The Kingdom is in Your Midst

“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” - Luke 6:45
 
“Can I share a story with you?”. These were the words spoken by a friend as we sat in a new and unfamiliar place. But in a strange way this place was all too familiar. “Once there was a great and wealthy father who had two sons.”. You can probably guess where my friend’s story was headed, but the Jordanian family sitting across from us had no idea. Over the years I’ve read the parable of the prodigal son countless times. But as I listened to my friend casually retell this classic story to a family sitting on the edge of their seats, I realized that this was the first time I had experienced such a raw and organic moment of biblical storytelling. At the same time, I realized that I was now taking part in something that my spiritual ancestors have been doing for thousands of years. Something that Jesus himself modeled for us when he told this same exact parable. My friend didn’t preface the story by referencing a specific chapter and verse. There were no sounds of flipping through thin Bible pages. There were no sounds at all, other than the words carrying the weight of the story. And the weight was palpable. It was powerful.
           
In this moment there was no manipulation of conversation. My friend wasn’t sharing this story out of a sense of religious obligation but because he believes in the power of the message of the story and the reality of the true Storyteller. As I sat there, I realized that God was using this experience to challenge me and to invite me into something more. He wants each of us to live so caught up in who He is that his story seeps into every aspect of our lives. This isn’t the only thing God challenged me with that night though.  
 
“When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.” - Luke 19:5-6
 
That night I found myself being challenged by God to live my life out of a place of overflowing relationship with Jesus. But I wouldn’t have been challenged like this at all if a family totally void of relationship with Jesus hadn’t invited me into their home. That’s where the next challenge comes in. In this family’s culture, and in the culture of Jesus’ day, to invite someone into your home to share a meal was equivalent to inviting someone into your life. By opening your home to someone, you’re allowing an outsider into your most personal and intimate space. I’ll be honest, this is a level of vulnerability I often don’t like at all. But this family had no problem with it! And unlike me, they didn’t know that a significant portion of Jesus’ earthly ministry was done in homes over a shared meal. In this family - a family that had no concept of the Jesus I know - I saw a clear example of the hospitality that surrounded Jesus’ ministry and the vulnerability that should personify a committed Jesus follower. Too often I don’t see this in myself though. In thinking on this, God challenged me to grow in Christlikeness by being willing to open up my home, but more importantly open up my life so that others can see the God who lives inside.
 
“We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” – C.S. Lewis
 
The hospitality that sweet family showed me that night is engrained in their culture. Such hospitality is an objectively good thing. And whether it’s hospitality or generosity, beauty or creativity, I’m convinced there are good things like these engrained in the fabric of our daily lives that reflect to some degree the goodness of God. But too often we aren’t paying attention. In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis says of friendship, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”. One of the few things I remember from my struggle through Human Anatomy & Physiology 2 my junior year (I passed!) is that I was supposed to know the “form and function” of various structures. But I think in God’s economy, the “function” of something is often irrelevant. The “function” of friendship is not as important so much as it’s “form”. That it is something explicitly of God used for His higher purposes.
 
In a moment that surely made the ancient philosophers’ jaws drop, God calls Himself the I AM. He tells Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). God is so many things, but one of those things is that He just is. In that frame of thinking, I think Lewis is on to something when he says that art, friendship, philosophy, the universe are all unnecessary, but despite that they all give value to survival. They aren’t necessary. They just are. In their being, in the fact that they just are, and in the fact that we recognize them to be good, they point to something more. The Bible says that God has “set eternity in their heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We each recognize the goodness in something, like I recognized the goodness in the hospitality of that family, because we know innately that there’s a transcendent goodness. That there’s something more. In the deepest part of our being we know that the good we see now is a small reflection of the One who is truly good.
 
In Exodus 33 Moses asks God to show him His glory. Interestingly, God responds, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you”. Did you catch that? When Moses asks to see God’s glory, God responds with His goodness. God equates His glory with His goodness. It follows that every good thing then exists to glorify God. Every good thing exists to reflect the reality of God’s goodness, of God’s glory. We see good things now, but they are a fraction of the true good. The good we see is a clue pointing towards the source of all goodness, the goodness that is God.
 
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears… For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” - 1 Corinthians 13:9,12
 
Like Paul says in the above verse, we see and know God and the things of God partially, but one day we will see fully. In the same way, we see good things here and now and know that they’re a small reflection of God’s infinite goodness. We see them as a preview of the coming Kingdom of God. These are all true. But these aren’t all of the truth. Often we find ourselves waiting for the fulfillment of these things, for the fulfillment of the Kingdom coming to Earth, for the fulfilment of God’s goodness to prevail in our broken world. But the truth is that God doesn’t want us to stand by and wait for some apocalyptic moment. He wants to bring an ever increasing measure of His Kingdom into the here and now.
 
One of my bosses loves to say that as followers of Jesus we aren’t just saved from something (sin, death, hell), we are also saved to something (the Kingdom). In Luke 17:20-21 Jesus says, “the coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is’, because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”. If your faith is in Jesus then the Holy Spirit is living in you. And if the Holy Spirit is living in you then God wants to work through you to bring His Kingdom now. In the same way that God chooses to partner with us to fulfill the Great Commission and make disciples of all nations, He also chooses to partner with us to bring the reality of His goodness and His Kingdom into every aspect of life and every corner of culture. He is, after all, “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20).
 
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” - John 10:10
 
Jesus came so that we might live in abundance. He came so that we would be able to live connected to Him through the Holy Spirit inside of us so full of love that it overflows and seeps into every part of our lives and every part of the world. He came so that we would see the good in the world, the good that is a reflection of His goodness and call it out and celebrate it. He came to save us, to save us from the punishment we deserve and to save us to His Kingdom presently coming to Earth. Are you living in the abundance that Jesus has for you?

 Author | Jake Stephens

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