Sunday's sermon was just incredible, so I wanted to write down my thoughts in order to remember it better and to share our pastor's words. To me, his words summed up exactly why I'm a Christian.
The story begins in Matthew 24, shortly after Jesus told off the business men who were using the temple as a place for commerce rather than for worship:
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
And forty years later (a number that is often used in the Bible to signify completion), the temple was destroyed.
The story continues:
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
The word "coming" that the disciples use is the word parousia in Greek, which meant the presence, arrival, or official visit of someone like a king or emperor. When a king (or President, or diplomat of any kind) comes into town, he can make things happen. His presence is known. So the disciples are saying, "Jesus, when are you going to come and rule? When will your kingdom come and your presence be known to everyone? When will you make things right?"
But I don't think Jesus answered the disciples' question exactly like they were expecting. He didn't give a day or a time. He didn't say He'll be heading up a major war or battle (like the disciples were used to their political leaders doing). Honestly, I think Jesus left the disciples more confused than clued-in. But, He did say this in Luke 17:
Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He replied to them by saying, "The kingdom of God does not come with signs to be observed or with visible display, nor will people say, Look! Here it is! or, See, it is there! For behold, the kingdom of God is within you [in your hearts] and among you [surrounding you]."
So, the Kingdom of Heaven is within us? We are the Kingdom of Heaven? But, if the Kingdom is among us, this poses the question--why does it still feel the same? Why do terrible things still happen?
Because we live in the age of darkness, as our pastor put it. Heaven isn't here yet, there's no argument there. Death, grief, and sadness still permeate our world. We live in a broken place.
But God wants to restore the earth, and He started this restoration by becoming man and walking the face of the earth, just like the rest of us. Only God incarnate could redeem the brokenness. And God becoming man would change man forever. As God became man, He called us to join Him in His reconciliation. Now, "the kingdom of God is within us and among us"! Now we bear the signs of what's to come. Make no mistake, we live in a broken world. But one day the brokenness will be no more. There will be no more death, pain, poverty, or sickness. And we bear the signs of what's to come. God has called us to bring heaven to earth. Yes, we live in the age of darkness; but the age of what's to come is within us. We are to be the sign of heaven. We are to be the sign that things will not always be like this. We are to be the sign that restoration will take place. We are to be the sign that there is hope, grace, and love for all. We are the "first fruits" of what's to come.
As Paul wrote to the church of Corinth, in a passage that never ceases to amaze me...
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
God is making His appeal through me and through you. For me, this is why I'm a Christian. Because, yes, God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son. But then He said, "Rebecka, won't you join Me in continuing to spread My love, just like My Son did?" As Richard Stearns says, "If Jesus was willing to die for this troubled planet, maybe I need to care about it too." What greater purpose in life could I have than to believe that one day things will be as they should and to do my part in bringing heaven to earth?
I think this takes different forms for everyone--that's another beautiful thing about God: He made so many different kinds of us! For me, bringing heaven to earth means loving my husband fiercely so that our marriage reflects God's unconditional love for humanity. It means showing patience towards my students and seeing them not for who they are now, but for the potential of what they can and will become. It means not worrying about the future, because heaven needs to be brought to earth today.
I can't say I do this well every day. Some days are better than others. But I rest in the hope that when heaven does come, I will be made into what I was intended to be...
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes [His parousia]? Is it not you? -1 Thessalonians 2:19