In recent posts I have been writing about how we view conversion and life after conversion. I have suggested that our emphasis on conversion has distorted the Gospel, which in turn causes our faith to have little impact on our everyday lives. So let’s take a moment and look at what is at the center of the Gospel.
If you were asked to sum up the gospel in a sentence or two, what would you say? I’ve asked a number of people this question, and I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that if you asked 100 Christians to sum up the mission of Jesus, ninety-five would essentially say Jesus came to forgive our sins so that we can go to heaven when we die.
This answer is tragically incomplete. If we believe that Jesus’ mission was to die on the cross so that we can go to heaven after we die, we miss something critical, this life. If Jesus’ mission was only about going to heaven, what do we do with our life now? Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is about forgiveness, and of course forgiveness is a necessary starting point. However, the heart of the gospel does not stop with forgiveness; the heart of the gospel continues through redemption.
Redemption requires forgiveness, but forgiveness is just the first mile of the marathon. The finish line of this race is the restoration of life in the kingdom of God. In fact, Scripture is the story of God working toward the full restoration of everything lost in the fall, the kingdom of God fully realized throughout the whole world.
The kingdom is central in the teaching of Jesus. Everything revolves around it. Matthew sums up Jesus’ teaching with the statement, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Mt 4:17) There are over 100 references to the kingdom in the Gospels. Jesus consistently refers to the kingdom as our goal. (Mt 5:20, 7:21, 18:3, Mark 9:47, 10:23) When he sends the twelve to spread the word he tells them to announce, “The kingdom of heaven is near,” (Mt 10:7) and when he sends the seventy-two, the message is the same. (Luke 10:9) There is no other topic more consistently addressed in his parables. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed (Mt 13:31), a great treasure (Mt 13:44), a king settling accounts or preparing a banquet (Mt 18:23, 22:2), farmer (Mark 4:26), and so on.
Jesus taught about the kingdom so much that it is hard to argue that anything else is more central to his teaching and mission. So for the next few posts I am going to look into what the kingdom is. The way I see it, there are five key characteristics of the kingdom throughout Jesus’ life and teaching, and we’ll start later this week with the kingdom’s presence.