Friday, April 30, 2010

Jesus' Original Message

The first recorded message of Jesus was simple, "The Kingdom of God is at hand." He preached it for three years of public ministry. Sometimes he called it the Kingdom of Heaven. Sometimes he added the words "Repent" or "The time is fulfilled." But the basic message was clear.

Jesus told his disciples, "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God." And he sent them out to reveal the mystery to any who would listen. "And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'"

You don't hear Jesus' followers proclaiming this message much these days. Maybe it is because they don't know the mystery of the kingdom. People can't preach what they don't know.

The Kingdom of God is "at hand." That does not mean it was coming soon. That would make Jesus into a liar, since it has been 2000 years since he said it. It means that the kingdom is within arm's reach. Reach out your hand, and you touch the Kingdom. I picture Jesus spreading his arms saying, "It is right here! See for yourself!"

He often prefaced it with the command "Repent." Repent literally means to rethink, to think again, to think in a new way. Billy Graham was fond of saying that it means to turn around. It is a good translation. Turn your thinking around. Turn your seeing around. Instead of looking outward, turn inward. There it is.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus for a date for the arrival of the kingdom he replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you." It is not seen with physical sight, but with spiritual sight.

When Pilate asked him about his kingdom Jesus responded, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now my kingdom is not from here."

On one occasion Jesus said, "Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power." The fact is that everyone who stood there listening to Jesus died. So either Jesus was mistaken, a liar, or "a lunatic - on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg" (as C.S. Lewis was fond of saying.) Or some of those standing there truly saw a kingdom "present with power" which abolished in them the taste of death.

Jesus' message was of a spiritual kingdom experienced spiritually. This doesn't eliminate future eschatological manifestations of the kingdom in time and space. I am still expecting the return of Christ in glory. But his main message is that the Kingdom of God - the spiritual realm of God's presence - is here now. As Jesus said, "Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?" Repent, The kingdom of God is at hand.

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