5/24/2010

Living in the Kingdom

While Jesus was on earth, his central teaching was that the Kingdom of God has come. It is among us, in our midst (Luke 17:20-21). It is available to everyone, including the poor and the outcast (Luke 6:20-26, 14:15-24) in a special way, and can be entered into just by throwing in your lot with Jesus and following him.

It is important to emphasize that the kingdom is not a future reality. It is here, now, with us. Jesus promised his disciples that some of them would not die before seeing the kingdom of God coming in power, and in all three of the synoptics the very next story is the transfiguration (Matthew 16:28-17:9, Mark 9:1-8, Luke 9:27-36). Translation: we don’t have to wait for the kingdom! Jesus made it available to us with his ministry. His favorite title for himself is “Son of man”, a phrase borrowed from Daniel 7 (especially v13-14) in which “one like a son of man” comes before the Ancient of Days and receives a kingdom. The comparison is most explicit when Jesus is on trial before the Sanhedrin (eg. in Mark 14:62). He died, rose again, ascended to the right hand of the father, and is now reigning (Luke 22:69).

But what is this kingdom that Jesus inaugurated? Essentially, it is the rule of God on earth. Dallas Willard defines the kingdom of God as “the range of God’s effective will”, and it exists wherever that will is heard and obeyed in the hearts of Jesus’ followers.

I’ve argued that the kingdom is in our midst, but clearly God’s rule is at best fragmentary on earth and even in his church. The kingdom has an already-but-not-yet character, so that Jesus can both inaugurate it and teach us to to pray “thy kingdom come”. It is begun but not completed, here but not fulfilled. For the completion of the kingdom, we must work and wait.

Jesus’ work in his Church means that there are tiny mustard-seeds of kingdom in every area of our lives where he is acknowledged as King. The kingdom is alive in our churches, our Awana clubs, our homes, our families, our marriages, and inside everyone who has surrendered his life to Jesus. Our job, in light of this reality, is to labor with Jesus as he transforms those centers of kingdom into fuller obedience. To make our homes safe, peaceful places and to welcome others into them. To exhibit transformed lives in our workplaces. To model the relationship between Christ and the Church in our marriages. To surrender our own wills.

I like to think of these kingdom-centers as worm holes or portals – tiny places where space/time breaks down and a little bit of heaven leaks into earth. God has chosen us to be the centers and agents of those leaks. In every sphere of our lives, our goal is the same: to widen the worm hole, to spill more and more of heaven out into earth, until heaven is everywhere.

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