Archive for category Kingdom of God
[Following the Resurrection] “When the apostles met together with Jesus, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” Jesus said to them, “The times and occasions are set by my Father’s own authority, and it is not for you to know when they will be. But when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After saying this, he was taken up to heaven as they watched him, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They still had their eyes fixed on the sky as he went away, when two men dressed in white suddenly stood beside them and said, “Galileans,why are you standing there looking up at the sky? This Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way that you saw him go to heaven.” Then the apostles went back to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is about half a mile away from the city” (Acts 1:6-12).
The cross and resurrection of Christ was the strange and paradoxical way God chose to begin restoring his broken world and advancing his Kingdom of peace, love and hope. In another startling move, God then chose a rag-tag group of nobodies to be the vehicle by which he would spread the message and mission of this Kingdom throughout the entire world. The book of Acts tells the story of the trials and triumphs of this small, persecuted, grassroots Jesus movement as it made its way across the expansive Roman Empire.
Sound exciting? Well it was. The life of the early church looked much different from many of our experiences of the church today. Yet, early on they were faced with three threats that still tend to plague the church today — and they can be identified in the one bold question this angelic man asked the disciples immediately following Jesus’ ascension:
Why are you STANDING there LOOKING up into the SKY?
As Christians today strive to faithfully advance God’s Kingdom on earth we must be vigilant to avoid being a church of STANDERS, LOOKERS, and SKY-GAZERS.
1. STOP STANDING. God has called us to “GO and make disciples of all nations.” In the passage above, they all stood paralyzed, amazed at the power of God as he took Jesus from their sight. They had just asked whether it was the time for God to restore His Kingdom, and Jesus’ indirect answer is often taken to be a “no.” However, I believe Jesus intentionally changed the subject from WHEN to exactly HOW this Kingdom was to come. The disciples all expected a military revolt and overthrow of the Roman imperial forces. Jesus however seems to hint that it will begin to come when God pours out his Spirit on the disciples at Pentecost and they begin spreading a taste of His Kingdom to the ends of the earth. The Book of Acts is not a book of beliefs, doctrines, laws or ethics. It is what it says — a book of “acts.” As we read we are swept up into the wild and adventurous MOVEMENT of the Spirit, and we travel along with Peter and Paul and the rest. The message of the Gospel MOVES thousands of miles from Jerusalem to Rome in only 28 chapters. The church today needs to become once again a people on the move, a forward-marching Kingdom-advancing church who take an active role in spreading God’s love, joy, peace, forgiveness, grace, healing and hope “to the ends of the earth.” There is too much standing around. “Go, therefore, and make disciples…”
2. STOP WATCHING. It is also easy to become a spectator in the church today. In fact, the way we have designed our “services” often encourages a multi-media presentation where the pastors and worship leaders DO everything and the rest of us sit rather passively in the audience observing the service, watching the pastors, receiving a message (i.e., “being fed”) and then leaving. Outside the Sunday service, we can also easily hide in the shadows watching others volunteer for service projects, go on missions trips, teach Sunday School classes, volunteer in the nursery, etc. Many of us generously give money toward the work of the Kingdom so that we can avoid actively getting involved in the nitty-gritty work of Kingdom-building. The mission of the church in and for the world is a truly hands-on project that involves real, messy involvement. We are called to be not only “hearers of the Word, but doers also.” Remember James’ rather pointed reminder: “My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith if your actions do not prove it? Can that faith save you” (Jam 2:14)? Let us stop watching, and start actively engaging in the work of advancing the Kingdom.
3. STOP SKY-GAZING. Finally, the disciples in this episode were fixated on the sky (“They still had their eyes fixed on the sky” v. 10), as if that was where all the action was to be. Granted, you don’t see a man ascend into the clouds everyday, so we should probably cut them some slack. But 2,000 years later there are entire strands of the church who are still staring into the clouds awaiting rescue. I speak of all escapist, dualistic versions of Christianity where the entire goal of the Gospel is to wait for Jesus to come back and take us up (“rapture”) into some heaven in the sky for all eternity. Many today are realizing the folly in this gnostic-like view, and are again placing their hope in the God of Creation whose desire it is to bring the New Jerusalem down to earth, to “make all things new,” dwell once again with his people (cf. Rev 21:22-25), and finally establish his righteous, restorative reign “on earth as it is in the heavens” (Matt 6:10). We are to partner with the God of Creation and to become wise stewards of his beautiful world that is “groaning for liberation” even now (Rom 8). God is coming — no doubt about that! Yet, as we await our savior from a high, we are to be focusing our eyes on those around us who are filthy with the dirt and grime of this world, and bring God’s love, hope and healing to them. We need to stop staring at the sky, and start bringing a little taste of heaven to those suffering here on earth.
So, as we move away from Resurrection Sunday to business as usual, let us make sure we are not still “standing there looking up at the sky.” Let’s get busy announcing and building the Kingdom!
1. Which of the 3 errors do you personally tend toward? Are you a STANDER, LOOKER, or SKY-GAZER?
2. Which of these 3 postures most accurately describes the American church today?
3. Do these 3 categories help classify the particular weaknesses of various denominations of the Church?
Here is one of the highest points of Jesus’ radical teaching on Christian character and lifestyle. I led a Bible study on this last night, and wanted to share some notes and quotes largely taken from Barclay’s Daily Bible Study Series. Enjoy.
Eye for Eye
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
lex talionis = tit for tat, original aim was the limitation of vengeance
“Ancient ethics were based on the law of tit for tat. It is truth that the law was a law of mercy (limitation of vengeance); it was a law for a judge and not for a private individual; it was never literally carried out; and there were accents of mercy speaking at the same time. But Jesus obliterated the very principle of that law, because retaliation, however controlled and restricted, has no place in the Christian life” (Barclay, 165).
Jesus called his disciples to what Bonhoeffer terms a ‘visible participation in his cross.’
“Christ…suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps…When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).
A. Three Eastern Illustrations of Jesus’ way
1. Turn the other cheek – back-handed slap was a double insult
POINT: “Even if a man should direct at you the most deadly and calculated insult, you must on no account retaliate, and you must on no account resent it” (Barclay, 166).
“The true Christian has forgotten what it is to be insulted; he has learned from his Master to accept any insult and never to resent it, and never to seek to retaliate” (Barclay, 167).
2. Tunics & Cloaks – By right a man’s cloak could not be taken permanently from him according to Jewish law Read the rest of this entry »
We’re going through the Sermon on the Mount this summer at MainStreet. This week we covered the Beatitudes. Here’s John Stott’s concise, insightful summary of these 8 countercultural kingdom qualities Jesus calls us to develop.
Blessed are (1) the poor in spirit, (2) those who mourn, (3) the meek, (4) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, (5) the merciful, (6) the pure in heart, (7) the peacemakers, and (8) those who are persecuted because of righteousness….
“The beatitudes paint a comprehensive portrait of a Christian disciple.We see him first alone on his knees before God, acknowledging his spiritual poverty (POOR IN SPIRIT) and MOURNING over it. This makes hims MEEK or gentle in all his relationships, since honesty compels him to allow others to think of him what before God he confesses himself to be. Yet he is far from acquiescing in his sinfulness, for he HUNGERS and THIRSTS AFTER RIGHTEOUSNESS, longing to grow in grace and in goodness.
We see him next with others, out in the human community. His relationship with God does not cause him to withdraw from society, nor is he insulated from the world’s pain. On the contrary, he is in the thick of it, showing mercy (MERCIFUL) to those battered by adversity and sin. He is transparently sincere (PURE IN HEART) in all his dealings and seeks to play a constructive role as a PEACEMAKER. Yet he is not thanked for his efforts, but rather opposed, slandered, insulted and PERSECUTED on account of the righteousness for which he stands and the Christ with whom he is identified.
Such is the man or woman who is ‘blessed’, that is, who has the approval of God and finds self-fulfilment as a human being.
Yet in all this the values and standards of Jesus are in direct conflict with the commonly accepted values and standards of the world. The world judges the rich to be blessed, not the poor, whether in the material or in the spiritual sphere; the happy-go-lucky and carefree, not those who take evil so seriously that they mourn over it; the strong and brash, not the meek and gentle; the full not the hungry; those who mind their own business, not those who meddle in other men’s matter and occupy their time in do-goodery like ‘showing mercy’ and ‘making peace’; those who attain their ends even if necessary by devious means, not the pure in heart who refuse to compromise their integrity; those who are secure and popular, and live at ease, not those who have to suffer persecution.”
-John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p. 54
“The basis for the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount is not what works but rather the way God is. Cheek-turning is not advocated as what works (it usually does not), but advocated because this is the way God is — God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. This is not a stratagem for getting what we want but the only manner of life available, now that, in Jesus, we have seen what God wants. We seek reconciliation with the neighbor, not because we feel so much better afterward, but because reconciliation is what God is doing in the world through Christ.”
-Will Willimon & Stan Hauerwas, Resident Aliens
As I type this, I’m listening to nationally syndicated conservative talk show host Dennis Prager. I’ve been a regular listener of his for about 10 years. He’s one of my favorite conservatives, and I’ve always enjoyed his show for it’s focus on clarifying the Left-Right political divide, and the character he shows in his interactions with dissenting views.
However, the more Jesus-shaped my thinking, my politics, my worldview, my faith has become over the past decade, the more I have tended to disagree with him on various issues. This is particularly true when he tackles faith-related topics on his show — which he does weekly on “The Ultimate Issues Hour”. Prager is a devout Jew, and is one of the best representatives of the Americanized Judeo-Christian moralistic religion that many conservatives in America hold.
On his show today, he talked about Ben Franklin’s God. He proudly championed Ben Franklin’s religion as his own faith, and believes our country was founded on this kind of religion. I agree that America was founded on the beliefs/convictions of Ben Franklin’s God — too bad this God has little to do with Jesus and his upside-down Kingdom teachings!
Ben Franklin’s faith is governed by five core beliefs:
1. God is the Creator
2. God governs the world by his providence
3. The soul is immortal
4. God rewards good and punishes evil — either in the here or the hereafter
5. Doing good to one’s fellow man is the essence of true religion
Many have debated whether or not our Founding Father’s were Deists or Christians. Just google that topic to come to your own conclusion. What concerns me is that far too many of those who denounce the Founding Fathers for their unbiblical Deistic views, and claim to defend biblical Christianity, actually themselves hold to a kind of pseudo-Christianity that still leaves Jesus’ subversive teachings off the table. Instead, they uphold an Americanized form of faith that is shaped more by the values of the political right and the principles of our Founding Fathers than the kingdom teachings of Jesus. Read the rest of this entry »