And this gospel of the kingdom must be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations and then the end shall come. Matthew 24:14
I hear reports that we are making headway getting the scriptures translated into all the languages and dialects of the earth. Implicit in this report is often the understanding that this feat of translation will facilitate the “and then” aspect of this verse; “and then the end shall come.” Many believers anticipate this milestone as the linchpin-event that will immediately precede the return of Christ and the unfolding of events more distressful than this earth has ever known.
What we do know about this day is that the matter of its timing has not been entrusted to us. That is precisely why we are told to be ready 24 hrs/day X the days of our lives. As I have been reviewing a handful of verses on His ability and His power, I have agitated a haunting set of questions that have lodged themselves in my mind. Just to mention a few;
Is the gospel of the kingdom what we have been digesting here in the West and disbursing to the nations for the past few centuries? Is the gospel of the kingdom just the news that Christ has become a means of saving our souls and transporting us out of this world? Is the gospel of the kingdom the message that says; “if we invite Jesus into our hearts, we shall be saved?” Or, is the gospel of the kingdom something different; perhaps something radically more? What if we have got this wrong and most of christendom is measuring time and growth from false reference points? That is really just too painful to consider yet I cannot escape these questions.
One source of my unease is my own experience. For many years of my life I thought I was preaching the gospel. I had the doctrine of salvation down pat (or at least I thought). It was on the tip of my tongue for more than three decades before I discovered how limp and ineffectual it was on the lips of a man whose knowledge and convictions outweighed his love, peace and joy. How sad that I was speaking my convictions yet was preaching a gospel with my life that appeared to be, at best, just average news; certainly not good news. I believe the world I was trying to save saw through me. They knew intuitively that my joy and power did not match the gospel’s claims. They knew that I was not the real deal. That is a painful proposition to entertain.
The other source is the scriptures themselves. They point to an experience with Christ that transcends what most have tasted. Since God paid the ultimate price with His Son to restore the affairs of this earth back to His original intent, I do not want to settle for some compromised vision of our Life in Christ which was really just a spiritual path of least resistance. It is my sense that without a kingdom-vision guarding and interpreting scripture and experience, what we can reasonably expect and accomplish will become the default, yet false reference point, for life in Christ. That is tragic and nearly too painful to consider; yet, I find I must.
I understand the dynamics of forming a vision that is doable. The broad pathway of a workable plan at least protects my heart from disappointment when things don’t play out as scripture or my childlike heart suggested that it should. This route allows me to hedge my bets and keep unnecessary disappointment at bay. Listen to the fatalism and unbelief of fallen, unspoken logic; “I will just dumb-down my hope, so that when it is deferred, as it always is, I will be spared the inevitable sickness of heart that is always the reward of this futile exercise.” Does this sad line of reasoning at all sound familiar?
The easiest thing for the devout is to simply dismiss the New Testament as an anomaly instead of referring to it as a benchmark, or better yet, a starting-block for normal Christianity.
Christ is coming again. I do not know when but it will be with amazing power and glory. Living in a body that is being progressively humbled and is crying out for transformation, I am eagerly awaiting that day when everything, especially my body, conforms, without further protest, to His goodness and power. The pain in my body, that seems to defy prayer, (at least so far) tempts me to adopt a belief system that dismisses healing as a bygone gift. Here is further fallen reasoning (in Jesus’ name of course); “If I set healing aside, I can at least avoid being sick in both body and spirit.” At all familiar?
These days, my heart will not let me do this much violence to the Spirit of the New Testament. The light that I have today informs me that He is coming and has come in power. I know nothing about when the “is” of His ultimate coming will be. I do know I must live out of His Life – the power that has come. My sense is that if I do not, the gospel of the kingdom will not have really been preached which would forestalling God’s restoration of things to His original intent (at least in my neighborhood).
The truth is; Christ is in us. We are in Christ. He is our abundant Life. Christ is the power of God. Right now, in this current age, in this current moment, regardless of our perception, or even our belief, we have been raised from the dead in Christ and seated, with Him, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion. God has done some good things so far but has the earth really seen expression and evidence of our new nature; our new identity?
I see Christ turning to us, His would-be present disciples, asking, “Do you believe that I am able to do this? Do you believe that through the exertion of My power that I can liberate the spirit of a man who is still living in an earthly body such that the transformation validates my claims that I not only save men’s souls but I transform them even now, from one stage of glory to the next?”
Since the Reformation (nearly 500 years ago), the world has seen a surge of life that emerged through the doctrine of grace. Is it possible that another even greater surge of grace may be coming to us in the shape of His Kingdom? Could it be that the next great phase of God’s campaign for the liberation of this planet is being re-presented to us; the next phase of warfare designed to move us back, closer to His original intent?
The world has seen the gospel presented and the Church formed without due consideration to the Kingdom of God. It has not yet seen a light shining forth from the Church that has been filtered and amplified through the lens of the Kingdom. All creation longs for it but has yet to see the sons of God liberated into the fulness of their inheritance-freedom.
The Word of God presents this day (as well as days of trouble) as an inevitability. The Church has been divided as to whether the Kingdom is a now-Kingdom or a then-Kingdom. Isn’t it both? The Kingdom came in Christ. Through His death and resurrection He has established the foundations for the Kingdom. The Kingdom is everyplace where Christ is reigning. It is within us and will expand with our cooperation. It would probably not be inaccurate to say that creation itself is pregnant with the Kingdom of God. It would follow that we ourselves are pregnant with His Kingdom.
What do the birth pangs look like in you? How do you envision the expansion of the Kingdom taking place within You? What will the process of expansion of His reign in your heart entail?
My story: The contractions in my life have often involved the painful observations that things are amiss. God has often allowed me to try and deal with matters in my own human strength long enough to exhaust me. I eventually discover that I have not even understood what the root issues even were and that I have in fact been wrestling with God Himself. From round to round I would see things in me that were very painful to acknowledge but, if I wanted to press on to know Him, I could not sweep these ugly things under the rug. The way was through the pain, not around it.
The Kingdom of God is the domain of a Father, who provides the safety and security of His love as a place where we can be transparent before Him and others with our lives. Fathers know the landscape of the heart. They know what God’s original intentions look like. They know the Father’s ways of restoring. They are accessible. They hold their sons hands as He shows them things that are difficult and painful to acknowledge and to take ownership of. His presence gives us the courage to see and take responsibility for things we have previously found too painful to even acknowledge. With our “Thy kingdom comes”, we might add, “and Lord, raise up the fathers”.
Father, May you soon hear a collective “Yes” from Your children; a childlike “Yes” that acknowledges that You can even make children of Abraham from stones. May our “Yes” be the linchpin-event that immediately precedes Your restatement of the gospel, the gospel of the kingdom and a reign of Christ (even in a world that is under seige) that is far more glorious than the hearts of men have yet conceived. This time Father, permit us to proclaim it with the authority of scripture and the authority of our transformed lives. May we stand boldly and joyfully in Your most holy presence and in the presence of a dying world with lives that demonstrate a living hope anchored in both this age and the next. I love You Lord. I truly do. Amen.