Ash Wednesday is February 10. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Season of Lent within the Christian Church. The Season of Lent is that time when we remember the 40 days Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, the 40 days through which he was prepared for his ultimate obedience to the will of God. So, the 40 days of Lent are designed to assist us as we contemplate how God is preparing us for further service in his kingdom.
In my congregation we will be involved in a small group study on the Kingdom of God. I have written a devotional for each day to help us reflect on what the Kingdom of God is and how it works in our lives. I will post those devotionals on the Pastoral Blog site of chapelbysea.org if you would like to read along. The following is the introduction to the study.
May the Lord bless you as you read, pray, and reflect. Paul
2016 is an election year. I know, we have been hearing about the election for a year or more already. But, this is the year. There will be caucuses, straw polls, town house meetings, more national debates, newspaper articles, accusations hurled from one side to the other, reports of truth versus fiction in candidate statements, national conventions, and ultimately a vote. Then we will be done…I don’t think so. One side might accuse the other side of cheating. TV pundits will celebrate a hero being elected while others begin to give the warnings of the horrors that lie ahead. 2016.
Why in the world do I start of a Bible study with such a paragraph? Good question. My answer? We tend to be consumed with the kingdom of this world, the kingdom of men and women. Yet as Christians we are followers of Jesus who began his ministry proclaiming:
The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near.
Repent and believe the good news. Mark 1:15
It is my belief that Jesus demonstrated the Kingdom of God in how he lived, what he taught, through the miracles over the diseases of body, mind, and spirit that consume us, in how he suffered, died, and ultimate rose again. Jesus’ life was a demonstration of the Kingdom of God.
A major focus of Jesus’ teachings was on the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is a huge topic. Simple put it means “where God rules.” That is the nature of a kingdom. But, for we humans it is not that simple. We are people of dual citizenship. Even though we are told
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a
Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20…
…our daily existence is here on earth. Christians come from Europe and America, from the Philippines and South America, from Africa and Australia, from Russia and China, from Israel and Iraq. So much of our identity is shaped by our place of national origin. Even though we profess, “This world is not my home…I’m just a passin’ through, my treasures are laid out, somewhere beyond the blue…” the reality is we have dual citizenship that shapes and molds us.
Jesus must have understood tension and so, instead of working with the simple truth that the rule of God is at hand, he told stories to assist the people in understanding the Kingdom of God and how it works within our human existence. As a result, in the midst of this year when our nation will be focused on the Kingdom of Men and Women, Jesus’ teachings will help to balance us as we study and discuss the Kingdom of God in the parables and sayings of Jesus.
Not all the stories of Jesus were parables. Jesus also talked in similes and metaphors. For our study we are going to throw them all together for they are word pictures of God’s Kingdom. As we study we need to remember that Jesus spoke to the people and culture of his day. James A. Fowler in his study “Parables of the Kingdom” gives us two helpful notes to keep in mind as we read the words of Jesus. Fowler first tells us what the Greek word ‘parable’ means.
The Greek word for “parable” is derived from two other Greek words, para meaning “beside” and ballo meaning “to throw.” Literally, then, a parable is an illustrative story that is “thrown alongside” or “placed side by side” a similar or comparative concept. A parable brings parallel ideas together by drawing a figurative word-picture to illustrate a particular thought.
The second insight Fowler gives comes from a contemporary setting.
A contemporary example of the same analogical and artistic technique (sic, as a parable) might be the editorial cartoons found in our newspapers which picture a present situation or issue in symbolic imagery. Obviously one must understand the situation which is being illustrated in order to understand the picture, and such is equally true in understanding the parables of Jesus. In theological terminology this is expressed by the German phrase, sitz in leben, meaning the “setting in life” in which the teaching has taken place. German scholar, Joachim Jeremias, has emphasized this necessity of understanding in the contextual setting of each parable by considering when and where it was told, the audience who was listening, the objective of the teaching, etc.
Jesus didn’t teach in a vacuum. He spoke to first century Jews who lived in a Territory that had been occupied by Roman forces for nearly a century. Many in the audience were peasant farmers. Others were business men and women. Some were politicians and biblical scholars. Some were Jesus’ closest friends. As we read the sayings of Jesus we need to keep in mind the audience and the setting for it will help us understand what he is saying and, ultimately, help us grow in our understanding of the Kingdom of God.
However, growing in our understanding is not enough. Jesus ended his statement in Mark 1 by saying, “Repent and believe the good news.” Jesus challenged the people of his day to let go of the Kingdom of man and grab onto the Kingdom of God. Stanley Haurwas, in his book, Resident Aliens, talks about what it would be like if Christians and the Church behaved as if we were already citizens of God’s Kingdom. That is the challenge I want us to address over these next six weeks:
How did Jesus challenge us to live as he taught? How did Jesus demonstrate the Kingdom of God and how does that challenge us to live differently?
May God bless us as we read, meditate, discuss, and apply Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom.