Jesus and His Passion for a Big Kingdom
By Shane Bennett
Driving of the Merchants from the Temple, by Ippolito Scarsella.
If God’s job is to make his sheep fat and happy, he’s not too good at it. I think about believers in the Caribbean and the US suffering the effects of Harvey and Irma today, Mexicans dead in a massive earthquake, and Christians persecuted in the Middle East. Not to mention potential believers like the Rohingya of Burma who are fleeing for their lives in the hundreds of thousands.
If his job is to radically remake everything, I wonder why he’s so slow about it. Realizing, however, that the fundamental unit of the “everything” getting remade is the human heart, mine and yours, I sadly acknowledge I’m part of the slowness.
Alongside the long list of things I don’t understand and the timing issues I don’t get, one thing seems pretty clear in the Gospels: Jesus inaugurated and relentlessly lived into a vision of a certain and vast kingdom of God—a new reality in which outsiders become insiders, evil is pushed back, justice becomes the norm, and as N.T. Wright brilliantly summarizes, God “puts all things to rights.”
God’s job, then, is to bring about that kingdom. Jesus, by the way he lived, the things he said, and the places he hung out gives us both a framework for what the kingdom looks like and a model for participation in it.
I’m particularly encouraged and re-centered by some of the key biblical ideas highlighted in the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course regarding this:
1. Jesus called himself the “Son of Man.”
While this carried messianic allusions for his Jewish listeners, perhaps it also provided accessibility to non-Jews. At least it lowered some of the walls of exclusivity raised by Jewish-specific titles like Son of David and Rabbi.
2. Jesus hung out with outsiders.
Matthew tells us Jesus went and lived in Capernaum, fulfilling scripture (Matthew 4:12-25; Isaiah 9:1-2):
Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
This also put Jesus nearer to the nations. While messiah-seeking Jews could come up from Jerusalem to encounter Jesus (as Matthew says they did), Gentiles found him teaching, healing, and driving out demons right in their own back yard! The presence of the kingdom of God had come even to them (Matthew 4:24-25).
3. Jesus gave Gentiles access.
When Jesus cleansed the Temple, or as I like to say, “wreaked havoc on the holy hangout,” he was not teaching us that Girl Scouts can’t sell cookies in the foyer and realtors should leave their business cards at home on Sunday morning. Instead he was rolling back a situation that prevented access to God by Gentiles. He re-opened a path for the glory God deserved and wanted from the nations (Matthew 21:12-17; Isaiah 56:7-8). Can’t you just hear him shout it?
“For my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”
The Sovereign Lord declares—
he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
besides those already gathered.”
4. Jesus passionately advocated for care for outsiders.
We see him in action healing a Roman soldier’s slave (Luke 7:1-10) and driving out demons from the daughter of a foreigner (Matthew 15:21-28). We hear his words of scathing rebuke (Luke 4:24-26). Were there not widows in Israel? Were there not lepers in Israel? Yet God had sent the prophet to foreigners!
5. He worked long and hard to build global, kingdom understanding in his disciples.
I particularly love how Jesus agrees to spend two days in a Samaritan village (John 4:39-41). Poor disciples! Jesus was leading them into the very places they promised their moms they’d never go! This is such a cool model for us to both go and take others into important situations that are beyond our realm of comfort.
What can we do to grow in alignment with Jesus on this? How can we see and live out the kingdom he envisioned? The answer could be as big and diverse as the cosmos, but here’s one thing that hurts and one thing that should be fun:
First, realize that we may have more in common with the religious leaders Jesus was smacking around than the outsiders to whom he showed such lavish kindness.
It’s possible this is just me and not you, but give it a little thought. If you’re reading Missions Catalyst, odds are you’re an insider to the things of God and to the current Christian culture. Our enemy would love to build a mindset in us in which we thank God for our special status and cluck our tongues at those gays, Muslims, liberals, etc. who are outside looking in.
Second, give up on this generation and focus on the next!
I’m kidding. Let’s not give up quite yet. But I want to invite you to build kingdom-minded kids by sending your youth group with me next year to connect with refugees. It would be a little bit like when Jesus took his guys to hang out with the Samaritan woman and her village. Let’s spend a week in a US city, learning about the refugee situation, connecting with a local church, working hard, and authentically serving an unreached refugee community.
Sound like a step in the right kingdom direction? Let’s talk.