Scot McKnight is Professor of New Testament studies at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, author or editor of 50 books and well-known speaker and blogger. During New Horizon 2016, he is leading the morning Bible Teaching (10am Monday – Friday). Here, the NH Media Team brings you a summary of what he had to say on Tuesday 9 August.
We are looking at what Jesus meant when He said in Mark 1, “The Kingdom of God has drawn near.”
Yesterday, I suggested that a kingdom is a people ruled by a king and the kingdom of Jesus means a people ruled by Jesus. We have a king who rules both as Lord and Saviour. There has to be a people over whom He rules. These people are governed by the King who reveals to them His will (the law and teachings of Jesus). Finally, there must be a land or space where these people dwell. When we keep all these five elements in view, then we have an accurate kingdom theology.
The character of the king determines the character of the kingdom just as the character of leaders in churches will shape the character of churches. We need to focus on the character of God.
Firstly, this is a God of Covenant Love. Love is a great idea until you understand what it is and then it becomes one of the most challenges things of life!
He is also a God of Sacrificial Love (Cruciformity – being conformed to the cross). We don’t have time to develop this at length but in the pages of the New Testament we see that Jesus has come to be the Messiah but He was not what they expected. They expected a Messiah on a white horse who would come and rescue the people from the Romans.They expected a ruler that would win by military might and who would annihilate their enemies.
But Jesus is totally contrary to that image. In Mark 10:41-45 shows us that the character of our king is unlike the character of any king in the Roman world. The predominant words were “lording” and “authority” in the Roman world. But Jesus calls them to be servants and slaves.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
The kingdom is conformed to the character of the king. To the degree that our churches are shaped like Jesus, they are connected to the Kingdom of God. To the degree they are concerned with power and authority and domination, they are disconnected from the Kingdom of God.
The King of the Kingdom is characterised by Sacrificial Love – He came to be with us and gave Himself for us. If the King is characterised by covenant love which results in the cross – if our King gives himself for others – then the Kingdom will be populated by people who will be loving and will be willing to give themselves for others.
Love is inconvenient when we love our neighbours as ourselves. It is willing to interrupt plans to help someone else. Our king is like this and we realise this as we read the Lord’s Prayer. Every line in the Lord’s Prayer is a revelation of what our king is like.
Our God loves us as Father but we are to reverence our God in that love. This love calls us in a relationship with Him. This Father that we are to pray to is in charge of history… may your kingdom come and may your will be done. We are to pray that God’s kingdom that has broken into time in Jesus but is not yet complete… will be fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven. We are to embody kingdom reality in our lives. This Father is also one who provides.
Then Jesus says, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us.” Our God is a God of forgiveness. Our God has come into our world to release us from our sins and to rescue us from our oppressions and bondages so that we can become the kind of people He wants. We have to confess our sins and acknowledge our sins and then we can be forgiven.
Our king is noted by covenant love and cruciformity. This means that if we are forgiven we are to become agents of forgiveness. Is my forgiveness from God dependent on my willingness to forgive others? Jesus answered the question and we don’t always like the answer. Our summons is to take on the character of our king. Our king forgives. Forgiveness is extraordinarily difficult.
What does it mean for us to take on the characteristic of our king by becoming people who forgive?
Heaven will be a world that is fully reconciled. Until we embrace one another in forgiveness, there can be no heaven. Do you know how far forgiveness goes in creating justice and peace? Don’t fight for justice. Fight for forgiveness.
People who forgive, create justice.
When someone says, “We will bring them to justice…” – what they mean is punishment, not reconciliation and peace. We are called to reconciliation that will lead to a newly-ordered society.
A King who Rules by Bringing Redemption
Looking at a series of passages to illustrate the aims of Jesus. Jesus rules by redeeming but what does it mean for Jesus to save us and bring redemption. Very often our expectations for Jesus’ redemption are very short-sighted.
I’m going to begin with Mary. Luke 1: 46 – 55
Mary is a 14-year-old girl and she has been told that she gets to be the mother of the Messiah except that she is not married and she is pregnant. She will be called an adulteress all through her life.
Through the power of the spirit, Mary starts to describe what she knows God is going to do through her son and she is excited about what is finally going to happen for Israel. This young girl has her eyes on Herod the Great who makes Robert Mugabe look like a Sunday School teacher.
This girl looks at the rulers of this world (Herod) and prophecies that her son will be on the throne! Do not think of Mary as the European art has her. This is woman who has her sleeves rolled up and she looks at Herod and she says, “Bring it on. God is going to bring you down.” The Mary of the Bible is one tough woman.
In the same chapter, Zachariah begins to sing about what God is going to do. “He has raised up a horn of salvation…”
In Luke 3, John the Baptist preaches repentance at the River Jordan. People come to John and ask, “What does repentance look like?” John says, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with someone who has none…”
Repentance in the kingdom of God is characterised by the desire to create equity and justice.
How did Jesus talk about redemption? In Luke 4: 14 – 21 Jesus went into the synagogue and He read from Isaiah 61. Jesus delivered the shortest sermon in history – “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The message of Jesus was like the message of Mary and Zechariah… it is about liberation in all its dimensions (freedom for captives, good news for the poor…) and it is about cruciformity (because in Nazareth, Jesus is rejected).
In Luke 6, we have one of the most famous passages in the entire Bible – the Beatitudes of Jesus according to Luke. It is just like His mother’s song. The oppressors will be brought down. The kingdom of God will be marked by liberation, by justice, by peace…
When John asks, “Are you the messiah?” Jesus quotes Isaiah again. The redemptive mission of Jesus is to liberate people comprehensively from all their sicknesses, from all their social exclusions, from their economic difficulties and to bring them into the kingdom of God so that they are taken care of…
Then Jesus dies, is raised and is ascended. Then the Holy Spirit comes and we begin to see the kingdom of God embodied in a people.
Acts 2 – They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to breaking of bread and to prayer. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold possessions to provide for anyone who had need…
We have an obligation to embody the kingdom of God in our local churches by bringing the liberating, all-encompassing redemption that Jesus, Mary, and Zechariah spoke of.
We have an obligation to make sure that the church is the place where the kingdom of God begins. Do not trust in princes or rulers, trust in Jesus and let Him shape the kingdom of God in this world.