White Horse Inn Blog
Know what you believe and why you believe it
First Things First: The Gifted Kingdom
"'Therefore I tell you,'" says Jesus to his disciples in Luke 12, "'do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.'" After all, God takes care of the birds and in any case, "'which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?'" Jesus doesn't tell them that it doesn't matter whether they have food and clothing, or that they shouldn't do anything about it. In fact, Paul offers a rebuke to those who refuse to support themselves and their families by working (1 Thess 4:11-12). Nevertheless, Jesus assures them the God is the ultimate provider. "'Indeed, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you'" (Lk 12:22-31).
Make secondary things primary (i.e., your god) and you'll always be disappointed; look to Christ and his reign over sin and death, and even if life falls apart you can know that he is working all things together for his glory and your salvation. Jesus doesn't say that these temporal concerns are trivial; he simply challenges the way we rank his everlasting kingdom and our temporal concerns.
What makes this exhortation more than a pious platitude that no one can seriously entertain in the face of hopelessness and despair? Jesus explains in the very next verse: "'Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom'" (v 32). You mean it's not, "Work really hard to find God and pursue his kingdom vision and then everything else will fall into place?" Not at all. The kingdom is a gift. It has been given—is being given. It's coming down from heaven even now, with the forgiveness of sins and new life.
It's a good time for us to be reminded that our ultimate citizenship is in the kingdom of Christ. He is the King—not the one we elected, but the one who has chosen us and has laid down his own life for his fellow heirs of the Father's realm. And his is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. It is not an empire, party, or social movement that we are building. Not that we aren't a part of these temporary kingdoms, helping to build better neighborhoods and nations. It's just that in these common callings we are contributing to the building and repair of the kingdoms of this age that eventually collapse and, if remaining at Christ's return, will be shaken to the foundations (Heb 12:26-27). Rather, "we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken..." (v 28).
After his resurrection, Jesus returned to Galilee. "And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted" (Mat 28:16-17). Then and there the King announced, "'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age'" (vv 18-20).
The disciples would face not only deprivation along with fellow Jews; they would soon be persecuted by their own families. It's a "little flock": make no mistake about it. Especially in churches here in the U.S., we don't quite know what we are. On one hand, we seem to imagine that we're a "big flock," with an impressive history of national influence. On the other hand, we play the persecution card a lot, as if we were being thrown to the lions when the City Hall decides not to display the manger on its lawn at Christmas. Maybe it's not as contradictory as that, though. After all, it's only when you think you're big that you take offense at the slightest evidence that you're not. Our fears, like our hopes, reveal the gods in whom we place our trust.
I fret over making ends meet. Then I encounter believers enduring extreme poverty with remarkable confidence in God—not to mention those I meet under the constant threat of religious persecution in China and across the Islamic world. I want control over the temperature in my car. These folks know that they're not in control, and yet they seem less fearful. They don't demand things or fall apart at the slightest inconvenience. Their faith under pressure rebukes my sinful tendency to use God as a resource for my own control over my life instead of falling into the everlasting arms of a Father who so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son. These saints don't talk as much as we do about their impressive buildings, numbers, and cultural clout. They get the whole "little flock" thing. It's not a stumbling block to them, but wonderfully realistic and assuring. The church may be nothing in the eyes of the world, but it's everything to the Triune God. The King announces, "'I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Mat 16:18). It's not "my life," "so-and-so's church/ministry," or even "our project." We belong to someone else. "'Fear not, little flock, it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.'" It's a little flock, but what an inheritance!
In John 16 the disciples confess their certainty that Jesus has indeed come from the Father. "Jesus answered them, 'Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me'" (vv 30-32). Jesus' response would appear at first glance to belittle their strong confession. Indeed, it is true: they would scatter, leaving Jesus alone. However, it's not a rebuke but just a statement of fact leading to a marvelous assurance that in spite of their fear for their own lives he would be their conqueror even through their abandonment. Building the kingdom, purchasing the kingdom, bestowing the kingdom: these are the things that only he can do anyway, alone. The presence of the Father and the Spirit would suffice to uphold him in this solitary work he has to do. So he adds, "'I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world'" (v 33).
This is not just another "our brightest days are ahead" speech. It's not a question of whether we're happier, healthier, and wealthier than we were four years ago. It's a well-grounded hope, anchored in the fact that Jesus has already inaugurated his kingdom and in death his last will and testament will be executed. When he is raised to the right hand of the Father, the seat of all power and authority, he will pour out his Spirit and adopt rebels as his co-heirs with him of his kingdom.
Notice that he didn't say, "We'll overcome the world together." Nor did he say, "Here are the principles you can use to overcome the world." He did not invite us to share in his redeeming agenda. Rather, he calls us to come to him and enjoy the spoils of his conquest.
In his life, death, and resurrection, this King of kings has secured the victory of God over the forces of sin and death that reign over this present evil age. When he returns, he will cleanse the whole earth to make it his dwelling place with his people forever. In between, it will be an era of, paradoxically, the stunning triumph of the Spirit through the Word in a global empire of grace and a perpetual conflict with the principalities and powers in heavenly places. Besides sharing in the common curse with our non-believing neighbors, the saints will be persecuted in many places during this intermission. The forces of darkness will not only be external threats, but wolves within that seek to wound, divide, and scatter the sheep.
Tomorrow I'll finish this reflection on our King's counsel for his "little flock" during this election season.