Ever wondered what is going on in the world? Where is God? Is He asleep? Never mind the world, what's going on inside me? Why do I do things I don't want to do?
One way the Bible gives insight to this tension is through the story of the Kingdom. Perhaps this might help you see things in another way. The thing is, our first response to "another way" is often criticism, suspicion and maybe even rejection! I haven't got things all figured out. I want to keep learning, and moving forward!
The moment you think you have it all figured out is the moment you stop moving forward.
ACTS 17:1-7 tells the story of Paul, Luke, Timothy and Silas on gospel tour into Greece; turning the world upside down, saying "There is another king, Christ Jesus!".
Gospel comes from the Greek word euangelion and meant heralds would carry the good news / good tidings of a king, for example when a king one a battle, or took the throne.
Christ is not Jesus surname, but comes from the Greek word Christos, which means anointed, and is equivalent to the Hebrew word Messiah, which means the Lord's anointed as is used mostly when speaking of a king.
So, what Paul and his companions were really proclaiming was the good news / good tidings of a new king. This was a risky and electrifying message, because Caesar Augustus, the emperor of Rome, was believed to be the savior of the humankind, a god. And no one was permitted to go against Caesar and live.
Here is an extract from the Priene Calendar Inscription found in Priene, Asia Minor dated 9 BC.
‘Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a saviour, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance , surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings/news for the world .
Interesting that euangelion is first used to refer to Caesar, the powerful military leader of the Roman empire, promising peace and salvation through military might. And contrasted to him, the "nobody from Nazareth" who was crucified. This is the clash of kingdoms, not just on a geo-political scale, but on a cosmic scale!
The Kingdom of Heaven, or Kingdom of God was something that Jesus spoke about A LOT! In fact, it's how he announced the start of his ministry. Proclaiming the good news of the king.
Mark 1:14-15 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.
He was saying, STOP!! PAY ATTENTION!! DECISION MOMENT!! For us, our knowledge of kingdom may be somewhat limited; coming from the Royal family, DISNEY or perhaps Game of Thrones?
Yet kingdom is a MAJOR Theme in the Bible. It really is the whole plot conflict! It is first mentioned in Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
Here we have God as sovereign king, and humans as rulers, partners - God willing to share ownership and delegate responsibility to people. With true responsibility is the potential for things to go wrong...
God is in charge, but He is not controlling everything.
That may sound controversial, but think about it for a moment. If your boss or CEO delegated dominion (authority) to you over a certain area, and you made some poor decisions for which their were consequences, the CEO is still in charge of the organization, but he wasn't controlling your decisions - that was all you.
God gives people a responsibility to decide what is good and what is evil. To trust God, or to believe a lie and choose autonomy from God. Genesis 3 recounts the tragic choice of the latter. Humans choose their own version of kingdom, and essential try to force the kingdom of God out of the picture. Suddenly the ideal of humans living under the rule and the reign of the King is shattered, and there are now two overlapping realities - one where God rules, and one where evil rules.
The question, then, is How will God re-assert His kingdom, His rule and reign, over the world?
He begins with Abram and his family, who do fairly well, but end up enslaved in Egypt under the evil king Pharaoh. God eventually confronts the evil, liberates the people, and is declared their King once they have crossed the Red Sea. He takes them to their promised land, where after some time their demand their own king, to be like the other nations. Once again, autonomy from God is the people's choice. They end up being exiled.
Now, there is a rebellious humanity, and a fallen Israel. In the midst of this, the prophet Isaiah speaks hope. That God would come to re-assert reign on Zion Isa 40:9-10, and God servant would come Isaiah 42:1-3 to bring forth justice. That the one who brings the good news would have beautiful feet Isaiah 52:7
Years pass, and suddenly Jesus, himself both God and the servant of God, shows up, with this volatile proclamation - the king is here.
He spends his time teaching and proclaiming, because his kingdom so unusual and profound that he has to do so! He is confronting evil, liberating people, healing the sick, raising the dead. Prostitutes are forgiven and social outcasts restored. He invites people to
drastically rearrange their lives and follow him. He is turning the world upside down.
In the background, Caesar looms, representing autonomy from God. He is the modern Pharoah, the snake in Genesis, the puppet of evil.
Eventually Jesus is crucified by the jealous Jews. Conveniently, too, for the Roman's as the threat against Caeser is squashed before it begins. He is not crucified for being a dramatic teacher, but for claiming to be THE KING.
And this his is how his reign comes. Through and act of sacrificial love for his enemies. He is given a crown and a robe and he is LIFTED UP, not on a throne, but on a cross. He deals with humanities sin and corruption and rebellion himself with his life and love sacrifice. He is the King who DEFEATS death with his LOVE. Three days later, he is raised to life by the Spirit. He is now seated at the right hand of the Father and has released the Holy Spirit to live inside those who believe, He continues to form and transform a people who radically re-organize their lives by coming under his rule and reign.
"The gospel of the kingdom announces the dramatic and apocalyptic invasion of God's saving power into our world through Christ and operating in the sphere of the Holy Spirit." Michael Bird - Evangelical Theology
He promised to return again to deal with evil, pain and suffering for good. And we live in the NOW and NOT yet. The NOW, in the sense that the King has come to inaugurate his kingdom, and the NOT YET in that the kingdom rule and reign is advancing, but it is not everywhere yet, though one day it will be.
As the Church, we are not the kingdom, but we are witnesses to the kingdom. Our MISSION to keep announcing this good news, inviting everyone of give their allegiance to the true King. That's why we pray, Father, your Kingdom come, your will be done. We are trusting for a CRITICAL MASS in our cities: a growing community yielding to the King. We show people what the King is like, until he returns.
Perhaps something that limits our understanding of the kingdom of Heaven is that heaven is a place somewhere above the atmosphere with clouds and harps where we go when we die. And we hold on dearly to life, white knuckling it, until we finally get there.
Jesus said though, Luk 17:20-21 (ESV) Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
What if we put it this way:
The kingdom of heaven is not a place to go to, but something that happens to you, here and now, and continues for eternity.
It is not an institution, but a invitation to radically rearrange your life by yielding of will to God's will. The kingdom of heaven is not a destination but a transformation.
The kingdom of heaven happens to you when you encounter the king and choose to submit to his perfect rule and reign.
Jesus is still here, inviting people to live under his reign. There is a paradox here in that to come under the rule and reign of King Jesus is actually the best news, because it brings liberation.
His Kingdom stands in contrast to imperial Rome, where the emperor would bring peace and prosperity to the world through military force. It stands in contrast to modernism, a human-cantered utopia through advancements in knowledge, and it stands in contrast to postmodernism, looks toward the secular state as savior from oblivion. It stands in contrast to every other ism.
For Jesus to become king is so unlike anything else, it needs a lot of teaching! It needs a heart mind and body transformation. It requires a complete of value system, identity and source of significance. It means allowing his love, mercy, wisdom to redefine our reality
And we need to be liberated, in all areas of our lives. We need the King to help us dealing with the things we have given into and the lies we have bought into, believing that pushing God out is the best choice.
Jesus always graciously forces a decision. No one leaves unchanged. We can choose to feel angry at having our heart motives revealed or we can bow our knees in humility, gratitude, and acceptance
Jesus said "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." It is your decision
Who is your king?
Acknowledgements to Michael Bird, Tim Mackie, CFNI, Tony Merida and many others for their writings and works to help shape this message.