Mitchell

Author's details

Name: Mitchell
Date registered: March 3, 2012
URL: http://milewis.wordpress.com

Latest posts

  1. Mitchell Lewis: Four C’s of Salvation — October 19, 2014
  2. Mitchell Lewis: Imitators and Models — October 16, 2014
  3. Mitchell Lewis: A Collect for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost — October 14, 2014
  4. Mitchell Lewis: Previously on God and Caesar — October 13, 2014
  5. Mitchell Lewis: That We May Live Quiet Lives — September 23, 2013

Most commented posts

  1. Mitchell Lewis: Western Jurisdiction: Operate Outside the Discipline — 2 comments
  2. Mitchell Lewis: Chaplain Emil Kapaun, Medal of Honor — 1 comment
  3. Mitchell Lewis: Scott Jones on United Methodist Doctrine — 1 comment
  4. Mitchell Lewis: The Crucifixion, The Romans and the People of God — 1 comment
  5. Mitchell Lewis: Some Thoughts for Free Citizens — 1 comment

Author's posts listings

Oct 19 2014

Mitchell Lewis: Four C’s of Salvation

Original post at http://milewis.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/four-cs-of-salvation/


1 Thessalonians 1:1–10

Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica is generally considered to be the oldest document in the New Testament. It is usually dated around the year 50 CE, or 17-20 years after Jesus’ resurrection. It is the earliest written witness, then, of what the Christian faith meant for the Gentiles who first heard it preached in the Greco-Roman world.

As I looked at the text of 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, the material coalesced for me around four words: comprehension, conviction, conversion and commission. Now I would not ordinarily organize the text around four alliterative points. “Points” are not generally my thing; I think a narrative approach is generally preferable. However, as a worked with the text, these four words kept coming back to me as a way to describe how the church in Thessalonica received the apostle Paul’s’ preaching of the gospel.

Comprehension

The first thing that strikes me is that Paul’s message included specific assertions about who God is and what God did.

The “living and true God” (1:9) is “the Father” (1:1, 1:3). By implication, all other deities are “idols” that Paul condemns in 1:9.

Furthermore, Jesus is the “Christ” (1:1, 1:3) [or "messiah" or "anointed one"]. He is “the Lord” (1:1, 1:3) and God’s “son” (1:10), whom God raised from the dead (1:10). In the future, Jesus will come again from heaven to save “us” [the church, whom Paul addresses] from the wrath to come [presumably on those who still cling to idols] (1:10).

So Paul proclaimed a faith that encompassed God the Father, and Jesus Christ, his Son, the Lord, who died, who rose from the dead, and who will come again when God judges the world.

Now that’s starting to sound familiar. It sounds more than a little bit like the Apostles’ Creed to me. The current version of creed is much later, but many of the the specific words and the basic outline of the creed are found in the oldest document in the Christian New Testament.

Without God’s concrete acts in Jesus, the word “god” is an empty concept which can be filled with all sorts of meaning.

When I was younger, Sunday School teachers on multiple occasions have asked the members of the class to each write their own creeds – to put down on paper what they personally believed. That was an interesting exercise, but I think it missed the point of what the creed is all about. I suppose that it’s important to be able to put my own faith into words, but my faith darn well better be built on the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. When I confess the creed, I am joining myself to the faith of the church dating back at least to the time of the apostles.

Paul did not preach general religious principles for a happy life. He didn’t preach faith in faith. He didn’t teach that faith is built on feelings or personal experiences or individual reason. The foundation of everything else Paul said and did was the message of what God has done in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and what God  was going to do in the future when Jesus came again.

We know who God is – and who God isn’t – because of Jesus Christ. Without God’s concrete acts in Jesus, the word “god” is an empty shell which can be filled with all sorts of meaning.

So when I use the word “comprehension” to describe how the early Christians received the gospel, I mean that they understood the message Paul proclaimed to have a specific content. That content is the the Gospel – the good news:

  • There is only one true and living God the Father; the rest are idols
  • Jesus is the Lord and Messiah whom God the Father raised from the dead
  • Jesus will come again from heaven
  • The day of God’s final judgment will come at last; on that day, Jesus will save those who belong to him from God’s wrath

This is the faith of the church in every age and place, and the foundation of everything else

Conviction

Of course salvation is not just a matter of words and ideas. Paul says that the Thessalonian Christians received it with power. What does Paul mean by “power”?

It might mean that wondrous miracles attended the preaching of the word, such as we find in the gospels or the book of Acts. However, there’s no hint of that here.

It might mean that the charismatic gifts described in 1 Corinthians and the book of Acts accompanied the preaching of the word. Again, there is scant notice in this letter on the charismatic gifts, apart from one tepid mention of prophetic utterances in 5:19-21.

Rather, it appears to me that the power Paul described in 1:5 is synonymous with “the Holy Sprit” and “deep conviction” in the same verse. It is an inward work of the Holy Spirit to bring assurance to the believer.

Our gospel did not come to you merely in words, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. (1 Thessalonians 1:5)

Paul is describing an inner work that he describes as “deep conviction or “full assurance” (πληροφορία). The condition Paul describes is not half-hearted or hesitant.

In the following chapter, he describes the result of this conviction.

When you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

God’s word performs its work in those who believe.

We have many different ways of experiencing this deep conviction or full assurance. For me, the most vivid moments have been those times I’ve been assured of things I already believed and experienced the state of grace that I already claimed by faith.

God’s word performs its work in those who believe.

There is power in God’s assurance. There is also power in how this conviction bubbles over into our lives. The power of the Holy Spirit enabled the Thessalonian Christians to receive the faith with joy (1:6) and endurance (1:3), even in the midst of great suffering. It drove them to accomplish works of faith and labors of love (1:3). It empowered them to live the kind of lives they saw modeled in the life of Paul, and recorded in the story of Jesus. (1:6)

That, then, leads us to next point. The power of the Holy Spirit may be seen most of all in the changed lives of those who had once given themselves to idols and who had lived in accordance with the spirit of this age. Conviction leads to conversion

Conversion

Paul reports that the Thessalonian Christians turned from idols to serve the living and true God. Their lives changed.

Idolatry was serious business, for Paul and the early church. And it was pervasive. There were so-called gods everywhere you turned: in private homes, in the market places, in temples, on street corners, in military camps, and in the various sorts of community associations that existed. The Greeks and Romans swam in a sea of idolatry.

Turning from idolatry wasn’t easy. In an environment filled with idols, people just naturally absorb idolatrous values. You didn’t have to work hard to be a pagan in a pagan environment. Quite the contrary, in that environment you had to work pretty hard to disentangle yourself from idolatry. You had to be intentional about it.

The early Christians realized this and consequently built rigor into their baptismal practices. The church eventually required that new believers spend an extended period as catechumens, or learners. During this time, the former pagans learned to see their lives in accordance with the ways of God. The church prayed for these new Christians to be set free from the evil spiritual powers that clung to almost everything in the ancient world. At baptism, new Christians renounced the world, the flesh and the devil, and the church once again prayed for their spiritual freedom.

Turning from idols meant more than just avoiding pagan temples.

We don’t have a world filled with statues of Apollo and Zeus, so idolatry is not a problem for us, is it? Surely, the world doesn’t shape us unconsciously into its idolatrous ways, or does it? I think that it is hard for us to see how the world affects most Christians in many and subtle ways, and consequently how we still need to turn to the living and true God from the idols of our age.

We see this “turning” in how the Thessalonians lived. Turning from idols meant more than just avoiding pagan temples.

Throughout his letter, Paul alludes to a few of the ways in which the new Christians would have to turn from the culture of idols.

For one thing, they had to turn away from the Greek views of sexual license that dominated their culture. To be Christians, the Thessalonians had to live differently (4:1-8).

They also had to learn to return good for evil. Even when people abused them, they had to love their neighbors. (5:15)

And they had to learn to love all the people in the church – people from every walk of life – which not a typically Greek or Roman thing to do. In the Roman world, everyone had their place, and “love” wasn’t a word that you would use to describe how the upper classes and lower classes related to each other. But in the church, love was required for all the brethren. (3:12, 4:9-10)

I think that it is also very interesting that the Thessalonian Christians had to learn to respect manual labor – again, not a typically Greek thing to do. Those who were rich had their servants do the work. Status and power were respected; actual labor, not so much. Paul returns to this several times in his short letter (2:9, 4:11-12, 5-11). Be willing to work, to take care of yourself and your brothers and sisters in the church. Don’t think that work is beneath you. You are not better than anyone else!

The Thessalonians even had to look at how they listened to the speeches in the market place and how they heard the arguments of philosophers.  Christianity even has different communications standards that the world around us (2:5-6).

This turning, this conversion, required that you reexamine everything in your life, and learn to live differently than those who worshiped the Greek and Roman idols.

And you could not do this without the power of the Holy Spirit.

So are you with me so far? The Thessalonian Christians:

  • Comprehended the message Paul preached
  • Were convicted of its truth by the power of the Holy Spirit
  • Were converted from idolatry to the true God and his ways in the world

Which leads us to the last word: commission.

Commission

The Thessalonians who heard the message, believed its truth and changed their lives were commissioned to help spread that message to others.

The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place (1:8)

The gospel message rang out from Thessalonica into the surrounding towns and villages and south into the heart of Greece, and from there out into the world.

Here, Paul shows us one more dimension of disciple making: imitation and modeling.

Notice what Paul was not saying. He wasn’t saying that the Thessalonians became preaching evangelists like him. There is no mention of such a thing. There’s not even a mention of supporting the traveling evangelists, such as you find in other letters. There is no mention of evangelistic campaigns, of knocking on doors, of preaching on street corners or handing out gospel tracts.

Quite to the contrary, instead of making a big noise about their faith and being a little pushy about it, Paul says,

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)

Live a quiet life. Earn the respect of outsiders.

In the first chapter, Paul talks about:

  • Doing works of faith and labors of love
  • Imitating Paul and Jesus in one’s daily life
  • Living in joy and endurance in the face of suffering

Three words sum up what I hear Paul saying: be the church. Be good Christians, so that others can see what being a Christian is all about

How does God makes a disciple? To be sure. preaching and teaching are important. There are truths a Christian needs to comprehend. But here Paul shows us one more dimension of disciple making: imitation and modeling.

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7)

Being a Christian is not a solitary endeavor. We learn how to be a Christians by being around other faithful Christians. Both consciously and unconsciously, we learn how to live as Christians by absorbing how the faithful people around us live their lives. And, in turn, we become models for others who choose to walk in the way of Christ. That’s the commission that Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10.

In Conclusion

So have you been tracking? In the earliest document in the New Testament, we see that from the beginning to become a Christian encompassed a number of logically related things:

  • Comprehension of the apostolic gospel message
  • Conviction of its truth by the power of the Holy Spirit
  • Conversion of one’s life, turning from the world’s idols to serve the living and true God in every aspect of one’s life
  • Commissioning to do one’s part in making new disciples by letting others see Christ in one’s way of life

That’s how Christians received the gospel in the Greek town of Thessalonica nearly 2000 years ago.

Perhaps it also has something to tell us about how people can receive the gospel in their lives today.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/four-cs-of-salvation/

Oct 16 2014

Mitchell Lewis: Imitators and Models

Original post at http://milewis.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/imitators-and-models/


You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7

How does God makes a disciple? Teaching is important. There are propositional truths a Christian needs to learn. Liturgy is important, too. James K. A. Smith describes liturgy as those actions that train the heart what to desire. Importantly, word and sacrament have both a human dimension and a divine dimension. They are among the means of grace through which God has promised to act.

In 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7, Paul shows us one more dimension of disciple making: imitation. As I wrote in this site’s invitation:

Being a Christian is not a solitary endeavor. To a large degree, you will learn how to be a Christian by being around other faithful Christians.

Learning through imitation affects every part of a Christian’s life, including how we engage the scriptures, how we conceptualize the faith and how we worship the living and true God. Moreover, the truth we believe in our heads and cherish in our hearts spills out into all our relationships, the koinonia we have with other Christians together with the actions and attitudes we take toward our neighbors.

Both consciously and unconsciously, we learn how to live as Christians by absorbing how the faithful people around us live their lives. And, in turn, we become models for others who choose to walk in the way of Christ.

One cannot become and grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ apart from the church.

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/imitators-and-models/

Oct 14 2014

Mitchell Lewis: A Collect for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Original post at http://milewis.wordpress.com/2014/10/14/collect-pentecost-19-a/


O God our Father, you redeemed your people through the death and resurrection of your Son, and you promised that he will come again to establish your justice throughout all creation. Pour out the power of your Holy Spirit on us, so that we might receive your salvation with joy, conform our lives to your truth and accomplish your loving purposes in the world. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Based on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Epistle Reading for Proper 24, Year A

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/a-collect-for-the-19th-sunday-after-pentecost/

Oct 13 2014

Mitchell Lewis: Previously on God and Caesar

Original post at http://milewis.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/previously-on-god-and-caesar/


Some posts on rendering to Caesar (Matthew 22:15-22):

And more tangentially related:

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/previously-on-god-and-caesar/

Sep 23 2013

Mitchell Lewis: That We May Live Quiet Lives

Original post at http://milewis.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/prayer-and-quiet-life/


I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. 1 Timothy 2:1-6a

Last month, I read two stories in quick succession.

First, I read about Kansas pastor Sandra Moore who took a group of United Methodists to visit the Islamic Center of Topeka in order to learn more about the Muslim faith. Imam Omar Hazim invited the group to visit the mosque and have lunch with Muslim congregation. The visit allowed the Christians in the group to better understand Islam, and the Muslims to better understand the Christian faith. It was a nice, neighborly thing to do, and it reminded me of my visits to Buddhist temples during my assignments in Korea.

Then I read about Asia Bibi, a poor Pakistani woman who is in prison and facing death because of her Christian faith. While harvesting fruit with a group of women in 2009, she committed the sin of daring to drink water from same well as her coworkers, and then offering the cup to a thirsty Muslim woman. “Don’t drink that, it’s haram,” another woman screamed. “This Christian has dirtied the water in the well. Now the water is unclean and we can’t drink it! Because of her!” Why is sharing a drinking fountain such a cause of concern for people dividers in this world? You see it in so many cultures – even our own 50 years ago.  Perhaps thinking of John 4 and the woman at the well in Samaria, Asia replied, “I think Jesus would see if differently from Mohammed.”

Asia’s adversary replied that Jesus was a “bastard” and that she should convert from her “filthy religion.” “I’m not going to convert,” Asia replied. “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind? And why should it be me that converts instead of you?” The crowd erupted with anger, and Asia ran home. Within days, an even larger, angrier crowd appeared. They accused her of blasphemy and insulting the prophet. A religious leader told her, “If you don’t want to die you must convert to Islam. Are you willing to redeem yourself by becoming a good Muslim?” When she refused, the crowd beat her badly and screamed for her death. Before the beating was over, she was bloody and losing consciousness. Eventually, the police arrived and took her to jail. She now sits in jail under a sentence of death, awaiting her fate.

As Paul Harvey used to say, it’s not one world.

The apostle Paul’s world was much closer to that of Asia Bibi than to Sandra Moore. He faced angry mobs and violence wherever he turned. He had Jewish opponents, pagan Gentile opponents and even Christian opponents.  As you follow Paul’s journey through the book of Acts, each city presents a new threat: Damascus. Antioch. Iconium. Lystra. Philippi. Thessalonica. Berea. Corinth. Ephesus. Jerusalem. Rome. Paul’s life was in danger at every turn. It is said that “May you live in interesting times” is an ancient Chinese curse. Paul certainly did live in interesting times.

Pray for the Shalom of All

For all of that, Paul still wanted Christians to get along with their neighbors – to live a quiet and peaceful life with godliness and dignity. In Romans 12:18, he wrote, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Now I can’t imagine Paul leading a tour of the temples to Jupiter, but he did ask that the church offer prayers, petitions, intercessions, thanksgivings – every kind of prayer you can think of – for everyone, presumably, even for those who wanted him dead.

Paul asked the church to pray “for” all people, not just “about” them. That is, Paul asked the church to intercede on their behalf and seek God’s blessings for them. It’s one thing to pray, “Lord, let me tell you about my nasty neighbor. What are you going to do about him?” It’s quite another to pray, “Lord, I really do want you to bless my neighbors and to give us a community where we can all live in peace together.”

And did Paul really say “thanksgivings?” Really? Even for those who cause the church so much trouble and pain? I probably should remember that Jesus himself told us to pray for our enemies and to bless those who persecute us.

Paul even asked the church to pray for kings and all in authority. Sometimes Roman power threatened Paul, but at other times it rescued and protected him. Paul’s relationship with Roman power was rather complicated. Overall, Rome was more of a threat than a friend to Christians. Paul spent a good bit of time in Roman custody, and it just so happens that the king on the throne when Paul wrote this letter was the emperor Nero. When the city of Rome burned, Nero blamed the Christians and had them burned at the stake. Peter, it is said, was crucified by Nero, and Paul was beheaded.

When we pray for kings and those in high places, certainly we pray for good judgment and a good heart, but I think we pray for their overall well being as well. In A Christmas Carol, Bob Cratchit offers a toast wishing his stingy boss Scrooge a long and happy life. Similarly, Scrooge’s scorned nephew Fred drinks to the miser’s health. These two characters understand Paul’s intent. To pray “for” someone is ultimately to seek their good. Even evil leaders are among the “all people” that God wants to be saved and know the truth. Even with Nero sitting on the throne, Paul could wrote, “I implore (the word is quite forceful) … I implore you to pray for kings and all in high places so that we can lead a quiet and peaceful life.” How Paul himself must have longed for this peace and quiet.  It is just amazing to me that Paul could have such amicable aspirations for those who so often tormented God’s people.

One God, One Mediator

Paul is willing to pray for the kings and rulers of this age, but it is not peace at any price he seeks.

Let me put Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2 in a different context. Rome expected its subjects to offer sacrifices to the emperor as a god. Technically, Romans offered sacrifices to the genius of the emperor, but that sort of technicality tended to get lost in the eastern parts of the empire. To the Romans, the genius was a kind of a divine spirit. For the Jews, then there was no difference between offering a sacrifice to Caesar’s “genius” and Caesar himself. There was only one God, and it wasn’t Jupiter or Mars or Caesar or Caesar’s genius.

Because of the Jewish objection to all idolatry, Rome allowed the Judeans to offer sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple FOR the emperor instead of TO the emperor. There’s a big difference between “for” and “to.”

In 66 AD, as tensions with Rome escalated, the Judeans stopped offering the temple sacrifices on the emperor’s behalf. The Romans considered that event to be an act of open rebellion and thus began the First Jewish War with Rome. Jerusalem was razed and the temple was destroyed.

When Paul told Christians that they ought to pray for the emperor, that’s exactly what Paul’s Jewish brothers and sisters were doing in the temple in Jerusalem prior to 66 AD.

As we have seen, Paul asked Christians to pray for the emperor despite the emperor’s misdeeds. Like all Jews, however, Paul refused to compromise with Rome on the uniqueness of Israel’s God. With God’s people throughout the ages, he confessed the great shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” If we continue reading in 1 Timothy 2, we quickly come to this affirmation in verse 5: There is one God and one mediator between God and man. In the light of Jewish experience with Rome, I can’t help but hear the unspoken words, “And it’s not Caesar.”

There is one God. Rome was filled with gods: household gods for every domus, invisible sprits in nature, patron deities of every place and activity, the classic gods of antiquity and the growing imperial cult. “Pray for the emperor,” Paul says, “but remember that there is only one God. And it’s not Caesar.”

Paul then adds that there is one mediator between God and humankind – the man Jesus Christ. Again, it’s not Caesar. One of Caesar’s titles was “Pontifex maximus,” which is usually translated “high priest.” One of Caesar’s duties was to offer sacrifices to the gods. The word pontifex is really “bridge builder” – one who builds a bridge between heaven and earth, between the gods and men. At least that’s how many Romans interpreted it. Every Roman coin bore the Caesar’s boast. Paul reminds his readers that there is only one bridge builder – one mediator – between God and humankind, and it’s not the emperor in Rome.

Pray for the emperor, Paul says, but don’t buy everything he’s selling. Our relationship to the world always entails good will and a desire for peace in the community, but it never entails compromising our faith.

To Serve God’s Purposes

We pray for the emperor not to serve his purposes – or even our own – but God’s. God wants all to be saved. God wants all to know the truth about his son who gave his life as a ransom for all. That’s what Paul says in verses 3 and 4. Whenever possible, the church lives a quiet and peaceful life with its neighbors. Our living a quiet and peaceful life in the world falls short if we use that peace and quiet as an opportunity to avoid responsibility. We don’t seek peace out of fear or laziness, but because God loves our neighbors. God wants to use the church as his instrument in the world. He wants all men and women to be saved – even his enemies – and the church is his instrument for that.

Brothers and sisters, I urge that you pray for everyone, so that the church of Jesus Christ may lead a quiet and peaceable and godly life. This is how God wants us to live, because desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. And this is the truth. There is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all.


Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2013/09/that-we-may-live-quiet-lives/

Aug 11 2013

Mitchell Lewis: To Give You the Kingdom

Original post at http://milewis.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/to-give-you-the-kingdom/


Reflections on Luke 12:32-40

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32 (ESV)

Any Romans listening to Jesus say these words might have thought, “No thanks. We’ve already got one.” And what a kingdom it was. From the British Isles to North Africa to borders of Persia, Rome was an empire with magnificent cities, an amazing network of roads and ships for trade and travel, a sometimes brutally effective government and the most powerful army the world had ever seen. Rome made people rich – a few people, anyway.

The Romans thought their empire was so wonderful that the world should proclaim the good news – the gospel, that is – of Caesar’s birth. Caesar was the savior of the world, and when He conquered a new land, he brought peace. Consequently, the Senate declared Caesar to be the son of a god and a member of the Roman pantheon. “I don’t know what kind of kingdom you’re offering,” the Roman might have said to Jesus, “but we’ve got the biggest and best kingdom the world has ever seen.”

Now the people listening to Jesus by and large were not the cream of the crop of Greco-Roman society. Not many were rich or powerful, but naturally they wanted the same things that most people wanted: to feed their families and to build some sort of security for the future. They wanted to get ahead as best they could, and I’m sure that the Roman way looked pretty good to many. Those at the top of society were those most in bed with Rome. The fate of the poor, faithful people of Israel did not look so appealing by comparison.

Today, if you look for the empire that fancied itself the queen of the world in Jesus’ day, all that you will find are ruins, in Rome itself and throughout the Mediterranean world. There are even ruins as far away as England and Germany. On the old German frontier, all that you will find of Rome’s ancient power is a moss covered stone or two lying in a German forest. Rome is dead. The kingdom of which Jesus spoke is very much alive.

You don’t have to look back 2000 years to discover that humanity’s greatest accomplishments always crumble into dust.

In the 1950s, 4 of 5 cars worldwide were built in Detroit. The city had 296,000 manufacturing jobs in the automotive industry supporting a population of 1.8 million. It had the highest median income and highest home ownership of any major city. Today, the population is down to 710 thousand. There are 70 thousand abandoned buildings. The city is bankrupt and $18 billion in debt. Cutbacks in city services have made the high poverty rate and high crime rate even worse. Right now, the city is in a downward spiral. It’s sad to look at pictures of Detroit’s ruins.

Jesus is right. There is no treasure on earth that moths and rust can’t eat or thieves can’t steal. Nothing is permanent. Everything is temporary. There is no security in any earthly treasure.

In the 1990s, the economy boomed on the backs of the computer revolution. In the 2000s, the markets came crashing down. Does anybody else own a property worth less than when you bought it? Did anyone’s retirement portfolio disappear in the last decade?

Well, at least I have my health. Unfortunately, even the body wears out. I am a part of the aging baby boomer generation and every new ache and pain makes us wonder, is there something wrong that won’t get better? Is that a symptom of something dreadful?

Sometimes you see the moth and the thief coming, and sometimes you don’t. Driving back from Atlanta I got into a little traffic accident. Nobody was hurt, fortunately, but the big boom and sudden jolt that resulted when our cars collided emotionally took be back to the land where “sudden death” is not something that happens in a football game.

The people of Jesus’ day did not have nearly so much as we have, but they had many of the same concerns. What will tomorrow bring? How will I survive? Jesus gave them the greatest words of assurance ever. “Fear not, little flock. It is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Now the kingdom, our text reminds us, is what Jesus will bring in all its fullness when he comes again. Jesus tells his listeners that the need to remain ever ready for the Son of Man’s return.

Jesus moves from talking about our daily food and drink in Luke 12:22-32 to talking about his return in glory in Luke 12:33-40. This seems like a strange combination. When you start talking about Jesus’ coming again, people tend to become frightened. Here, Jesus is trying to encourage and comfort his followers with the promise of the master’s coming.

Even stranger is the word picture that Jesus uses to describe the master’s return.

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. (Luke 12:35-37)

When the master returns, Jesus says, he will act like a servant and treat his servants like lords and ladies. And he will feed them. This kingdom is nothing like Rome or any kingdom that has ever existed on the face of the earth.

The kingdom Jesus promises fulfills a hope older than Rome itself. The scriptures tell the story of God’s call of Abraham, and God’s promise of the land of blessing. They tell the story of God’s call to Moses and the deliverance of God’s people from slavery. They tell the story of God’s covenants and the hope of living in happiness and peace under God’s law. They tell of God’s mighty power in defeating Israel’s enemies and establishing the throne of David. They recall the words of the prophets who looked for the coming of the day of justice. The kingdom Jesus promised brings this story to completion.

To be a part of this kingdom, you have to want it. Jesus talks about the kingdom being our treasure.

To those who had little, Jesus said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In its particulars, Jesus made a radical demand for a radical time. But even though Jesus no longer requires his followers to become penniless, wandering prophets, there are still kingdom principles evident in Jesus’ words.

Jesus still cares about the poor, and they have a special place in the kingdom Jesus promised – especially those who belong to the household of God. If you don’t understand that the poor, the needy and the suffering have a special place in God’s kingdom, you have not understood Jesus’ vision of the kingdom. The world’s kingdoms measure their success by success of the people at the top. In God’s kingdom, the well-being of everyone matters.

And Jesus still wants us to put our hopes and trust in God more than anything else. The love of material possessions will lead you astray. Having enough money to live is good, but money will not even guarantee that you will see tomorrow.

We put our trust in so many things, many of which are good in their own way. Economic vitality provides jobs, which in turn provides homes and food and clothing. Science gives us knowledge. Technology improves the quality of our lives. Medical care alleviates suffering and prolongs life. The arts provide us with beauty and wonder. Government maintains law and order. Armed forces defends the innocent. All of these things are good in their own way, but none of them will give us the kingdom. They will all fail in in one way or another. The goods they create are temporary at best and often accompanied by unintended consequences. They are all the products of fallible, ignorant and sinful human beings. Insofar as we look to them for our salvation, all the things of this world will disappoint us.

Fear not little flock, it is you Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

The Father’s kingdom is more enduring than any kingdom of this world, and certainly more just. It runs under a different set of values, and provides us a different way of looking at life.

The kingdom that never disappoints us is a gift from our heavenly father, not the product of human labor.

It is not something we have to earn; it is the Father’s pleasure to give it to us. It delights him. It makes him happy.

He gladly gives it to his little flock, that collection of faithful people from every corner of society who put their trust in Christ, who desire his kingdom more than anything else and who demonstrate their faith with their lives.

Fear not little flock. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


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