Kingdom of Heaven Part 3 – The Earthly Kingdom

design

When I was a child growing up in a small, southern christian community I often heard the great hymns sung on a Sunday morning or by my grandparents around the house. They have stuck with me and taught me some great theological lessons. The lines to It Is Well With My Soul or The Old Rugged Cross or especially My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less often come to mind throughout my life even today. These great songs taught so many truths about God and the Bible to generations who were unable to access information or read like we can today.

Yet, as I study the hymns that were popular with my grandparents and their generation I notice a common theme: a desire to leave this planet and be with God in Heaven. This is not surprising when I think about the fact that my grandparents grew up during the Great Depression and the era that followed it. They had many hard times in life not knowing where their next meal or dollar would come from. They learned to struggle through and raise families in the midst of difficult work and little money. No wonder this generation spent so much time thinking about Heaven.

Consider the theme that is expressed in hymns when they say things like “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop”, “Some glad morning when this life is over, I’ll fly away”, “In the sweet by and by, we will meet on that beautiful shore”, and perhaps especially “When we all get to Heaven what a day of rejoicing that will be”. These hymns and many others were popular because they gave hope to a generation of Americans who could not find much hope here on this Earth. Instead, it caused them to focus on their future home in Heaven.

Yet, I can’t help but believe that my grandparents’ generation (and many who still focus on that in the deep south church communities today) missed out on a great truth taught in the Bible: the Kingdom of Heaven is here! Yes, there is a Heavenly Kingdom where God reigns and we learned about that last week. However, Jesus taught us to pray that God’s will would be done here on Earth like it is in Heaven. Consider what Jesus had to say to the religious leaders of His day:

[20] One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?”

Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. [21] You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you. (Luke 17: 20-21 NLT)

This passage and others like it show us that Jesus very clearly taught His followers that the Kingdom of Heaven already was in place on the Earth. God is in control of all that happens in time and history and nothing occurs (good or bad) without His authority allowing it to. We don’t have to wait for it to come because it is already here among us.

You may be tempted to ask, “If the Kingdom of Heaven is already here, why don’t we see it more clearly?” It is true that we see tons of sadness, suffering, and death every day. Part of that is truth but a good part of that is that we live in an age where we are bombarded by information. People have suffered and died every day for centuries but we weren’t as acutely aware of it until the period of globalization happened. In truth, we have much less pain and suffering on the planet than we have had since the Fall of Man in our current generation thanks to great advances in science, technology, and medicine.

But there is a key component to this that we have missed out on that I touched on in earlier entries on this topic: the Church is not doing what it was tasked to do by King Jesus. We aren’t in the business of making disciples and, as a result, we are no longer being effective as salt and light in our lost world. We have many church members but very few disciples. We have billions of converts (2.2 billion) but very few disciples who are in the business of making disciples. We have bought the lie that if we simply get them plugged into a church community that they will be fine.

Remember the parable from Matthew 25 that we read a couple of weeks ago? We are the servants who think that the master is not coming back and we have taken His possessions as if they were our own. We have forgotten that the Master is coming back and that He will hold us accountable for what we did with our time, talents, and treasures. And we will be rewarded or punished accordingly based off of that judgment.

Then why has Jesus not come back to finish setting up his earthly kingdom? The Apostle Peter explains:

[9] The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. [10] But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief…

 

[15a] And remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved.  (2 Peter 3: 9-10 & 15a NLT)

God is giving us more time to be effective in making disciples and leading people to salvation through the power of the Holy Spirit. I know this is a repeat of earlier teaching but it blows my mind that if every person who claims to be a follower of Christ (2.2 billion of us) would be faithful to make one disciple each year then we would have reached the entire world for Christ in less than 4 years (2.2 billion x 4 = 8.8 billion and there are only 7.2 billion people on the planet).

When is Jesus coming back? No one knows. It will be unexpected but we can either be found ready or found surprised. My personal belief is that Jesus will not return until we are faithful to spread the Gospel to every part of the world. It is crazy to think that there are still parts of the world where people have never heard the Gospel or about who Jesus is. The even sadder thing is that there are millions of Americans who do not have correct information about Jesus and the Bible. We, as the Church in America, have done a very poor job in bringing the Gospel to others and our culture is paying the price.

How do we do this? How do we bring the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth? I will give you 3 tasks that I believe every follower of Christ should do. If we followed these steps we could see the Kingdom come in power and perhaps speed up the return of Jesus. Let’s look at them together:

  1. Get serious about our faith

Jesus taught pretty clearly that you cannot be His follower and not be sold out to Him. He taught that we can’t have two masters (Matthew 6:24) and that we cannot love anyone more than Jesus (Matthew 10:37). Jesus wants sold out followers and not converts. Sadly, these last three generations of Americans have done a good job of making converts but a poor job of making disciples. Most Americans would say they are Christians but very few have lifestyles that back that up.

Jesus said these powerful words that have stuck with me for many years:

[62] But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62 NLT)

What did Jesus mean by that? Jesus had just been given a string of excuses by people He had called to be His followers. Some said they had to take care of elderly family and others said that they had to go back and let their families know they were leaving. Both of these excuses seem legit on the surface. Yet, in their Jewish culture, these two things would take a lot of time. To “bury my father” the man would have to wait years or decades to receive his inheritance from his death father. The man who wanted to go back to tell his family was culturally saying that he would need to go and celebrate for what could be months before he’d be free to come back to Jesus.

Jesus didn’t want followers who were more concerned about earthly wealth and pleasures. He wanted followers who were willing to leave everything behind and follow Him. Look again at verse 62. This might not make sense at first blush but it’s a phrase the average Jewish person who had to farm to provide for their family would get. If you were plowing a field you had to look forward because if you took time to look back you’d mess up your rows and your work would be pointless.

Jesus is telling His listeners that if they commit to following Him, like a farmer plowing their field, then they cannot spend time looking back at what they left behind. It was a waste of effort and work to try and live for God and for themselves. The same is still true today; we cannot live for God and for ourselves. If we stop to focus on the life we left rather than the work set before us then we will waste time we could be using to bring the Kingdom.

2. Impact YOUR Mission Field

 

 

In other posts, I have talked about how we should all bloom where we are planted. I have also talked about how it is not just the job of the pastor/minister/chaplain to make disciples and spread the Gospel. It is the job of every follower of Christ to impact the areas they live and work in. We are all missionaries called to a certain mission field. It may be a team you coach, a job you work at, the family you are raising, or the Bible study you are teaching. Anywhere you go is a potential mission field; you just have to open your spiritual eyes and see it.

Look at what Jesus taught His followers in what we call the Sermon on the Mount:

[13] “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

[14] “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. [15] No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. [16] In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5: 13-16 NLT)

Jesus is telling His followers that their lives should impact the world. In that time, salt was not a flavor enhancer but a food preserver (aka refrigerator). People rubbed salt on meat to make it last longer. Poorer people rubbed grass from salt marshes on it because they couldn’t afford crystallized salt and the salt water from the grass would dry into salt on the meat. However, the more the grass was used the less salt it had in it. Eventually, it became useless and was put on roofs and paths to be walked on.

Jesus was telling the crowds that they were the salt of the earth (aka Earth preservers). Their task, like a city on the hill for all to see, was to live in such a way that everyone could see that they were follower of Jesus and that their lifestyle would create such a desire to live more lives that they would, in effect, preserve the Earth. The reason our nation and so many others in this world is falling into moral chaos is because people who claim to be Christians are failing at being the salt of the Earth and the light of the world.

3. Spend Each Year Discipling 1 Person

 

 

Jesus chose 12 people and spent 3.5 years discipling them. 11 of them went on to turn the world upside down by spreading the Gospel to the entire known world (the Roman Empire). Their efforts, powered by the Holy Spirit, led the entire Roman Empire to become Christian in less than 300 years. This is incredible when you consider how many centuries of paganism the Greco/Roman culture had been involved in.

Imagine, if you will, if the 2.2 billion Christians in this world discipled one person a year. In less than 3 years the entire planet would be followers of Christ. Even if we took 3.5 years like Jesus did to disciple a single person we’d accomplish the mission in 10.5 years. Yet, I meet so very few Christians who actively engage in discipling a new follower of Christ. Again, they think it is the job of the pastor/minister/chaplain to disciple people. They have not only missed the boat but also fail to partner with the heartbeat of Jesus: to make disciples.

 

Where does that leave us? I hope you will pray with me that we as the Church would begin to do those 3 things. That we would take our faith so seriously that the people we interact with on a daily basis would know we are sold out to Christ and that we would make time in our busy lives to disciple a young believer and train them well so that they will make disciples as well. If we did this we’d see the Kingdom of Heaven come to Earth in such a mighty way and, I personally believe, we would speed up the return of the King.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s