What with all of the assertions about, and definitions of, those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, it is worth taking a step back and looking at how Jesus himself approaches the intent of his message to the crowds that quickly sought him out to hear what he was preaching. Those first century gospel writers, who had access to actual eye-witnesses, report that Jesus came into Galilee “preaching the kingdom of God.” That message resonated with the ages-long expectation that God would send his anointed servant/Messiah to inaugurate his divine purpose, and that Messiah would inaugurate God’s new creation, i.e., that God’s tomorrow would invade our today, i.e. the Kingdom of God.

Ah! But what is interesting is that as huge crowds numbering into the thousands sought him out, he doesn’t give them a theological definition, or a lecture on the doctrine of the Kingdom of God … rather, he sits them down on a hillside … and gives them (in the recorded sermons) a definition purely in terms of the behavior of those who would follow him—or the praxis of those who would compose his in-breaking kingdom. It is absolutely not what one would expect a kingdom authority to look like in that context of Roman political tyranny, religious corruption, and ethical confusion.

No! Rather, it focuses on how those who will compose that Kingdom will deport themselves? What will be their passion, and praxis? They will be, not those who seek power, but rather those who will become servants of what is right, those who are seekers after peace in human relations, those who are merciful, … yes, including the willingness to suffer persecution for what is right, those who are pure of heart (or, as one classic definition puts it: “to will one thing”). Jesus puts the blessing on those who are poor, and calls his followers to be agents of true assistance to the homeless, the poor, the sick, and the strangers among them.

In other teachings, Jesus will teach how they are to encompass sensitively to the weak, those  victims of poverty in debtors prisons, and helpless in the community of faith. Jesus says that those who will be great in his kingdom will be so by being servants, by washing the feet of strangers. The rich and powerful are warned about how perilous is their condition.

Jesus is quite blunt in saying that he is not impressed by those who give orthodox professions and tout their wonderful works—no, they may well be rejected out of hand. What he looks for are those who have his word, his teachings, and put them into practice. They are those who build their houses on a rock. This is sobering, and we dare not read through it hastily.

The apostolic writings continue this priority focus on the behavior of those who are Christ’s followers. Paul, in particular does generally initiate his letter with a set of teachings about the eschatological fulfillment, of God’s eternal design, in the coming of Jesus, but inevitably this is the foundation of his teachings on the lifestyle and behavior of those who are made new by God’s Spirit. He talks of that behavior as the garments of righteousness. He teaches that we are to continually be putting off the old garments of our pre-Christian / pre-Kingdom behavior, and putting on the new, those garments that make of us the demonstrations of the divine nature, those who are the sweet aroma of Christ in the most unlikely settings. This is our calling as we are always aliens and exiles in this quest. Our calling is to be faithful to what Jesus has called us to be … “that men may see your good works, and glorify God.”

I’m not at all impressed by those who tout their so-called “evangelical faith,” (or any other religious position) when they are the epitome of all that Jesus denounced by way of the behavior of the Kingdom of God. And I embrace all who are servants of righteousness, justice, and peace. They are co-belligerents with us in the pursuit of our Kingdom goals. The Kingdom of God is heralded in the behavior of those who are its citizens. Yes! Instruments of God’s peace.

[I always appreciate your comments, and your recommending these blogs to others.  Thanks. ]

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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