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Matthew 24:1414 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of heaven are used interchangeably. Even though Jesus teaches so little on the church (mentions it twice), He spends lots of time teaching about the Kingdom. Today the Kingdom concept has escaped our notice, even though Jesus places so much emphasis on it.
It's not that the Kingdom has been rejected, but reduced. In general we reduce the Kingdom of God to our particular flavor of the faith we have embraced. There's a sense that what we have embraced is the right way and therefore we must carry our particular form of faith and system of beliefs to the rest of the world. The Kingdom is so much greater than the particular faith or system you have embraced. Jesus is referring to the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of the Catholics or protestants or the Moslems or the Buddhists.
There are, at least, 5 specific ways that we tend to reduce the Kingdom. FIRST-It is reduced to the MYSTICAL. If it's mystical, then it is very difficult to explain and understand definitively. It's sort of other-worldly. SECOND-It is reduced to the HEAVENLY. This is a lot like the first. If the Kingdom is heavenly, then it has little, if any, application on earth. THIRD-It is reduced to the future-APOCALYPTIC. This means it isn't for today, but is relegated to a time in the future when Jesus will set up His Kingdom on earth. FOURTH-It is reduced by being EQUATED TO THE CHURCH. Many see the Kingdom as the local church and therefore it's limited to whether it's a good and healthy church or not. FIFTH-It is reduced to a SOCIAL CONCERN. To many feeding the poor and doing charitable deeds among the needy of our world is where the Kingdom is.
There is a little bit of each of these dimensions that is true, but the Kingdom cannot be defined by any one of them alone. The way Jesus teaches it, the Kingdom is greater than anything that has ever existed on earth. Jesus makes it clear that the Kingdom is near, here and among us right now, yet there seems to be a time in the future when the Kingdom will be fully experienced on earth.
Jesus and the Kingdom offer the only possible solution to transforming the culture. There are three things about Jesus that are most attractive and most effective in changing any society:
FIRST-CHARACTER. There is no one who ever lived who has ever surpassed the character standard that Jesus set. He set the bar so high that He is revered in every culture of the world. It was said of Ghandi, "He was the most Christlike who ever lived." Think of that. Ghandi, Hindu leader, had great character and was recognized by the Hindu people that his character was so outstanding that it was to be compared with Jesus. Jesus raises the highest bar ever on the planet with respect to character. No one surpasses Him!
SECOND-FULFILLMENT AND MEANING. If you follow the teachings and principles of Jesus, you will know fulfillment and meaning in your life. Who isn't able to gain something positive out of the principle of forgiveness or loving your enemies or giving rather than receiving? Religious and cultural leaders from all over the world continually use the principles of Jesus to write their books and teach their seminars. There is nothing that surpasses them!
THIRD-GOD. If God were to take on human flesh and live among us on this earth, He would most certainly say the things that Jesus said and do the things that Jesus did. If you follow the teachings and principles of Jesus, along the way you will find the God of the universe.
NOW, take these same three characteristics of Jesus and apply them to the Kingdom-where the King is.
FIRST-CHARACTER. The Kingdom is the only moral authority with any kind of power to change society. The Church is not capable of it. The Church changes from time to time. Sometimes it is effective and sometimes it's not. Leaders are morally good and leaders become morally flawed. So, at any given time, the Church will not be able to deliver a moral authority to the community. The Kingdom is constant. It's power and effectiveness depend upon its leader-Jesus. Therefore living in the Kingdom and inviting others to share in it is the only solution to transforming a broken culture.
SECOND-FULFILLMENT AND MEANING. Jesus is the ultimate standard and the Kingdom is the lifestyle of living this out in society. The lifestyle of Kingdom living is where ultimate fulfillment and meaning reside. They are the laws of the universe. You cannot break the laws of the Kingdom, but they can break you. For instance, one of the laws of the Kingdom is to forgive those who have hurt you. If you refuse to live out this Kingdom principle, you will pay dearly for it. You will be bound by your lack of forgiveness. You will be eaten up with this unforgiving heart. By breaking the principle, you are broken. When living within the Kingdom, you are safe and free and most fulfilled.
THIRD-GOD. Where better to discover a personal relationship with the God of gods than where He lives in His Kingdom.
FOLLOW THE KING AND YOU'LL DISCOVER THE KINGDOM; EMBRACE THE KINGDOM LIFESTYLE AND YOU'LL DISCOVER THE KING.
The Kingdom is the only thing Jesus calls the gospel-the gospel (good news) of the Kingdom. When you are more conversant with the Kingdom, you will come to know that this is not only the good news; it is the BEST NEWS ever!