My dear friend says she cannot accept Jesus as Lord because if the Messiah had already come to earth, the world would be different. While it’s true that things are a mess—divisiveness (even in the church), poverty, disease, civil unrest, wars—scripture assures us that the world is different. In fact, the kingdom of heaven is being built all around us. God is reconciling the world to Himself even now. That’s good news!
Evidence of that reconciliation might seem elusive. But James Bryan Smith assures us in his book, The Good and Beautiful Life, that the kingdom is both a present reality and a future promise. He calls this “the Gospel many people have never heard.” Jesus said to those around him, “Repent, for the kingdom is here.” He was saying that God had broken through and was now in their midst, and the work of reconciling the world had begun. This is the work to which the church is called.
The Gospel is a two-part message. First, we are loved by God and rescued from our sins that have separated us from God; second, we are invited and empowered to be agents of reconciliation, to partner with Jesus to bring heaven to earth. Jesus felt so strongly about part two of the message that he talked about it more than any other subject: more than money, more than sin, more than hell. Most Christians are comfortable with the first part of the message because the church does a good job of teaching it and proclaiming it, but the second part is often less familiar. Why is that?
I think that sometimes the church gets caught up in cultural issues and politics and feels pressured to take a stand. Sometimes it gets bogged down by the world’s troubles, which are many. Plus, the church is people, and people live in the real world, and sometimes we get distracted by the demands of life. The church does its best to help us navigate our often complicated lives. But what would happen if the only message the church preached was the one Jesus himself shared more than any other in his time of earthly ministry? Would that get boring after a while? Would it be relevant? I think we need to notice that Jesus didn’t worry about being interesting or relevant. He just loved and served people, and God changed their hearts. And the kingdom grew in their changed hearts.
If we believe the kingdom is only a future promise, we can probably be content to sit back and wait for the last day, when Jesus returns to reclaim his earthly throne. But as we grow into discipleship, we must realize that as adopted sons and daughters of the King, we are gifted, empowered, and sent out to feed, clothe, heal, and comfort the world. Jesus calls us to come back to the one, true, original Gospel. He said we must turn away from our old selves (repent) and experience a renewal of our hearts, and then we must take the good news to the people in our neighborhoods and our world, so God can change their hearts, too. After all, the kingdom of heaven is built on the broken ground of human hearts, both today and in the future. Look—it’s all around us.