Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Real Message of the Real Jesus is...

I’ve just finished teaching my Philosophy of Religion course at our community college. In this course one of the things I teach about is the comparative religions. I especially focus on the five major world religions, which are: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. I can tell you that my students are very interested in these things. And I can tell you that I was especially excited about telling the class about Christianity.
I had thirty-six students in this class. Many of these students are very sharp intellectually, and I really like and care for all of them. But when I asked them the question, “What was the main message Jesus Christ came to teach?” not one of the thirty-six students could give the correct answer. Some very good attempts were made, but no one knew the one thing that Jesus talked about over and over and over again and again. So I told them that the main message of Jesus was this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). After I said this, one of the students said, "I have never heard that before."
The four Gospels record that Jesus used the words “kingdom” and “kingdoms” 116 times. The very first thing Jesus preached upon beginning His public ministry was the message of the nearness of the Kingdom as recorded in Matthew 4:17 above.
The famous "Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew 5 is all above what “Kingdom” people should be like. For example, the very first of Jesus’ beatitudes says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
The parables of Jesus are all about the Kingdom. Most of the parables begin with Jesus saying the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”
The three main signs of the Kingdom, for Jesus, are that people get healed, demons are cast out, and the good news of the Kingdom gets proclaimed (Matthew 10:7-8; et. al.). Please note that the healings and exorcisms only make sense within Jesus’ Kingdom vision and Kingdom language. They provide proof that, in Jesus, the Real King is on the scene.
Our friend Greg Boyd has just published a new book which is entirely based on Jesus’ words as recorded in John 18:36: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Jesus taught of there being two kingdoms; the Kingdom for God, and the Kingdom of this world. Satan is over the latter Kingdom. Followers of Jesus have been given authority over this latter, dark Kingdom. In Jesus we have power and authority to push back the powers of darkness and bring in the Kingdom of Light. Jesus tells His followers, “I give you power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases” (Luke 9:1; 10.1 ff.). In the movie “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” we see the powers of darkness receding as the snow and ice begins to melt.
Finally, consider the “Lord’s Prayer.” Which reads, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I don’t know how you have prayed this prayer, but I know that, for myself, it became a different thing when I understood that the Lord’s Prayer is really – again – all about the Kingdom Jesus came to tell us about. When we pray for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, we are asking for Kingdom things like healings and exorcisms and proclamation and the ethics and behaviors of the real Kingdom to be real and demonstrated in our very midst.
Such things are now happening at Redeemer. May they continue. May they increase. May the Kingdom of Heaven be established in us.