The struggle that has been found throughout biblical history and church history is the fact of reducing the size of the kingdom of God that’s smaller than God intends. For the Israelites they could not conceive that a gentile could be brought in. For the Pharisees, they could not picture anyone other than their little group being approved up by God. During the time of the church, the Judaizers would say that only by adhering to Moses law and observing the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision (along with trusting in Christ) could one come in. And even in our day, if someone does not belong to our particular church or denomination, even if they agree with every tenant that we believe in and are active in Christ’s work, we question whether we should lock arms with them or align with them.
The Kingdom does not initially seem that big. Jesus told a parable in Luke 13:18-21:
“He said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.’ And again he said, ‘To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.’”
Warren Wiersbe contends that this is “a picture of the visible outward growth of the kingdom (the mustard seed) and the invisible influence of the kingdom (the leaven). By using these parables Jesus was saying, ‘You Jewish religious leaders may hold to your dead traditions and oppose the truth, but God’s living kingdom will still increase. Satan will be defeated.’”
This is a cautionary tale for all of us in ecclesiastical positions and structures, where we can certainly hold to traditions that mark out a box of our own making rather than seeing the true boundaries of the Kingdom.Tweet
About a year ago, four of us from our church went to listen to a gentleman named Jeff Christopherson. Jeff had recently written a book called Kingdom First: Starting Churches that Shape Movements. He added a very helpful definition of what the Kingdom of God is all about: “The Kingdom of God is what the world looks like when King Jesus gets his way.” He then asked the question that is always asked before a Vision Fellowship: “What would the church look like if Jesus got His way?” He brought about three pieces of the Christian work: kingdom, mission, church. He noted that our problem is that we often start with church, that is, how we want to do church. Many times, we look at where our denomination is leading rather than working Jesus is leading in his kingdom. We look to the wrong authorities. Mission then comes from how we do church, followed by Kingdom—where God is working His rule according to our perceived boundaries and boxes.
He told us that in the days ahead that we need to be looking for how God is working in his kingdom—and it may be beyond the four walls of our church (much like what Henry Blackaby in his book Experiencing God showed the previous generation). Both tell us to “watch to see where God is working and join him.” And Jesus said all authority on Heaven and Earth has been given to him and that through the kingdom his rule was inaugurated at the cross and empty tomb and was shown in church. It will soon be seen by everyone throughout the new heavens and a new Earth.
But you say, “Isn’t the way to the Kingdom a narrow way?” You would be correct, but it is His narrow way, not ours. Many in Jesus’ day believed they were on the right path due to their heritage or their religious practices. Yet, this is not the narrow way to which Jesus speaks. Jesus had another encounter with someone on the road to Jerusalem:
22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Luke 13:22-30).
Did you notice verse 29? “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” Being a part of the Kingdom of God was not about heritage or geography or mere religious practices. In Amos 5:21-24, God told them that the fragrances that came from their burnt offerings were a stench to him—because it was all about heritage and practices and not about a heart and mind that submitted to His rule.
Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 1 (Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor, 1989), 226.
Jeff Christopherson, Kingdom First: Starting Churches that Shape Movements (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2015), 9.