Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Upside Down Kingdom

Jesus is truly the king of turning the world upside down.  Have you ever noticed that?  As soon as people thought they had him figured out, he would say something that would be completely contrary to everything they thought they knew.  And he's still doing it today.  I read Matthew 5 this morning.  It's the passage where Jesus teaches that even if you've been angry with someone or lusted after someone, you've basically committed murder or adultery in your heart.  Love your enemies and cut off your hand if it causes you to sin.  At first glance this passage seems to be all bad news.  Jesus basically raises the standard of holiness to an unattainable level.  One thing is abundantly clear: we've all sinned.  There's no way around it.  Yes, the bad news is pretty bad, but there's good news ahead.

I tried to put myself in the place of his first listeners.  What must they have been thinking?  Probably pretty discouraged.  Maybe they felt like they had been doing alright.  After all, certainly not everyone was going around killing people or sleeping around.  But here comes Jesus throwing a wrench in everything.  He does that a lot.  

  Then I asked another question.  What if he'd said the opposite of everything he taught in this chapter?  What if he'd said, "Oh you know what, sure, go ahead and hate your enemies.  That's definitely the easier route, and hey, it's what everyone is already doing anyway."  What if he'd said, "Congratulations for not being a murderer or in general a wretched human being!  Well done!"  It'd be easy to come away from this passage feeling pretty good about ourselves.  I don't think we'd be convicted of our sin and we certainly wouldn't be convinced of our need for a Savior.  We'd think we were doing alright without God's help.  I'm sure we'd be proud of ourselves for not murdering and committing adultery, but I bet we'd judge pretty harshly those who do.  In fact, we wouldn't look any different from the rest of the world at all.  Thankfully, that's not what Jesus came to do, and that's not the kind of Kingdom he came to usher in.  

Being part of the Kingdom of God doesn't mean blending in with the rest of the world, quite the opposite.  It means living in such a way that we are set apart in holiness, but always with the hope of drawing others nearer to Jesus.  I think maybe we have this view of God's Kingdom as one with high, impenetrable walls and barred doors.  Honestly I don't think it has either.  I think the only thing keeping people out is their own refusal to submit to the King.      

What I see too much of (and I know I'm guilty of myself) is Christians thinking the Kingdom is super exclusive.  We act like we have some claim on Jesus and we try to stuff him into a religious box.  The thing is, he just won't fit.  We always want to load people down with burdens that Jesus himself was trying to remove.  We get it into our heads that in order to be fit for the Kingdom you need Jesus and _____ (fill in the blank with church attendance, Bible study, good works, etc.)  Thankfully that's not how Jesus actually operates.  He never required people to have it all figured out before they fell at his feet.  He didn't say to the woman at the well, "Lady, sorry, but your theology is whacked and your past is shoddy so you might as well just go back to living with that guy who isn't your husband because I can't do anything for you."  It's quite mysterious really, the way Jesus transforms people from the inside out.  We can't always see that transformation from day to day but it's happening.  When I submitted my life to Jesus I certainly didn't have all the right theology.  That would come later.  What I had was an awareness of my sin and my need for Jesus to do something about it.    

I'll confess that its sometimes tempting to think I have Jesus figured out.  In truth I might have about a billionth of a percent of Jesus that I even somewhat understand.  I'll be honest, I'm trying to follow him, but most days I'm not very good at it.  Because of that I'm continually thankful for the gift of grace and faith itself.  It's clear to me that without God's intervention, I couldn't come to him even if I wanted to.  That's why Ephesians 2:8 rings so true.  "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not of yourselves it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast."  There's a humbling verse for you.  We have no reason to congratulate ourselves for our faith because it's all a gift from God in the first place.  Jesus begins, continues, and finishes the process of our salvation completely without our help.  That's a truth worth praising God for!     

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