Thursday, June 23, 2011

What Is This Kingdom of Heaven For Anyway? SOTM # 13

The Beatitudes and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount make frequent reference to “the kingdom of heaven.” It is not an easy concept to isolate and examine. As described by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, it represents the world the way God intended it to be. But it is more than a “spiritual” earthly kingdom, existing in the midst of a material one; it is a kingdom that encompasses all of creation. It has always existed, everywhere, and will exist to the farther reaches of eternity.

But the problem Jesus is addressing in the Sermon on the Mount is that another kingdom has intruded itself into the kingdom of heaven, or at least that portion of it that encompasses our earth. Think of it this way. God established his sovereignty over all that he is and has made, but in one tiny part of that kingdom a revolt occurred; a counter-kingdom was established: the kingdom of this world – Satan’s kingdom. God could simply destroy the rebel kingdom or he could try to redeem it. He has chosen to do the latter. The best way to redeem it is to reclaim it from within. So he has established a kingdom within the rebel kingdom for the purpose of saving that which he created and loves.

The Sermon on the Mount presents Jesus’ plan for reclaiming that which is his by right of creation. Those who believe in him and put their trust in him will become representatives of his kingdom. He uses the analogy of salt and light to explain how this counter-revolution will work. “You are the salt of the earth,” he tells his disciples. “You are the light of the world.”

Jesus himself came into the world to be exactly what he tells his disciples they will be, salt and light. His life and ministry illustrate the manner in which his disciples will work to reclaim this world for God. “As the Father has sent me, so send I you,” he told his disciples.

The two analogies that Jesus chose to describe the work of the kingdom of God are perfect pictures of the way his disciples would function in the world. Salt is passive. It can do its work of preserving and flavoring only in the place where it is. It has no motive force to carry it to another place. If it moves it is because the elements in which it exists are moving. If it is transferred from one element in its environment to another it is because those elements came in contact with each other. Wherever it is, or wherever it goes, it is always salt. Light, on the other hand, is active, moving out from its source into the darkness around it, illuminating everything it falls upon. Unless it is shielded or covered it will seek out something to reveal, something to shine on. As long as it is reinforced by new waves from its source, it will reveal the good and evil in its world.

Before we came to these words of Jesus regarding salt and light, we had just heard him rather thoroughly describe the citizens of the kingdom of heaven. They are poor in spirit, mourners, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peace-loving. Despite these positive characteristics – or perhaps because of them – they are often persecuted. The persecution comes because they do not keep to themselves. They are not of the world, but they are in it, as salt and light.

Salt stings when rubbed into raw open wounds. Light infuriates when it reveals that which mankind wants to keep hidden. It would be so much more pleasant if God did not make his people salt and light; if they could simply be like the world they are in. But that misses the whole point of His plan to redeem the rebel kingdom. By making all who believe in him and trust in him subversive salt, and revealing light, God is retaking that which is His by right of love, by right of creation.

One by one, the salt heals those whose wounds have made them ready to be healed. One by one, the light finds those tired of the darkness. And so the kingdom of God grows. Will we see the kingdom of this world destroyed? Perhaps not in our lifetime. But the day is coming, we are told, when the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. Until then we serve as salt and shine as light. And we pray, as we have been instructed, “Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”

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