When Jesus got word that John had been arrested, he returned to Galilee. He moved from his hometown, Nazareth, to the lakeside village Capernaum, nestled at the base of the Zebulun and Naphtali hills. This move completed Isaiah's sermon:
Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
road to the sea, over Jordan,
Galilee, crossroads for the nations.
People sitting out their lives in the dark
saw a huge light;
Sitting in that dark, dark country of death,
they watched the sun come up.
This Isaiah-prophesied sermon came to life in Galilee the moment Jesus started preaching. He picked up where John left off: "Change your life. God's kingdom is here."
Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.
What do those words mean to you?
I think if most of are honest they don’t mean a whole lot. We are a people who don’t know much about kingdoms, kings, or any such things. Sure, we have some ideas, but we are people who lived our lives in a republican democracy. In our experience the idea of a kingdom is pretty far outside our experience. We live in a time and place where we believe that each of us has the right to speak into who our leadership is. Our nation is one built on a constitution and people we vote into office to represent us.
So, if we’re honest, when we hear Jesus say, “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here,” it just doesn’t hit the same way that this kind of thing did back in the first century.
Over the last number of years this idea, “kingdom of God,” has become something that I’ve been thinking a lot about. Mostly because I realize that I don’t have a good grip on it, but also because it seems to be at the center of what Jesus was talking about and trying to live out when he was doing ministry.
I have to confess, I still don’t think I have my mind totally wrapped around what it means.
When we bump up against concepts and themes in the Scriptures that are so far outside our common experience we have to recognize the gulf that exists between our time and their time. Then, we have to being to do the work to build a bridge over that gulf. It’s hard work. This work demands something that I don’t have a lot of, humility. To do this work requires me (and you) to say, “I don’t know.” As a professional Christian that is expected to have all the answers about Christianity, that is a hard pill to swallow.
I want to be really clear, I don’t think that I have it all figured out when it comes to this whole “kingdom of God” thing.
One of the things that seems to be true about the kingdom of God is that it demands us to change. However they were living back in the first century and however we are living today, to acknowledge the kingdom of God is to acknowledge our need to change. Perhaps this is why we get uncomfortable thinking about this kind of stuff?
Why must we change? I think the answer to that comes from the end of the story. Do you remember Jesus talking with Pontius Pilate before his crucifixion? He says something to Pilate about his kingdom that I think points us toward the necessity to change. He says that his kingdom is not of this world. The way that Jesus is King is different than the way that other authorities practice their authority. It also means that his kingdom is unlike anything we have seen in history. Jesus’ kingdom transcends our usual way of thinking about these things.
Because of this, we must change.
One of the changes that I see throughout the Gospels is that Jesus is constantly reconciling people who are separated from one other. It appears that in the kingdom of God the various barriers we create between one another are brought down. We love our “us vs them” or figuring out who the “other” is. But, if we are going to try and participate in this kingdom of God then we are going to have to change and set aside our desires to sort and separate.
I’m still struggling to grasp and understand the kingdom of God metaphor and how to understand it in light of our current reality. How do you make sense of it? For me the bridge building comes from that reality that it’s not a kingdom of this world, so it allows me some freedom to leave the militaristic version of kingdom to something else entirely. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.