Wednesday, June 28, 2006

"I will build my church" (5) - the church and the kingdom

I commented in an earlier post that Jesus hardly ever talked about "church". What Jesus talked about repeatedly was the Kingdom, and it's not until we get to Acts that the word church/ekklesia is used as the usual way to describe the people of God.

And when Jesus talked about the kingdom, what He often spoke about was relationships and living in community.

In a post about Jesus' Gospel of Grace I wrote this about the Matthew 13 Kingdom-parables:

Matthew groups several parables together in a collection of stories beginning with the words “the kingdom of heaven is like …” (Matthew 13). An interesting thing about these parables is that none of them speak specifically about the kingdom as our reward or of a kingdom in the way we might think of one: as a nation or country. In fact, they don’t seem to be speaking about a future kingdom at all, but describing how the kingdom is preached, how it begins, and the characteristics of the people who respond to the kingdom-message, the citizens of the kingdom. In fact, Jesus says almost nothing about the future kingdom after His second coming.

In another post about Jesus' Kingdom-parables in Matthew 13 I wrote:

While the parable of the wheat and tares reveals how the kingdom co-exists with evil in the world, the parable of the fish in the net reveals how both good and bad people exist together in the community of people who have been “caught up” by the good news of the kingdom. The Jews expected the Messiah to destroy all the godless nations and gather together a holy people. But Jesus came “not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17) and brought together a group of people who were rejected by society. Rather than destroying these “godless” people, Jesus called them into His kingdom. His invitation went out to all kinds
of people, and the “net” caught up all sorts of people. Sorting out the good from the bad must await the last day, when the kingdom will become a perfect community.

Immediately after writing that "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom" (Matt 4:23) Matthew immediately launches into his account of the sermon on the mount (chapters 5-7). At the heart of this sermon is the message to love our enemies and to be all-inclusive. The creed of Jesus, based on the creed of Israel, is this:

"The most important [commandment]," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." "

(Mark 12:29-31).

The sermon on the mount encapsulates much of the ethical teaching of Jesus. Here, and in many of the parables, stories and sayings, Jesus teaches about living in relationship with others, friend and foe. But His message was not just about getting on with people: His primary concern was about building a community of people whose relationships with each other are modeled on and flow from the example of God Himself in His dealings with His people. Jesus Gospel of Grace, for example, was about acting graciously to others in response to God's grace to us.

In preaching about the Kingdom Jesus taught about forgiveness, reconciliation with others, friendship and living in community. The Kingdom of God consists of people who are living these Kingdom-dynamics. Even stories which are specifically described as parables "of the Kingdom" are actually about God's inclusiveness, and the "righteous" and "sinners" co-existing together. They emphasise the diversity of people in the Kingdom, and the acceptance of people rejected by society (and by religious leaders). The Kingdom preached by Jesus is about justice for the disenfranchised, and the integration back in to the community of the outcasts.

This is the new Israel - the restored, rebuilt people of God. A community of God's people as God intended it to be.

Jesus taught that this new Israel, the Kingdom of God, the assembly of God's people, would come in two stages. Like the prophets of Israel He taught about the Age to Come, and taught His disciples to pray "Your Kingdom come" (Matt 6:10). But He also taught that the power of this coming Kingdom was breaking in to the present age - "the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt 12:28). The writer to the Hebrews picks up the point and speaks of believers as "those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age" (Hebrews 6:4-6).

The "now" kingdom reality is a "taste" of the "not yet" final consummation in the age to come. The citizens of the Age to Come are living now as the community of God.

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