During this time of year as a preacher my attention turns naturally to the four Gospels, to the works and words of Jesus. In him the Kingdom of God became a living reality though not as people had expected. He was indeed the promised King but he turned the accepted ideas of God’s rule upside down.
They were expecting a display of power but Jesus taught his disciples that the Kingdom of God belongs to the poor, the distressed and the suffering, not to the rich, the powerful and the self-sufficient.
They were expecting a parade of status, but God’s King was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He began his human life in an animal feeding trough. He turned his back on conventional royal respectability by spending time with those whom the rest of society regarded as inferior – lepers, foreigners and (of course) women. And he left life carrying a cross, the mark of ignominy, not waving a royal banner.
They were expecting a national figurehead, someone to throw the Roman occupation force out of the land and establish exclusive Jewish supremacy. Jesus refused to fill that political role. There was to be no passport control which favoured Jews at the entry point to God’s kingdom. Instead of fighting to keep foreigners out, Jesus gave his followers their mission marching orders to bring outsiders in.
In Jesus’ hands the Kingdom of God becomes a dynamic idea - ‘rule’ rather than ‘realm’. It describes God’s active reign in the world. The qualification for entering it is not the right kind of birth certificate but repentance and faith. There are also patterns of behaviour which are totally incompatible with a genuine submission to God’s rule.
There is also a “now, but not yet” dimension to Jesus’ teaching. Although God’s rule is powerfully present in his own words and actions, his parables paint word pictures of slow growth as the kingdom is gradually established. The final outcome, however, is inevitable. When Jesus comes again to wind up the history of the world as we know it, the Kingdom of God will be displayed in total triumph.
We should like the first audience never cease to find shocks and surprises in the works and words of Jesus. This I hope will happen for us all this month and in the months following as we reflect on what he did and hear his words in worship and read them privately.
With best wishes,
P.S. I have been asked by one of the Elders at Tilehurst to do a presentation on the results of my sabbatical last year that had the theme, ‘What should be the Christian response to Islam?’ This will be on Saturday 23rd March at 10.30am to 12 noon in the Tilehurst church hall. All most welcome.