Thursday, September 17, 2009

No Better News

I begin a series this week called “The Ten Most Important Teachings of Jesus.” It is an audacious title; after all, what constitutes “most important”? Does it mean the teachings that have had the most historical impact? Or the teachings that Jesus would consider most important? Here is what I mean by “most important:” These are Jesus’ teachings which I believe Christ-followers at West Houston should give special attention to given where we are spiritually in the fall of 2009. How’s that for a caveat? Oh, and I am preaching them in no particular order of importance.

I am beginning with Jesus’ core proclamation and teaching, found in Mark 1:15 (and Matthew 4:17): “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent and believe the gospel!” This both undergirds and summarizes Jesus’ entire ministry. His healings and works of mercy are manifestations of God’s in-breaking kingdom. His teachings are explications of God’s in-breaking kingdom. His atoning death for our sins and his bodily resurrection in victory over sin, death and the Devil are confirmation of and catalyst for God’s in-breaking kingdom.

The kingdom of God is very personal. In Jesus’ conversation with a curious Nicodemus in John 3, Jesus says, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” And “No one can enter into the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (3:3, 5). Participation in this kingdom is predicated on personal faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the One in whom the kingdom holds together (Colossians 1:17). You don’t enter into and participate in the kingdom by virtue of your mother’s faith or because your great-grandfather was a preacher. It is your decision. It is personal.

The kingdom of God is also social and political. It engages economic, political and social structures, seeking to bring about justice and well-being. You cannot be part of God’s kingdom and only care about your personal spiritual condition. There are other kingdoms which vie for supremacy in the world (Matthew 4:8, et al.), and God calls for our participation in his redemptive work to overthrow those kingdoms as part of the extension of His will in all spheres. Wherever there is oppression, cruelty, or indifference to suffering, God’s kingdom reign has not taken hold and is trying to break in. Indeed, there are kingdoms which vie for the loyalty of our own hearts. That is why Jesus teaches, “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things (food, clothing, shelter) will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

One of the most challenging things about understanding the kingdom of God is that Jesus never really gives us a definition! He gives analogies and stories and descriptions. Our faith is tested, stretched and strengthened by trying to more deeply understand and participate in God’s kingdom.

I would paraphrase Jesus’ announcement in Mark 1:15 this way, “God’s rule over peoples’ hearts and lives is now being established. He is bringing people into relationship and partnership with Himself in a new way through Me. You must change your direction and outlook on life in order to welcome and take hold of this. Take heed!”

There is no better news.


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