Today is the last in a series of posts surveying Tom Wright’s Simply Jesus, which is highly recommended for anyone wanting a more scripturally, historically and theologically faithful understanding of who Jesus was, what he did and why it matters. (You can read my full review here; for a link to all posts in the series, click here.)
As I was discussing with some friends yesterday, Simply Jesus is one of those books where you have to read right to the end before you understand the whole case the author is making. The case put forward by Tom Wright is really about how Jesus’ primary concern, the kingdom of God, was established through his life, death and resurrection. Only by understanding the rich story of creation, fall, covenant and redemption – which is the story of Israel, its chequered journey through history and its often tumultuous relationship with God – can we hope to properly understand just what this strange kingdom is and how it operates.
Let’s get to today’s excerpt:
This is what it looks like, today, when Jesus is running the world. This is, after all, what he told us to expect. The poor in spirit will be making the kingdom of heaven happen. The meek will be taking over the earth, so gently that the powerful won’t notice until it’s too late. The peacemakers will be putting the arms manufacturers out of business. Those who are hungry and thirsty for God’s justice will be analysing government policy and legal rulings and speaking up on behalf of those at the bottom of the pile. The merciful will be surprising everybody by showing that there is a different way to do human relations other than being judgmental, eager to put everyone else down. ‘You are the light of the world,’ said Jesus. ‘You are the salt of the earth.’ He was announcing a programme yet to be completed. He was inviting his hearers, then and now, to join him in making it happen. This is, quite simply, what it looks like when Jesus is enthroned.
— Tom Wright, Simply Jesus
There are two things that jump out at me here:
1. The kingdom is not the church. In my experience, many have made and continue to make this mistake. You won’t often hear people say they believe that the kingdom is the church. But you will find plenty whose idea of the kingdom is everyone going to church and being very involved in church activities and programmes.
To be clear, wherever you find the kingdom, you should also find the church. Why? Because the kingdom is maintained and spread by followers of the king, Jesus, and the church is the vehicle that Jesus ordained as his corporate body in the earth. The church is very necessary to the kingdom, because it is (or should be) a large part of how we are sustained and energised as followers of Jesus to go out into all the world and advance the kingdom, both individually and together.
Kingdom people are church people, then, but the church is not the kingdom.
2. The kingdom does not only happen in the church. The best picture of the kingdom is not the loudest, most passionate praise concert, the church with the highest attendance or the meeting with the most spectacular supernatural events. The best picture of the kingdom is, as Tom Wright says, where arms manufacturers are being put out of business by peacemakers and where government policy and law are being revised in response to pressure from those determined to stand for the poor, the marginalised and the downtrodden. The kingdom is found wherever rights are being laid down by the powerful and the privileged in order to lift up the poor and the oppressed. It is at work whenever the way of self-interest and violent force is eschewed in favour of humility, compassion and self-sacrifice.
Given these two points, it’s entirely possible for the kingdom to be alive and kicking and spreading and yet for a church to be asleep right in the middle of it. Where you have a church that is busily trying to attract, keep and entertain people while ignoring the needs of the poor, the needy, the sick, the brokenhearted, the addicted and the socially excluded right on its doorstep, that church needs to ask itself some serious questions.
But if a church becomes alive to the fact that it carries, individually and collectively, the mission of Jesus to proclaim liberty to the oppressed and freedom to the captives, not just in word, but with flesh and blood… well, just imagine the possibilities! Not only will you have the church itself running programmes intended to bring hope and light and practical help to all kinds of people in all kinds of situations, but you will have individual believers who, through their collective fellowship, worship and exhortation, are inspired and empowered to bring restoration and life into their towns, schools and workplaces, to shine light wherever there is darkness.
I find that an exciting and compelling vision of the kingdom, and I hope more and more Christians and, in particular, more and more churches will catch and pursue it. The measure of kingdom advancement is not bums on seats in churches, but communities reached and transformed by the light and love of God.
I hope you’ve enjoyed following my musings on Simply Jesus. It’s certainly one of the most important books I’ve read in a long time, and one that I’ll undoubtedly be reading again.
[ Image: Stephen Cuyos ]