In our Sunday gatherings in our house, we've been looking at the life of Jesus. We've been going through the Gospels in chronological order. About 4 weeks ago, we came to Matthew 5, where Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God.
Growing up, I was taught that the teachings about the kingdom of God were essentially for the Jews of Jesus' day, and that when they rejected Jesus that kingdom was essentially postponed until the Millennium. They were not really for the church, other than as an example for us to follow. We were taught that if we became poor in spirit because of our sin, we would then mourn over that sin, and so on. All of these things would lead to us being "right with God." The other teachings were pretty much new laws for us to try and follow. Still, not a lot was said about the kingdom.
In recent years, as I've studied Jesus and his kingdom, I've come to different conclusions about these teachings in Matthew, and in other passages. I believe that Jesus is teaching about the kinds of people who are welcome in his kingdom, and through whom the kingdom will come. The poor, the left out, the outcasts, are the ones who are in the kingdom, as opposed to the elite, the self-sufficient, those who have it all together. These are the ones through whom the Spirit moves, and the way these folks carry out there day-to-day is completely different from the way those in the kingdoms of this world operate. Instead of pride, there is humility. Instead of "justice," there is mercy. Instead of revenge, there is forgiveness.
We also saw that so much of the way God's kingdom works on this earth has to do with relationships. We are told that seeking forgiveness and reconciliation is more important than worship. We are told that treating others in a loving, forgiving manner is more important than following some rules that allow us to avoid love. We are taught that a righteousness that comes from inside is better than one that is simply external.
Jesus took the "traditional" definition of God's kingdom and turned it upside down. He said that the kingdom was here, but not in the way it was expected. The religious leaders (the righteous) missed it. It was the "sinners" who got it. It was not the best and brightest who followed the King. It was the folks who had been told they were not good enough. The early church was full of these. Somehow, we've taken Jesus' teachings and basically forgotten them. We follow the preachers who are the most articulate speakers, the ones who can command an audience of thousands. We use others for our own purposes, rather than love them. We want God to give us everything we want, instead of being willing to suffer for Jesus' sake.
If Jesus is the King, if we are part of his kingdom, our lives will be such that the world will think us strange. Our values, the way we treat others, will seem upside down. Our righteousness will go far beyond a righteousness that is determined by law. It will be a righteousness that comes from inside, from the Spirit that is in us. We will indeed be agents of a kingdom that is not from this world, and a King who has already conquered the powers. As we look for the ultimate setting right of all things, we will see, and provide, glimpses of that final, full fruition of the kingdom of God.