Equipping Christians & churches for whole-life discipleship in the world.

The Kingdom of God (6): Jesus and Pilate

April 18, 2011
18 Apr 2011

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about me?’ ‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’ Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest… But now my kingdom is from another place.’ ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.
John 18:33-37

A kingdom and an empire. Two men. Two ways of operating. The meeting of Jesus and Pilate as set down in all the gospels must be one of the most dramatic encounters ever recorded. Jesus, the battered victim, knows what is happening and why. Pilate, the powerful Roman governor of a conquered people, is uneasy, aware of depths and intrigues he cannot grasp, intimidated by the Jewish leaders and the threat to his position if things get out of hand. And they have a brief intense discussion about whether Jesus is a king, and the meaning of truth.

What does Jesus mean when he says that his kingdom is ‘not of this world’ and that therefore his servants would not fight to stop his arrest? Is he talking about his disciples, who have fled in fear, leaving him to the soldiers, except for Peter’s one swashbuckling swipe with a sword? Or is he, obedient to the Father’s will, saying that no angelic host would come to rescue him? And that was one of Satan’s temptations back when his ministry was just beginning – to bring angels down in a spectacular rescue.

Does Jesus have a certain sympathy for Pilate’s unenviable position? As Jesus tells him later in John’s account, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above’. Pilate has been pushed into a corner by religious leaders who believe they are serving the one true God by refusing to enter Pilate’s palace and defile themselves before the Passover, but are using every trick in the book to force Pilate to execute an innocent man.

It is Peter, who briefly tried to fight, and then denied his Lord three times, who writes to Christian slaves, ‘Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps… When they hurled their insults at him he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.’ (1 Peter 2:21-23) Christians today may well be called to live out the life of the Kingdom like that.

 

Margaret Killingray

The Kingdom of God (5): Waiting for harvest

April 11, 2011
11 Apr 2011

Jesus told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away… When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No’, he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let them both grow together until the harvest’.
Matthew 13:24-26, 28-30

The first two parables of the kingdom in Matthew chapter 13 are both about growing food from seed. And Matthew records Jesus explaining the meaning of both of them to his disciples. Jesus’ explanation of this parable about the wheat and weeds growing in the field together focuses on the harvest, when all that is evil will be weeded out and destroyed and the ‘righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father’. Then all the toils and troubles of farming in a beautiful, fruitful but messy world will be over, and all the promises of the new cleansed earth and heaven, Isaiah’s promises and John’s promises in Revelation, will be fulfilled completely and for ever.

But… meanwhile… the weeds and wheat will grow together until the harvest – and that may be a long time. The weeds – possibly darnel, which looks like wheat until the ears form, is poisonous and has strong roots hard to disentangle from the wheat – will grow intertwined with the wheat. So we, the owner’s servants will work in the fields, we will water and fertilize and scare off the birds. And our loving and caring, our daily work, will benefit those in the kingdom and those outside it. We cannot always know whether the neighbours we are called to love, wherever we are sent to work, are weeds or wheat. So we do all we can to seek the good of human beings and the environments which they inhabit and leave the judgement to the angels of the Son of Man when the end finally comes.

Pushing the parable a little further than it actually will go – some of the weeds could change into wheat under that non-judgemental, indiscriminate, egalitarian love for all our neighbours. The patient work of the kingdom goes on until that bright harvest day when his perfect judgement will make all things new.

 

Margaret Killingray

The Kingdom of God (4): your kingdom come on earth

March 14, 2011
14 Mar 2011

He told them another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows it is the largest of garden plants so that birds come and perch on its branches.
Matthew 13:31,32

There were people around at the time who thought that this Kingdom being proclaimed by John the Baptist and then by Jesus of Nazareth, seemed pretty insignificant – even John was a little disappointed. It was difficult to just how what they were hoping for was going to happen – the restoration of an independent Israel, within its ancient God-given boundaries, under a triumphant Messiah King. ‘Are you the one, or should we expect someone else?’ John asked.

Insignificant, hidden beginnings is, Jesus says in the hidden obliqueness of a parable, the way God starts his work of the Kingdom on earth. Small things hold the power of miraculous growth and a final triumphant climax. Can you see the mustard seed sprouting? Can you believe that one day it will be a miracle of growth and fruitfulness?

He told them still another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.’ (Matthew 13:33)

A tiny piece of yeast gives bread for a hundred people. Working in his kingdom, seeking to establish God’s rule here, on earth, we take the small things; we plant at the right time, we water when water is needed and God works his miracles of grace and growth. We take the small things; we knead and pummel, roll out and leave for God’s miracles of resurrection and redemption.

Do we fail to build his kingdom because we don’t recognise the small things; because it doesn’t seem worthwhile to bother, because the very insignificance puts us off? Are we not prepared to get on with the ground work, because nothing seems to be happening? ‘Jesus bids us shine – you in your small corner and I in mine.’ There are big things to do, but it is usually the little acts of grace that we don’t bother about.

 

Margaret Killingray

The Kingdom of God (3): Which to choose? It’s a no-brainer.

March 7, 2011
07 Mar 2011

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted.
Luke 12:32-33

A no-brainer indeed. Only a fool would choose an uncertain future ‘kingdom’ (pie in the sky when you die?) over the enjoyment of certain present material possessions. Our possessions, which we have in abundance, give us pleasure, security and even identity. And those three things are perhaps people’s deepest yearnings. Yes, it’s good to give to the poor – we may have given generously to Comic Relief – but that makes little difference to our standard of living and the stability that it guarantees.

Oh dear, is this going to be another piece that makes us feel guilty about our prosperity? No, it isn’t. After all, it is God who ‘richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment’ (1 Tim.6:17). We are extraordinarily privileged to be able to choose between two ‘goods’. But the choice isn’t necessarily between material and spiritual wealth, or between treasure in this life and treasure in the next: it’s between a life bounded by the material and a life infused with the values of the kingdom.

A life bounded by the material is inevitably marked by anxiety, particularly during economic uncertainty, and that anxiety may strangle our generosity and spontaneity. A life infused with the values of the kingdom, on the other hand, will maintain those values regardless, and perhaps seek even more to look out for others who are suffering hardship. Jesus’ words of reassurance to his ‘little flock’ give us courage.

It’s easy to overlook the verb tense in what Jesus said: ‘your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom’. The kingdom is ours, here and now, if we are willing unconditionally to embrace its values. This may entail our selling possessions; it will certainly entail our seeking first God’s kingdom and his righteousness (Matt.6:33), thereby providing ourselves with ‘purses that will not wear out’. Tom Wright points out (Luke for Everyone) that ‘Heaven is God’s sphere of created reality, which…will one day colonise “earth”, our sphere, completely’. So the pie we invest in is not ‘in the sky when we die’ but on the very earth of our home, our workplace, our neighbourhood.

 

Helen Parry

The Kingdom of God (2): Entry qualifications

February 21, 2011
21 Feb 2011

Jesus said…’Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them…Any one who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’
Mark 10:14,15

When the disciples tried to stop Jesus being bothered with children, he rebuked them, taking the children in his arms and blessing them. More than that, he declared that no one could enter the Kingdom unless they became like a little child. What was it about a small child? What child-like characteristics did he mean – dependence? innocent trust? lack of self-importance? vulnerability? helplessness? Perhaps a combination of all of these.

Jesus called people to repent which has to mean acknowledging dependence and helplessness as well as sinfulness. We may wish we could enter the Kingdom on merit – as adults with wisdom and experience. No, said Jesus, you have to come with no credentials, no clout, and no claims. The more we are sure of our status and our rights, the more difficult it is to enter the Kingdom.

‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Mark 10:21,22

A wealthy, young (according to Matthew), influential (according to Luke) highly moral man came to Jesus, and knelt before him. He asked, in so many words, how he could enter the Kingdom of God. But the answer was not praise for his achievements, nor an automatic welcome for this attractive and successful person. Jesus asked him to do something he could not bear to do – give away his wealth and future security and give to the poor. What stops people from entering the Kingdom? A strong sense of self-worth? Caring too much for money and security? Being too proud to become ‘childlike’? However long we may have been Christians, daily we need to come to him as a dependent child to our Father, as a subject of the Kingdom to our king.

 

Margaret Killingray

The Kingdom of God (1): Two Kingdoms

February 14, 2011
14 Feb 2011

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever. 

Revelation 11:15

Cecil Spring-Rice’s poem, ‘The Two Fatherlands’, begins, ‘I vow to thee, my country…’, and I remember singing it in school assemblies and on Remembrance Sundays. Probably only the lyrical power of Gustav Holst’s melody could allow us to get away with offering our nation state a love that ‘asks no questions’! After the passionate commitment of the first verse, the second is almost an afterthought – ‘And’ (by the way) ‘there’s another country’…

Indeed, the Bible tells us that we live in two realms. Jesus, standing before Pilate, the representative of one of this world’s powerful empires, said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest… but now my kingdom is from another place’.

So how do we work out our relationship to these two realms? Some Christians have, as far as possible, shunned the systems of this world; the closed Brethren, the Amish communities in the US, the silent orders of monks and nuns. These responses can be a challenge to some of our easy compromises and accommodations with our world today. Others have walked out of their church communities each Sunday, taking only a hidden inner pietism into their daily lives. Others have seen their work in the kingdom of this world simply in terms of evangelism; that our work for the Kingdom of God is to preach the gospel so that ‘soul by soul, and silently, her shining bounds increase’. The ‘social gospel’ is seen as a false diversion.

This relationship between our being subjects of the King of kings, and citizens of an earthly polity has given rise to a number of pithy aides-memoire: in the world but not of the world; Christ’s ambassadors; God’s co-workers; John Stott’s double listening to the word and the world; and whole-life discipleship.

So we can ‘vow’ to our country that we will, by the grace of God, bring his transforming life to our workplace, our neighbourhood, our country, our world, affirming all that is good, and challenging all that opposes his will and purposes. It may be, however, that our commitment to the Kingdom of God will present us with difficult and dangerous choices in a world where evil is sometimes in the ascendant.

 

Margaret Killingray