Saint Patrick, who is remembered yearly by people wearing green and drinking green beer, has a tremendous story that exemplifies what the kingdom of God should be about. 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 the people who imprisoned him in Ireland - the very people he had escaped from - and share the gospel. His ministry to the Irish was an amazing success, and Ireland became a nation filled with Christians.
These Irish Christians then moved on to evangelize mainland Europe with an interesting approach. They would establish a community filled with love for each other right outside of the town that they intended to reach for Jesus. They would welcome people, take care of people while taking care of each other, and their love would overflow into the neighboring town.
It was through these healthy communities that mainland Europe was brought to the Lord. Not through some method of apologetics like we often attempt to bring people to Jesus through. Not from solid doctrinal statements, which the church at that time was unsuccessfully using to reach people. They won Europe to the Lord by exemplifying the life together that should be normal for people living together in the kingdom of God.
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 those 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 people in our world.
"Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Luke 17:20-21 ESV).
The kingdom of God, the kingdom we are citizens of if Jesus is our Lord, is “not coming with things that can be observed.” This was strange to the original listeners. The Israelites were not expecting a different sort of kingdom. They wanted a kingdom that would free the nation of Israel from the rule of Rome and establish Israel as a physical power in the world again. Jesus' take on the kingdom was a countercultural 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, no capital, nor 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 intends to transform this world by love and truth.
God often surprises us by doing things differently than we would do them. He had Gideon lower the amount of soldiers in his army from 32,000 to 500 before invading another nation. He had Joshua conquer Jericho by marching and blowing trumpets. 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 worked very well. And it will continue to work as long as people like us are faithful, surrender our lives to Jesus’ will, and live lives of love together.
The kingdom of God was there among the Pharisees, yet 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 - my ultimate loyalty - is in another kingdom. All of us who profess to follow the lordship of Jesus are acknowledging that we are part of a kingdom that is among us, the people. Our primary 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 rebel and do the will of God. And through radically following Jesus, no matter what the cost, we bring the kingdom of God into our broken reality. A city on a hill. The light of the world. Salt of the earth.
I invite you, if you are skeptical that the Good News is the kingdom, to read through the Bible and search for the truth. The good news of the kingdom is found throughout the New and Old Testament.
If you already believe that the good news is the kingdom, it is my hope that we will work together to be a more loving community and be a blessing to Antwerp, and from there to the rest of the world.
And I invite you, if you have not surrendered your life to the kingship of Christ and joined a community of believers, to make that decision and become a brother or sister in the kingdom of God. There is always room in the kingdom, but don’t just stay in the doorway. It’s crowded, and God has so much more in store for each of us.