loren Eric Swanson: Changing the Trajectory of the Church Part 5

Friday, March 17, 2006

Changing the Trajectory of the Church Part 5

The church has be the church and build the kingdom (part a)

For churches to have a sustained impact on their communities, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that we need to recover or rediscover some truths about the kingdom teachings of Jesus. The church is the instrument to build the kingdom of God but it in itself is not the kingdom. The gospels mention the kingdom over 120 times and the church three times. Maybe God wants us to understand the kingdom. In July 2004, in an attempt to understand the kingdom I printed out every verse in the New Testament where “kingdom” is mentioned and spent a month of study trying to understand the just what Jesus is talking about. I have written extensively on this subject in a previous class and so as not to duplicate what I have already written, I will include only a few salient points.
Because the book of Daniel had predicted the kingdom of God to arise during the time of the Roman Empire, by the time Jesus was born every Jew, who understood the Scriptures, knew that the next kingdom on the horizon was God’s kingdom and the air was thick with anticipation. Many reflected the anticipation of Joseph of Arimathea who twice is described as one who was “waiting for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 23:53, Mark 15:43).
Matthew records John’s first public words—“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” and with anticipation, the crowds from Jerusalem and Judea, responded by confessing their sins and being baptized in the Jordan (Matthew 3:4-11). If the king was coming, they wanted to be ready. After Jesus was baptized by John and returned from his desert temptation, he found himself in his hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30). When the scroll of Isaiah was handed to him, he found Isaiah 61—“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” This verse and the verses that followed fleshed out his “great commission.” Isaiah 61:1-6 depicts the gospel being preached through proclamation (“proclaim”) and demonstration (“bind up the brokenhearted,” “to comfort those who mourn,” “provide for those who grieve,” etc). The kingdom becomes a place of beauty, not ashes, gladness not mourning, praise and not despair (v.3). The transformed people—referred to as “oaks of righteousness,” are those who “rebuild, renew, and restore the city.”
As Jesus began his ministry, the words of his first public sermon were, the same message as his older cousin’s—“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2, Mark 1:15). Jesus was announcing the coming kingdom. What shape that kingdom would take would unfold through his actions and teachings over the next three years. But wherever he went he spoke to people about the kingdom—“I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43). “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matthew 9:35). (See also Luke 4:43, 8:1, 9:11)
His message was not confined to his own preaching. When he sent out his disciples (Matthew 10:7, Luke 10:9), he instructed them, “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near’”—the same message he and John had been preaching. In the book of Acts (1:3), in his post-resurrection appearances “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” The central teaching of Phillip (Acts 8:12) was “the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ…” Similarly the apostle Paul preached the kingdom of God. When Paul was arrested in Thessalonica his accusers underscored the central message of his teaching—“These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here…they are all saying there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:7). (I write this section of the paper sitting in a hotel in Thessalonica a block from the marketplace where the scoundrels were rounded up to start a riot in the city (Acts 17:5)). When Paul came to Ephesus for three months he spoke out boldly, “arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). For two years he set up shop in the School of Tyrannus where he taught about the King and the kingdom (Acts 19:9). In Paul’s farewell address to these same Ephesians he says, “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again” (Acts 20:25). The closing curtain on the book of Acts finds Paul under house arrest welcoming all who came to see him “and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31). In Paul’s writing he refers to the kingdom no less than sixteen times. The point is that the kingdom did not end with the advent of the church. The church is God’s instrument for building the kingdom.
What is the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is any place over which God has operative dominion. Although “[t]he earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1) the kingdom of God extends only to those sections of geography or chambers in the hearts of people where God is honored as sovereign and his values are operative. The kingdom of God has a king. His name is Jesus—Matthew 2:1-12, John 18:37. To preach the kingdom is to tell people about the King and the type of things he values in his kingdom and the world he wants to establish. Isaiah 65:17-25 gives a picture of what community life is like when God’s reign is fully operative in the renewed community.
There is joy—v.19
There is absence of weeping and crying (v.19)
There is no infant mortality (v.20)
People live out their full lives (v.20)
People will build houses and live in them (v.21, 22)
People will sow and reap (v.21, 22)
There is fulfilling work (v.22)
There is confidence that their children will face a better life (v.23)
People will experience the blessing of God (v.23)
People will have intergenerational family support (v.23)
There will be rapid answers to prayer (v.24)
There will be an absence of violence (v.25)
So any place where there is sorrow, weeping, infant mortality, premature death, etc., in any culture, is actually an affront to the kingdom of God. This also helps explain the miracles and actions of Jesus. When people were hungry, it was an affront to the kingdom, so he fed them. People are not hungry in God’s kingdom. When people were sick or paralyzed that also was an affront to the kingdom so he healed them. There are no sick people in God’s kingdom. When people died prematurely (Lazarus and the twelve-year old girl (Luke 8:49-56), that was an affront to the kingdom also so Jesus raised them from the dead. People do not die prematurely in God’s kingdom. When Jesus sent his disciples out to minister, they too were to preach the kingdom and do the same things Jesus did to show people what the kingdom of God is like (Matthew 10:7,8, Luke 9:2).


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