Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. (Matthew 9.35)This week I’d like to finish up our look at Jesus’ “already present,” but deeply obstructed Kingdom that we began to consider last week. In the above verse, we find once again, the picture of Jesus as an itinerant teacher, traveling from place to place within Israel, proclaiming “the Kingdom” has arrived. What we also find in the Jesus story is that there was, what many call today, negative “kick-back” to Jesus’ announcement of the Kingdom’s arrival. In short, the Kingdom was a radical reorientation of how humanity does life, based on a radical paradigm shift in how we see God, ourselves, and everyone else around us. But there were many who were benefitting by how life was already oriented. To Jesus’ new reorientation, they did not feel positively in the least. Jesus met deep resistance from the very beginning (see Luke 4.28-29). He met anger. (see Luke 13.14) He was bringing what He considered to be “good” news, but He was met with suspicion, accusations of his teachings being dangerous. Crowds too, voiced “complaints” about what Jesus was teaching. While some saw what Jesus was sharing as truly good, others felt he was “deceiving” everyone. (see John 7.12) Jesus met, time and time again, stubborn resistance. Sometimes he faced censure and rebuke by the religious leadership of his day. Sometimes he endured being labeled as a heretic, an outsider, whose views, if were adopted, would bring about the end of the entire nation of Israel. And the bottom line is that many to whom Jesus brought the good news of the Kingdom to, initially, by their responses, betrayed that in reality they were very afraid.
Which leads me to why, I believe, we see in Jesus, so much compassion and genuine sorrow for his rejecters. (see Luke 13.34) All the rejecters desired was for the promises made to Israel of long ago be fulfilled. They longed for “the restoration.” They believed the covenant made with them involved their being “obedient.” And all they really wanted was to be obedient enough so that the promises, according to their understanding, could be finally fulfilled. This too is why Jesus was viewed as such a threat. Jesus was, in reality, the fulfillment of each of those promises, but it involved changing some significant things as well. And this they could not handle.
THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS were in effect until John came; since then the good news of THE KINGDOM of god has been being proclaimed, and everyone is attacking it. (Luke 16.16, personal translation, emphasis added.)
Jesus had already assured them:
“Do not think that I have come to nullify or demolish THE LAW OR THE PROPHETS; I have come not to nullify or demolish THE LAW but to fill in the areas in which it is deficient, to bring it from incomplete to a complete whole. (pleroo). For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until the whole is brought into existence. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of the commandments I am about to teach here, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in THE KINGDOM; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in THE KINGDOM. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees [which was rooted in the law and the prophets], you’re not even going to be able to enter THE KINGDOM. (Matthew 5.17-20, personal translation/paraphrase)
It was time to move from outward rule keeping to inward heart realities. (murder to even anger; adultery to even lust). But it was also time to move from demanding “an eye for an eye” our enemies, to now learning how to radically forgive our enemies and to love even them as indiscriminately as the sun shines and the rain falls. It was time to move to seek the restoration of our enemies from their victimhood to the real Enemy, and no longer desire their punishment, but their restoration too. It was THIS that repeatedly caused the religious leadership of Jesus’ day to violently reject him. For where they Law and the Prophets demanded punishment of “sinners”, Jesus continually circumvented the required punishment, and sought instead, the restoration of those the law and the prophets condemned. (See John 8.1-11; Luke 8.40-48)
What response did Jesus get in return?
These changes threatened too much. In response to his “Kingdom,” Jesus found fear and anger from the very ones who claimed to be “the people of God.” All the while, in Jesus, God was standing right in front of them, the very God, whose people, they claimed to be.
But here is the beautiful part.
Jesus met their anger with compassion, because he knew they didn’t know what they were doing. To their intolerance, he sought to explain their intollerance as simply the result of their ignorance. To their fear, he saw only infinitely valuable souls to be won from fear (not fear of God, but fear of change) to love. To those who were so addicted to their certitude to embrace the questions that following this new Jesus would bring in its tow, Jesus felt sorrow. To their closed system that was now being threatened by Jesus’ radically inclusive love, Jesus simply loved even more. To a system that had become stagnant, a protecting and guarding of the old ways rather than a continual movement along side of God into the “new”, Jesus, incomprehensibly, continued to sow the seeds of hope. While the religious leadership of Jesus’ day had become oppressive, Jesus saw in their plight, a plight common to all humanity, and not unique at all. They were not alone. To their tactics of manipulation and control, Jesus excused them as simply being blind, immature and inexperienced. To there extreme religious dysfunction which would ultimately turn into full blow homicide, no Deicide, Jesus understood they were simply . . . afraid.
So what did Jesus do? He continued to actively love them so much so that the only way for them to escape the insecurity that the religiously zealous, and nationalistically dedicated felt in response to Jesus’ radical nonviolence and radical inclusivity was to crucify him:
“You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (John 11.50)
But what does all of this mean for us?
1)The gospel was to Jesus the announcement that the Kingdom (the new creation, the new humanity) had come.
When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about THE KINGDOM of God, and healed those who needed to be cured. (Luke 9.11)
2)Jesus’ commission to those who were his followers was to proclaim this SAME gospel.
Cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘THE KINGDOM of God has come near to you.’ (Luke 10.9)
3)We see the first century followers of Jesus actually carrying out this commission, teaching Jesus’ same gospel:
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed THE KINGDOM of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! (Acts 28.30-31)
4)Jesus’ intention was that this gospel, the good news announcing that his Kingdom had come, would be proclaimed to each and every nation.
And this good news of THE KINGDOM will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come. (Matthew 24.14)
The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me [and my Kingdom] in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (Acts 23.11, emphasis added)
What is this Kingdom? Why was is so threatening to the religious leaders of Jesus day that they had him crucified? Why was it so threatening to Rome that Rome had Jesus’ followers crucified (or beheaded)? The answer is in the fact that whatever Jesus’ Kingdom encounters, this radical reorientation of how we do life, based on a new way of seeing God, ourselves and everyone else around us, seems at first to be threatening.
They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is ANOTHER KING, one called Jesus.” (Acts 17.7)
They were proclaiming, not the Pax Romana (the Peace of Rome), but the Peace of Jesus’ Kingdom. (See Acts 10.36) They were not praising Caesar as Lord, but proclaiming different Lord, the Lord Jesus. (See Acts 10.31,36) They were not chiming in with all the rest, proclaiming Caesar as “Son of God,” but this new Lord Jesus, of a different Kingdom as “Son of God.” (See Acts 9.20) The were not proclaiming Rome, and more specifically Caesar, as the “Savior of the world,” but they claimed that Jesus and his Kingdom was the “Savior of the world.” (See 1 John 4.14)
What does this mean for us today?
Does following Jesus ever feel, to you, as if it threatens to change everything about your life too?
Well, I’ll tell you a little secret. It does. But the changes that Jesus brings are changes that lead to life. The course that this world is on is one that ends intrinsically in death. Jesus came that we might have life.
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day WHAT WOULD BRING YOU PEACE—but now it is hidden from your eyes. (Luke 19.41-42)
1)Read, prayerfully and thoughtfully, DAILY, through Matthew 5-7 for the next seven days. Be mindful of the voices in your headspace that will try and marginalize, or explain away, what Jesus was actually teaching.
2)List some ways that Jesus’ teachings feel threatening to you. Then list how those same teachings could also set this world on the course toward a “new humanity” (Ephesians 2.14-15), a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5.17; Galatians 6.15), life rather than death, if those teachings would be embraced by us.
3)Be prepared to share openly and mutually your insights and discoveries with your HeartGroup, dialoging with each other and discussing each respectfully. Remember to practice the fifty plus “one anothers” of the New Testament most of all.
Wherever this finds you today, remember, the Kingdom of heaven is not a kingdom in heaven, but the Kingdom OF or FROM heaven, come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave us a way to heal our world, one person at a time. So today, go out and love like Jesus did, think like Jesus did, feel like Jesus did. Embrace Jesus’ picture of the Father, how Jesus taught us to see even ourselves. And continue to embrace how Jesus taught us to see, also, everyone else around us.
Keep living in love (Ephesians 5.1,2), and keep enlarging the Kingdom.
I love you guys, I’ll see you next week.