Does Jesus seriously want this for me?

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. 

Acts 2:42-47

An Inconvenient Truth

There is a story of a man who had not gone to church for several years but suddenly stopped gathering. He fell out of community. His pastor dropped by one evening unannounced. The man answered the door and invited him in. Of course, he knew why his pastor was there. They went and sat in two chairs in front of a roaring fire. Neither man said anything. After a few minutes, the pastor picked up the fire tongs, took one of the logs out of the fire, and laid it on the hearth. The flames died down and flickered a few times before going out. They watched in silence as the log started to grow cold. After a while, the pastor once again picked up the fire tongs and put the smoldering log back with the other burning logs. It immediately burst back into flame. The pastor got up and said, “Well, I need to go now. But I’ve enjoyed our visit.” The man rose too and said, “I appreciate your message, pastor. I will be in church on Sunday.”

Whether you want to believe it or not; there is a truth that none of us can escape as Jesus followers: We are better together than we are apart. A log burns best with others; not alone and away from the flames. We are created in Christ to not only tolerate one another but to thrive. And so, we form this thing right here: what Jesus calls in Matthew 16, his “Church.”

Many of us are not entirely sure why the church or being in community is so important. Some have denigrated the need for it all together. We have produced a me-centered faith that would make community with other believers as an afterthought. I wish I could say it was the world doing this but its happening in the Church. Many leaders and authors have adapted the Gospel message to a wayward, “community disliking” culture and have placed self at the center. This results in churches who have truncated the Gospel message; wringing out any semblance of community and the need to do life with others like it was an oversaturated wash rag. What has taken place in consumer culture Christianity the West is immersed in is the opposite of what Jesus desires. And its true, don’t get me wrong, our faith does involve an emphasis on our personal relationship with God. But there’s more. It’s God calling, forming, saving, and redeeming a corporate people to live and exist… in community.  

This then makes the church not as an optional part in the plan of God reaching the lost,  but an essential part. Christ did not send his Holy Spirit only to individuals. Jesus always had community in mind. 

But let’s be real, there are times when the wounds the church gives are even more profound and complex than wounds suffered in the world. We can be injured by an abuse of power or a hypocritical action by a “brother or sister.” Any of us who have hung around the church long enough have a few scars to show. 

A Welcome Tension

And yet, here we are. We are the people Jesus has called out, anointed with His Holy Spirit, and desires to go into all the earth. And you may look around at your own church and think, “This is plan A?” Yes. And the reason it is such an amazing plan from God is that He will get all the glory through anything us misfits accomplish because it is only by God’s Grace that anything good can flow from us individually and as a church. This is all by design. 

So, we have some tension here we must acknowledge. On the one hand we have the truth that God has called a people to be set apart and display his power to an unbelieving world. On the other hand, we are all fallible and broken individuals coming to seek to grow in holiness and righteousness before God—prone to flesh. So, what do we do? 

We know we need one another. But it’s hard sometimes. And when in community, we are meant to be real, vulnerable, and able to be worthy of trust so we can walk with and lift each other. Right? The temptation by many is, “Well, I don’t know these people I have been burned, so I am going to just smile, pretend, and get my Jesus fix and I’m out!”

But what if I were to tell you that embracing this present tension and reality of “Jesus calls imperfect people to carry out His perfect will—together”—is actually the very church Jesus is looking for! The Church of Jesus Christ at large is a home not only for the morally upright but for the moral failures. For those who for a variety of reasons have not been able to “measure up.” As Brennan Manning once said, “The Church is a healing community proclaiming the Father’s indiscriminate love and unconditional grace, offering pardon, reconciliation and salvation to the down-trodden and leaving the judgment to God.” Does this mean we do not pursue holiness and sanctification? Of course not. But the Church that ignores the reality of the human experience and struggle with the flesh, will not fully understand the journey of helping one another towards wholeness. Infact, an expectation that we will not come into conflict at times or even dislike one another is lunacy. 

But going a step further, a Church that will not accept the fact that it consists of sinful people learning holiness and exists for sinful people to be made whole in Jesus, becomes hard-hearted, self-righteous, and inhuman.  As Hans Küng writes, “It deserves neither God’s mercy nor men’s trust.” 

While this may not help the tension, it does show us how we are to embrace our humanity as a testimony to the world around us. That even though we are who we are, there is still something intangible about us, within us, and around us that is salt and light; inviting and convicting; inspiring and life changing. And what is that “something”? It’s what we see in Acts 2. It’s what the Apostle Paul wrote about in Romans 5:5-8. Pay close attention to the plural pronouns and how within us the Spirit of Love has been poured out!

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

How did the Early Church do this so well? What are we missing that they experienced, that could ease this tension and transform our church and community experiences?

Community Formed by the Holy Spirit 

The Acts 2 Scriptures above ought to cause two things to rise up within us. They ought to confirm the areas where we are in step and ought to convict us in the areas where we aren’t. Anytime we open up to learn about the first church we will usually get hit by the amazing beauty of their inclusiveness. The power of their boldness. The joy of their togetherness. The inspiration of the preference for one another. All of these—in many regards—are things we do not readily embrace in our own culture which makes it that much harder to see some of these traits in the church. So, what happens is, we think what we just read is impossible! We think, they were so perfect! We are so far from that! Not necessarily. 

I’ll never forget when I first became a Christian, I was so passionate about my faith and holiness and really pursuing Jesus. I was, and am, so black and white at times and was adamant that the book of Acts had it right and we just had to get back to the “Early Church.” It was a mentor though who sat me down and walked me through all the issues Paul is addressing in the NT. Incest, people getting drunk on communion wine, infighting, members suing one another, and more. These people were a mess! But God used the early Church, so much!  The power of the early church was not in their money, privilege, or societal influence. The power of this “New Thing” God was doing in the land was found in what we already read from Paul: The Spirit and Love. But lets go deeper… Look at 1 Corinthians 12:13 

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

When Paul says this, he is not giving some vague cliché like we are all part of the same team. No. He is going much deeper than that. In referencing the gifts of the Spirit that are in operation among those baptized in the Spirit he explains basically that these are taking place because all of us have drank from the same Holy Spirit. We are all connected in this way. 

The Holy Spirit of God is the life of the church. He is the fire, motivator, and glue that keeps community together as well as moving forward in the purposes of Jesus. Think about it for a moment: We see here in Acts 2:42-48 a group of people like the Jews have never seen! They are selling their goods; they are giving to any who had need. Insane! 

None of this is obligatory. The Essenes (a religious group during the days of Jesus) were similar, but they had to sell their possessions and hold nothing as their own. They freely chose and volunteered to live this way and to love one another to this degree. That’s the Spirit of God! Because they all sought the same Spirit, they were all transformed by the same Spirit. When the Holy Spirit moves in your life as you yield to Him—transformation comes. I have seen it and experienced it time and time again. 

This past week I was walking the trails at Quail Hollow, a park near where I live. I was in the woods from about 9-4:30 for a day of prayer. The Spirit showed me something powerful. There is a little river I usually sit by. But right now, there is no water. And so, all the stones are sitting there. I heard the Spirit say, “Remember in the Spring season when the water flows?” I then remembered how I was amazed how the water would rush through and move the rocks in piles together and saturate everything. The Lord helped me see this as a picture of what the Church is supposed to be vs. what it often is for us. We are dry, separated, and situated in one place. But the Spirit is that river which saturates, moves, and brings together the church just as the water does those rocks.

When you begin to seek the Spirit of God like we have been discussing and are filled and baptized in Him, you begin to see things through the lens of what Jesus desires. And 10 times out of 10 that lens will involve “others.” Doing life together, befriending others, sharing the Gospel with others, learning from others, sharing with others, serving others, loving others—others! But the Church cannot succeed in this as well as us individually unless we are being moved by the Holy Spirit of God in prayer, Word, and community. 

If you are still with me, there’s a chance you may be giving some pushback mentally.  Don’t worry, I get it and have lived in that place. I would think and say things like, “I don’t need church. I can worship anywhere. I don’t need others. They annoy me, hurt me, and break my trust.” Been there. I have felt those same things. 

In fact, there’s a great story of a man who didn’t want to go to church at all on a certain Sunday morning. He said to his wife, “I have three great reasons why I shouldn’t have to be at Church and in community this morning. 1) they don’t like me, 2) It isn’t fun, and 3) I got hurt there. The wife looked at him, said, “Hunny, I’ll give you three reasons why you need to go to church this morning. 1) You are loved, 2) There are amazing people there, and 3) You are the pastor sweetie, so you have to go this morning.” This may or may not have been me at one time or another as a pastor. 

But I have grown over the years and have learned deeply, that we need each other. The will of Jesus is that His Church be in community, tightly knit, lifting the burdens of one another. 

The Spirit of God healed and empowered them to do amazing things-together

They proclaimed the Gospel together

They were discipled together in the Apostles doctrine. 

They had fellowship together

They were prayed and filled with the Spirit together

They had meals together

Do you see how important community is in the plan of God for your own health and growth?

The early church was known for being together. But it wasn’t just because the Spirit was poured out. It was, going back to what Paul said, what the Spirit of God poured into their hearts and minds: TRANSFORMING LOVE. 

A Community Known for its Love 

Jesus talks about this kind of transforming love in John 15:9-12. He says, 

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

The desire of Jesus for His Spirit-filled church was not that they would be known for their power, mystical experiences, amazing prophecy, miracles, or anything else. He desired that His church and his disciples would be known for one thing above all else: Love. Following this Spirit-Filled love is everything else. As Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 13:1 and everyone one of us hears at weddings, 

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

The early church understood this. The Spirit of Love, being poured out in their hearts as Paul said above, motivated them to want to be together, help one another, and serve those who needed help. It propelled them to share the message to people who were lost and dying. Love compelled them. This is the highest form of joy we can give the Father is by loving one another. Jesus said it! When you love your brother or sister or even a stranger, you are directly pouring love out to Jesus Christ. It’s crazy when you realize how important loving one another in community really is. In His simple command to love one another Jesus had implicitly given us everything for which the human mind searches and the human heart longs for. He taught in John 14:21-23 that he would be intimately present and within those who obey his commandments… which are centered around loving one another. This doesn’t happen on islands. It happens with action.  

In fact, did you know that in the entire 28 chapters of the book of Acts the word “love” is not found. Not once. Instead, we see Luke giving us story after story, action after action, of the love of the Spirit compelling simple and redeemed people to do extraordinary things. 

This is what you are created for. Don’t hold this love of Jesus to yourself. Give it to another. Write a letter to someone who you have hurt. Seek to forgive an offender. Invite someone into your home. This deep love of Jesus was meant to be given, not stored. Husbands the greatest place you can worship Jesus is in your home loving and cherishing and nourishing your wife. Oh, how I wish I could say I was perfect at this. The same goes for wives. Mothers and fathers—love and nurture Christ in your children. Your mission field is right there. Jesus loves you for you so you will love others too. 

Can you imagine trying to scoop up water shooting out of a fire hose and try to put it back in the hose and get it to travel back to where it came from? We do this with God! He is an eternal fire hose of indiscriminate and unfair love and grace that pours out upon his beloved people—us. And we, like fools, think the purpose is for us to love him back only! No! We are meant to take that love that is coming out and share it in community. This is what forms a movement of the Gospel reaching others. 

An Invitation to Community

And so, we have an invitation from the Holy Spirit To enter into community. To be real, vulnerable, and honest. It’s risky; but it’s what Jesus desires. If we will allow the Holy Spirit to put us back into the fire—maybe just maybe, we may realize that all along, the reason we did not feel Gods peace, Gods power, or anything making sense was not because God was distant… but we were. 

I encourage you to get into community. Not just going to church. I mean being the church with other people. Sharing with, trusting, befriending others because the love of Jesus within you compels you. Where there are wounds from others—give them to the Lord for healing. Seek wisdom and counsel. Above all, do not walk away from community. For when that happens, whatever fire may be in you will surely die out like a log taken from the fire; flickering away into a cold and hardened existence. That isn’t what God has for you. 

Others need who you are. You have so much to give.

You need who others are. They have so much to give.

What if I get hurt? Don’t worry. You will be. Community with others was never about convenience. It was always about transformation. Period.

This is how Jesus modeled it then and desires it for your life today.

Jesus and the Kingdom of God Part 2

“Kingdom” According to Jesus

Scot McKnight provides an ideal on-ramp to capture the meaning of God’s Kingly rule and phrase ‘Kingdom of God’ as Jesus understood it. In his work “A New Vision for Israel” he states, 

Jewish social and political circumstances permitted the religious hope of Israel to have its own delightful and despairing history. At the same time, this hope shaped the social and political identity of the nation and exercised a profound influence on the teachings of Jesus. His teachings on the present operation of the kingdom were shaped fundamentally by his vision of the future kingdom.[1]

McKnight argues that any attempt to study the Kingdom of God through Jesus’ thinking and teaching must be kept within this context. Failing to do so would result in an erroneous belief that what Jesus is teaching is somehow new or uncommon. This would be inaccurate given the study above of Second Temple literature. In the past and for some in the present the action of believing that the apocalyptic teachings of Jesus were independent of contemporary ideas. Over time though, as literature began to be made available and scholarship on the topic multiplied, this perception began to shift. As Albert Schweitzer makes clear,

After the studies of Hilgenfeld and Dillmann had made known the Jewish apocalyptic in its fundamental characteristics, and the Jewish Pseudepigrapha were no longer looked on as ‘forgeries’, but as representative documents of the last stage of Jewish thought, the necessity of taking account of them in interpreting the thought of Jesus became more and more emphatic.[2]

It is with this understanding in mind both from McKnight and Schweitzer that any hope of discovering what Jesus means by “Kingdom” must remain connected to his own sitz im leben. For study we will highlight key Scriptures where Jesus uses “Kingdom of God” in diverse ways. These texts will focus on Jesus seeing the Kingdom as present, ethical, and future.[3] With the book of Mark being the earliest extant Gospel we will take our Scriptural examples from here. While it would be advantageous to go through the parables[4] relating to the Kingdom of God, we will focus only on the direct statements of the Kingdom which connect most to surrounding outside literature we have already examined.

Mark 1:15 and the Kingdom Present

At the beginning of his ministry, the Gospel of Mark tells us in 1:15 that he exclaimed, “πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρὸς καὶ ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ· μετανοεῖτε καὶ πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ.”[5] For Jesus the Kingdom of God in this sentence is one of present impact. From this text it is surmisable that this wasn’t something that was coming next week or next year. It was now. Along with the present arrival is a spatial connection in his usage of “ἤγγικεν.”[6] In otherwards, it is near in this present space and time. The addition of “πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ” adds a devotional concept he is expecting his listeners to grab ahold of. To trust and to believe that this present Kingdom is discernable—the one that has been spoken of well before his arrival.

Joel Marcus in his Anchor commentary would agree with the above and views Jesus’ usage of the Kingdom of God here as having an immediate impact. He states

Kairos can mean either ‘decisive moment’ (cf. 12:2, 13:33) or ‘span of time’ (cf. 10:30; 11:13). Because of the combination with plēroun, ‘to fulfill,’ which implies linearity, the meaning ‘span of time’ is to be preferred in the present instance.”[7]

He goes on to say that this understanding of God’s rule and reign being inaugurated at this present time lends to this being a both dynamic and apocalyptic pronouncement of Jesus concerning the Kingdom. Which, as we recall, was a strand of thinking found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and certain Pseudepigraphal texts. 

Jesus is giving not only an invitation but a cosmic declaration to all who would hear, to come and experience that which is immanent. That God’s reign and Kingdom is discernable in the present through his ministry. It is with this urgency of the Kingdom that Jesus is compelled to go from village to village. It is an imminence, once again, that is not necessarily new in its origin. In T. Mos. 10:1 it reads, “his [God’s] Kingdom shall appear throughout his creation…” In the Kaddish Prayer we have another similarity that deserves notice. “May he establish his Kingdom in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the whole house of Israel, speedily and at a near time.” In speaking of this same immanence, Dale C. Allison brings us to a deeper place of clarity. Allison qualifies six of scholar Marcus Borg’s assessments of the Kingdom. In doing so he supports those who see the Kingdom as an eschatological pronouncement from Jesus and its present inbreaking in Mark 1:15. He states

If the Kingdom is indeed (6) an “ideal state,” that is, the eschatological state when God’s will is done on earth as in heaven, this would explain why (5) the Kingdom is also a political metaphor (when the ideal comes Rome will be gone), why (4) it is something one can be in or out of (some will enter, others will not enter), why (3) it is associated with God’s kingship (God will then be universally recognized as king), why (2) it is linked with the divine presence (in the end God will be, as Rom. 15:28 puts it, all in all), and, finally, why (1) it is bound up with God’s power (the ideal only comes because of God’s might and only after a great struggle against evil).[8]

From our first example of Jesus’ usage of Kingdom of God we can say with confidence that Jesus thought in the same apocalypticism that is in line with much of what we discovered from the Second Temple literature. Allison helps us see this from a multi-layered approach while Marcus shows that Jesus saw this as a present multi-dimensional reality for all who would place their trust in his message. He is pronouncing an invitation to a Kingdom with present implications seeking the trust of those who would listen. 

Mark 10:14-15 and the Ethical Kingdom

Making the shift from Mark 1:15 to 10:14-15 and our journey of seeing “the Kingdom of God” through the eyes of Jesus is enough to cause us to scratch our head. How is it that in Mark 1:15 we see a “present tense” Kingdom but are now confronted with a Kingdom that is (appears to be) yet to come? In our second example the specific part of the text which we will engage reads, “ὃς ἂν μὴ δέξηται τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ ὡς παιδίον, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθῃ εἰς αὐτήν.” 

The obvious question we should bring to this text when read in conjunction with 1:15 is, “How is it the arrival of a Kingdom with present implications and yet it needs entered into as communicated in the negative with: οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθῃ εἰς αὐτήν.” Was not Jesus communicating that it was here? It had arrived. While interpretations differ, the text appears to give the connotation that this is a future Kingdom that is yet to come and those who welcome children—an ethical component of the present/future Kingdom—will reserve the right to enter it. The timing of the Kingdom according to Jesus is hotly debated. While timing is important for understanding the eschatology of Jesus, maybe it is a focus we are imposing hermeneutically more than the text is seeking to reveal. N.T. Wright suggests that the texts which are often thought of referring to the timing of the end of the world are more rooted in a deeper Jewish meaning. [9]

He argues that this then suggests that the crucial question is not so much that of the Kingdom’s timing but rather its content.[10]  Though the present text is not in reference to an apocalyptic ending of the world (though embedded within οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθῃ εἰς αὐτήν” one could argue it is indirectly present), it nonetheless highlights what Wright is saying. What is important for our quest in understanding how Jesus understood the Kingdom is the welcoming of a child to himself. This is a marker of the Kingdom that is at work in the life of Jesus throughout his ministry. This ethical component of the Kingdom culture is in lock step with what was hoped for.[11] More on the ethics of the Kingdom will be explored later in this paper. But for our present study of Mark 10:14-15 it is important to recognize how this present statement of a child being welcomed to himself is connected to the larger narrative. Scot McKnight writes

Kingdom evokes for may the grand and glorious, but Jesus sabotaged such an idea with an emphatic focus on the inauspicious nature of the present Kingdom of God. The Kingdom had inauspicious beginnings—like a mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32), it was comprised of inauspicious people—like children (10:14-15) and tax collectors (Luke 19:1-10), it was led by an inauspicious person—Jesus (Luke 17:20-21), and yet this inauspiciousness would someday turn into a grand a glorious display (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).[12]

Mark’s inclusion of Jesus’ indignation and frustration at the disciple’s halting of children coming to him (of whom the likes of the inauspicious Kingdom is found according to McKnight) is unique to his gospel alone. In doing so he highlights with passion what Jesus viewed the Kingdom as being all about: a divine and subversive welcoming of that and those rejected by the ways of human governance and society. William Lane beautifully articulates what this text reveals and how Jesus views the inclusion within this present/future Kingdom. He states

The disciples’ attempt to turn the children aside because they were unimportant is one more instance of a persistent tendency to think in wholly human, fallen categories which Jesus had rebuked on earlier occasions (Chs. [Mark] 8:33; 9:33-37). The Kingdom of God belongs to children, and to others like them who are of no apparent importance, because God has willed to give it to them…. The Kingdom belongs to such as these because they receive it as a gift.[13]

This second example displays an ethical dynamic to the Kingdom that falls in line with what was hoped for before Jesus in the above research. While the challenge of timing is certainly imbedded in this these two, that is not the priority of this specific text. In the process thus far, we see that the Kingdom has present impact (Mark 1:15) with ethical and cultural implications (Mark 10:14-15). The Kingdom according to the thinking of Jesus is setting up to be a status reversal in the present with an eye towards future consummation as we will see.  

Taking a step back we can see that the actions and teachings of Jesus are happening to further this two-fold effort of (1) pronouncing a present Kingdom (2) with action that displays the evidence of a new Kingdom, breaking through the social order of first century Palestine. Wright detects this happening in Jesus and asserts that he believed with his own work and message that something “dramatically new was already happening.”[14] As Wright says, “The days of preparation were over ; Israel’s god was now acting in the way he had promised of old.”[15] This understanding though is kept in tension since at the same time Jesus was viewing the Kingdom as something about to burst on to the scene. If his followers were not careful it would come as a thief in the night. All of this can be described as a Kingdom that is both here and not yet. This paradox was enough to give even the disciples moments of confusion.[16] But alas, the Kingdom is not marked by confusion. It is a wonderful and beautiful paradox expanded upon even further by our last Markan text. 

Mark 14:25 and the Future Kingdom 

Our first two examples highlight a linear movement of the Kingdom. Our first example from Mark 1:15 showcases the starting line of Jesus and all who would follow him. That the message and proclamation was to be Kingdom focused. The element of repentance was so that those who were “afar off” or wandering down paths of hopelessness wondering if the common pseudepigraphal or Isaian texts, which surely existed in the cultural milieu of the people, would ever surface. Our second text from Mark 10:14-15 highlights the distance this Kingdom will go in challenging the status quo of current social dynamics within the 1st century location of Jesus.[17] It is with our final text that we see somewhat of a “finish line” from Jesus. 

In 14:25 Jesus states, “οὐκέτι οὐ μὴ πίω ἐκ τοῦ γενήματος τῆς ἀμπέλου ἕως τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης ὅταν αὐτὸπίνω καινὸν ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ.” At first glance we must again grapple with the apparent confusion of timing. In an almost definitive sense Jesus is putting his cards on the table that the Kingdom is not yet here though it was in Mark 1:15. The βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ in this text with the accompanying language of banquet and drinking wine leads us to believe Jesus here is speaking not only of a future reality but more importantly a future fulfilment. In Jesus and Judaism E. P. Sanders defends this authentic statement by Jesus and askes a poignant question. He asks

Does this indicate that Jesus thought that the disciples would constitute a group which would survive his death and endure until the eschaton, or that the kingdom would arrive immediately, with no interval? Is the kingdom this-worldly or other worldly? We find here the uncertainty which generally characterizes discussion which attempts to specify the precise meaning of the saying’s material.[18]

While much has been written on the proposed aims and intentions of Jesus surrounding the last supper and how he viewed his death, this paper is unable to give this question the attention it merits. This question though highlights the frame of questions which get us closer to assessing how Jesus saw the Kingdom. Suffice to say that Jesus was both proclaiming and experiencing something himself which he knew was at work within him and through him regardless how he saw his own future as the messiah. It was a Kingdom that was taking root while he ministered with an eye to the future fulfillment as even the prophets before him proclaimed.

From our final text we can see that Jesus viewed an impending restoration of all things and a bringing to order of that which is disordered. When Jesus says οὐκέτι οὐ μὴ πίω ἐκ τοῦ γενήματος τῆς ἀμπέλου ἕως τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης ὅταν αὐτὸ πίνω καινὸν, he was not speaking of any ordinary banquet. As Normin Perrin so wonderfully explains this text with its present and future implications he writes

The imagery of the Messianic Banquet teaches that it [the Kingdom] will mean a perfect participation in the ultimate blessings of God; and the imagery of the New Temple which is a regular apocalyptic symbol for the final blessed state, describes the community of the redeemed as enjoying a perfect sacral relationship with God.[19]

As should be clear by now, Jesus cannot be pigeonholed into one viewpoint on the Kingdom from his era. There are present and future aspects. There are ethical inferences that affect this life and the life to come. These three examples (among many others) highlight a robust mindset on the Kingdom that Jesus communicated from. The logical outflow of these sayings of Jesus (whether they be attested or accepted) is to bring together a cohesive theological understanding of what Jesus means when he uses the phrase “Kingdom of God.” While the debate on timing, spatial components, and ethical dimensions will continue, it is imperative we not “miss the forest for the trees.”

We ought to ask, “So what that the Kingdom is here?” “So, what that the Kingdom has differing social dynamics?” “So, what that this Kingdom will one day be fulfilled fully?” While such questions may resemble a toddler asking this phrase to everything they are told, it is important for us to ask them, nonetheless. Persistently asking such questions will enable us to integrate a fresh Kingdom approach steeped in its natural context of Second Temple Judaism.

Before moving on to understanding this Kingdom mission in the wake of Jesus’ ascension and resurrection in Church history we must capture a glimpse of where scholarship has been on this same endeavor. More on this in Part 3.


[1] McKnight, A New Vision for Israel, 120.

[2] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 2005), 222.

[3] The ethical components of Jesus’ understanding on the Kingdom of God will be more fully explored in the concluding area of this paper.

[4] For an in depth look at the Kingdom parables see Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, Second edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018). As well as Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

[5] In analyzing these three Markan Scriptures it is most appropriate that we do so in the original language. 

[6] This perfect active indicative 3rd person singular verb denotes a movement in space has in effect taken place. Something has moved into the present time. BDAG lists the meanings of this word to include a reference point, a drawing near, a coming near, an approaching of humans and transcendent beings. This would of course imply also to the Kingdom of God. Whether or not this applies to the seen or unseen is debatable. For the present context the usage of ἤγγικεν signals a spatial approach with the teachings and message of the Gospel. (Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and William Arndt, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

[7] Joel Marcus, Mark 1 – 8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, First Yale University Press impression, The Anchor Bible, volume 27 (New Haven, Conn. London: Yale University Press, 2010), 172.

[8] Dale C. Allison, Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998), 122.

[9] N. T. Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of GodJesus and the Victory of God, 1st North American ed (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 222–23.

[10] Ibid.

[11] See Enoch 10:1, 3-4 and our study of it above. 

[12] Craig A. Evans, ed., Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus (New York: Routledge, 2008), 356.

[13] William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publ, 2010), 360.

[14] Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 1992, 466.

[15] Ibid.

[16] This is especially true in the book of Acts in 1:1-7 where the disciples are continuing to confuse the Kingdom’s present implications with the national restoration of Israel as opposed to the more apocalyptic and eschatological Kingdom which was breaking in.

[17] It should be noted that because of space there cannot be an adequate exploration of each Scripture which highlights the ethical transformations of the Kingdom. However, in later parts of this project the implications for Christian ethics, church leadership, and ecclesiastical mission will be addressed further. 

[18] E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 1st Fortress Press ed (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 148.

[19] Norman Perrin, Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom: Symbol and Metaphor in New Testament Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), 188.

Becoming Excellent in How We Serve God

How would you define ministry excellence? This was the question I posed to my team last week. What came back were diverse definitions illustrating varying degrees of how this can be defined. This phrase though, “Excellence in Ministry” is relative. Anyone’s idea of what excellence is can suffice to that person. For instance, is excellence in ministry just doing out best? Some would say yes. Is excellence in ministry having everything professionally put together minimizing all glitches and issues? Some would say yes. To be clear, I am being rather narrow in my focus, looking at how churches are led as well as what takes place within the community of faith. But it does involve what happens outside the four walls as well in each of our own ministries where God has placed us.

I always come back to the Apostle Paul when trying to nail down a good definition of being excellent for the Lord. I have always been fearful of perfectionism as well as sloppiness in what I do for the Lord. But Paul has helped me find that healthy middle ground. He wrote in Colossians 3:17,

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I know, I know. This too could be vague. Though it still might be; this nonetheless provides the impetus and definition of excellence in ministry. We seek to be excellent in what we do because its for Christ and the magnification of His Kingdom. The standard and definition for our excellence is the model of Jesus. While everyone must wrestle with how they define it; what matters most is that we are seeking after it. Those we lead and those on the outside are looking for communities of faith that line up with the excellence and ideals of Jesus in Scripture. So whether its in preaching, organizing, cleaning, or any other task in the Church–how are you being excellent? What areas need refined in how you are serving the Lord?

Here are the definitions from our Compassion Church team. Take your time in reading them. Notice the differences among them.

  1. Having a clear vision that points others to Christ; showing compassion by identifying and meeting needs by stewarding resources well. 
  2. Using the gifts God has given us to do our best acknowledging he has given us all perfect gifts. 
  3. To take initiative in being authentic to our vision and bringing relationship and structure together. 
  4. Doing ministry with integrity to empower and bring compassion and unity to the church community. 
  5. Using our gifts in unity to serve others in obedience to Christ in creating a Tov (goodness) culture. 
  6. Bringing people closer to Jesus in a well organized and truth way to achieve a clear vision centered on His will. 

How would you define it?

That One Thing We Seek

In our lives, what is it exactly we are desiring? In other words, what we we wanting to see happen? How we answer this question matters greatly. If we are desiring security that we are often filling our time with the pursuit of tangible items which can give us a false sense of security. If we are desiring value or worth then we are often filling our schedules with things that will give us our sense of belonging into this world. An identity that usually comprises of a wonderful and inauthentic veneer. Whatever we desire will usually order our steps and priorities.

But one thing is very clear. Our answer as Christians ought to differ from the world’s answer. To be fair, I desire many things in this life that are not even connected to my faith directly. However, those things do not replace the primary desire which the world would not understand. You see, we as followers of Jesus are to be the ones whose lives are so purified and distilled where what can be seen, heard, and observed is none other than Jesus. Of course this is not always the case (I myself am quick to admit my failures in this), but the pursuit of such a life is nevertheless the goal by default.

“Therefore, since we have these promises (see 2 Cor. 6:3-18), dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

2 Corinthians 7:1

We are to be those who live unalloyed and uncontaminated. Not only by what the world sees on the exterior but also what drives us on the interior. How we answer the question of what we seek says a lot about our understanding of whether we are living the “called out” life Jesus is seeking.

We are living at a time when Christians in Western Society at many corners are having an identity crisis. We are mixing our allegiances with nations (nationalism), idols, and allowing the sins of the world choke out the goodness of God at rapid rates. We are substituting many things for an identity that is causing us to enter vicious cycles of heartbreak and unsatisfied longings. All of this is causing our pursuits and desires to be all over the place.

So what needs to happen? We need a seminal moment. We need to hit refresh and reset. We need to come back to the purity of what we were created to desire from the very beginning: the presence of God. This is something David in the Old Testament understood fully.

“One thing I ask from the Lord,

    this only do I seek:

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord

    all the days of my life,

to gaze on the beauty of the Lord

    and to seek him in his temple.

Psalm 27:4

He desired one thing very clearly: to encounter God in his fullness. So much so that he wanted to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and seek Him in his temple all the days of his life. Do we find it a coincidence that God also called David a “man after His own heart” in Acts 13:22? David was elevated in the eyes of God because of his insatiable desires and passion for the LORD. Does this not motivate and challenge us for today? David lived at a time when the Holy Spirit was upon a few. We are living in an era where the Holy Spirit is within all who yield to Him. How much more so ought our experience with God’s presence transform everything around us?

The Church is not starving for methods, ideas, solutions or steps. The Church of Jesus Christ is starving for an encounter with the very presence of God.

But instead, we are often consumed with books, devotionals, apps, videos, and more but are at many turns still missing what is needed: a fresh and pure stripped down encounter with Jesus. This is where our desire must be. Our marriage depends upon it. Our children depend upon it. The life of the Church depends upon it. Society depends upon it. Everything does. What are you giving to others if you yourself are not encountering the love of God within His presence and glory? Prioritizing the glory of God in our daily living is paramount for every follower of Jesus.

The Presence and Glory of God

The glory and presence of God is found throughout the Scriptures. The word ‘glory’ in Hebrew comes from the word ‘kabob‘ translated glory one hundred and fifty-five times. The word ‘kabed‘ from the same root word has been translated ‘heavy‘ seven times. The root meaning of ‘kabob‘ means weight or heaviness. In the New Testament the word ‘glory‘ is translated from the word ‘doxa‘ which has various meanings like ‘appearance, manifestation, magnificence, splendid array, radiance, or dazzling lustre. It is within this glory and presence of the living God that we find our true hearts desire. We discover our identity. When we have a true encounter with the Holy Spirit, our faith comes alive. We begin to see and feel the very glory and presence of God and we do not desire anything else! His anointing becomes tangible. His authority flows through us as it did with those in Scripture. This is the hope of God for your life and for mine. To desire Him and be close with Him. There is no substitute.

When this one thing–the very presence of God– becomes our insatiable desire, we then find the anointing of God for life and what we have been called to. Put simply, the anointing of God is a manifestation of the power of God while the glory of God is a manifestation of His attributes. With this understanding, the power or anointing of God is inseparable because God does not demonstrate His power without His presence.

For instance, Jesus says in Acts 1:8 says, “When the Holy Spirit has come upon you (His presence), you shall receive power (His anointing of power).” They go hand in hand. Mark 16:17 reads, “And these signs (His power) shall follow those who believe in My Name (His presence).

So what are we to desire? We can answer with many options. Many are valid. Many would not be. But for me, I would like to answer in the way David answered. I desire an encounter with the glory and presence of God through the Holy Spirit Whom Jesus gave to us. The One Who provides comfort, encouragement, truth, challenge, and more (John 14-16). Strip everything from me but do not take away God’s Holy Spirit. From where else would I or we find our place in His presence?

Please remember, no one is given the anointing of God based on books, titles, knowledge, degrees, or years of experience. These are subservient to God’s presence and are meant to support; not replace. They mean something–but not everything.

The anointing of God to break down the strongholds of the enemy is given to those whose lives are desperately seeking to be consumed with the Holy Spirit to degrees few will understand and many will ridicule.

Though His love is always unconditional; His authority is not. Seek first the Kingdom of God. Prioritize His presence and glory. Walk boldly in the power and anointing of God that comes from dwelling in His presence daily.

I pray that we, like David, would begin to possess a singular focus upon the presence of the God in every aspect of our lives so that we may find life where there used to be death. I pray the staleness of our time in prayer and the Word would be replaced with fresh revelation and child like faith, because, like children at Christmas, we have discovered the indescribable joy of being in and seeking the presence of God in our daily lives.

For those who have fallen away at times. Those who have but a flicker burning. The Lord is never too distant. He can handle the anger, frustration, and even hatred. You are loved and invited into His presence where joy, purpose, healing, and mercy is found. All we are asked is to seek Him while He may still be found. Seeking Him with everything we have.

That’s One Thing that would transform everything.

Mistaking the Church for a Business…

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Recently our city newspaper put out a “Best of the Best” award where they voted on the best restaurants, shopping venues, and yes even places to worship. Well, someone had to respond to such a foolish and asinine reward. I wrote a letter to the Newspaper and surprisingly they published it. I will leave it below:

The Repository recently handed out a voter-led “Best of the Best Award” in an area that ought to be free of competition. If we could name one plague that has decimated the unity of the church, it has been the gross adaptation of the church being turned into a business. Something we market, brand, and compete in. Something Jesus never desired. In fact, he hoped for the opposite.

What began as a beautiful expression of unity under One Lord has digressed to divisions, denominations, and subtle competition. While many of us as pastors are working hard to repair the breaches and bring inter-denominational unity as well as an inter-faith dialogue, it doesn’t help having a newspaper give an award for “Best Place to Worship 2016.” If you truly desire to unify this city, you ought to remember to work with those who have this same desire, not against them. Such an award deepens the plague of division and stigma — a stigma that some churches aren’t good enough, techy enough, and frankly not professional enough. Not to mention the other faith traditions in our city that are slighted by this award and its exclusiveness.

The essence of this “award” is foreign to the Scriptures we read and are formed by. Jesus never mandated that his followers gather and produce some neat, pristine, finished product whereby they could win some asinine award. We are Christ-following misfits who gather together. To the best of our imperfect ability we seek to project the salt and light of Christ as we gather and live. The “excellence” in which we do so is not business-oriented. It is oriented in our faithfulness to ancient Christian orthodoxy as followers of Jesus.

As a pastor of a church, if I were to receive such an award, elation and excitement would be the furthest thing from my mind; Rather, repentance, anger, and frustration. I would then seek to redirect my city’s newspaper to a more helpful effort: How to unify the worshiping community of our city; not divide it with foolish awards or man-made accolades. As a pastor, I certainly would not promote such a foolish award in fear of being antithetical to the desires of Christ for His church.

NOAH D. SCHUMACHER,
Pastor, High Mill Church

Lets challenge those that would pit one church against the other. Whether it be parishioners speaking of what place has better “this or that” or Pastors who boast about their church as though it were theirs. And even our media outlets.

Let us work for unity and nothing else. That is the desire of Christ for His church.