We’re supposed to build the kingdom, aren’t we?
Perhaps you’ve heard people declare that they are all about building the kingdom. Perhaps you have said it yourself. The church has been sent to build, develop, and construct the Kingdom, right? From a Christendom perspective this strategy fit well as the church was aligned with the politically and economically dominant in society and culture. In this context we were confident in reason and social progress and thus our ability to make the world a better place. With this world view, we believed we could manage life, creating structures and programs that got us what we wanted, where we wanted to go as a society and as the church. As the latter, wee worked at fashioning the Kingdom of God – like a kind of social project of which we were the architects and builders.
Alternatively, we talked about extending the Kingdom. We used language that assumed that the church was sent to extend the reign of God – spread it, grow it, expand it and so on. But doesn’t such an attitude imply, to put it crassly, that the Kingdom is our sales project and we’re the CEO’s, sales reps, promoters, distributors, marketers? And truth be told, in some contexts, we’ve had a pretty good sales pitch, and for awhile lots of people have bought in!
But neither of these approaches, none of this language is used by Jesus on His journey to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near… Nor is it used anywhere in the New Testament in relationship to the Kingdom of God. Contrarily what we learn is that the Kingdom of God is Jesus.
And that the Bible talks about the Kingdom of God using words that suggest a different posture and relationship.
Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it (Luke 18:17).
What’s our relationship to the reign of God? We receive it and we enter it. The Gospel of Jesus is an invitation to receive and enter into the Reign of God – it’s a gift – for it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom (Luke 12:32).
The Kingdom of God is NOT something we can build or extend or manage – it’s a gift we receive now and inherit in all its fullness when Jesus comes again:
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34).
Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? (James 2:5).
As the above verse suggests, there is also a sense in the Scriptures that the Kingdom is a place, an arena that we enter – and that we inhabit and live in.
Jesus uses the preposition ‘in’- over and over again as He speaks about the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:19). Paul tells us we have been transferred into the Kingdom of His beloved Son (Col.1:13).
Peter explains, "For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you" (2 Peter 1:11).
So we receive and enter the Kingdom that Jesus declares has come near—a present fact, pun intended and a future promise – and as we do, we are invited to ‘show and tell’ others the good news.
God’s Kingdom Come Near
At the end of the Luke 10 passage in which the seventy are sent, we get the command to “cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:9). Christ’s followers and sent ones are commanded to eat, to heal and to proclaim. The three commands are linked as signs or demonstrations of the presence of the promised kingdom. That the demonstration and proclamation come only after we have remained – sharing meals, nurturing relationships, working and playing together, living among – points to the long haul of our calling to bear witness right where we live; so different from the assumptions of the modern church.
These verses also provide assurance that God is in the midst with the power to heal, restore, renew and redeem. By sending His followers into the edgy places of their neighbourhoods, Jesus is showing us that the King Himself has arrived. Consequently, God’s redemptive power and love are breaking in to “make all things new” (Rev. 21:5) and to welcome all who will receive and enter in. For Luke, “God’s reign is both future and already present. Since it is present, God’s power to heal and save has flowed into history.” Thus, when these signs of healing and works of shalom appear in our homes and neighbourhoods – when the community eats and celebrates together, when families are reconciled, parks are cleaned up and the marginalized cared for – we declare, “Look, the Kingdom of God has come near!”
Such a proclamation, repeated three times in this brief story, has nothing to do with us building or extending and encompasses far more than getting people to go to church. It’s about recognizing and pointing out the wondrous evidence that the God of the universe loves us mad is in our midst! Nonetheless, not all our neighbours may identify it, nor appreciate it – “since it is future, the counter-forces remain a reality.” In fact according to Luke, “any announcement of this kingdom in the name of Jesus [may] result[s] in conflict of major proportions – shaking off the dust and Sodom are not tame images.” But how the Kingdom is received is not up to us; we have been sent to ‘live among,’ and in so doing, to BE the message, not simply to bring it. Participating in God’s mission as God’s sent ones requires an incarnational, relational, contextual engagement.
Thus, this Lukan text draws us into the healing, shalom, good news work of God not in a moralistic or dogmatic way but as an invitation to discover and partner with the Spirit right where we live just as we are. As we seek to discern what it means to ‘remain,’ we are freed to just live among without worrying when and how we will ‘share the gospel’ or ‘get our neighbours to church.’ Our calling is to bear witness to God’s Kingdom in our truly human lives, words and deeds. Of course doing so requires turning from other kingdoms, repentance – the daily task of learning to love God as He wants to be loved and loving our neighbours accordingly.
Relationships take time and so does discerning what God is up to. As we take this time in our ordinary, everyday lives, we participate and bear witness to who we are and to who God is! – without presuming that we can build or grow His kingdom – that is God’s work and remarkably the Spirit empowers and equips us to participate in it! So our journey becomes one of daily asking how can we move more fully into the realm of God’s reign and welcome and receive it’s character and activity into all that we are and all that we do, and – how we can, not persuade or bribe or coerce or sell it to others but rather invite them to receive, enter and journey with us in the Kingdom.
I wonder then if my journey testifies to God’s reign and invites others to receive and enter in and journey with me in that Kingdom life. Can we journey together without controlling or owning or managing…can the church be a sign, foretaste, servant and an ambassador of the Kingdom – re-presenting God’s reign – as Jesus did?
Then, when we come back together like the seventy, to share our stories; to announce “the wonders He has wrought” and the things that the Father has revealed to us; we will indeed, be filled with joy and gratitude  for God has been at work, his Kingdom has indeed been near! Thus, we can affirm with Luke that “since God’s reign has already come, it will come [for] God’s reign is both gift and promise, celebration and anticipation.”
May our lives both personally and communally alert others to the gift and promise, the celebration and anticipation of God’s Kingdom Come.
1. Goheen, “A Critical Examination,” 235.
2. Luke 10:11-12; Goheen, “A Critical Examination,” 235.
3. Roxburgh, Missional: Joining God, 159.
4. Psalm 78:4, 98:1; Luke 10:17, 21.
5. Goheen, “A Critical Examination,” 235.