Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Discipleship as the Good News of the Kingdom

To put it simply¬ Jesus did not come to initiate a new religion or some political program. He came to announce the in-breaking of God’s future. The Gospels call this the “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven.” To miss this is to misunderstand fundamentally the message of Jesus.

The kingdom language is coded speech that announced the inauguration of God’s end time reign or rule over Creation. This spoke to the expectation of God’s people in the 1st century. By announcing the Kingdom, Jesus was alerting those with ears to hear that God’s long-awaited era of salvation had arrived. This connects the Gospels with Israel’s story in the Old Testament. Jesus fulfills the expectations raised in the Prophets and offers the fullest answer to the problems raised by the Exile and its aftermath.

We must never lose the power of the “good news” of the Gospel. In his words and actions, Jesus proclaims the good news of the Kingdom. In Matthew 11:3-5, John the Baptist questions whether or not Jesus is truly the long expected Messiah. Jesus responds provocatively with a thick theological statement rather than a mere "yes" or "no." What is Jesus' answer? He says to John's followers, "Go and tell John what you are seeing and hearing: blind people are receiving their sight, lame are walking, deaf people are now able to hear, dead are being raised up, and poor people are having the good news proclaimed to them." Jesus is using the language of Isa 61:1-3 to describe his activities. In other words, Jesus answers John’s question with an unambiguous “Yes!” by appealing to his Kingdom advancing actions. In the life and ministry of Jesus, God is establishing the Kingdom. Jesus’ words and actions were received as good news. Provocatively Jesus subverts some of the expectations of the elite and religious insiders by engaging the masses and reaching out especially to the outsiders (the poor, the unclean, women, collaborators with the Roman empire, and foreigners). Such persons received the Gospel with gladness whereas the religious leaders of Jesus’ day often found themselves at odds with the good news of the kingdom.

Jesus’ presentation and embodiment of God’s Kingdom is central to the Gospels. The good news of the drawing near of God’s long awaited end time rule and era of salvation stands at the heart of the Gospel. Jesus’ followers exist to carry on Jesus’ kingdom work in the world and to embody the hope of the kingdom for the watching world.

A missional reading challenges us to keep the good news in the Gospel. The Kingdom has come in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The call to (re)alignment offers good news to the world and challenges God’s people to assess the extent to which its proclamation of the Gospel is an announcement of good news to those desperate for what only God can do.

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