How big is your view of the kingdom of God?

How big is your God?

Tony Campolo, Christian writer and lecturer, was once confronted by an atheist who was one of his students. The young man told Campolo, "For me to believe in God, I have to have a God that I can understand.” And Campolo replied, "God refuses to be that small!"

 

When Henry Norris Russell, a university astronomer, had finished a lecture on the Milky Way, a woman came to him and asked, "If our world is so little, and the universe is so great, can we believe God really pays any attention to us?" Dr. Russell replied, "That depends, madam, entirely on how big a God you believe in."

That same principle applies to the Kingdom of God. How small or big is our vision of the Kingdom of God?

Even those closest to Jesus had difficulty determining the size of the Kingdom of God.  We find that even at the end of his ministry, just before he ascended to heaven post resurrection, the disciples still did not get the enormity of the kingdom they were entering.

 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).

The apostles’ question shows that they are still thinking in terms of earthly restoration of the Davidic dynasty. It seems for them that—as for many Jews of their time—hope in the Kingdom extended no further than expectation of world-embracing Jewish supremacy.

 

John Chrysostom, 349 – 407, Archbishop of Constantinople comments “It seems to me that they had not any clear notion of the nature of the Kingdom, for the Spirit had not yet instructed them. Notice that they do not ask when it shall come but ‘Will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?’, as if the Kingdom were something that lay in the past. This question shows that they were still attracted by earthly things…” (Hom. on Acts, 2).[1]

 

Stanley Jones points out that “They were trying to jam a universal order into a nationalistic mould! They didn’t reject the kingdom, they reduced it! They tried to make the universal into a nationalism.  We too have not rejected the kingdom. We have reduced it. We have made it innocuous by reducing it to the church being the kingdom and denominationalism, the particular denomination is the kingdom or the nation is the kingdom or a particular type of experience is the kingdom; and so on.”[2]

 

They tried to turn the kingdom of God into a Jewish kingdom, the kingdom of ‘our father David’.[3]

 

 

Remember the Men in Black movie.  Our conceptions limit our view. The entire universe was inside the necklace on the cat called Orion, and the opposite at the end when they went through the door and it was one door in millions on a wall.

 

We try and fit the kingdom into bite sized bits; we try and fit the kingdom inside our understanding         ; we try to put walls around the size of the kingdom.

 

But when we do, we cannot contain all of the kingdom and so we reduce it to fit.

 

Similarly when we limit the Kingdom of God to a particular purpose or set of rules, we reduce it.

 

People have taken the kingdom “in a modified form, as a personal spiritual refuge into which they could run and be safe now or as a place of reward in heaven; they did not reject it – they reduced it. And in reducing it, they rendered it innocuous now.”[4]

 

The dangers of this mindset over the Kingdom of God size is not new.

 

After Jesus announced to the synagogue in his hometown that the Kingdom of God was fulfilled in his presence and had quoted the well-known passage from Isaiah, he said

           

Luke 4:28,29

25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

 

The people are angry because Jesus spoke of Gentiles (non-Jews) receiving God’s aid while Israel had to suffer.[5]  The widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian were Gentiles and were actually from enemy states, yet Jesus included them in the Kingdom of God.

 

His hearers stumbled over a tiny word “all”. The new kingdom embodied in Jesus was for all. They wanted it for some. The struggle in the world is over just 2 words: all or some…Those who want ‘some’ will get the some, but it will be a dwindling some, until finally the some will become me – and that is the payoff. The some becomes so-me. S O dropped off and the the M E – the hell I wanted and got![6] Words of wisdom from Stanley Jones.

 

The kingdom of God in their minds was for Jews only but Jesus knew the Kingdom of God was far bigger than that.

           

We may laugh at the narrow mindedness of those hearing Jesus but we don’t have to go back very far into modern Church history to hear the same.

 

William Carey was the pioneer missionary of the 18th century. He was able to mobilize the western church to set up missionary organizations to go into areas where the gospel had not been heard, notably India.

 

The response to William Carey’s call to mission was this:

At a meeting of Baptist leaders in the late 1700s, a newly ordained minister (Carey) stood to argue for the value of overseas missions. He was abruptly interrupted by an older minister who said, "Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he'll do it without consulting you or me."

 

According to those resistant to the call to missionary work, the kingdom of God did not include the heathen, just as those who heard Jesus speak of the kingdom of God including Gentiles reacted and wanted to kill Jesus

 

William Carey: "Multitudes sit at ease and give themselves no concern about the far greater part of their fellow sinners, who to this day, are lost in ignorance and idolatry."

 

RC Sproul asks us: “If Jesus preached in your church, would you marvel at the power and the grace of his speech? Would your soul be thrilled? Would you be hanging on every word that came out of his mouth? Or would you be filled with fury and want to destroy him? Would he be accepted or rejected by your congregation? Only you can answer that question.”[7]

 

How big or rather how small is your view of the Kingdom of God?

 

Who in your mind is excluded from the Kingdom of God?

 

Some years ago Hillsong produced an album entitled “People Like Us”.  Does that imply that people who are not like us are not included?

 

I had a recent encounter with just this concept.  A man of my acquaintance – Christian discovering his Maori roots, ran up against a belief that he could not be Maori and Christian and he had to abandon anything to do to with taha Maori if he wanted to be a Christian. He came to me to see if that was true.

 

What a lot of rubbish!  Christianity and culture are separate issues.

 

To quote David Moko, the kaihautu of Baptist Maori Ministries, “indigenous people do not have to become culturally European to become Christians or in order to be better Christians. The whole assimilationist approach of Western Christian mission to indigenous people is critiqued for its naivete, rebuked for its arrogance and condemned for its gross violation of human dignity.”

 

This attitude of rejection of culture – of saying you have to do this to be a follower of Jesus, or not do this or that, smacks of the circumcision sect which was in opposition to Paul’s teaching to Gentiles. 

 

Acts 15:1ff And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.

 

That Pharisaic sect were saying that to be become a Christian they needed to give up being Gentile and become Jews with all their laws and rituals.

 

 

 

Thankfully the Council at Jerusalem did not have such a limited view of the kingdom of God. Their response was:

28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.[g] If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.

 

Gentiles could remain Gentiles and be in the Kingdom of God; Jews could remain Jews and be in the Kingdom of God.

 

So in light of that, we need to ask ourselves: Do we exclude Maori because they are Maori, Chinese because they are Chinese.  Do we say only white can be in the Kingdom of God?  If we do, then we exclude Jesus, who was a middle eastern!

 

Do we exclude anyone from the Kingdom of God because they don’t fit within our picture of who the Kingdom of God is for?

 

How big is your concept of the kingdom of God?

Is it ethnocentric like the those in the synagogue?

Is it assimilationist like the church in the past?

Is it restricted to nation or denomination, or type of religious experience?

 

Can we acknowledge that we know only in part, and even that part darkly.  The kingdom of God is far greater than we could ever imagine, and in this I am not even talking about the future eternal dwelling, but the here and now kingdom of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[2] E Stanley Jones The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person 29-30

 

[3] Ibid  123

[4] Ibid 16

[6] Jones 123-4

[7] Sproul, R. C.  A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke (p. 72).