Facing the questions that will shape the church in the 21st century
by Brad Duncan
Community, Part B
How can the church be a community instead of a religious institution?
A Walk with Jesus
The Kingdom Begins
Next, I would like to dig deeper into what Jesus taught us about community and the kingdom, by taking a tour through the gospel of Luke.
I’ve often looked at the modern church and the Bible and wondered why Jesus didn’t make a more clear blueprint for how the church should be shaped. Why didn’t he start his ministry with saying, “look, this is the reason why I am here. I have come to change things around here, and here’s what it’s going to look like. First, some of the old stuff has to go. Secondly, I will teach you a new way, and here it is…” Then, he would lay out the structure of the church, how we should worship, what we should believe, HOW we should grow in maturity, numerical size, geographical spread, and time-tested endurance to keep growing for all time. When I looked at the church around me, I saw something that was vaguely similar to what Jesus was talking about, but also remarkably similar to what Jesus came to change, namely a religious institution. Then when I looked back and learned a bit more about the church history, I realized that the church had changed and morphed from age to age through all different shapes, priorities, obvious flaws and mistakes, to eventually bring the gospel and the Christian tradition to my doorstep. In awe, I once again wondered, what did Jesus really intend? Wouldn’t it be nice if he just set it all straight from the beginning?
Well, what if Jesus DID do that? Let’s take a look. Focusing on passages that discuss the kingdom of God and how we should treat each other in community, I found some significant clues...
The first clue about the kingdom that would come from the birth of Jesus, was in the message of the angel to Mary about her coming child:
32 He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. 33 He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom. [Luke 1, CEB]
In Mary’s song, she is in awe that God is bestowing such great honor on one so lowly in the eyes of society. She sees this as a pattern of how God, and her coming child, will invert the order of society
51 He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
52 He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed. [Luke 1, CEB]
Jesus is Emanuel, God with us, the incarnation, God as a man. This will reveal God in new ways and change mankind forever.
In Luke 3:3-14, John prepares the way for Jesus. He says that God will set things right, and straighten things out, and all humanity will see God’s salvation. Then he tells the pious religious folks that they are on the wrong track, because they don’t actually do anything good -- their hearts are in the wrong place, as revealed by their actions (as a tree, they produce no fruit). What was John’s solution to this? He said to share with one another and treat one another justly, and that by turning around their own hearts and actions (repentance), they would be prepared for God’s kingdom.
In Luke 3:15-18, John describes what he foresees that Jesus will do, using the imagery of separating wheat and chaff -- knowing people’s hearts, Jesus will find the truth about people, and set things right. He will build a kingdom based on true believers whose actions match their words.
John gave these messages while baptizing people, which was a visible, outward sign of earnest repentance of the heart, people turning away from selfishness and pious religiosity, and authentically turning to God, with their actions of love for others showing their love for God.
10 The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”
11 He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.” [Luke 3, CEB]
In the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, prior to the launch of his public ministry, Jesus shows what kind of king he will be.
- The first temptation is to be a king of material things, creating bread with his power. A significant temptation after fasting for 40 days. His response is that he is a king with higher priorities than his own physical well-being -- implying the higher priority of both spiritual things and of unselfish actions.
- The second temptation is to be a dominant spiritual king. As if countering Jesus’ call to higher priorities, the devil says he should use his spiritual power to reign over all. Jesus rejects this kind of power, and says that God is already in heaven ruling, being worshipped and served - humanity doesn’t need to be ruled by Jesus to any greater extent. Jesus indicates that even though he is there to start a new kingdom, it is of a different nature than that -- he will not exert his rule over humans, but instead will point them to God and create a different type of kingdom on Earth.
- The third temptation is to then depend on God and angelic powers to elevate Jesus while on Earth. Above human limitations and pains, he could be the most powerful human alive! Jesus says he’s simply not interested in that - it’s a vain attempt to test God - here he is fully admitting who is he, by the way (God) - and that God is not interested in dominating man in any way!
The devil follows a pretty clear thought progression that he thinks Jesus is there to reign and rule - and Jesus says, it’s true I am God but I’m not here for that. My kingdom will be of a different nature, and will point people to God rather than force God on them.
In Luke 4:18-21, Jesus first recorded words in his ministry are the reading of this passage from Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6. Jesus announces the nature of his plans and of the kingdom he will build. People are extremely shocked and angry, because these claims also announce the deity of Christ and his authority to do these things. For us, it is a clear statement of Jesus’ mission on Earth:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
19 and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. 21 He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.” [Luke 4, CEB]
As declared consistently so far in the gospel of Luke, Jesus will turn things around and set them straight, not through domination, but through delivering God’s kindness to those that need it most! God has arrived!
When those that hear him react angrily and violently, Jesus retorts in Luke 4:23-27, explaining that even when God shows up delivering kindness, his own people will reject him, while lowly outsiders will be more likely to accept him. In this way, God’s kindness will turn the world upside down, because of people’s arrogance and refusal to accept God, not due to a lack of trying by God to reach out to his own people. Actually, Jesus gave the message first to his closest group - those in his own home town. Imagine his pain when they reject him offhand, because they know him as Joseph’s son. Ironically, those that are farthest away will be the ones that will most easily accept what God has to offer.
Jesus showed this to be true in the next town he visited, Capernaum. Jesus was accepted there and started doing amazing things, showing his God-nature by healing and casting out demons, and teaching people about God. They wanted him to stay and keep doing those things, but Jesus said he had to move on -- and he stated very clearly what he was doing and planning to do, similar to the quotation from Isaiah above:
43 But he said to them, “I must preach the good news of God’s kingdom in other cities too, for this is why I was sent.” [Luke 4, CEB]
The kingdom! Jesus wasn’t just teaching about something intangible, about God in heaven and angels and how people should worship, but rather he was delivering good news, something was happening. A new kingdom is being established that changes the previous order. It is a kingdom where God’s kindness is spread onto mankind, and where God’s kindness calls people to repent and show that same kindness to others. This is the reason Jesus was sent.
On a side note, why did Jesus shush the demons when he cast them out in Capernaum and elsewhere? The more obvious reasons are that he wasn’t ready for everyone to clearly know who he was, or that it is bad marketing to be praised by demons, but the less obvious reason goes back to the temptation in the wilderness: the devil and demons had the wrong understanding of the mission of Jesus. They saw him as a dominating, threatening power. This was not the message Jesus wanted people to hear, and it was the furthest thing from the truth. When they started to exclaim their fear of his power, Jesus simply silenced them.
Jesus did not continue operating his ministry as a solo teacher and healer. As recorded starting in Luke 5, very early on Jesus started to establish his ministry as a community of disciples that he could invest in, teaching them both the concepts and practices that would drive the kingdom forward in generations to come. When he met Peter out on a lake in a boat, in Luke 5:1-11, first he caused Peter to catch a miraculous catch of fish. Then he called him to follow him, saying “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” [from Luke 5:10, CEB]. Clearly Jesus’ focus in calling Peter was about building a community - gathering people together in large numbers for some greater purpose. He would need help to do that. Jesus didn’t say, “you will watch while I gather a large number of people around me”. Instead he indicated that Peter, and others like him that followed Jesus, would be gathering people in great numbers into the kingdom some day. Sooner rather than later, in fact.
In Luke 5:27-32, Jesus calls Levi to follow him as well. In the events that follow, Levi left his old life and immediately started following Jesus. He first invited Jesus to dinner in his home (actually, a “great banquet”) and invited all of his friends. Apparently the pious religious folks did not approve of the guest list, and grumbled that Jesus was eating with the wrong crowd, those commonly viewed as sinners and cheaters in Jewish society. Jesus heard this grumbling and in his response, he gives us a glimpse into the purpose of his ministry while answering them.
31 Jesus answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. 32 I didn’t come to call righteous people but sinners to change their hearts and lives.” [Luke 5, CEB]
Did Jesus come to bring the kingdom of God in a forceful way, or using a show of power to bring all people to accept God and serve him? No. Instead, Jesus indicates that he came to call ordinary people that need God (metaphor of sick people that need a doctor) to turn their lives around and start walking in alignment with God’s way of doing things. As we will learn in the teachings and parables later in Luke - this way of doing things was to be a revolution in society, an upheaval where kindness and peace would replace selfishness and power.
Jesus indicated this upheaval, this bringing of something new, in his cryptic parable about the wineskins:
36 Then he told them a parable. “No one tears a patch from a new garment to patch an old garment. Otherwise, the new garment would be ruined, and the new patch wouldn’t match the old garment. 37 Nobody pours new wine into old wineskins. If they did, the new wine would burst the wineskins, the wine would spill, and the wineskins would be ruined.38 Instead, new wine must be put into new wineskins. 39 No one who drinks a well-aged wine wants new wine, but says, ‘The well-aged wine is better.’” [Luke 5, CEB]
Jesus would bring something new, but it’s true that people may not want it at first. But it will only get better with age, and in time it will replace the old system with a new one. Jesus points out a valuable truth here: it is not possible to just bring change to an old system that will not support it. Sometimes, you have to pour your energy into creating something new, because trying to pour that same energy into transforming something old will just cause it to break down. This is why Jesus invested his energy not in the current “righteous” establishment, but in the lower class common man, the socially less influential and less appealing. The religious establishment would not be able to accept Jesus’ new way of doing things - it would have destroyed it. Rather than wreck everything, Jesus would rather build something new, and let time take its course.
In Luke 6:6-11, an example of this is described. Jesus is eager to show compassion and heal a man (with the withered hand) on the Sabbath, but the religious establishment is furious when Jesus does it, claiming that it is not legal. Clearly Jesus way of doing things would break a few wineskins!
By the end of Luke 6:16, Jesus has gathered all 12 disciples into his inner circle. He also has gathered a larger crowd of people outside of this inner circle, that are also following him, perhaps sporadically, and helping to spread his popularity around the region. To his disciples and to this larger group, Jesus starts teaching about his new way, in what is the greatest sermon ever recorded: the sermon on the mount. It will be hard to do it justice in the short space of this chapter, so I encourage you to study it in more depth on your own. Also, read Matthew’s recording of the sermon starting in Matthew 5, which is much longer. Here is a brief walk through this sermon as recorded in Luke, and what it means for the community and kingdom of God.
Luke’s version of the “Beatitudes” in 6:20-26 is the only version that lists both blessings and woes (Matthew has more blessings in Matthew 5:3-11, suggesting that Jesus used this teaching illustration perhaps many times, sometimes with a more expanded list).
20 Jesus raised his eyes to his disciples and said:
“Happy are you who are poor,
because God’s kingdom is yours.
21 Happy are you who hunger now,
because you will be satisfied.
Happy are you who weep now,
because you will laugh.
22 Happy are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you, and condemn your name as evil because of the Human One. 23 Rejoice when that happens! Leap for joy because you have a great reward in heaven. Their ancestors did the same things to the prophets. [Luke 6, CEB]
Jesus opens his sermon with the kingdom. The kingdom is not about God reigning down on humanity in his sovereignty. It’s not about gathering the strong into an overwhelming force. It’s not about winning, or conquering, or showcasing anyone’s power. It’s about providing something TO people to meet their every need. The kingdom is not just made up of people, it is FOR the people. It will bring them together. It will feed and nourish them. It will replace their utter poverty with wealth beyond words. Their relief will be so pre-eminent that they will truly be satisfied, they will even be laughing! What word did Jesus use to describe those that will belong to the kingdom? “Happy!”. Other translations use the word “Blessed” - which means being made happy by abundance, in this case abundance of God’s gifts lavished on us. Such is the extent of the blessing, that even if we have to lose it all -- when people hate and reject us, even are about to kill us -- we will STILL be happy we have this abundant blessing and we will rejoice that we have lived in the kingdom even at the cost of our lives. How could Jesus make it any more clear? The kingdom is the best thing that will EVER happen to humanity. Those that can embrace it will find new joy and meaning in their lives.
As if in answer to my question about how Jesus could make it even more clear, he puts this happiness into direct contrast with the misery that will be felt by some. Unfortunately, this happiness will not be received by all people. For instance:
26 How terrible for you when all speak well of you.
Their ancestors did the same things to the false prophets. [Luke 6, CEB]
Those that are happy by other means, by their own wealth, comfort, joys of life, and good reputations, will most likely miss out on the kingdom. It will be terrible for them. Other translations use the phrase “Woe to you…” or “There’s trouble ahead…”. Just as Mary’s song described, and as John the Baptist indicated, Jesus will bring terrible upheaval that many will not be able to accept. If they seek happiness in their own comfort, and oppose this kingdom that will transform the world, they will receive nothing of the happiness Jesus is talking about. As Jesus expounds in his sermon, selfishness leads to corruption and misery, whereas kindness leads to peace and joy. With this illustration of poverty vs. wealth, of happiness vs. misery, Jesus sets the stage to describe the contrast between God’s way and man’s way.
Luke then records the primary teaching which explains how God’s way is different than man’s way:
27 “But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you.
Jesus explains this teaching more fully in Luke 6:29-36. Man’s way is to hate enemies. Defeat them, or at a minimum disregard them. Quite the opposite, God’s way is to love enemies. I call this the Revolution of Kindness. It sums up the revolutionary nature of Jesus’ message and how he is changing people’s understanding of God. Just as God loves people that are opposed to him, who may even hate him, we should love those people. We should try to reach them with love and kindness, recognizing their true value as humans and value to God. As God’s children, humanity is God’s passion, from the greatest, best regarded person to the “other”, to the least person, to the most hated. Since society is structured in an opposite way -- structured to honor the greatest while rejecting others -- God’s way will be in full opposition to man’s way of dealing with things. Thus the teaching to “love enemies”. It’s a paradox, isn’t it? For once an enemy is loved, they are no longer our enemy by our definition. Perhaps by their own definition they remain an enemy, but in our eyes, and in God’s eyes, they are a brother or sister. This is why we should never hate them or mistreat them. If our Father can be compassionate to all, so should we. In this context, Jesus provides the so-called golden rule: “31 Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.” [Luke 6, CEB].
Jesus continues to create a strong parallel between how God treats people, and how people should treat one another. In doing so, Jesus banishes an age-old religious practice: acting in judgment:
37 “Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion—packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing—will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.”
Wow! Not only are we to treat enemies with kindness, we are to abolish the righteous, judgmental attitudes that create division between us and those that are different than us. The notion of “enemies” is just one such categorization, but we use many other categorizations in society as well. When we judge people, it means that we determine that God doesn’t approve of them. But Jesus says, in contrast, that God doesn’t approve of judgment. It’s not okay as humans to decide which other humans are good enough for God’s company or good enough for ours. If we want God to accept us the way we are, it is hypocritical to require that other people meet our criteria for acceptance. This doesn’t mean that people are not flawed and don’t make mistakes that need to be corrected. When people make mistakes we should forgive them, as God does. If we give this acceptance to others, we will receive acceptance back in ample portion, from God and from others. Jesus speaks broadly, across all categories of people, and all categories of generosity. We should be generous to all in our love, our acceptance, our forgiveness, our gifts and our compassion. The revolution begins with us - as we open our hearts to generosity for all.
I also want to provide this passage in The Message translation, which beautifully conveys what Jesus was trying to say:
35-36 “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.
37-38 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.” [Luke 6, MSG]
Enemies may oppose the kingdom of God. The posture of humility lets the enemy remain opposed, and perhaps even win because of our lack of opposition. But when we let our enemies win, somehow the kingdom wins in the end. It wins because we let go of control of the fight, and God is able to do something amazing to bring about positive transformation, winning in the end. “Love your enemies” is the story of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is also a view of our selfish nature being transformed into love, then being opposed by enemies who may appear to win over us, and God winning in the end through a greater plan unfolding.
The illustrations Jesus uses in 6:39-42 further explain why it doesn’t make sense for humans to judge each other. They are simply not in a proper position to judge one another, so it should not be our job. The Message translates these illustrations into contemporary examples:
39-40 He quoted a proverb: “‘Can a blind man guide a blind man?’ Wouldn’t they both end up in the ditch? An apprentice doesn’t lecture the master. The point is to be careful who you follow as your teacher.
41-42 “It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this I-know-better-than-you mentality again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your own part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor. [Luke 6, MSG]
We cannot base community on correction. One of the main problematic tendencies we face in Christianity is that we feel the need to define our group identity by correctness, and to enforce that group identity through correction. There are good ways to teach and encourage each other, to help everyone grow in their faith, but we have to avoid the arrogance that leads us to judge others. As Jesus points out, if we forget our own spiritual blindness, and only see blindness in everyone else, we are only fooling ourselves. We must humble ourselves in order to teach or lead.
What do we do about this? We return to the teachings of Jesus in a more radical, revolutionary way -- we abolish judgement and make kindness the new standard. As we teach others to follow Jesus, embracing compassion, selflessness, peace, grace, acceptance and joy, we must in humility also extend acceptance of others to the maximum limits, allowing God to be the only one qualified to judge. If we are going to teach what Jesus taught, can’t we teach “Judge Not!” as one of our most fundamental principles?
Next, in 6:43-45, Jesus continues his method of speaking using contrasts. Like John the Baptist in Luke 3:8, Jesus uses the image of a plant producing fruit. What kind of fruit will we produce? Surely the best indicator of what is in our heart will be the good or bad things that we do? The actions we do matter - they affect the world to produce either good or negative consequences. Which way will it go with us? If we are judgmental in our hearts, our actions will show it. Pride will show. So will selfishness. The way we treat others will suffer as a direct consequence of our lack of love for others. No amount of “correctness” in being pious, religious folks that are trying to please God can make up for treating others without love and compassion. Isn’t this the key point of the sermon on the mount?
Jesus adds emphasis to his teaching at the end of the sermon, in Luke 6:46-49, using an illustration of what will happen if people pay attention to his words, or if they don’t. It’s a good reminder for us as well. Why do we follow Jesus? Why do we care about his words? Is this just a smart way to live? In these verses, Jesus says we really need to live like this - we need to build our lives around this teaching of kindness. If we don’t, everything we build will wash away, useless to resist the inevitable storms. But his revolutionary teachings will lead to lasting effects, a kingdom that will never fall! If Jesus is truly king of this kingdom, we must follow him and listen to his decrees to love enemies, abolish judging, and produce good fruits that come from love and compassion.
46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I say? 47 I’ll show what it’s like when someone comes to me, hears my words, and puts them into practice. 48 It’s like a person building a house by digging deep and laying the foundation on bedrock. When the flood came, the rising water smashed against that house, but the water couldn’t shake the house because it was well built. 49 But those who don’t put into practice what they hear are like a person who built a house without a foundation. The floodwater smashed against it and it collapsed instantly. It was completely destroyed.” [Luke 6, CEB]
If you study Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount, you can expand this teaching into more topics and aspects of life. I encourage you to challenge yourself to embrace what Jesus taught in these passages - they will revolutionize your life!
Continuing in Luke 7, Jesus’ ministry continues as what appears to be an equal mix of teaching and doing. He illustrates compassion and demonstrates his God-nature by healing people. In the examples of the Centurion’s dying servant and the widow’s dead son, he not only shows compassion, but he teaches that God’s heart extends to all facets of society, even the Roman outsider and the lowliest widow. He commends the Centurion’s faith - the faith of a gentile (non-Jewish person), as being stronger than any faith he has seen from his Jewish followers! For the widow, the loss of her son was most likely going to be the loss of everything and every hope she had. Jesus amazes everyone by going beyond healing, raising the dead man during the funeral procession!
16 Awestruck, everyone praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding region. [Luke 7, CEB]
A similar passage with two more miracles is recorded in 8:40-56, and these miracles are just examples of numerous healings. The miracles Jesus performed served to dramatically reinforce his teachings, giving him both credibility in speaking for his Father, and serving as examples of the very compassion he was teaching. In 7:18-23, Jesus confirms this by informing John the Baptist’s disciples that Jesus’ actions prove who he is and reinforce his message; he is the redeemer foretold by John.
Then in 7:24-30, he teaches the crowds around him that John the Baptist was a great prophet and that his message was true. Indeed, God was bringing salvation, and it is time to set things right, starting with our own hearts and actions. Those in the crowd that were baptized by John were encouraged by this, while those that rejected John were also rejecting Jesus. Jesus makes an interesting statement about the kingdom in this context - he says:
28 I tell you that no greater human being has ever been born than John. Yet whoever is least in God’s kingdom is greater than he. [Luke 7, CEB]
The great thing that God is doing…, establishing the kingdom, is still to come! Nothing prior to it can compare, but the story of the relationship between God and man, the story of Israel and the prophets, was leading up to something greater, God’s new kingdom.
Then, seeming to address his words to those that rejected John and himself, in 7:31-35, Jesus describes the hypocrisy of these critics - nothing can make them happy. Whatever Jesus, or John, says they will criticize and say that they do not speak the truth. But, Jesus says that truth will be revealed as such in the end. Truth is self-proving.
Jesus continues his ministry, “proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom” [from Luke 8:1, CEB], and uses more parables for teaching. In the parable of the soils, 8:4-16, Jesus uses a metaphor of seeds and soil to illustrate four different dispositions of those that hear God. In all situations of life, God is calling. God is the one that is active and communicating. In Jesus ministry, God is sending his good news, the long awaited salvation of humanity, the establishment of God’s kingdom on Earth. No matter your disposition toward hearing this news, God’s message is the same. However, only one of the four dispositions actually allows the good news to to produce the fruit of life change. The choice and response is the responsibility of the listener, the receiver of good news. In this illustration, Jesus promises both that those that listen will be transformed by the positive power of God’s good news, AND that those that reject this good news would have the full power and freedom to do so. The kingdom would not be one of powerful domination, but of freedom and peace. Do we realize what a privilege it is to be able to make this choice? To hear the transforming word of God, and then be given completely free reign in our choice of what to do with it? Love for us, it seems, leads God to hand out his word freely with no strings attached. The kingdom is defined by this love, and by peace and freedom to respond in love. When the good news takes root in us, we produce good things, by our own choice to let it grow and bloom. This is what we should do! Take the simple action of receiving the seed and making sure to nurture it so good things will come of it. We are the owners of the good news with 2000 years of heritage and history as Christians. What are we, personally, doing with this great blessing, this great seed of transformation? Are we letting it grow, or just die in the ground? We have the responsibility for its safekeeping and caretaking.
God may be the farmer, but we are ground. Or to mix the metaphor a bit as Paul said in [REF], one person planted but another person harvested. What will we do with the blessing we have been given?
Then in 8:16-18, Jesus explains that the light (meaning, I think, both the light of truth, and the spreading influence of the kingdom), will reveal itself in ways that cannot be hidden. If God is going to all of this trouble, bringing his own Son to Earth to share this message, you’d better expect that his message will not be covered over and buried. It will be broadcast into the darkness, dispelling it. Think of John 1:5
“The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.” [CEB]
God will bring the salvation he promised, through this revolution he started with Jesus. Jesus came to change everything, to set things straight, and to spread the seed of God’s transforming word. Nothing will be able to extinguish it. And yet, when the light is shining in us, we still have that choice. Do we cover it, or do we let it shine? And when it comes to truth, do we accept it and let it grow within us? Or do we fight it with our own false truths? If we do this, as Jesus says, we will lose. What truth we think we have will be taken away, or will be shown to be false. But those that embrace the truth, will see MORE truth [see v.18]. The expression I like to use is this: “You can’t unsee things.” Once you see truth, you can’t ever believe the lies again. The more you accept what Jesus teaches, the more the truth will unfold to you through the pages of scripture and through the response in your own heart, spirit, and actions.
Reiterating this through the illustration of family, Jesus says “My mother and brothers are those who listen to God’s word and do it” [Luke 8:21, CEB]. Those that accept the truth are my closest family, in fact they form a family: the community and kingdom of God.
In Luke 9, Jesus takes the next step of expanding the kingdom, by sending out his disciples for a designated period with his message (again called the “good news” of “God’s kingdom” in Luke 9:1 and 9:6, CEB) and his ministry of healing. The expanded story is in Matthew 10. In Luke 9:10-11 the disciples have already returned back to Jesus, and Jesus continued the same ministry to large crowds of people, while also withdrawing to more private locations with his disciples so that he could teach them. In this short expanse of verses you see a dynamic that would set the stage for generations to come:
- Message & Teaching: Jesus defines the message, bringing good news to us, showing us the truth about God, teaching us so that we learn and grow. Jesus not only taught these principles like a wise teacher, but he also corrected the disciples on many occasions, showing them the difference between right and wrong ways of thinking (see 9:46-50). Teaching involves wrestling with concepts and obtaining a higher level of understanding through addressing the deeper issues.
- Action & Behavior: Jesus teaches us how to act and live, how to bring good fruit as a result of the truth that we have learned about God. This fruit shows God’s kindness, forgiveness and love for humanity. Jesus also taught the disciples how to handle difficult situations and taught them about sacrifice, foretelling his own death to them in 9:22.
- Mission & Community: Jesus passes on this responsibility of teaching about truth and action to us, so that the kingdom can grow organically as a giant living thing, all led by God. Jesus thrives on community and teaches community. Through the dynamic of teaching, learning, and working together, he brings his disciples together as a true family. They partner together for a common purpose with a common heart for God. This makes them a vibrant, powerful community. Due the message and mission of this community, they are not focused on themselves but outwardly on how they can spread the kingdom to the world around them.
Clearly, this can be seen as the mandate for the church. If we just continue this dynamic, the church will simply be the kingdom of God that Jesus was talking about.
In Luke 10, Jesus reiterates this model of kingdom growth, expanding the mission to a larger group of disciples. Due to the success of his ministry, not only are the crowds growing, but the group of committed disciples is also expanding, with the original twelve remaining as the inner circle. Seventy-two others are commissioned to travels in groups of two and spread the message of the kingdom. Jesus tells them these famous words:
“The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest. Go! Be warned, though, that I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves. … Whenever you enter a city and its people welcome you, eat what they set before you. Heal the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘God’s kingdom has come upon you.’ [from Luke 10:2-9, CEB].
Jesus uses the metaphor of a harvest and workers. I love the image of a harvest, because it expands on the concept of fruit. The harvest is the fruit of future followers. The message of the kingdom transforms people at the heart level, leading to changed actions and a growing community. Just as Jesus told Peter, “From now on, you will be fishing for people” in Luke 5:10, Jesus now tells the expanded group of disciples that they will be workers in the harvest - the expanding kingdom of God. Jesus teaches people to have such a heart for others, that they will take action to share compassionately with others around them. In other words, the harvest is the kingdom. It is us! It is the result of the ministry expansion in Luke 9 and 10 and beyond, the growth of the early church, the expansion of the church to the known world, and then the development and continued expansion of that church through the generations.
In 10:17-24, Jesus is thrilled with the outcome as the seventy-two also return and report on what happened. Jesus is filled with joy, praises God and declares (in my words) “It’s working!!!!”. Many generations have wanted to see this kind of work of God and waited for it to happen. Now, it’s finally happening [see 10:24]!
In Luke 1-10, we see that Jesus saw his mission to be the establishment of a new kingdom, a kingdom of people in community that love God and one another. A kingdom and community of people that represent God’s will and decision to act on Earth, that carry his message. A community that expands organically by sharing God’s good news, the good news of compassion and kindness, the good news that leads to contagious transformation of people’s hearts toward treating each other with generosity. A kingdom of peace, and yet a kingdom of revolution, as this kindness would bring total upheaval to the unfair, unequal treatment of others in the current social and religious system. Jesus taught us to be free and equal! Jesus taught us to take responsibility over our community and make it a better place.