[originally sent to those faithful few in the underground on Jan. 27, 2006]
[subversive underground] HERE AND NOW
by Keith Giles
At the core of the ministry of Jesus is the Gospel of The Kingdom. Nearly every single parable of Jesus is designed to explain a particular facet of the Kingdom. His Sermon on the Mount declares the values of this Kingdom. His teachings are intended to show us how to live within the Kingdom, and His life was a blueprint for us to follow as we ourselves enter the Kingdom and learn from Him.
This new order that both John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah came to announce is a counter-cultural, and therefore counter-intuitive, system of life.
What we must keep in mind, as we begin to explore the concepts found in the Gospel of the Kingdom, is that this new system of life is God’s system. It is not one way of living, but in truth it is the way of living. Even as these new ways of thinking and living and being confound our minds and defy our logic and reason, we must constantly strive to remind ourselves that it is not God’s system that is unrealistic, but it is our own pattern of thinking and living that needs to be reformed and renewed.
When Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20) this is a counter-intuitive, counter-cultural statement. In the world you and I live in every day, it most certainly is not the poor who are blessed, and neither do we associate great spiritual gain with poverty. In fact, in modern times the mega church and the splendor of the televangelist franchise would suggest to all of us that it is the rich and the successful who is most likely to inherit the kingdom of God. Is Jesus mistaken, or are we the ones who have misplaced our priorities? I suspect it’s the latter and not the former.
It’s fascinating to me that if we read the most famous sermon Jesus ever preached we will see a version of reality that most of us who proudly call ourselves His followers would find surprisingly alien.
Most of us live with a practical version of the Beatitudes that go something like, “Blessed are the popular for they will be promoted. Blessed are the investors for they will inherit a secure retirement. Blessed are those who are strong, who are entertaining, who are physically beautiful and strong, for they will receive all that they hope or desire.”
The words of Jesus from the sermon on the mount seem to be for another world and another place, not for the actual world you and I live in and deal with every single day. It’s because of this apparent disconnect that most Christians dismiss the wisdom of Jesus as something for the age to come. “When we get to Heaven things will be the way Jesus describes them,” we tell ourselves. But for the here and now, it’s survival of the fittest and every man for himself.
Nothing could be further from the truth, or more blasphemous to the life and ministry of Jesus.
When Jesus came to preach the Good News of the Kingdom, it was for today. It was intended for the here and now of life, not for some mystical afterlife beyond the grave.
What Jesus was proclaiming was that we could live today under the rule and reign of Almighty God, as we will one day when the New Jerusalem comes down from God out of Heaven. Instead of waiting to have this quality of life, Jesus was presenting an alternative system of living whereby we could reap the benefits of a God-Ruled Universe right now.
This is why so many people followed Jesus. This is why his message, his Gospel, was so compelling, and therefore so dangerous, to those who held spiritual power over the masses.
Most of modern Christianity has assumed that the Gospel that Jesus proclaimed had something to do with his death on the cross and the promise of eternal life after we die. This is what we’ve all been taught in Sunday School and through sermon after sermon all through our lives.
Most of us would define “The Gospel” as a spiritual transaction whereby we who are sinners receive a ticket to heaven when we die because of the death of Jesus upon the cross in our place. Yet, if we take this definition of the Gospel and apply it to the scriptures, we can easily see that this was not what Jesus or his disciples had in mind when they went around proclaiming the Gospel.
Even before we examine specific scriptures, those of us who have even a basic knowledge of the disciples can agree that, even as Jesus described his imminent arrest, torture and crucifixion to his closest friends and followers, there constant response to this was confusion, denial or flat out dismissal. If this were a central part of the Gospel as Jesus was proclaiming it to them, and as they themselves were proclaiming, it would seem logical that they would be able to grasp it. But this is not the case.
When we look at passages where Jesus sends the disciples out into the surrounding area to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, it doesn’t make sense that what they were sharing with the community had anything to do with a guy who was going to die very soon for their sins and, once he did that, if they repeated a careful prayer, then they could go to heaven when they died. Obviously, whatever it was that the disciples went out preaching, it wasn’t anything to do with a subject they exhibited zero understanding of or agreement with.
So, what was it that the disciples went out preaching? It was simply the Gospel of the Kingdom. The same message that we see Jesus publicly proclaiming over and over again in the Gospels. Here are just a few examples from Scripture:
“I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” (Luke 4:43)
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” (Matt 9:35)
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom..” (Matt 4:23)
In my own spiritual journey, from a nine year old convert in a small Texas town, to a licensed and ordained minister of the Gospel pastoring others in their walk with Jesus, I have to confess that most of my progress has assumed the more popular Gospel of Salvation and not the actual Gospel that Jesus himself actually preached while he was here in the flesh.
It was only a few years ago, as I was doing my first interview for a brand-new online column on American Spirituality called “Subversive” that I quite literally had my little spiritual paradigm re-arranged forever.
I was interviewing a gentleman named Todd Hunter. Some of you may know him as the former National Director of the Association of Vineyard Churches, others as an emerging church-planting coach with Allelon Ministries, and perhaps others of you as the President of ALPHA Ministries here in the U.S. To me, he was someone I had heard preach at various times on Sunday mornings when our main pastor was out of town or sick. He was a practical and real-world teacher of the scriptures, and someone I respected in the arena of modern church development.
At one point in the interview, I asked him what, in his opinion, was the single biggest problem or challenge in American Christianity today. I suppose I expected him to cite apathy, or a lack of humility, or perhaps a lack of observable spiritual conviction among the Western Church. But what he said in response to this inquiry literally rocked my world and I have never been the same since.
Here is an excerpt from the interview with Todd Hunter that day.
“I think America is largely inoculated against the Gospel now, against what it believes the Gospel is all about,” said Hunter. “I don’t believe the Gospel is about saying a prayer and then when you die you get to go to heaven. I think the true Gospel is about the in-breaking of the kingdom into your life today. The Gospel is not, ‘Jesus paid the price for my sins so I go to heaven when I die,’ or at least it’s not the Gospel that Jesus announced. The Gospel that Jesus announced is the good news of the present availability of the kingdom through Him. When we only think of Jesus as an atoning sacrifice, then His life and teaching and modeling just totally go out the window. Discipleship then becomes optional,” Hunter argued. “But, if the Gospel is the good news that you can enter the kingdom and receive a different kind of life now, then you’ve got a basis for discipleship, or ‘follower-ship.’
(the full interview, in two parts, appeared originally on RelevantMagazine.com and is now available online at my blog: http://subversive1.blogspot.com/)
To be honest, I had two more follow-up interviews with Mr. Hunter after this first one just to make sure I could get my head around what he was trying to say.
It was this single concept, the Gospel of the Kingdom, that radically influenced the most significant spiritual re-education of my life in every area of my personal theology. From this point, I began to realize that I had lived most of my Christian life trying to follow Jesus without my cross. Discipleship to Jesus began to be my primary focus. I began to develop a fascination for Jesus himself that I never knew before. Who was he? What did he really teach? Why did he do things the way he did? How could I actually deny myself daily, take up my cross, and allow Jesus to be my teacher and my Lord.
It was along this newfound path of discipleship to Jesus that I discovered this hidden concept of weakness and humility as a source of spiritual strength.
I hope we can discover together a dynamic spiritual principle that has been embedded in the Word of God all along, and yet somehow we seem to have overlooked it all this time.
In our modern culture, obsessed with growth and wealth and popularity, we have lost sight of the simple, quiet and humble path that Jesus himself modeled for us, and that Paul the Apostle later discovered as the source of true spiritual power.
I hope that you will find yourself at the heart of God’s magnificent plan to change the world and advance His Kingdom. The amazing thing about the power of weakness is that it opens up the playing field for all of us to participate with the Spirit of God as He transforms lives and does the impossible in our midst.
You are the man or woman that God is looking for. You have a specific calling, gifting and destiny to radically influence the world you live in as an ambassador of the Kingdom of God. Regardless of your education, ability, status or wealth, God is longing to work hand in hand with you to change the world.
All that you have to do is to trust in His power, embrace your own weakness and inability, and develop a radical posture of total obedience to the Holy Spirit of God.