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The Kingdom of God – Part 1

December 10, 2013

A couple of lines of the Lord’s Prayer always touch my heart more deeply than the others:  “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  (I learned the King James Version of the prayer as a child, in the day when it was part of morning assembly in schools, and my mind has always resisted “modernizing” it.) I think the weight of these lines stems from my recognition that the kingdom of God is the central message of Jesus.  Mark, Luke and John use the term “kingdom of God” extensively, and although Matthew prefers “the kingdom of heaven,” it is clear he means exactly the same thing.  The kingdom is the reign of God—that for which we hope, that to which we bear witness and that which we proclaim.  It is not simply what God Himself is doing, but what He is doing through His people. 


Most of our ideas of what the gospel is come from Paul.  In my opinion, most theologians favour Paul as the authority on Christian thought, reducing Jesus’ teachings to faint echoes from the Judean hills.  That does not sit well with me; in all things I defer to my Lord.  Jesus often, when speaking of the gospel, would use the larger phrase: “the good news of the kingdom of God.”  I understand this to evidence that the core of the gospel is really not just the life and death of Jesus on Earth, but rather something far more sweeping—the good news of the kingdom of God where eventually, as Philippians 2:10-11 tells us, at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


So as I see it, the gospel is much more than my own personal salvation, more than getting right with God, more than a ticket for the up elevator in the next life.  It is a call to the “new” me, the new creation in Christ consummated through the work of the Holy Spirit, to partner with Christ and other Christians in this life to turn this fallen world on its head. 


Consequently my idea of evangelism differs from much of what I often hear promoted.  I believe God intended us to demonstrate the gospel to others, not just to preach it.  In praying the words of the Lord’s Prayer I cited in my opening I am invoking the kingdom of God; if I am sincere in doing so, it is incumbent upon me to not only proclaim the good news, but to be the gospel of the kingdom, to live it.  I firmly ascribe to the John C. Maxwell maxim, People don‘t carehow much you knowuntil they know how much you care.  At times when I successfully embody the gospel (to my chagrin, something I fail at far too often) others get a glimpse of Jesus and are drawn to Him. 


When I consider my own spiritual journey, I see this very pattern.  Rather than having a sudden epiphany of God occasioned by a gospel presentation, I underwent a process over many years, involving the contributions of many believers of various stripes,as well as the testimony of Creation.  This is God’s way, those in the body of Christ complimenting one another through their giftedness, cooperatively sharing in the work of the kingdom. 


As best I remember it, my journey began in church, Sunday school and Vacation Bible School as a child.  But those experiences didn’t have much of value to say to me.  With the coming of the Christmas season I was reminded of where I did learn the rudiments of the gospel.  Carolling was a part of my family’s holiday tradition, and it was The Gospel According to Christmas Carols that first put the plough into the ground of my soul.  But a period of bad weather delayed planting.


Late in my teens I encountered an unconventional young cleric who made Jesus attractive to me.  For five or six years, the ground was reworked and the seed planted under his tutelage.  I started attending church regularly.  When a book club I belonged to offered the newly published New English Bible (admittedly not the best translation) I bought it and read it through.  Unfortunately I had fixed my eyes on my mentor and not on Jesus; when his life came crashing down around him and he faltered, I lost hope.  But although the emergent shoots of my belief withered, the roots did not die.  The seed of God’s Word was like the desert lily, lying dormant until conditions were optimal for growth.


After several years of drought, there came a time in my life when I travelled two parallel roads, so close together that I was able to move from one to the other at will, never losing sight of the other.  My employment took me into the penitentiary, and in that oppressive physical and spiritual darknessI encountered light.  Behind stone walls and iron bars, my heart and my mind were opened to a deeper understanding, a recreation of my ideas of sin, forgiveness, salvation, justice and mercy.  Simultaneously, I entered into the life of a family who showed me what it meant to be Christian.  In their home I witnessed genuine faith, the gospel lived out through acts of kindness and love toward others and toward me.  In the godly light of their example I couldn’t help but see the field of my soul was thirsting.  Preaching the gospel in the fashion the good Francis of Assisi advocated, using words only when necessary, they pointed me to the source of the living water I needed to revive it.  Sitting in church one Sunday a few months later I felt God’s hand upon me.  It was harvest time, and the Lord of the Harvest gathered me in.  I made my decision to follow Jesus.  Nothing spectacular.  No sinner’s prayer.   Just a quiet moment of assent followed by the sharing of communion.  “This is My body….”  “This is My blood ….”  For me.


From that moment on, my direction was clear.  “The kingdom is at hand,” Jesus said, and now that I was part of the universal church, I was meant to participate in His kingdom plan to redeem all of His Creation.   As J.I. Packer wrote in Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs, “The task of the church is to make the invisible kingdom visible through faithful Christian living and witness-bearing.”  What He required of me was not complicated.  It was nicely summed up Deuteronomy 10:12—to hold Him in holy fear, to walk in obedience to Him, to love Him, and to serve Him with all my heart and with all my soul, and, as Jesus later added, with all my mind and strength.  Likewise in Micah 6:8, God invites me to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with Him.  I rolled up my sleeves and waded into the task set before me.  I read the words of Jesus’ Nazareth Manifesto (Luke 4:14-30) very literally, and I started at the beginning:  He was in prison and I came to visit Him.  God has continued to show me what He has for me to do, most assignments small, some a bit larger.  And He has always supplied me all I needed to accomplish them.


I have more thoughts on the kingdom of God I wish to discuss, but those will wait for another post.

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