We have been talking about the Kingdom of God since January. We have looked it over carefully like a jeweller inspects the facets of a diamond – well, at least like a kid with a new toy. The Kingdom of God is multi-faceted, and affects every part of who we are as a follower of Christ. Understanding what the kingdom is informs our understanding of the church, the Body of Christ. It keeps us focused on God’s mission in the world, and the part we can play in that. We live in the Kingdom now, 24/7. Last fall in the adult Lifegroup we went through a video series on the book of Luke. It reminded us that Jesus spent His earthly ministry talking about the Kingdom. He sent His disciples ahead of Him as He travelled the countryside, to the small towns to announce the arrival of the Kingdom. The other thing the Bible Project series emphasized is how the Kingdom of God was upside-down from what the world viewed as important and proper religion. A Canadian author titled a book on Jesus’ ministry as The End of Religion, emphasizing that Jesus didn’t come to initiate or institute a new religion. This Kingdom that Jesus preached did not conform to the expectations of the current religious establishment.
Why do you think that was? Why was the Kingdom message Jesus preached so “backwards”?
The Biblical record, in describing the kingdom, sets up several paradoxes in that description. These paradoxes seem hard to align, but when you understand them from a spiritual focus, they are not contradictory at all. Henry Clay Trumbull was a publisher and preacher. He wrote a book titled Practical Paradoxes; or, Truth in Contradictions. In his introduction, “The Comfort of Christian Paradoxes,” he wrote:
The law of the Christian life is a paradox. It is made up of seeming contradictions. All its teachings are contrary to the common opinions of man. According to this law, giving is getting; scattering is gaining; holding is losing; having nothing is possessing all things; dying is living. It is he who is weak who is strong… Happiness is found when it is no longer sought; the clearest sight is of the invisible; (and) things which are not bring to naught things which are.
Richard Hansen, in “Making the Most of Biblical Paradoxes” (at http://www.preachingtoday.com/skills/2005/august/117–hansen.html), lists the Christian paradoxes as:
We see unseen things
We conquer by yielding
We find rest under a yoke
We reign by serving
We are made great by becoming small
We are exalted when we are humble
We become wise by being fools for Christ’s sake
We are made free by becoming bondservants
We gain strength when we are weak
We triumph through defeat
We find victory by glorying in our infirmities
We live by dying
Let me share a few Scriptures:
Paul writes about his ministry as: (WE are) regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things. (2 Corinthians 6:8-10)
Strength through weakness: And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) This plainly means that when we admit our weakness as humanity, as unable to do the right thing, as unable to overcome sin, we open ourselves to the power of God to work in us and through us. Paul, in Philippians talks about knowing the death defeating “power of the resurrection” and that he could do all things through Christ who strengthens him. His weakness, our admission and acceptance of our weakness, allows us to be vessels of God’s power – the power that raised Christ from the dead, that defeated Satan, sin and death; that same power that created the universe and all that is within. God’s strength through our weakness.
Living through dying/finding through losing: He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 10:39) New life in Christ, eternal life, is received by responding to and accepting God’s grace through faith. This point of individual salvation is not a magic process initiated by magic words of a prayer – it is received through surrendering yourself, your life, to Christ. What Jesus was saying here is that when you find new life in Christ, you let go of the old life, you lose it. You become a new creation. And if you die for the sake of Christ, because of your faith in Christ, you will awaken to eternal life.
Exaltation through humility: Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (James 4:10) c.f. Philippians 2:8-9 This paradox is at the heart of the character of God, who alone is worthy to be exalted. God is love – part of His divine character is love, to give up yourself for another. Jesus said that the greatest display, the greatest act of love, is to give your life for another. He modeled it in the incarnation, on the cross, where He gave up His rights as God and died for you and I. Do not, in an act of selfishness, let pride over take your attitude. When you surrender and let God lead, you will be exalted in the Kingdom.
Receiving through giving: In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:35 You are a steward of all the stuff you have: material things, digital stuff, your gifts and talents, your reputation, everything. This is stuff God has given you, allowed you to have, to experience – it isn’t yours. You have it that you might use it in the kingdom. Don’t bury it, spend it generously in Kingdom work and you will receive spiritual blessings untold. Jim Elliot, martyred for his work in the kingdom, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
Freedom though slavery: and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:18) Salvation, freedom from sin being your master, is not granted so you can dive back into selfishness, into sin. Salvation was given so that you might fulfill the reason for your creation, to find your place within the kingdom, you work within the kingdom, that only you can do. Slaves of righteousness means that you are allowing God to transform your character into His – that new creation thing.
Christianity is full of paradoxes because God doesn’t look at life the way we do. He thinks differently. God understands and operates outside of time and space. He is rooted in eternity. He declares in Isaiah 55:8: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways… As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” God’s character is different, because this world is fallen and directed by sin, by the pursuit of self, as originated and expressed in Satan. God’s character is how we define righteousness, and so stands in opposition to the world system. John puts it this way: Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its desires; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
God’s mission is to redeem humanity, to offer grace to His creation. We who have received and understand that grace are called to be agents of that grace to the people around us. It isn’t about our bank account, our promotion, people’s applause. All that stuff needs to be let go, which leads us to the last paradox given by Paul’s character and experience, Gaining though losing: But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:7-8) Anything that gets between us and God, is a loss. When we let that stuff go from our priorities, from our pursuit, we gain Christ, and to live is Christ, to die is gain. And it really isn’t just about small stuff like doing - as Ravi Zacharias has said, “Jesus did not come to make bad people good or to make good people better, but to make dead people alive.” That’s not a paradox, that is a miracle.