Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reflections on the Kingdom of God: the Adventure Begins"

Over and over this summer, the Lord has brought me back to the invitation to “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be given to me.”  Jesus taught this principle in the very famous Sermon on the Mount, which is found in the fifth through seventh chapter of Matthew.  This verse is found at the end of the sixth chapter, in the middle of the whole teaching (Matt 6:33).

In seminary they used to say, “You are reading someone else’s mail” when you read the Bible.  What they were describing is the necessity to understand the historical and cultural contexts of what we read to get the full picture of what is taking place.

Last night I found a letter written from Bill’s Mom to me.  As I read it, I looked for a date on it because I wanted to understand the context in which she was writing me.  Was it right after we were married, or was it several years later?  When I found the date, I knew, it was the first letter that she wrote me after we got married, and we were seeking to form a relationship for the first time.

This is also how we need to approach Jesus’ teachings on the Sermon of the Mount.  We can ask questions, such as:  Who was his audience? Where is it placed in Matthew’s Gospel?  Why is this placement important? 

Beginnings and endings are also important because they indicate a greater importance of attention.  When themes are repeated this should also cause us to give greater focus to it as it is there to emphasize the seriousness in which Jesus wants us to hear his thoughts.
If you remember, John the Baptist came before Jesus to prepare the way for Jesus.  He spent his life calling people to repentance through an act of baptism.  The regular Jewish people were responding, the soil of their inner lives were being prepared to receive Jesus and to hear what he had to say.  

So, my guess is that when Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount, he had a lot of seeking Jewish people in his audience.  (Most commentators believe that the Sermon on the Mount is a compilation of the teaching that Jesus often taught, it wasn’t a one time event).  He also had a number of the Jewish leaders:  the Pharisees and the Sadducees, in the audience.  Perhaps he even had a few Gentile seekers, although their numbers would be sparse because of the open hostilities between the two groups.

Matthew is very intentional for where he places the Sermon on the Mount in his writings.  The first four chapters involve a lot of action: they start with the geneology of Jesus’ family line, his prophesied birth and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem where Jesus was born, the visit from the Wise Men, the family’s escape to Egypt and their eventual return to Nazareth.  The third chapter opens with John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus’ coming by calling out, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  One day, John was visited by Jesus where he asked John to baptize him.  John was surprised by the request, but when he baptized Jesus, the heavens opened and the dove descended on Jesus while everyone heard the Father’s pronouncement: “This is my beloved son in whom I delight.”  Father, Son and Spirit all present at one time.

Immediately, Jesus was led into the desert to be tempted by the Devil for 40 days.   It is through Jesus spoken word of Scripture that he was able to defeat the enemy’s scheme to lead him into sin.  The Father was pleased and after the Devil’s final defeat, Jesus left and began to proclaim, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

This was the message of both John the Baptist and Jesus, their key idea that they continued to proclaim throughout their entire ministries.  The Sermon on the Mount is the teaching for how we are live out Jesus’ call to us, as his disciples, to
“seek his kingdom first!”

Since both Jesus’ and John the Baptist told the people to “repent, “ I think it’s important for us to be clear on what repentance is and how we walk it out.   Repenting is a process of turning around and going another direction with our lives:  to understand that God has a way that is best and to make the decision to live in alignment with his way.  Repentance involves first and foremost, a changing of our mind about how we live.  The more that we align our lives with God’s way, the more that we experience his kingdom operating through us.

So, what exactly is God’s kingdom?  Is it an actual place with a castle and a throne?  Not exactly, it is wherever God’s rule and reign operates:  so if we are living with God as our king and following his rule in us, the kingdom is present.  In a sense, it is the very thing that Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer:  “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, on earth as it already is in heaven.”  We have the opportunity to see heaven come to earth as we seek first God’s kingdom in our lives.”

I am going to spend the better part of this year exploring the theme of the kingdom of God and how we can follow Jesus’ invitation to “Seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness, and seeing all the other cares of life come into right alignment as a result.”

I look forward to the journey, I hope you will come along with me as together we discover the treasure of life in God’s kingdom!

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