Is God’s kingdom already here?

“After John (the Baptist) was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,” Mark 1:14. And what was that good news of God? “‘The time has come,’ he said, ‘The kingdom of God is near.'”

As John’s ministry came to an end, Jesus’ ministry took over, and off he went to the villages and towns of Galilee to tell people, “The time has come.” Not the time WILL come, but HAS come. As soon as Jesus opened his mouth and started preaching, that was the moment God’s kingdom arrived. I imagine Jesus standing there with a stopwatch in his hand, and with a click of the button he shouts, “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here” (The Message).

And by “God’s kingdom,” Jesus meant what, exactly? He meant exactly what the Old Testament meant, when Isaiah talked of a child being born on whose shoulders the government of God would rest, and with the child’s arrival the “INCREASE of that government” would begin (Isaiah 9:6-7). On this Earth right now, then, the government of God is here, and it’s been growing ever since Jesus began his ministry.

To the Jews in Jesus’ day it was the best news possible, because they’d been looking for, hoping for, and expecting the arrival of the Messiah. They knew the prophecies in the Scriptures that told of a great king coming, a descendant of King David, whose kingdom would crush all kingdoms and usher in a time of peace and prosperity that would never end. And here was Jesus announcing the time had come; that kingdom had arrived.

You’d think they’d be delighted, but there’s a hint of trouble in what Jesus says next. Right after announcing the arrival of God’s kingdom, Jesus then says, “Repent and believe the good news.” That sounds like, “Come on people, open up your ears, did you hear what I just said?” – because the immediate reaction in people wouldn’t be, “Oh wow, the Messiah, the king of God’s kingdom, is here.” Even when everything they’d hoped for was standing in front of them, they’d have trouble believing it was true.

With that in mind I’ve asked myself if I believe it’s true. Do I believe the clear message of the Old Testament that the king of God’s government would come to rule on this earth, that the king is Jesus, and he’s here right now on the earth ruling it, and has been ever since he started preaching? The proof that I believe it is that I don’t see a world out of control. I see it instead as a sailboat going exactly where God blows it. And that’s comforting.

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Trusting Jesus with total abandon

“The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands,” John 3:35. What more could one ask for? Every human life is in safe hands. Jesus is aware of everything going on, he’s in total control of it all, and he has his Father’s full support in whatever he does. What more do we need as humans? “Whoever believes the Son has eternal life,” verse 36. We’ve got the key to eternity; it’s trusting Jesus.

But why should we trust him? Because, verse 32, “he testifies to what he has seen and heard.” Jesus is unique, in that he’s seen and heard God personally. No other human being has, including Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, and all the other founders of religions. “No man has ever seen God, BUT God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known,” John 1:18. Only Jesus can speak personally of God, because he’s the only one who has been with God, knows God and is God. Whatever Jesus says and does, then, has all the authority and credibility of God behind it. God also gave added oomph to Jesus’ credibility by the miracles Jesus did, the prophecies in the Old Testament he fulfilled, and his resurrection from the dead.

We have good reason, therefore, for believing that Jesus came from God and “speaks the words of God,” John 3:34. But is that all belief is, just an acceptance of facts and logic?

Not according to John because he also says, “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart,” 1 John 5:10. Belief in Jesus goes much deeper than cold facts. It goes right to the bottom of our toes. It’s trusting Jesus with total abandon, throwing our entire lives forever into his hands, recklessly and without reserve. It’s the kind of belief that has total assurance when approaching God “that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us,” verse 14, and “whatever we ask we know that we have what we asked of him,” verse 15. That’s the kind of belief God loves in us because it “certifies that God is truthful,” John 3:33. It publicly declares that God isn’t lying when he says our lives are totally safe in the hands of his Son and there’s nothing more we frail humans need than him.

Our belief becomes a public demonstration that the Father loves the Son and has placed everything in the hands of his Son, because that’s exactly what we’re doing in our lives too – placing everything in our lives in the hands of his Son.

“Why SHOULD I believe?”

So how do you answer someone who says, “You Christians are always going on about ‘faith in Jesus’ and all we have to do is ‘believe’ – but why should I believe all that Jesus stuff? What evidence have you got that Jesus even existed?”

Well, that’s easy to answer: there were eyewitnesses who saw and heard Jesus personally. And in a court case eyewitness evidence is what lawyers seek out most of all to make their case believable. So did Luke when making the case for Jesus. Before he put pen to his gospel he went in search of “eyewitnesses” first, Luke 1:2-3. He wanted people who had walked and talked with Jesus in person. Luke wasn’t asking for blind faith from people, he was offering real evidence.

The cynic could reply, of course,” Yeah but, who’s to say those eyewitnesses Luke talked to weren’t lying? Or who says they even existed?” But something got Christianity started, and the only book written on the origins of Christianity, the Bible, says it was eyewitnesses that did it – hundreds of people who saw Jesus alive after he was killed, and several who saw him disappear into the clouds several weeks later. That’s what convinced them Jesus really was who he said he was. It was what they themselves had seen and heard (1 John 1:1-3), and it was only then that Christianity took off and spread.

And in a remarkable prediction in Acts 1:8, that’s exactly what Jesus himself SAID would happen, that his message would spread – to the whole world. And has it happened? Yes; Christianity is now a major world religion, and we have our own eyeballs as eyewitnesses to it. So we’re now eyewitnesses to Jesus being right, providing yet more eyewitness evidence making Jesus believable, and this time it’s our own.

Jesus also predicted in that same verse that he would supply all kinds of “witnesses” after he left to prove he was real, and the evidence provided by these witnesses would be blatantly obvious. In what way? By the startling changes in people who listen to their message and are willing to check it out for themselves. Remarkable, noticeable, wonderful things start happening to them – Acts 10:42-44, 1 Corinthians 2:2-4, Galatians 3:1-5 and 5:16-24, and Colossians 1:3-8.

So that was Paul’s challenge. Hey, if you want a decent reason for believing all that Jesus stuff, check it out with an open mind and see what happens next – to you. Then you can be your own witness. No depending on anyone else’s witness. No blind faith required, just good, solid evidence you’ve experienced personally.

The Bible proves itself

Is the Bible really God’s word? Yes, says Jesus, “scripture cannot be broken,” John 10:35. And yes, says Paul, “All scripture is inspired by God,” 2 Timothy 3:16.” There’s no doubt in their minds that the Bible is God’s inspired and infallible word.

But how do you prove it?

The Bible proves itself. How? By a prediction it made “before the beginning of time,” 2 Timothy 1:9, that “life and immortality” would be brought “to light through the gospel,” verse 10.

And has that happened, just as the Bible predicted? Yes, it has. Over the last 2,000 years it has dawned on millions of people that the Bible is talking about their eternal life and how it’s been made possible. The lights went on. They suddenly realized what the Bible was saying and what it was written for, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name,” John 20:31.

But what makes that prediction in 2 Timothy even more remarkable is that the Bible also predicted the opposite would happen too, that for most people the lights wouldn’t go on, and they’d have no clue what the Bible is saying. “None of the rulers of this age understood it,” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:8, and brilliant minds through the centuries haven’t grasped it, either. Why not? Because God hid it from them, verse 7.

And has that happened, too? Yes. Millions upon millions of people in the last 2,000 years have not cared about, and therefore have not understood, what the Bible is saying, because it’s only by God revealing his “secret wisdom” through his Spirit to open minds, verse 7, that people understand, verse 10 – and this too was predicted before time began, verse 7.

The Bible provides its own proof. It predicted long ago exactly what has happened, that only a few would grasp its message and most wouldn’t – including serious Bible scholars, as we see in John 5:39-40. Jesus is talking to people who’d diligently studied the scriptures but they couldn’t see the source of life and immortality even when he was standing in front of them. Nor do many people today, including some Christians, who believe – and state publicly – that the Bible is just stories, metaphors and the stuff of Jewish legend. But the Bible predicted that, too. People mangle Scripture just as the Bible said they would (2 Peter 2:1-3).

We’re actually watching the Bible prove itself. When it says, then, that “prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” 2 Peter 1:21, how can one not say that’s true? The evidence is overwhelming that it is true.

A story begging for storytellers

In the movie “Neverwas,” starring Aaron Eckhart and Sir Ian McKellen, an imaginary story of a boy rescuing a king becomes real in the lives of two adults living in 2005. It’s one of those stories looking for a script writer and a movie director, because it;s an inspiring story of how we’d  love our lives to be, with all those lofty ideals like courage, loyalty and love, and colourful worlds full of adventure and struggles against overwhelming odds, and how camaraderie and friendship defy all odds in the end. All that exists in Neverwas.

One statement stood out for me in the movie, that “a story finds its storyteller.” The movie itself is a story that found a storyteller. Someone picked up the story from somewhere and thought it would make a great movie. A goodly dose of movie magic later and hey presto, imagination bursts into life, which in turn stirs the imaginations of those who watch it.

And I thought, “if only I could do that with the Bible.” It’s a story begging for storytellers, the sort of people who see the Bible as exactly that, a story, that’s meant to be told as a story, with all the imagination a storyteller can bring to it. It’s got all those bits and pieces that make telling stories to children so enjoyable. The Bible is about a king leaving his castle to rescue his people from themselves, because their selfish attitudes are destroying them. But first he must let them create their own world, based on their selfishness. And 66 chapters of the Old Testament later we’ve got story after story of what happened, told through the eyes of one nation who had everything going for them but blew it all. And who cannot notice the obvious parallels with ourselves and our world today?

But that’s what stories are for. They bring to life who we really are, what we so much wish we could be, and why we fail so miserably to meet the ideals we write about in children’s stories, poetry, plays, movies and TV series. And the Bible does all that second to none, too. It tells us how all those ideals in our heads and hearts were built into us on purpose, to give us dreams, hopes and imagination so strong that one day we’ll be open (at last) to someone who says he can make what we hope for, dream of and imagine, actually possible. Because that’s what the Bible is all about too, about the deep down dreams we all have coming true. It’s a story begging for storytellers who can make it come alive.

Why bother with the Bible?

I used to wonder why people read a collection of old books called the Bible. Then I discovered in Galatians 3:14 that it’s all because of Abraham.

God made a promise to Abraham 4,000 years ago. What that promise contained did not bounce out as anything important or real, though, until 2,000 of those 4,000 years had passed by. And then, suddenly, out of the blue and to everyone’s surprise, Jesus appears on this Earth to live and die SO THAT, verse 13, “the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles.” That’s us.

And what is that blessing? According to Paul, verse 14, it’s the promised Spirit. And why is it such a blessing? Because of what the Spirit does. The Spirit, Jesus said, “will teach you all things” John 14:26, and “guide you into all truth,” John 16:13. What truth? The truth about Jesus himself – who he is (15:26) and what he said (14:26). But the only place that truth about Jesus can be found is in the Bible (5:39-40). It’s what the Bible is for – as Jesus said in those two verses – it’s all about him.

To find myself studying the Bible to learn more about Jesus, it must be the Spirit in action, then. So I say, “Thanks, Abraham,” because without that promise made to him, I wouldn’t have the Spirit teaching me now. And without the Spirit, I’d have no clue what God and Jesus are all about, for “no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God,” 1 Corinthians 2:11. Only the Spirit, verse 12, can help us “understand what God has freely given us.” Without the Spirit, the Bible is meaningless, verse 14: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Some things can only be discerned spiritually. No human, Paul writes, “has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him, but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit,” verses 9-10. Only by the Spirit of God can we understand “God’s secret wisdom,” verse 7. To have the Spirit guiding and teaching us is an incredible blessing, then, just as God meant it to be when he first made the promise to Abraham.

We’ll know we’ve got the Spirit, too, because when we hear the truth about Jesus and we believe it, the Spirit “works miracles” among us, Galatians 3:5, filling us with “all spiritual wisdom and understanding,” Colossians 1:9.

So why do people study an ancient book, written thousands of years ago? Because of the promise God made long ago to Abraham.

The Bible knows us well

I woke up the other morning just furious at my neighbour, because he’d lined up ten cars on my front lawn and was trying to sell them. I stomped up to his front door and yelled at him “Who gave you permission to do that?” I’d been dreaming, of course, the dream likely triggered by an experience the week before, when I’d confronted a large group of Christians who think the Bible is merely a collection of stories and Jewish legend, and it doesn’t carry any authority whatsoever. They like to pick and choose which bits they think are credible and dismiss the rest as metaphor, or stuff that was only relevant to the people who wrote it.

I felt like yelling at them, “Who gave you permission to do that?” because the Bible isn’t their property any more than my front lawn is my neighbour’s property, yet they think they can do what they like with the Bible. Who do they think they are?

The irony is, the Bible itself tells us who they think they are. Right after my dream about the cars on my lawn, I thought of Galatians 6:12-13, which talks of preachers teaching their own ideas rather than taking the heat for telling the gospel truth. And why do they do that? Because they like to “boast of their success in recruiting you to their side.” They like the idea of people following them, and they’ve found a way of doing it. All they have to do is stand up on a stage, or write a book, publicly proclaiming the Bible is just fables, and people love it, including Christians. Why? Because they don’t like the Bible.

And why don’t they like it? The irony again is that the Bible explains that too, in 2 Timothy 4:4. Paul says “there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food – catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages.” There’ll be times when preachers won’t have a stomach for truth and nor do the people they’re talking to. No wonder they get along so well together.

It’s a pity because the Bible states it has the “power to make you wise and lead you to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” 2 Timothy 3:15. The Bible carries some real power. So, why would people deny themselves such power? Because the Bible says they will, verse 5. The Bible seems to know an awful lot about us. Enough to think twice before dismissing it, perhaps?