Week 2 - The Gospel that we sometimes don't hear...
Read: Matthew 4:12-17
In the first session we looked at the opposite to the good and beautiful life – the life lived without God’s involvement. A dark picture was painted of a life that stands contra to reality and devoid of God’s presence.
In this session we begin to explore the invitation to move from this place of darkness into something much, much better – the kingdom of God. It is to the kingdom of God that Jesus invites us and as Christians we have responded to this invitation. But what exactly have we responded to? And how does the good and beautiful life play out in the kingdom of God?
We all know the Gospel…right? Of course we do, we’re Christians and it’s through the Gospel call of Jesus Christ that we’ve come to know the grace of God in forgiveness, and the love in God in reconciliation. Of course we know the Gospel.
For the most part, it’s true. We do know the Gospel. We must do as it is to this message that we have responded in committing to live as a disciple of Jesus.
But how would you summarize the Gospel? If you were talking to a friend, or a family member perhaps, and they asked you – what is the essence of the Gospel message? How would you respond?
Why not ask this question in your small group?
There is no doubt that the Gospel message includes the following:
God loves us. But because of our sin we are separated from God, who is righteous and holy. To restore our relationship with God Jesus Christ died for our sin. In his death we find forgiveness when we respond by placing our faith in him. In his resurrection we are assured of the life that is to come. As we believe in Jesus and follow him we are able to experience God’s love and receive eternal life.
This is true. It is part of the Gospel message. The Gospel includes all of the above. And actually, within orthodox Christianity the above fall into the ‘non-negotiable’ bracket.
But there’s more…
The Gospel message, although including the above, has a little more to it than I have so far articulated. We are loved and forgiven by God, reconciled to God, and given a new identity by God. But we are also invited by God. A crucial part of the Gospel message, in addition to the relational transactions that take place, is found in the invitation to live in ‘the kingdom of God’.
This session is all about unpacking this Gospel invitation to live in ‘the kingdom of God’.
The Kingdom of God:
The Kingdom of God is the ever present reality in Jesus ministry. Listen to some of the first words that he spoke as his public ministry began
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven (interchangeable with kingdom of God) has come near.”
Prior to his words being reported the author of the Gospel notes that “from this time Jesus began to proclaim…” From the start, right through until the end, of his public ministry Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God / Heaven had arrived.
At the start of this sentence we find an oft used Greek word – Metanoia. We translate this word as ‘repent’. The common understanding of the word is ‘say sorry’. If we repent, we say sorry…don’t we? Well actually no. Metanoia, rather than meaning to say sorry, means to change our mind, to alter our course, to change direction.
And so, as Jesus begins his ministry he proclaims, change direction, turn around, change your mind, because the kingdom of God has come close. And so we find that at the beginning of the Gospel is an invitation – an invitation to a new way forward, an invitation to live a new direction. Jesus says Change the way you’ve been thinking and doing, because a life of intimacy and interaction with God is now in your midst.
From this initial invitation Jesus goes on through the use of parables and stories, healings and miracles, to detail just what the ‘kingdom of God drawing near’ means and looks like.
The conclusion...The kingdom of God is the central theme in Jesus ministry.
But let’s back this up with some scripture shall we because it’s actually quite a big assertion.
Spend some time as a group looking up and reflecting on the following passages of scripture:
Does this convince you that Jesus, the disciples, the Apostle Paul, all preached and taught the kingdom of God?
So here’s a question…actually several questions…
How familiar are you with the idea of the kingdom of God?
How often do you think about, reflect on, hear about, the kingdom of God?
Does the reality of the kingdom of God having come near have a daily impact on your life?
My former tutor and mentor Michael Green, a man with enormous passion for evangelism asked the following question a number of years ago:
“How much do we hear about the kingdom of God?” Answer “not much. It is not our language. But it was Jesus’ primary concern.”
You might want to reflect on the following question as a group?
Why is this? Why is the kingdom of God not common currency within the Christian church? Why does it not hold the same prominence for us as it held for Jesus?
Entering the kingdom life now – responding to the invitation.
So, Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is near. He also taught that we can enter it now, that it is not just something for the future when the rule and reign of Christ is fully realized.
But how? How do we enter the Kingdom of God now?
Here are three things Jesus said in answer to this question:
1 – “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt5:20)
Now that seems a little unfair doesn’t it? After all the scribes and Pharisees were highly religious and pious people. How can our righteousness possibly exceed theirs? Well, Jesus was pretty critical of the scribes and Pharisees because they were concerned primarily with actions such as hand washing etc, and not on the inner condition of their heart. So Jesus is saying ‘ to enter the kingdom of heaven we must be humble and pure in heart and come with a desire to change direction (metanoia). To enter the kingdom of God, we must be prepared to be changed by the Spirit of God within.
As this series develops we’ll be looking at a number of areas of our inner life; anger, lying, gossip, worry, envy, etc as we seek to live in the kingdom each day.
2 – “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15)
There are many interpretations of Jesus words here. It’s difficult to know exactly what aspects of childlikeness he is advocating but here’s a suggestion for discussion. Could it be that Jesus is saying something like this: Children are trusting, they do not naturally judge others, they don’t naturally hate others either. These things are learned as life goes on. Children don’t need to be in control, they have very little power or authority. They live each day in trust, receiving everything as a gift. Could it be that this is the attitude that Jesus is advocating for those who want to live in the kingdom of God? Could it be that Jesus is saying that in order to enter the kingdom of God we need to be ready to submit to its King?
3 – “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit”
Contrary to popular belief the ‘water’ mentioned in this passage isn’t the water of baptism. Being born ‘of water’ has long been used to describe birth as babies live in the water of the mother womb before being born. Everyone who has ever lived has been born of water. But in addition to this physical birth, Jesus says that in order to live in the kingdom of God we must also be born of the Spirit. Being born of the Spirit describes the uniting of our spirit with the Holy Spirit of God, the moment in time when we are indwelt by the Spirit of God as we surrender ourselves to him. Jesus says that if we want to enter the kingdom of God we must surrender our lives to the leading of the Holy Spirit. As we do so the very presence of God makes his home within us.
James Bryan Smith writes:
At the heart of Jesus Gospel message was the availability, presence and power of the kingdom of God. This is the central teaching of the New Testament. The power of the Church rests in the kingdom of God. The good news is that we are invited into this life with God. We enter the kingdom through surrender , humility, trust, and a willingness to begin working on our hearts in order to become the kind of person God desires us to be. God is crating a community of persons whose hearts and character are shaped by Jesus. This can only happen in the kingdom of God. We are all invited.”
Response – the importance of play
In ‘The Good and Beautiful Life’ James Bryan-Smith invites us to consider the role that play has in teaching us about the kingdom of God. He says this:
“Play is a spiritual exercise that can teach us about living in the kingdom of God. Many people think play is silly and not very spiritual. Play is actually very serious. By definition play involves randomness. We simply do not know how the ball will bounce or how a friend will respond in a make believe world. Play cannot be controlled no matter how hard we try…every ‘play’ that happens during a sports game unfolds in un-expected ways.
Spontaneity is one of the spiritual benefits of play. We learn to let go. We relax, let ourselves become vulnerable and open to whatever happens. We play because God is good. Grace is sufficient for us. God wants us to be full of joy, and play is a way to experience the goodness of God and the richness of life. But many adults have lost the ability to play. Somewhere along the journey, life takes more serious turns…and we find that we rarely play.
Play is an act of self-abandonment: we stop taking ourselves so seriously and simply enjoy life. In one sense the kingdom of God is like a playground. Safe within the confines of a play area, with a trusting parent overseeing things, children are free to play and enjoy every moment. In the same way because our heavenly father watches over us, we are free within the playground of the kingdom of God to let go and play. When we play we are training our bodies and souls to live with genuine excitement. This is what the kingdom of God is all about.”
How do you respond to these words?
Have you lost the ability to play?
Do you take yourself and life too seriously?
Do you need to let go, lighten up, and rediscover the joy of living in the kingdom of God?
Do you need to rediscover a sense of trusting self abandonment as you seek to live a life that is both good and beautiful?
The good and beautiful life is possible because we live within the kingdom of God in the here and the now. Jesus invites us to change direction, live within the kingdom, and know the richness, excitement, and blessing of this kingdom life.
Why not end the session in prayer?