This past Sunday night I talked in brief about the kingdom of God breaking into human history in the person of Jesus Chrsit. I think this is such an important concept that it should be fleshed out a bit more.
Both Matthew and Luke record an account of John the Baptist sending messengers to Jesus to ask him a very important question - "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" (Luke 7:19). Think about this for a minute. John was in prison. He was about to loose his head at the hands of Herod. He had proclaimed some time earlier that Jesus was the Lamb who would take away the sins of the world. Why now does he question that Jesus is the "one who was to come"? I think the answer has to do with John's situation. He is in prison, about to die. And that puzzles him a little bit. John must have wondered "how could I be in this situation if Jesus really is the One, the Messiah, the King of the Jews. Certainly, if he was, then he wouldn't let a faithful servant like me suffer like this". I can empathize with the Baptists thoughts here.
What is very important is that we understand Jesus' answer to this question. Let me quote Luke 7:22-23 "...Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." (NIV).
What does this mean? Why didn't Jesus just say, "yes, I am the one to come"? Jesus, in this passage was quoting from Isaiah 35:5-6 and Isaiah 61:1. What is important about these passages is that they are about the Kingdom of God coming. In chapter 35 Isaiah speaks of Zion being a place Eden like. The blind see, the mute talk, the lame jump, the deaf hear - but more than that, the desert blooms, the glory of God is present, no ferocious beasts are in it, the Way of Holiness runs through it, and everlasting joy replaces morning and weeping. In chapter 61 the prophet speaks of the "year of the Lord's favor". He speaks of the good news being proclaimed to the poor, the binding up of the broken hearted and freedom for captives. In the same context he talks of it as a day of God's vengeance on his enemies, but also of the everlasting joy of the redeemed.
So why would Jesus quote these passages in response to John's question? Because Jesus was showing John that, yes, he was the one that was to be expected and that in his person, the Kingdom of God that Isaiah spoke of had broke in to human history. The age to come was now present, not in its full and consummated form, but really and truly present in the ministry of Jesus and his followers.
Jesus likened the kingdom to a mustard seed. Though small, it grows into a large tree. The kingdom, though it started small has been advancing and growing. We are then, citizens of this kingdom, but alien residence in the world. We live both in this age and in the age to come. But what is tremendous is that we have tasted and experienced the power of the age to come.
I challenge you to think with me about what kingdom power and kingdom living looks like in the 21st century. What should we look for? What should we expect? What should we do? These aren't just theological questions - they are questions about what the Christian life looks like - what our lives are suppose to look like!