“Thy Kingdom come.” It’s probably the most frequently spoken prayer known in Christendom, uttered all over the world daily by multitudes of Christians since time immemorial. We so desperately want the Kingdom of God to come, don’t we? Errr….don’t we? Well…..maybe.
Ever considered what we’re actually asking for as we repeat that well-worn phrase?
I think many of us when we think of the Kingdom, (if we think of the Kingdom at all), assume it will just miraculously appear in our lives one day and we’ll all carry on as usual, just happier and holier.
Do we understand that the coming of the Kingdom means life as we have known it ceases completely? Even in our most spiritual moments, can we really imagine the full ramifications of living, loving, worshiping in a realm where God and His mysterious ways rule and humanity is not centre of the universe? Can we comprehend the coming of the Kingdom in fullness will mean thinking differently, speaking differently, behaving differently, relating differently, learning differently, and seeing everything with a totally new and foreign perspective?
Every time Jesus said “The Kingdom of God is like……..” He was about to describe an invasion. The Kingdom is a realm totally foreign to every concept of ‘normality’ we’ve ever known. Jesus was using the every-day language of the common people to try to express characteristics of a realm infinitely removed from their human experience. Still they found the Kingdom almost impossible to grasp, and so do we.
This Kingdom of God cannot be neatly ‘fitted’ into our earthly lives with a minimum of disruption, like buying a new car. The Kingdom invades, totally subdues all other kingdoms, and reigns. In the Kingdom nothing can be assumed apart from God’s infinite love and goodness. Take love for instance, what might it look like in the Kingdom?
I am always deeply moved whenever I read the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Gadarene (Luke 8:26-39). There’s something in that narrative about the dynamic clash of kingdoms and the victory of Light over darkness that makes me want to do a little dance and shout “Go God!” But more than that, it’s the sense of Jesus’ deep compassion for the Gadarene man that arrests my attention and makes me wish I could ‘time travel’ to witness the scene first hand.
It’s almost impossible for us even to imagine the torment this man had endured for perhaps many years, for the scriptures are clear he had suffered “for a long time“, chained like a wild animal, living among the tombs, ostracised from family and community, despised, rejected and tormented. Then came Jesus.
“And when He stepped out on the land, there met Him a certain man from the city who had demons for a long time” (v. 27)
The demonic forces enslaving this man were waiting for Jesus’ arrival, but were no match for Him. It’s most likely this demon-possessed Gadarene was a Gentile. The country of the Gadarenes was a Gentile, non-Jewish region, yet Jesus had clearly directed His disciples to this location. Those keeping the nearby herd of swine into which Jesus cast the demons, must certainly have been Gentiles because under Jewish law swine were unclean animals. It seems Jesus deliberately went out of His way that day to make it clear His Lordship extended beyond Israel even to the Gentiles.
But the part of this story that really speaks so deeply to me is the relationship between Jesus and the Gadarene. Reading between the lines, I get a sense they immediately loved each other deeply. I have a feeling they became instant friends. I can imagine the man, now clothed and “in his right mind”, unashamedly sitting at Jesus’ feet, eyes fixed solely on Him, with the glory of God radiating from his face. He took the physical position of a disciple – one who has committed himself to his Master and will not turn back. His adoration for this Jewish teacher was clear and unmistakable to all who laid eyes on him.
We’re told the Gadarene begged Jesus to be allowed to stay with Him. He would have followed Jesus anywhere, whatever the cost.
But Jesus “sent him away, saying ‘Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.’ And he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him” (v:39).
When I read this I am overcome with a sense of joy tinged with sorrow: joy for the Gadarene who so suddenly was delivered, saved and sent on his mission, and joy for the community to whom this man became the first evangelist.
And sorrow for Jesus, who loved this man deeply, yet for the good of the Kingdom let him go. By the Spirit I am given to see the painful parting of these two friends – a last tearful hug, a final determined smile and locking of eyes and then a turning as one goes forward into newfound life and the Other towards certain death. How bittersweet was that moment!
It causes me to think of another Jesus loved, a man who came running to Jesus, kneeling, asking what more could he do to inherit eternal life. This man was a law abiding, commandment keeping Jew, but still with no sense of salvation. And then comes the loaded phrase: “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him……”.
‘One thing you lack”says Jesus, “go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me’. But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:17-22)
Two very different men in desperate need came running to Jesus. One was Gentile, one was Jewish. Both knelt at His feet. One man begged to be allowed to follow to the Cross, but was sent in a different direction. The other was warmly invited to follow to the Cross, but sadly chose to walk away.
And Jesus loved them both.
The Gadarene, having already suffered so much, was delivered into resurrection life. Secure in his salvation, the man went forth with joy proclaiming the things of God. How easy it would have been for Jesus to keep him with Him. Instead, Jesus made a hard decision He judged best for that man, and best for the Kingdom’s purposes. Loving him, Jesus let him go. This is what love looks like in the Kingdom!
The wealthy man was invited into the fellowship of the Cross, but was unwilling to pay the price. Given the opportunity to take up his cross and follow, he turned away sorrowfully. Jesus, loving him, did not go after him. This too is what love looks like in the Kingdom!
Jesus’ path was never an easy one. Jesus knows well what it is to love and to have to let go, but He chooses to love anyway. Kingdom love may not look or behave the way we assume it will.
There are times in Kingdom life when we are confronted with painful decisions, decisions requiring courage, humility and steadfast faith. The days we are in now are like that. There are things we love that must be let go for the sake of the Kingdom. I’m not referring to specific sins or questionable life style choices, these should already be on the altar. I’m talking about seemingly ‘good’ things, ‘comfortable’ things, things that in themselves look harmless, even holy. They may be relationships, they may be a location, they may be habits we have walked in all our lives, they may be anything however small that distracts us from the pursuit of the fullness of the Kingdom. These will often be costly things, only known between you and God, but whatever He tells you to do, do it.
Now is the time to both live and die with the courage of those who have no other cause but Christ and no other purpose than to be vessels of His Kingdom as we walk this chaotic planet. Christ will always enable willing hearts.
“Thy Kingdom Come on earth as it is in Heaven” must become our corporate and most intense prayer, but the Kingdom comes first within us, so let’s not glibly pray those words without first counting the cost and agreeing to it.