On a search for a better world, finding it in the most unlikely places
Logan is a full time student (Psych major) at Freed-Hardeman University and a youth/children’s minister. In his free time he enjoys road trips, chasing money-changers out of temples, and investing in the lives of children and teenagers.
The Kingdom of God: An Introduction
Every time Jesus talked about His mission, He framed it in terms of the ‘Kingdom of God.’ Throughout Jesus’ life, whenever He showed up in a new place, the first thing He did was announce the ‘good news of the Kingdom of God.’ So what is this ‘Kingdom of God’?
The quick and easy understanding of the Kingdom of God is that it’s simply the church, but Jesus didn’t talk about, reference, or even seem to care about what we in the 21st century think of as church. I could approach this ‘church = Kingdom’ myth by pointing out the true meaning of the Greek noun ‘ekklesia’ (which is translated into our word ‘church’), or by talking about how King James bastardized the translation of the New Testament in his own thirst for power (literally changing words in scripture), but I’ll save those for later.
See, if the Kingdom of God is the church, then what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God should hold true for the church. Let’s just compare, shall we?
To look at the church one would have to believe Jesus’ final words to His followers were, ‘Sit tight; I’ll be right back.’ Then, fully channeling Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow as he rose into the clouds, just to clarify in case they misunderstood, ‘And don’t do anything stupid. In fact, it’s probably better if you just stay…right…there.’ Anyone who actually knows any of the words of Jesus knows that this is a far cry from what He taught, yet many of our churches stand petrified—living testaments to what the church looked like in 1960 (and ever trying to dial their practices back further).
Of course all this stagnation has perverted what it actually means to follow Jesus. The rising generation of Christians is perhaps scarier than the falling one. Groups of ‘young professionals’ meet for ‘devotionals’ that are about as relevant to the Kingdom of God as life-vests are in Iowa, and where the name ‘Jesus’ is about as common as a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich at a peanut-allergy convention.
They’ve…let us pause, I say ‘they’ve’ because I am not a Christian. If you ask me (or look on the all-knowing Facebook) you’ll discover that I am Jesus follower. That’s it. The extent of my religion is to follow Jesus Christ as my King. Many of you will probably think, ‘but that’s just the same thing as being a Christian. You’re just putting a fancy hipster-esque title to it.’ No, let me assure you, there is now very little synonymy between being a follower of Jesus and being a Christian. In fact, I would posit that in many cases the two are quite mutually exclusive.
Now, let us continue… They’ve become obsessed with the details of church: how, when, where. Everything Christians do seems to drive to a single point: church, church, church. Come to church. Be the church. Church is the only important thing. All that God wants from you is for you to be in a church building on Sunday morning. All the while we forget that to begin with there was no church. The word translated ‘church’ (“ekklesia”) simply referred to a collection of people who acknowledged the Kingship of Jesus by their thoughts, words, and actions (we have King James to thank for that literary perversion). And, oh yeah, and that actually sounds a lot like that thing Jesus called the Kingdom of God.
See, in most cases the goal of the church is wrong. And when the goal is wrong all the efforts put toward that goal are simply wasted time and energy. As long as Jesus continues to be traded for a set of rituals and regulations there is no hope for Christianity.
Before we move on, let’s clarify what the Kingdom of God is not: The Kingdom of God is not a church. It is not a meeting place or a building. It is not an ideology or system of beliefs. It is not even a group of people who meet together at appointed times. The primary thing that we have to get clear here is that the Kingdom of God is not a (or, if you prefer, ‘the’) church.
See, Christians would rather build structures of monolithic systems than live, breathe, and be God’s Kingdom, which continues to beg the question: What is this Kingdom of God?
When Jesus wanted to describe what He would leave behind, he turned to agricultural analogies. With our elitist western minds, we like to believe that this was simply because Jesus was speaking to a backwater society that wouldn’t understand anything else—he just needed to get down to their level, but what if that had nothing to do with it? What if Jesus actually intended to describe something earthy but alive; fleshy and growing? Then it would make sense to talk about His Kingdom as a moving, thriving, stretching, changing, developing, dynamic plant. It would make perfect sense to compare it to a tree that occupied as much space in the garden as it could stretch over.
To follow Jesus is to make Him King. To be a part of the Kingdom of God is to follow Jesus. Let us not mistake these facts for being or not being in a building once a week. Let us also not mistake them for singing the ‘right’ songs (in the ‘right’ way) or believing the ‘right’ doctrine. To follow Jesus is to commit to look like Him. I would submit that the extent to which an individual’s life looks like the life of Jesus is the extent to which that individual is following Jesus and experiencing the Kingdom of God.
Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthian church (a church that was struggling for elevating rituals above Jesus, among other things), ‘For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power’ (I Corinthians 4:20). So what is our job? For all this talk about the ‘Kingdom of God,’ what is it? How do we get there? What do we do when we arrive?
In its basic form, the Kingdom of God is anywhere God is King. That sounds nice and tidy, but the Kingdom is anything but nice and tidy. To participate, to join in the Kingdom of God means showing what it looks like for Jesus to reign in whatever (and I do mean whatever) position of life you find yourself. That’s a lot easier said than done in a place and time that has essentially no idea of Who Jesus actually is. Let’s make no mistakes about this. To follow Jesus is to make the Kingdom of God tangible. It’s to, as Paul would indicate to the Corinthians, stop talking and start being. It’s to make your very self a stronghold of Jesus. That does not mean comfort; it means discomfort. It does not mean staying where you are, it means taking steps downward out of the comfort that you know to demonstrate humility and compassion for others over yourself.
The Kingdom of God is the new and coming reality, a reality where Jesus is King. To follow Jesus is to crown Him King and is to commit to making that Kingdom come alive; it’s to take on the mission of making the Kingdom physically present. It means to literally enflesh Jesus in yourself—and not in some shallow, jaded ‘let Jesus come into your heart’ bullcrap that Christians have fabricated to tidily alleviate their responsibility to behave a certain way; rather it means to act like Jesus, to engage the world the same way Jesus did.
See, for Jesus to be King means that your decisions and your actions must look like Jesus’ decisions and actions. So…how often have you tracked down the most disenfranchised woman within 500 miles to make sure she’s the first one to know a world-altering secret? (John 4) When was the last time a prostitute followed you to your boss’s dinner party because she knew you were the only person she had ever met that would look at her with dignity and respect? (Luke 7) And where is it on your to-do-list to move into a group of drunks, prostitutes, sellouts, left- and right-wing extremists, terrorists, skeptics, and men who have more muscle than brain to build a community by spending all your time with them? (The men and women who would later be called apostles)
The Kingdom of God, as demonstrated in Jesus, is the convergence of two realities—the terrifying place where God and His creation meet. See we’re stuck in a corporeal reality of pain, death, suffering, and brokenness, but those of us who crown Jesus our King know of and belong to a new reality, one of Life and Love, Truth and Peace. To belong to this new reality does not (and should not) remove us from the old one. We, ourselves, become the collision of realities—the Kingdom of God.
We are told that we, as Jesus’ followers, are not only given His Holy Spirit, but we are also made His temple. To the Jews, the temple was the place where people went to come in contact with God. We are God’s contact points with the world. Jesus’ life and purpose can best be described as the constant contact of God with the world. What would it look like for God to come into contact with 5000 hungry men on a hill? Good news – Jesus showed us. What would God do if He could find a woman about to be (perfectly legally) executed? Break the law to save her life? That is exactly what He did when His reality and her reality met in a head-on collision.
Our existence, as an existence both in the new reality of God and the old reality of the purely physical world, is the Kingdom of God. We are the mustard seeds. We are the breach. We are the points of invasion for God’s beautiful Kingdom to break into and seep through this reality, permeating our very cosmos and bringing new life to all it touches.
Now go. Bring Life.