The Gospel of the Kingdom

Recently, I had posted two articles sharing some thoughts on what I believe is the central focus of the gospel, as well as the whole biblical message, that being the kingdom of God. You can read the posts here – post 1 and post 2.

I strongly believe that the gospel is connected to the reality that Jesus reigns and that the kingdom rule of God is here to bring about redemption, restoration and reconciliation with the Father. From the good news that ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’ has been given to Christ (Matt 28:18), we can also proclaim the good news that people can be forgiven of their sin, reconciled to the Father and receive new-eternal life.

In those articles, I have spent time pointing to plenty of passages in the Gospels that centre the gospel itself in the reality of the kingdom of God. One of those is found in Luke 4:43:

But he [Jesus] said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

If anything, I think it highly important to ground the gospel in what Jesus identified as central. And many, many times Jesus spoke of the good news as the good news of the kingdom of God (or heaven).

Now, what some might say, and I do understand this perspective, is that the good news is not so much the good news about the kingdom of God but rather the good news that comes from the kingdom of God. This good news flows out of the kingdom of God.

Therefore, for some, it would be readily recognised that God reigns, as does His Messiah, Jesus. There is an agreement that the kingdom has come in the work of Christ and now the continuing work of God’s Spirit in the world. But the good news is not a telling of the fact that God reigns and is King, but that the good news (however it might be defined) comes from the King and His kingdom.

You see the difference?

So I understand that and, lo and behold, I am even willing to work with this. But I still find myself convinced of the reality that Jesus himself proclaimed the kingdom of God itself as good news. And he expected his first followers, the 12 apostles (and I suppose us as well), to continue this same message.

I have been reading Luke’s Gospel as of late. That’s just where I am at in Scripture. I had read Matthew and Mark. Now it was on to Luke. And, if Luke 4:43 above was not interesting enough to consider, this week I read a most compelling passage in the same Gospel account.

1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. 4 And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5 And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. (Luke 9:1-6)

You see, in vs2, we read that Jesus sent out the 12 to ‘proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal’. But, if you keep reading, in a kind of parallel fashion, we read in vs6 that, ‘they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere’.

In vs2, Jesus tells them to proclaim the kingdom of God and heal. Then, in vs6, we are told that, in obedience to Jesus, they preached (proclaimed) the gospel and healed everywhere.

I believe this passage is very telling. There is a plain-as-day connection between the kingdom of God and the gospel.

Now, of course, one might point out that it is just one passage. Well, it is. But it is not left as a dangling, side statement all on its own. As I have looked to point out, there are plenty of passages right through the Gospels, actual recorded words of Jesus or statements surrounding the words and work of Jesus, that continue to emphasise the connection between the good news and the kingdom of God.

Again, I reiterate and clarify, I believe that when we proclaim the forgiveness of sinners, the redemption through Christ’s work on the cross, the new life that comes via the Spirit of God, we are truly proclaiming gospel, the good news. But I also strongly believe these flow from the reality that Jesus is reigning, He is King, and the kingdom of God is here to bring the just and gracious rule of God on earth as it is in heaven. Out of this foundational truth of the gospel that Jesus himself proclaimed we can be assured of the King’s plan to redeem, restore, reconcile, forgive, judge and finally make all things new.

That is gospel.

Come and Follow Me

You don’t have to read far into the Gospel accounts (any of the 4) to get a glimpse of these all-important words of Jesus – ‘Come and follow me.’ Such a statement, or variations of that statement, are found throughout the Gospels.

This is probably one of, if not the, central statement of Jesus to his disciples. Interesting that Jesus never said, ‘Come and build a church,’ or, ‘Come and facilitate great church programmes,’ and definitely not, ‘Come and build an empire’. It was the crucial, life-transforming, yet simple, statement of, ‘Come and follow me.’

There are five specific points I want to highlight about following Jesus, things we might already ‘know’, but definitely need reminding of, since this is the central aspect of what it truly means to be a disciple.

1) People make excuses for not following Jesus

This is just the plain and simple truth, is it not? And this is not just limited to non-believers. We, as believers, make just as many excuses. Maybe we aren’t so concerned with burying the dead (i.e. Matt 8:21-22), but here is where we get trapped: I’ll follow you, Jesus, as long as…..

We will ‘take up’ this call as long as we can add a few appendices to the contract. Mainly this comes down to the reality that we will follow Jesus as long as we can stay comfortable. Now I am not one who is a strong believer in self-inflicted sufferings. Following Christ sure brings pain at times, heartache, possibly persecution. But we are not really called to inflict the pain on ourselves (think of images of the albino monk from The DaVinci Code).

And, so, our call is not to make excuses, or add appendices, when it comes to following Jesus. We are called to do just what he asks – follow him.

2) People are called to leave behind things to follow Jesus

We read of the first-called disciples leaving their nets immediately to follow Jesus (see Matt 4:20). The reason this finds such importance? It dealt with their livelihood. They weren’t just laying down a hobby or a fun past-time. This put food on the table, clothes on their backs and a roof over their heads.

Now, not every single follower of Christ will be called to abandon their job, career or livelihood. But it is certainly possible. So, what pulls more? The promise of a career with 6-figures or the call of Jesus.

You see, that was the problem with the rich young man. Jesus lovingly told him (see Mark 10:21), ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’

Here is reality – everyone is called to give up that which owns their heart. And mammon (monetary gain) must have owned this young man’s heart for Jesus to identify this as the one thing he lacked.

And let me also make very clear that Jesus might just also ask us to lay aside something we believe is beneficiary to following him. What do I mean? Well, there might just be seasons of laying aside ministry opportunities. What is more important? Your ministry or following Jesus.

But, even more, there will be times when Jesus asks us to lay down our religious convictions to follow him. I remember heading to a casino with someone who is quite dear to me. I personally am not a fan of the casino lifestyle. Something like Las Vegas represents a lot of what is not godly. I don’t have a problem with a few guys sitting around the table and enjoying some card games for a few bucks. But the casino-world is filled with quite a few terrible things as a whole.

But here I found myself stirred in my heart to build relationship with the one who asked me to go. And before I am stoned, or rebuked with comment, remember that Jesus ate with prostitutes. He ate with tax collectors as well, but that doesn’t hit as hard as the reality that Jesus ate with prostitutes! Imagine a church and its leadership finding out that you had hung out with some prostitutes. If Jesus ate with prostitutes, then he might just call us to head into a casino or into a bar, not to ‘preach’ in the old traditional sense, but to be salt and light, looking to invest into the person to see them ultimately drawn to follow Jesus.

This is part of leaving behind certain things to follow Jesus.

3) People are called to deny themselves and take up their cross

We know the famous words of Christ: If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matt 16:24)

We could talk about intricate details of what this verse means, but in all, it points to the fact that following Christ will involve suffering. And this once again reminds us that we can have no appendices in a contract with Jesus, saying that we will follow him as long as things are comfortable.

Now, I am not trying to be morbid with our following of Christ. But Paul told us that he wanted to both know the power of Christ’s resurrection and to share in his sufferings (Phil 3:10). It is actually a privilege to share in the sufferings of Jesus.

And just as a side note, the little sins we struggle with are not to be counted as our ‘cross to bear’. Taking up our cross has to do with suffering, but not in accordance with sin. And our suffering is also not based upon our decision – Well, I’ll give up such and such for Lent (though giving things up for Lent can be part of following Jesus ). This has to do with the calling and decision of Jesus.

4) People are called to a transformed life

This past Sunday, I preached out of John 1:35-46 and what I noticed is these words in vs42: He [Andrew] brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

Here is a significant act within such an ancient culture. Naming a person was important, even prophetic. Hence, to change the name of a person was even more significant and prophetic. And so, early on in his Gospel account, we find John’s recording of Simon’s name-change to Peter, to rock. And he would truly be an instrumental rock in the foundation of the early church. (As a side note, as I share here, I believe evangelicals have done a bit too much hermeneutical gymnastic with Matt 16:13-20, but also that Roman Catholics have invested too much within the institution of the Pope from this passage.)

So, we have examples like Abram becoming Abraham; Sarai becoming Sarah; Hoshea becoming Joshua; Saul becoming Paul; and Simon becoming Peter.

Now, we don’t necessarily have to go through a name change (though we might). But to follow Christ is a call to a life transformation. Hey, the New Testament speaks of it as a death and resurrection! Consider that reality for being a new creation. This is not just about bowing our heads and praying a sinner’s prayer. This is a metamorphosis.

5) People are called to hear the voice of Jesus

We are all probably aware of the words of John 10. Specifically vs1-5 speak of the sheep hearing the voice of the good shepherd and that he calls them by name and leads them. Such a beautiful image of what it means to follow Christ.

Of course, we could solely keep these words as referring to the initial point of conversion. We only ‘hear’ his voice at conversion, but with no expectation of regularly hearing the voice of Jesus. And while the context could be argued for such, I would think we would reduce the reality of what it means to follow Jesus if we kept this solely to a point of conversion.

Do sheep only hear the voice of their shepherd once? Of course not. Every time they must move on, the shepherd calls out. Every time they must stop, the shepherd calls out. And everything else in between. This is not a ‘one-time’ deal.

To be honest, there is nothing like hearing the voice of the good shepherd. Nothing like it! I can share story after story in which I know God has communicated to me, asking me to take up this, lay down that, go here, go there, speak this, speak that, serve in this way, serve in that way. And I’m sure we all can share such stirring accounts.

There is nothing like the voice of Jesus.

As a summary, I share these words of Os Guinness from his book, The Call:

‘Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him. First and foremost we are called to Someone (God), not to something (such as motherhood, politics, or teaching) or to somewhere (such as the inner city or Outer Mongolia).’

This statement of Christ – Come and follow me – is central to what it means to be a disciple, a believer, a Christian. Let us attune our ears to the voice that commands the morning and calls the dead from the grave.

If you would like to listen to my audio version of this message, you can download from our podcast or from iTunes.