Grace Emerges

Friday, May 20, 2016

Open the Church -- Part 2E

the church

Facing the questions that will shape the church in the 21st century

by Brad Duncan

Community, Part E

How can the church be a community instead of a religious institution?

The Kingdom Wins!

What happens when we love our enemies?  Sometimes it means that our enemies will continue to oppose us, and sometimes they will win.  The plot thickens and surges toward disaster.  Jesus warned that his posture of humility and peace would cost him dearly, in several places in Luke such as 18:31-34:

31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and said, “Look, we’re going up to Jerusalem, and everything written about the Human One by the prophets will be accomplished. 32  He will be handed over to the Gentiles. He will be ridiculed, mistreated, and spit on. 33  After torturing him, they will kill him. On the third day, he will rise up.” 34 But the Twelve understood none of these words. The meaning of this message was hidden from them and they didn’t grasp what he was saying. [CEB]

The parable of the tenant farmers who kill their master’s son, Luke 20:9-19, poignantly describes the cost of letting your enemies win. Jesus will allow himself to be killed by those that oppose him in the current religious establishment.  Instead of vanquishing them or forcing them to acknowledge that he is the son of God, he will allow them to defeat him and make a public mockery of him as he is put to death.  However, like in this parable, God will win in the end, but only after this costly sacrifice.

As we follow the crucifixion story which rapidly unfolds starting in Luke 22, Jesus as the king of God’s kingdom is revealed in new ways through the crucifixion and resurrection.  During the passover meal with his disciples, Jesus twice refers to the imminent coming of the God’s kingdom in Luke 22:16 and 18.  In the debate that surfaces during that meal about who will be great in the kingdom, Jesus starts to convey that the disciples will soon see a larger view of the kingdom:

28 “You are the ones who have continued with me in my trials. 29 And I confer royal power on you just as my Father granted royal power to me.30 Thus you will eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones overseeing the twelve tribes of Israel. [Luke 22, CEB],

and in 22:35-37 Jesus tells the disciples to be prepared for action because everything is about to happen:

35 Jesus said to them, “When I sent you out without a wallet, bag, or sandals, you didn’t lack anything, did you?”
They said, “Nothing.”
36 Then he said to them, “But now, whoever has a wallet must take it, and likewise a bag. And those who don’t own a sword must sell their clothes and buy one. 37  I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in relation to me: And he was counted among criminals.  Indeed, what’s written about me is nearing completion.” [CEB]

You can sense that the kingdom is on the verge of breaking out!  

As Jesus was arrested, accused and taunted, what was he accused of?  What was his crime?  The crime that Jesus was crucified for was being a king!  A humble king that did not resist, but a king of a mighty kingdom prophesied to arise from the people of Israel, the kingly descendent of David.  Jesus did not deny that he was God’s son, the prophesied king and messiah.  And for that, he was killed.  He was killed for the kingdom.  This story includes the questioning in front of Pilate, the Roman governor:

1 The whole assembly got up and led Jesus to Pilate and 2 began to accuse him. They said, “We have found this man misleading our people, opposing the payment of taxes to Caesar, and claiming that he is the Christ, a king.”
3 Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus replied, “That’s what you say.” [Luke 23, CEB]

He was similarly accused before Herod, the Jewish king, in Luke 23:6-12.  He didn’t deny the truth.

When he was crucified, the accusation was plainly stated on the sign posted on the cross:

36 The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.” [Luke 23, CEB].

What we see in the crucifixion is that those that opposed Jesus sought their own kingdom, and killed Jesus because he asserted that God’s kingdom had arrived and that Jesus was God’s son, the king of that kingdom.  In view of the teachings of Jesus, the crucifixion was the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on Earth.  It represented that for God’s kingdom to come, its enemies would have to initially win a victory and make their own selfish claim to rule.  By doing so, Jesus would allow God to win a huge spiritual victory and demonstrate his will to rule on Earth.  “Love your enemies” was demonstrated on the cross.

Even one of the other men being crucified could see that Jesus was a king, and he asked Jesus to remember him:

39 One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
40 Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? 41 We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” [Luke 23, CEB]

After the death of Jesus, one of the religious leaders named Joseph from Arimathea, who was a good man but also a member of the Jewish council, was described as waiting for God’s kingdom:

51 He hadn’t agreed with the plan and actions of the council. He was from the Jewish city of Arimathea and eagerly anticipated God’s kingdom. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Taking it down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in a tomb carved out of the rock, in which no one had ever been buried.  [Luke 23, CEB]

Clearly, those that were paying attention perceived that Jesus was the king, and the kingdom was at hand.  The religious leaders were threatened by this and fought to have Jesus killed.  Others could see God working in this tragedy, and somehow saw by the humility of Jesus that he truly was the son of God and was inheriting God’s true kingdom.

Like in so many of Jesus teachings, victory required humility.  Resurrection follows crucifixion!  When the women visited Jesus’ tomb they found out that he wasn’t there!  Angels appeared and reminded them that Jesus had predicted his resurrection:

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Human One must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words. [from Luke 24:5-8, CEB]

The book of Luke also records an appearance of Jesus to two disciples who were traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  Jesus joins them and listens to their interpretation of the events that just unfolded.  They are not aware that Jesus has risen from the dead.  Jesus hides his identity from them and teaches them:

“Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets. [from Luke 24:26-27, CEB]

Jesus knew that such an ultimate victory required suffering and sacrifice, as described in the scriptures and prophets.  The cycle of

Incarnation -- Death -- Resurrection

is played out in many ways in the lives of believers and in the path of the kingdom:
  • We discover God calling us -- we respond by humbling ourselves and allowing our selfishness to die -- God elevates us again as his children with new life in the kingdom
  • We model this cycle through baptism -- going into the water is symbolic of death of sin and selfishness -- rising from the water is symbolic of life and transformation
  • We follow the teachings of Christ to love others sacrificially, replacing selfishness with the true joy that comes from showing compassion
  • The coin, the sheep, or the son that is lost -- is initially with it’s owner/shepherd/father -- seeks it’s own gain and is lost in the darkness -- and by the searching of the finder of the lost things it is brought to light with great celebration
  • We enter into a relationship with God through Jesus and the infilling of the Holy Spirit -- but we must die to ourselves daily to avoid living according to our own selfish human nature -- and by doing so we let God reign in our lives, bringing transformation, discovery of truth, and joyful partnership with God in community with other believers
  • We seek to build the kingdom of God, continuing the work of Jesus as the continued incarnation of God on this Earth -- but we must continually fight against human tendencies to build the kingdom for ourselves like the tower of Babel from Genesis 11 or the rich farmer or rich rulers from the parables of Jesus -- we must sacrificially let go of these human kingdoms and let God raise his true kingdom in his own way and time, ultimately winning the victory of bringing God’s will to fruition on Earth.

In the end the kingdom wins!  But only through our willingness and humility for God’s kingdom to take precedence over our own kingdom.  We must follow the model of Jesus who placed God’s kingdom and ultimate victory over his own comfort and short-term gain.

Jesus repeats this explanation to the disciples in Luke 24:36-49, and clearly states how the kingdom will ultimately win, through the witness of the disciples and the power that God will provide to them to carry out his mission:

44 Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law from Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. 46 He said to them,“This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47  and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48  You are witnesses of these things. 49  Look, I’m sending to you what my Father promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.” [Luke 24, CEB]

We call this passage the Great Commission, and it is the foundation of our mission statement as the church, the community and kingdom of God.  

Community and Kingdom

I just took you on a walk with Jesus through the gospel of Luke.  In the story of Jesus we see what he was saying and doing during his 3 years of ministry in Israel.  From start to finish he taught about the kingdom.  But he clearly was commissioning his followers to actually BE that kingdom.  His teachings were not so much of an individual nature, like how people should behave in solitude or purely in relationship to God.  Because his teachings were about love, humility and unselfishness, they established how human nature should be transformed to allow people to work together unselfishly in community with one another and with God.  I think this is clear -- what is love without the context of community? -- you need someone to love or love has no opportunity to show.  So, given everything I described about Jesus’ teachings and the kingdom, what does community look like?  

I will summarize the key positive characteristics of a thriving community:

Overview of Community Characteristics

Characteristics of Community
Brings good news to the poor
Luke 4:18-21, 6:20,21
Liberates the oppressed
Luke 4:18-21
Grows organically through participation
Luke 5:10, 10:2, 13:18-21
Brings transformation of our hearts and lives, love for God and others leading to right actions
Luke 5:31-32, 10:27, 11:42
Offers love to our enemies and blessings to those that curse us
Luke 6:27, 35
Treats people right
Luke 6:31
Has unconditional compassion and generosity
Luke 6:36, 10:29-37. 11:41,42
Offers acceptance and forgiveness
Luke 6:37,38. 11:4
Admits our faults with tolerance toward the faults of others
Luke 6:41,42
Produces good things out of a good heart
Luke 6:43-45
Practices the teachings of Jesus, humbly letting these teachings take root in our hearts, we become his family
Luke 6:47-48, 8:15, 8:21
Shares the light of truth
Luke 8:16,17
Unselfish, but has treasure in heaven, spiritual riches
Luke 12:15-21, 34, 18:22, 21:1-4
Dependent on God’s provision
Luke 12:22-33
Ready for action, alert
Luke 12:35-38, 21:36
Humble before God and people, not dependent on looking religious
Luke 14:11, 18:9-14, 17, 20:45-47
Helps God find the lost things
Luke 15
Faithful with our resources
Luke 16:10-12

Can you imagine the type of community we will have if we simply follow Jesus together and put these teachings into practice?  Aren’t these characteristics the foundation of healthy relationships?  Wouldn’t they lead us to treat one another in the best possible way so we can support one another, have grace for one another, handle conflicts with forgiveness and kindness, and be generous to one another using whatever resources we have?  By doing this, our riches and reward will be in the thriving kingdom we are participating in, in our own spiritual growth as we depend on God and put his teachings into practice, and eventually as our reward in heaven.  

Jesus came be bring a revolution, a revolution of kindness, a revolution of God’s kingdom showing up on Earth.  Where and when does God’s kingdom show up?  When people put the teachings of Jesus into action, they literally let God’s kingdom come.  The people they reach, starting in community with one another, and shining as a bright light to our neighbors, are the ones who receive the good things that God wants to provide in his kingdom.  It is no understatement to say that God’s plan is to bring good things to the world through US.  We are the continued incarnation of God on Earth.  We carry the Holy Spirit in our hearts.  We are God’s kingdom.  

In order to be this kingdom, we need to let go of the trappings of selfish isolationism, the temptation to build kingdoms of our own pride and riches, and by doing so, let God’s kingdom come.

How do we become a community instead of a religious institution?  

By following Jesus.