Jesus came first and foremost preaching the kingdom. Even the most superficial skimming of the New Testament will readily reveal this fact. Inaugurating the Kingdom of Heaven (or Kingdom of God) and laying the groundwork for its ongoing establishment on earth was his central mission and, although other things were important, everything took a back seat to this. Dr. Myles Munroe explains most cogently:
“Everywhere He went, Jesus preached the Kingdom. That was His assignment. Jesus primary message was not the born-again message that dominates gospel preaching. In His entire recorded ministry, Jesus spoke only once about being born again, and that was in the middle of the night to a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who had come to Jesus privately. Being born again is the way into the Kingdom – it is the necessary first step. But the gospel of the Kingdom involves much more……….Not only did Jesus rarely speak about being born again, neither did He make these other themes the focus of His preaching: prosperity, healing, baptism in the Holy Spirit, or many of the other things we preach so much about today. Jesus taught about those things, and He demonstrated them in His day-by-day ministry, but He didn’t preach them. There is a big difference. Jesus had only one message: the Kingdom of God. That was His assignment, and He passed it on to us. His assignment is our assignment.”
Indeed, healing, prosperity, evangelism, service to others, salvation, born again themes – all of these are foundational aspects of the gospel message, but they all pale in comparison to what I like to call “God’s Great Story.” This story is the underlying theme of the entire Bible and it is ultimately the story of how God is going about setting up his kingdom here on earth. Jesus had a unique role to play in this great cosmic drama and, because of who and what he was and is, it was a role only he could play. And just as Dr. Munroe so passionately explained, Christ’s assignment was to bring the message of the kingdom to this planet and just before he went back to his celestial home after ascending higher than the highest heaven (Ephesians 4:10), he had one more surprise: he charged us with continuing his assignment here on earth.
What this means is that just as Jesus had a unique role to play in the establishment of the kingdom, so does each of us. The problem is many of us are confused about what that role entails in both general and individually specific aspects. To make matters even more perplexing is the fact that the church, either by choice or by ignorance, seems to have abandoned its kingdom mission.
In order to rectify this situation we have to engage is serious study so as to discern exactly what Jesus meant when he talked about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. As we undertake such a project we also need to realize that the whole kingdom agenda is a multi-faceted phenomenon and does not necessarily lend itself to simplistic analysis.
I am convinced that although such a study can be carried out within the parameters of a group setting, ultimately, each of us must arrive at our own understanding of what the basic themes of the “kingdom message” of Jesus were. Perhaps the benefit of a study group would especially come in when participants came together to discuss what they had each discovered.
As to methodology for an undertaking like this, again, I think that whatever best suits the individual will be the most effective, provided of course, that it covers the territory in sufficient detail. For example, whenever I undertake this sort of study project I typically fall back on my Methodist background and John Wesley’s four-part system of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. I have never failed to find this methodology sufficient for any research task of the nature we are discussing.
The Kingdom Agenda is at the foundation of all acts of Christian service. As followers of Christ, called to give flesh to grace and make disciples in all the world, we must constantly be about our kingdom calling in ways great and small. I like the way N.T. Wright puts this into proper perspective:
“……….what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are – strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself – accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world – all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God.”
As Wright so eloquently reminds us, the Kingdom agenda is permeated through and through with proactive compassion. It is not enough to sit back and identify and discuss social problems from a comfortable distance. Jesus was not afraid to get his hands dirty and he certainly does not call us to detached, sterile service. Kingdom work is often unpleasant and frequently places us in circumstances that are far out of our comfort zones.
As followers of Christ in this challenging age of change it is imperative that we reorient our efforts, making certain that we are in alignment with the mission the Master has given us. The specifics of each mission will be different for each of us, but each will share a common denominator. Our particular calling, whether great or small, is grounded in love, kindness, and compassion. Each personal mission will seek to establish a just and equitable way of being in the world, solidly based on kingdom principles and deep concern for the well-being of others.
© L.D. Turner 2012/ All Rights Reserved
- The Kingdom Within You and Without You (faithumc.me)
- Developing a Kingdom Mindset (yourjesusmind.com)