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On Kingdom.Jubilee.Israel – some initial reflections

Thoughts on the Kingdom: a post Summit reflection

More than 500 Singapore pastors, mission, and ministry leaders gathered at the annual Prayer Summit in January 2014. Our theme this year was “Jubilee!”. The focus of our teaching sessions was the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God. Looking at the movements of increasing emphasis on the Kingdom, God is certainly bringing everything under his feet (Eph 1v22).

At an individual level, our personal faith must in time get stretched to include church, family, vocation and even larger issues like greed, wealth and global warming!

This expansion is paralleled in the church – at a corporate level God matures us too to embrace His worldwide agenda; and we do well to follow our God, Master and King to the poor, the oppressed; and grapple with the pressing issues of our day.

This is why at the recent Pastors’ Summit, there was such a buzz and energy as we sat and listened to Peter Tsukahira expound on the Kingdom of God. There is no escaping the theme of the Kingdom, indeed, it is a central theme in the Bible. There has, and always will be, a need for us to discover more of this Kingdom by listening to the heart of the King.

At this Summit though, Ps Peter who has been living in Israel for more than thirty years, brings a particular lens for the Kingdom; a corrective in a way. It begins with understanding that God once established a physical, real, concrete model of this kingdom in the people of Israel. Thus, Israel is a real life, historical, visual-aid and spiritual chess piece for us. He then goes on to unpack more of what this meant and why it is so important.

He begins with a very inviting picture: Revelation is like entering a 3D experience where we can participate in what is now made known. We can be shown a 2D picture of a garden; but it is very different to actually walk into one. Revelation is being led into the garden! {love this analogy!}

Then he goes on to several main themes across the four sessions:

1.      Prophecy is the Word of  God being verified on human stage. It is word+event. In this regard, the Incarnation is the foremost prophetic Word-Event ever. Jesus fulfils more than 200 prophecies.

Another major prophecy pertains to the people of Israel. The OT prophets’s words  are coming to pass, for eg. Ezek 36. It is pertinent to note that the fulfilment of prophecy proves God’s character as a faithful covenant-keeping God and so showcases his glory. What is to be our response to this?

2.     Israel. Looking at Rom 9-11, Ps Peter suggested that the context was a leadership crisis between  Jew-Gentile church leaders. Paul therefore needed to help them understand their relationship of inter-dependence in God’s purpose of salvation. The Gentiles are blessed as a result of the Jews’ fall; but when the fullness of the Gentile turning comes about, the Jews will be restored in faith. Practically, this means that our faith response or lack thereof impacts others. There has consistently in history been a recurring anti-Semitic force that surfaces; such as the Holocaust which was sanctioned by the church of Germany then. Christians need to be aware of this and be careful that we do not consider that we have replaced Israel. (this is what is known as Replacement Theology).

Using the analogy of a movie, Ps Peter reminds us that Christians today must remember that we have entered the story/movie midway. We need to go back to how it started to appreciate the whole movie! This is crucial for us to grasp a more complete picture.

3.      The theme of God’s Kingdom began in the OT in Ex19. It is a simple notion of a people who are ruled by God. It is an impossibility which God brings about and shapes as a motley disorganized group responds in faith and obedience.   When Jesus enters the scene, his message is about the Kingdom too, and as Jewish listeners, his disciples and the crowd would have a background understanding plus a longing for the fulfillment of this kingdom.

Indeed, his disciples asked him post-resurrection: when will the kingdom be established?

 

4. The Kingdom has laws that govern all areas of life. But when Israel rejected God as king (1 Sam 8), they began a slippery descent into increasing lawlessness culminating in the exiles. God’s laws are universally applicable and we contravene it at high cost. Ps Peter cites Singapore as an example of a lawful society that thrives. In a way, in our geo-political context, Singapore’s history is really an anomaly. He suggested that this is because we are basically a lawful society, our founding fathers being trained in British law which had a Christian foundation.

 

5. In the New Covenant, we have the twin pillars of Law & Grace. According to  Jer 31v31  we will have God’s laws on our hearts. Jesus speaks of fulfilling/perfecting the Law. For a long time, this was understood as Jesus meeting the judicial requirement and turning God’s wrath away with the Cross while the ‘hypergrace’ move tends to teach that the Law is no longer relevant. But Ps Peter suggests that when we read Matthew 5, Jesus refers to specific instances of laws and is talking of raising the bar – and expecting his listeners to meet whole new levels of holiness. The answer to this is Grace. God did not do away with the Law, God has supplied the Grace for us to live up to it.

The Law is not mere proposal or suggestion. It is defining. It establishes boundaries and order.

Thus, we are to recapture the spirit of the Law and rise up as a people who ‘do’ faith and not just have a ‘belief’ faith.

We have been called/chosen/gifted/anointed. We need to rise up. Pastors need to recognise that our call is to equip our people to rise up as kingdom builders.

There is so much to glean from this themes!

The passion for the Kingdom has been evident for more than a decade in Singapore. What is new in this is how we are asked to look right to where the movie began such that we

~embrace our Jewish brethren and acknowledge God’s role for them.

~we see the Law with fresh eyes and study them for an application to our lives and societies today.

honeycomb pieces

From what I see in Scripture, the Law was never given as a requirement. This has probably been the gravest mis-step for us. God had already called Abraham and delivered Israel. The Law was God’s way of defining His relationship with the people. The way to the relationship; the acceptance and mercy of God, was given first. The Laws represented God’s heart; it is a value system that reflects heaven and restores imago Dei (God’s image in us). The opposite of Law is not Grace but lawlessness.

The Kingdom of God is certainly the big vision we are after. But questions swim around in my head. Perhaps we can begin a discussion on it here.

–          What exactly does it mean and what does it take? Do we all study the Hebrew language and begin a serious review of the Torah (and the 613 further laws developed in the Inter-testamental period) since the Kingdom is defined by its laws?

-Evangelical teaching has tended to spiritualise the Kingdom; but are we in danger of swinging to the other end by trying to actualise it?

–          How do we usher in the rule of God in a world bent on rejecting that rule? What price must we be prepared to pay?

– The New Covenant is both continuous with and beyond the Old Covenant. Should not this same principle apply to the Kingdom? For one, the kingdom we are looking to and helping build is multi-cultural, multi-generational, trans-national. It also operates with different offices.

– While we want to return to lawfulness and be a people of transformation; bringing change to society, how do we go about this? As Ps Peter rightly pointed out, the current economic system for example will not agree to the ‘reset’ button of the Jubilee where all debts are canceled. (although there is this: http://jubileedebt.org.uk/)

So, I wonder if there are more ‘clues’ within the Gospels and then in Acts for us. I read my Gospels each year and each time, I feel a certain distance from what Jesus says.

I have come to notice that due to our sociological realities, much of evangelical interpretation is often really the reinforcement of a middle-class way of life. If we take what Jesus and Paul said seriously, many of us may well have to change our lifestyles. Some Christians in the world live in communes in order to help each other live by Kingdom values; such as the Bruderhof.

I remember learning about Bishop Oscar Romero in theological college. He had a vision of the kingdom where his people could live without oppression. He spoke out courageously against their oppressors. In the end, he was assassinated. I have often wondered what it takes for a Christ follower to grow to have such vision and the courage to match. I agitate over the petty things that make up so much of our lives today. As a pastor (even though I have mostly been part-time since the birth of my children); I question how much of what we do contributes to this singular vision of learning, growing and replicating the Kingdom through communities of faith.

If we are to seek first the Kingdom, our model par excellence is Christ.

For years in evangelical faith, we have been taught to be like Christ – interpreted mostly in terms of certain character traits as seen through a cultural lens. For many Christ was a sterile, always calm figure. When I read the Gospels more closely, Christ shook me up. He felt different from what was described to me. I found myself praying audacious prayers to be like him: to drive out demons, teach with authority, make decisions after prayer and live by convictions even it meant ending up with a cross on my back. I am not sure where I stand; but Jesus Christ continues to draw me and remains the focus for my life and ministry.

I feel immensely responsible for my own sake and the sake of my flock that I lead them in the ways of Truth and Spirit. The declining state of church in many places is instructive for us, and a grim reminder of the importance of laying hold of spiritual truths aright.

 

What came together for me at the recent Summit was: hearing the stories of other pastors, reading about YWAM’s foray to seek out the homeless, the teachings, the gentle work of God upon my own heart rekindling a fire for Him… In the end, the kingdom must begin first- within each of our hearts – …. as the old song goes, “LORD prepare me to be a sanctuary”; and not in a cutie-pious way but a –

robust, not afraid of dark, evil, or despair way

a selfless, courageous, out-of-box way

a persistent, insistent, consistent way

– for this is an unshakable Kingdom we are to be a part of and help build!

 

I hope that descending from the Summit, we will not hit the trenches too quick that whatever the Spirit wants to say to the churches ends up a distant whisper.