Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My Kingdom is Not of This World

Jesus’ inaugural address for His entire ministry is recorded in Luke 4:18. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus had spoken these words in the synagogue in Nazareth where His friends, relatives, and neighbors had excitedly gathered to hear him. He had read from the book of the prophet Isaiah from the Torah shrine which had been handed to him.

After he handed the book back to the attendant, he spoke to the rows of townspeople and said, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The elders sarcastically said that “This is Joseph’s son. He’s a hometown boy, a carpenter and the son of a carpenter. What could he know of Messiah?”

Jesus reminded them of two stories they knew well from their heritage. During a great drought, the prophet Elijah had brought water not to the dying widows of Israel, but to the heathen widow and his successor Elisha had ignored Jewish lepers and cleansed a Syrian instead.

His words were like a cold splash of water in the faces of the crowd. They had expected liberation for the Jews from Roman rule and judgment on all others. Jesus was now going to extend their long awaited promise of their liberation further into the future and at the same time spoke judgment upon them for rejecting him.

From that time there would be many planned attempts to destroy His life. But the introduction to the Kingdom of God had been made. The formal announcement of His Messiahship and the rule of God in this world would alter human history forever. Of all the scriptures Jesus might have read, He chose the one that unmistakably announced the coming of the Kingdom of God. To those in that synagogue, Jesus’ words could only mean that He was claiming to be the Messiah. And if that was true, the Kingdom of God had become a present reality.

Like the Jews in that Nazareth synagogue, most of us think of kingdoms as geographic entities, physical realms with boundaries and defenses and treasuries. But the Kingdom of God is a rule, not a realm. It is the declaration of God’s absolute sovereignty, of His total order of life in this world and the next.

Jesus consistently defined His work as ushering in the Kingdom of God. Almost all of His parables focused on the Kingdom in one aspect or another, while His miracles authenticated His message. By exercising dominion over every phase of His earthly existence, He revealed the fact that the Kingdom of God had come. When Christ commanded His followers to “seek first the Kingdom of God,” He was exhorting them to seek to be ruled by God and gratefully acknowledge His power and authority over them. That means that the Christian goal is not to strive to rule, but be ruled.

While God’s rule is authoritarian, it is also voluntary. The good news is that the price has been paid, and His Kingdom is open to all who desire admission.