Undistorting the Distorted Good News - The message of the kingdom of God

Once a young boy had finished attending his very first wedding. His cousin came up to him, after the wedding and asked the question, “How many women can a man marry?”

And without batting an eye, the little boy said, “Sixteen.”

The cousin was surprised by his quick answer and asked, “Where did you get that from?”

The little boy said, “Didn't you hear the pastor? The pastor looked at the groom and said, 'You are to marry four better, four worse, four richer, and four poorer.' You do the math and it adds up to sixteen.

Words are sometimes confusing. And when we have a misunderstanding like the young boy in the story did, it can lead to all sorts of strange beliefs.  Bad practices are often the result of bad thoughts.

I want to start this message out today with a question. What is the gospel? Or should I ask what is the good news? The word “gospel” and “good news” are translations of the same Greek word; they're just translated differently depending on the version you are reading. The words are interchangeable. So I ask again, “What is the good news?” What is the Gospel?

The Restoration Movement has a principle that I am quite fond of which states we are to call Bible things by Bible names. Essentially, this principle states that we should keep the biblical meaning with the biblical term. For instance, if I use the word elder, I mean the person in a local church that oversees that church because that is the way the Bible describes the role of an elder. I should not use the word elder to describe someone who serves only as a Sunday School teacher or someone that is a greeter at the door unless they are also an overseer in the church. An elder is a person in a position of oversight. That is what the Bible says it is, and that is the way we use it. That is an example of calling Bible things by Bible names.

Once we start redefining terms and applying them to things that the Bible does not apply them to, the Bible becomes devoid of any concrete meaning and just becomes a book of words that we can manipulate to fit our own thoughts and beliefs rather than it being the source for our thoughts and beliefs. It is important – if we are to use Bible terms – to actually connect them with the Biblical concept the Bible associates them with.

One such word that has been the victim throughout the years of redefining is the word “Gospel”. The Bible gives the word a clear meaning; however, that clear meaning is not what the Christian culture says that the good news is.

So I ask again – what is the good news? What is the gospel?

Chances are that you came up with a definition that sounds similar to this: The good news is that Jesus died on the cross so that we can receive forgiveness of sins and attain eternal life. There is nothing false in the statement.  Jesus did die on the cross so that we can receive forgiveness and eternal life. It is a true statement. Nothing is more true. And it is good news, but it is not the biblical Good News. When the Bible talks about the good news or when Jesus talked about the good news, he did not mean what the phrase has come to mean. The good news is not limited to the belief that Jesus died on the cross so that we can receive forgiveness of sins and attain eternal life. The core central teaching of Christianity is so much more than that and, sadly, it is often overlooked in Scripture.

It is essential to being a healthy church and healthy Christians that we believe and teach the same good news that Jesus believed and taught. Let us examine the Scriptures and see what the good news actually is.

We'll start our journey with Matthew 4:23. We're going to be going through a lot of Scripture. I felt that would be the most appropriate way to learn what the Bible means when it mentions the good news.

We see in Matthew 4:23, the message that Jesus proclaimed. It reads: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”

Jesus' message could have so easily been the message of his death and the forgiveness of sins that death would provide, but that is not the message that Jesus was teaching. He focused on the good news of the kingdom.

In Matthew 9:35 we see again that “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues preaching the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.” Did he go around preaching grace? At times. Did he go around preaching faith? At times. But this section of Scripture along with others emphasizes that Jesus' core teaching was preaching “the good news of the kingdom”. Up until five years ago, I had never heard, or at least consciously understood, the message of the kingdom of God that is clearly written throughout the Scriptures. The good news to me was that Jesus gives us forgiveness of sins and entry into heaven. However, that is not what the living and breathing Jesus taught when he walked among the earth and that is not the witness that the written word of God leaves us with. We seem to (maybe just subconsciously) think we have a better message than the one Jesus taught, a message that might be more relevant or palatable to the souls of those around us. We need to get back to discovering the message of the kingdom that Jesus preached and start living it and proclaiming it from the rooftops, our position on the assembly line, or behind a desk or a counter. Wherever we find ourselves, we need to teach the message that Jesus taught.

Not only did Jesus teach the message of the kingdom. It was also the message that he sent out his apostles to teach. Matthew 10:7-8 reads “As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.”.

I imagine this moment was like the final huddle in the lockerroom before a big game. Imagine a championship game and a coach has the opportunity to give a motivating speech before sending out his players to play what will be the final game of the season. They will come out either champions or losers. A coach would emphasize all that he feels is important. For Jesus, his ministry of teaching rested in the hearts and minds of those twelve that he was talking to, the ones he was sending out. His training of them was crucial. What did he tell them to preach? It was the message of the kingdom. Maybe we should follow suit and preach that same message.

Some will say that the kingdom is not here yet, that it is something that will still come about in the future when Jesus returns. Jesus disagreed with that strain of thought in Mark 9:1 - “There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God has come with power.”

Jesus told the people that the kingdom of God would come before some of those people standing in that crowd tasted death. Either Jesus is a liar, which I see no reason to believe; some of those people are still alive now 2000 years later, which I have never heard about; or the kingdom Jesus was talking about and centered his preaching on came about during the lives of those listening to him at that time.

For us, on this side of the cross and the day of Pentecost, the kingdom has come. Jesus ushered in the kingdom of God to earth throughout his ministry and it seemed to have culminated at the establishment of His Church. The Church and anywhere that God's will breaks through into our world is where the kingdom of God resides. We are part of His kingdom when we surrender to Jesus' kingship and become active members in bringing His will into reality.

Jesus went so far as to state that teaching the good news of the kingdom is why He was sent. In Luke 4:43 Jesus states, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also because that is why I was sent.”

Jesus clearly states that the reason he was sent was to preach the good news of the kingdom. We are often taught that the reason he was sent was to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins; however, that is not what he said here. He said that he came to preach the good news of the kingdom. His death on the cross is part of that bigger framework and it was part of his work when he came, but it is not the goal. We should make the kingdom of God the framework or else we will miss the larger picture. The death and resurrection are glorious events indeed, but they are not why Jesus says that he was sent.

If I held up a small picture frame to my chest and said that this is a picture of Regan, it would be true but you would only be seeing a small part of me. If I held up a large picture frame that showed my whole person and said that this is a picture of Regan, it would be a much more accurate picture. Without what was contained in the little frame, it wouldn't be a complete picture.

I envision the message of the good news the same way. The message that Jesus came and died for the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life is like the smaller picture frame. It is part of the larger picture. However, the good news of the kingdom is the larger picture frame that contains that important message of forgiveness and eternal life within it, yet it contains so much more.

Jesus was sent to preach and bring about the kingdom.

Imagine if you would, that you received an invitation from the President to be his vice-President. The President wants you to be with Him all of the time helping Him do His work. The President wants your input on his decisions. He wants to share meals with you. He wants you to be involved in His life. Now you have this invitation to share your life with the President. You get packed up, dressed up, and ready to go to Washington. You arrive at the White House. You become fascinated with the doorway to the White House. You decide you want to stay in the doorway because you love the doorway so much. The President feels you are valuable and comes and visits you rather than just dismissing you for your eccentric love of his doorway. You would still have a relationship with the President, but you would miss out on all of the life of privilege that the President wants you to enjoy with Him.

In the Christian culture in America, the doorway is awfully crowded. Too often that is where we choose to stay and many churches stop their teaching right there. When the message that churches share is a message of salvation and forgiveness rather than the complete message of life in the kingdom, we are destined to have crowded doorways rather than festive celebrations in grand banquet halls.

This is the difference between focusing on salvation and the essentials of salvation compared with focusing on the Kingdom. It's the difference between conversion and discipleship. The kingdom is about discipleship. It is about living a complete life of devotion for Christ. The message of the kingdom encompasses all of the teachings of Scripture. The essentials of salvation are important to entry in the kingdom, but they are not the goal. They are not a sufficient framework. They are not the message Jesus came to teach. He came to teach the kingdom, not just focus on the entryway into the kingdom.

Acts 1:3 reads “He (Jesus) appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”

Right before his ascension into heaven, Jesus focused on teaching His disciples the message of the kingdom of God. This is what He taught about during His the final days He physically spent with his disciples. The message of the kingdom was so important that it was central to his final address, yet that very same message is scarcely heard from pulpits throughout this land.

A few other verses before we move on. We will see that the message of the kingdom is not only the message that Jesus taught; it is also the message that those who were here after the establishment of the church also taught.

Acts 8:12 – He (Philip) preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus.

In Acts 19:8 we see “He (Paul) entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God.”

Acts 28:23 reads “From morning until evening he (Paul) explained the matter to them (the local Jewish in Rome), testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets.”

Acts 28:30-31 reads “And he (Paul) stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.”

The message of the kingdom of God was central to the teachings of Jesus during his ministry here on earth, and we see that it was also central in the evangelistic messages that Paul shared during his time establishing churches.

The Greek word that is used for “good news” or “gospel” is evangelion. You might notice the similarity between the word “evangelion” and the words we have today of evangelist and evangelism. An evangelist is one that is the share the good news. Evangelism is the act of sharing the good news with those that need to hear and see it. However, evangelists and evangelism have been using a good news that is not the good news of the Bible. Let us not make that same mistake. For us, when we share the gospel, let's share the good news that Jesus and Paul shared – the good news of the kingdom.

Now, I want to move onto some of the practical implications of the kingdom being the good news and explore exactly what the kingdom is.

Luke 18:28-30 - “I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

As members of the kingdom, as people whose lives of self-surrender to the Kingship of Christ, we do not have to just look longingly to perfection and peace in the age to come. Jesus says that those who are part of his kingdom will get back very much more even in this age. An unhealthy emphasis on salvation only leads to an unhealthy emphasis on eternal life only. We see this passage of Scripture emphasizes both our life now and our life in the age to come. The kingdom is here now, and being a member of the kingdom will be a blessing for us.

But our life in the kingdom does not just stop at us receiving blessings. We are to join in the work of God. This kingdom we are part of is the kingdom that was promised to Abraham by God in the beginning of the Bible. Genesis 12:1-3: “Now the Lord said to Abram, 'Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father's house to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This kingdom was to blessed, and this kingdom was to be a blessing. We are part of this kingdom that is supposed to be a blessing to the whole world. This is the kingdom that the people of Israel were anticipating.  Jesus proclaimed that it was near; now we know that it is here. This is good news. To an Israelite there could have been no greater news. They were waiting for a Messiah, a Christ, and this Messiah would bring about this kingdom.

We see in many of the verses concerning the kingdom that they were linked with the blind receiving sight, the lame walking, the oppressed being liberated, and the like. Jesus came doing miracles because those signs were to accompany the kingdom of God. I might not be able to do the same miracles as Jesus, but I can continue the work of the kingdom. I can feed the hungry. I can house the homeless. I can spend time with the lonely. When we do these things together, we are being the kingdom that God intended for us to be. As much as it is possible for us, we need to bring the kingdom to full realization here on earth now.

St. Patrick, the one who is remembered yearly by everyone wearing green and for others by drinking green beer, has a tremendous story, which I think exemplifies what the kingdom is. Patrick was taken prisoner by the Irish in a raid on England. One night, he escaped his prison and fled back to England. While back in the safety of England, he felt the call of God to go back to Ireland and share the gospel. His ministry to the Irish was an amazing success, and Ireland became a nation filled with Christians.

These Christians then moved on to evangelizing mainland Europe. They evangelized much differently than we do; they set up a community right outside of the town that they planned on witnessing to. Then this community would be filled with love for one another and that love would overflow into the neighboring town. It was through them establishing healthy communities outside of towns that mainland Europe was brought to the Lord.

The good news of the kingdom of God is about us being a healthy community that will focus on using our blessings from God to be a blessing to the people around us.

Instead of a physical empire to conquer the world, Jesus established a kingdom that was to consist of communities of believers who would love the world.

In Luke 17:20-21 “Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, 'The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, 'Look here it is!' or 'There it is!' For in fact, the kingdom of heaven is among you.”

The kingdom of God, the kingdom we are residents of, is “not coming with things that can be observed.” This was strange to the original listeners. The Israelites were not expecting that sort of kingdom. They wanted a kingdom that would free the nation of Israel from the hand of Rome and establish Israel as a physical power in the world again. Jesus' take on the kingdom was a completely different take on the traditional concept of kingdom or nation, and it still is today. When we think of a kingdom or nation, we think of a place with physical boundaries, a capital, a military, a human leader, laws to the keep the peace and the like. But God's kingdom is not what we would consider a normal kingdom. His kingdom has no boundaries. It has no capital. It has no military. It has one high priest. His kingdom is not in the process of taking over the world and bringing about its will by force. His kingdom will conquer the world by love and truth.

God does not always do what we view as the normal way of doing things. He had Gideon lower the amount of soldiers in his army from 32,000 to 500 before invading another nation. He had Joshua march around Jericho blowing trumpets in order to defeat them. He saved the world by having Jesus die on a cross. In hindsight, his acts are glorious, just like his kingdom. But at the time, they seem to our mortal comprehension to be a little off.

Who would have ever thought that a kingdom could conquer the world with love and truth? Yet that is God's seemingly irrational plan. In hindsight, we can see that the plan has been very effective. And it will continue to be effective as long as people are faithful.

The kingdom of God was there among the Pharisees although it could not be seen in a physical and tangible way. And it is here among us. Although I live in America and am an American citizen, my true residence and citizenship is in another kingdom. All of us who profess to follow the lordship of Christ need to realize that we are part of a kingdom that is among us. Our nationality belongs to the kingdom of God, not to any of the kingdoms of this world. When the will of God contradicts the will of our nation, we gladly submit to the consequences of our nation while we continue to do the will of God. We see this in the lives, and especially a statement, of Peter and John to rulers in Jerusalem who forbade them to continue sharing the gospel. In Acts 4:19-20 they stated: “Whether it is right in God's sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Jesus' kingdom might not have physical borders or a common language, but it is the longest lasting kingdom in the world with the same ruler. It is a kingdom like no other.

Revelation 1:5-6 states “To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."

God has freed us from our sins, made us into a kingdom, so that we can be priests.

In preparing for this sermon, I looked up what jobs American workers do. In America there are 130,307,000 workers. 8,078,000 are employed in education. 8,900,000 are in health care. Only 443,070 are in farming and fishing. 10,249,000 are in factory jobs. 3,056,000 are in protective services like police and firemen. 1,683,310 are in entertainment, media, and the arts. And the most workers are in office and administrative jobs at 22,784,000.

That is not a complete list. There are so many different types of jobs in America. However, if you were to look at the employment in the kingdom of God, 100% of the workers would be priests. The primary occupation of citizens in God's kingdom is priesthood. As priests, we might have other jobs that we are involved in. For me it is retailing. For you it is something else. But our primary jobs are all the same. We are priests.

Catholics have the concept of what a priest is down. In their church the priest is a person that is Jesus to the people when they gather for mass. He is the intercessor for their confessions. The priest is responsible for bringing those around him into a right relationship with God. The priest has more of a direct link to God.

Catholics might have the concept of what a priest is down, but sadly, they do not have the concept of who a priest is down. Revelation 1:5-6 states that we are all priests. We also see this is in 1 Peter 2:9 - “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people.” Every Christian is a priest and with that comes the responsibility of being a priest.

We are to be offering a sacrifice of our life for the salvation of others. We are to be interceding in prayer on behalf of others. We are to be Jesus to others. We are the priesthood of believers.

Through this study, we have touched on a few things that are elements of the kingdom of God. The priesthood of believers, the home of true citizenship, life of loving community and being a blessing, but the kingdom doesn't just stop there. It weaves its way through the Bible. For me and my wife, reading the Scriptures and discovering that the good news was the message of the kingdom and not just individual salvation was invigorating. Everything began clicking together in a way that it had not before. The Scriptures seemed to become more alive and make more sense. I hope that it will do the same for you.

I invite you, if you are skeptical that the Good News is the kingdom, to open up your Bible and search for the truth. The good news of the kingdom is there throughout the New and Old Testament.

If you already believe that the good news is the kingdom, it is my that my hope that we will work together to be a more loving community, to be the priests to those around, and to be a blessing to the world.

And I invite you, if you have not surrendered your life to the kingship of Christ and joined the community of believers, to make that decision and become a fellow priest in the kingdom of God. There is always room in the kingdom for another priest.