospel-shaped worldview, our use of those things brings life to others — the poor, our posterity, and the powerless. In an egocentric worldview, however, the betterment of our own lives is the only goal.
Life’s ultimate question, then, is Christ or Caesar? Christ or Self? History is the tale of two kings, the record of the struggle between two gospels. Only one can be true.
For as Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
This article originally appeared in the summer 2022 issue of Influence magazine. Used with permission.