When the Gospel writers introduce the ministry of Jesus, they present Him as a messenger from Heaven with an important message direct from the heart of God. Mark describes this message as the “Gospel of the Kingdom of God”. (Mark 1:14)
The big questions we need to ask are:
“What or where is the Kingdom of God?”
“What is the main thrust of this message?”
“How does this message impact those of us who live in the 21st Century?”
When we study the life of Jesus, what is abundantly clear is that Jesus spent most of His time preaching about the Kingdom of God. His message was in contrast to that of the Scribes and Pharisees. His was a message of love, acceptance and forgiveness. Theirs was a message of judgment and condemnation. His was a message of tolerance and inclusiveness. Theirs was one of intolerance and exclusiveness. His message was so radically different that they wanted to kill Him over it. What is it about this message which has created such polarised opinion?
Let’s begin by first defining what Jesus meant when He spoke about the Kingdom of God. I believe that the Kingdom of God has two basic implications. One is the immediate: the now meaning. The other is an eschatological one (eschatological is a theological word referring to a future order connected to the return of Christ and preceding events). There are some aspects to God’s promises that happen now and some that have a “not yet” aspect to them. We need to keep these two thoughts together but in correct tension. Jesus came to prepare us for Heaven but He also came to introduce Heavenly values now. Some things He wants us to have now, others we will have to wait for Heaven before we can experience them. However what is clear is that Jesus wanted us to experience Heavenly community here on earth now.
The easiest way to define the Kingdom of God is to simply say: “The Kingdom of God is any place where the will of God is done.” Any place where the will and purposes of God are seen as pre-eminent has entered the Kingdom of God. Jesus makes us aware that the Kingdom of God can be within us if we have submitted ourselves to the will of God (Luke 17:21).
If we begin with this definition as the starting point, it becomes easy to add other thoughts that expand on what it actually means to “Do the will of God.”
The sermon on the mount (Matt 5,6,7) introduces us to Jesus’ most in depth teaching on Kingdom values. It can be said that it is the Manifesto of Kingdom values. Let’s have a look at some of these. We begin with eight Kingdom values and behaviours as expressed in what we commonly call “The Beatitudes.”
1. KINGDOM PEOPLE ARE GOD DEPENDANT.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt 5:3)
I love the way the CEV (Contemporary English Version) translates this verse. “God blesses those people who depend only on Him.” Poor in spirit, consequently means in need of and dependant on God. This immediately creates a contrast between those who need God and those who don’t need God. Those who are God dependant and those who are God independent. Those who see themselves as lacking spiritual things and those who see themselves as self sufficient in spiritual things. Those who are poor in spirit and those who are complete and without spiritual need.
At that time, in 1st century Palestine, there were many who saw themselves as complete and without spiritual need. The Scribes and Pharisees for one came into this category. They had the law, they had their religion, they had their relationship with God all sorted. Not for one minute did they see themselves as “poor in spirit”. The rich, the powerful and those in authority also fell into this category. Jesus was saying to these people and to whoever would listen, the first requirement that is necessary to enter the Kingdom of God is to be in need of God. Kingdom people are easily differentiated. They are God dependant not independent. They are humble enough to admit their need of God. They recognise the void in their life is a “God shaped void” and nothing but God can truly satisfy that void. It is essential for us to cry out, “God I need You,” before one can enter the Kingdom of God.
That is why this is the first of the beatitudes. It is the doorway to the remaining Kingdom Values. As this one invokes blessedness upon the person who accepts it, so do the other seven. These eight Kingdom Values embrace and summarize the main message of Jesus. He came to show us how to live the Heavenly life whilst we are still here on planet Earth.
Over the next few issues, we will cover the remainder of these Kingdom Values.
Copyright 2009 John Iuliano. Used by permission.