18 Feb The Kingdom of God
In the gospels, Jesus speaks of the “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” more than 100 times. In fact, the Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus launched his ministry with the words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The kingdom of God also provides the “bookends” for the Beatitudes. God’s kingdom is the promised blessing attached to the first Beatitude (“blessed are the poor in spirit”) and the last Beatitude (“blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”). Obviously, the announcement of God’s kingdom was of central importance to Jesus, yet Christians often don’t know much about what it is, where it is, when it’s coming or what it means in the lives of Jesus’ followers. I want to make what may sound like a startling claim: we cannot understand Jesus’ message or the purpose of his healings or preaching or teaching, or even the meaning of his death and resurrection, if we don’t have a good grasp of the kingdom he came to proclaim. That’s how critical the kingdom of God is.
Every person has a kingdom—a realm that is uniquely your own. Your kingdom is the place where you have a say over what happens. If you get a voice in what goes on in a particular place, that is your kingdom. My primary kingdom is located in Fairfax. Inside my townhouse, I get to make decisions about goes on there. For many years I had two relatively loyal subjects who resided in my kingdom but now my son and daughter’s time there is more sporadic because they’re beginning to establish kingdoms of their own.
My other kingdom is located at 6120 N. Kings Highway in Alexandria. I can call Calvary Presbyterian Church my kingdom because I have some say over what takes place here. For example, I am the one who decides what we sing and pray and preach each week. There are considerably more “subjects” here than in my Fairfax kingdom which means I have more help in taking care of this kingdom, more opinions about how I should care for this kingdom, and more people than ever who can ask me, “have you seen my keys?” (which here at Calvary usually means we can’t find the elevator key!) That’s pretty much the extent of my kingdoms. My domain is, in the big scheme of things, rather limited.
Dallas Willard, in his book The Divine Conspiracy defines a kingdom as “the range of our effective will.” It’s the place where what we want done is done. That’s easy enough to understand in our own lives, but what if we ask that question about God? What is the range of God’s effective will? Where is the place where what God wants done is done? There are three common answers to that question and all three of them are woefully inadequate. Often God’s kingdom is understood as “heaven,” as a place that has nothing to do with our daily lives but which we will enjoy some day after we die. Some folks see God’s kingdom as being synonymous with the church. Still others think of it as a private, inner place where personal spirituality is practiced.
Jesus seems to have had a vastly different understanding of the kingdom of God. Jesus himself was inaugurating God’s kingdom, so everything he did—healing the sick, teaching, eating with all the “wrong” sorts of people, loving his enemies—were signs of what life is like when what God desires for the world comes to fruition. And, Jesus clearly expected his followers to keep on proclaiming and enacting his kingdom. So, when we work for justice, God’s kingdom is coming “on earth as it is in heaven.” When we forgive someone who has hurt us or love someone who has betrayed us, God’s kingdom is at hand. When we attend to the needs of someone who is poor or ill, we are living in God’s kingdom.
Jesus promised us that the day is approaching when God’s kingdom will come in all its fullness, and when that day arrives there will be no suffering, no violence, no war, no hungry children, no ravenous diseases that devour body or mind. Heaven and earth will be renewed and re-joined, as they were intended from the beginning, and the world will live in harmony. For now, we live in what is often called “the already, not yet.” We are to continuing bearing witness to God’s kingdom and practicing what life is like in God’s realm. Doing so aligns us with reality and with the truth, and it is the only way we will experience true joy and peace.
Yours for the Kingdom,