Has anybody ever told you how awesome you are? Well, if they haven’t, let me tell you, you are AWESOME with a capital A!
Now you might wonder why would I make such an assessment when I don’t even know you? Well, you are part of the human community and according to the Bible, you bear the image of God! What does that mean? It means that in spite of your flaws, imperfections, and insecurities, you are designed for God to manifest His life and love through you!
God created this whole world, just for you! When things went haywire, God sent His Son into the world, and that Son died a cruel death to get you back! And then God raised that Son from the dead as a stamp of approval of what the Son did and as a guarantee that if you trust Him with your life, even after you die, one day you will be resurrected as well!
I know, it sounds incredible, especially when you look at the mess this world is in today! But this world is in such a mess because there is an enemy that has blinded the minds of so many people to the truth I just shared with you! But I’m telling you right now: If you think it’s hopeless; that’s a lie! If you think your life doesn’t matter; that’s a lie! If you think life is not worth living; that’s a lie!
Be encouraged my friend! You are valued, you are loved, and you matter! No matter where you are in your life right now, the God of Heaven and Earth wants to lift you to a higher plane! He wants you to live in and enjoy the benefits of His Kingdom, not just after you die, but also right now and right here!
Want to know more? Find a Bible version you can easily understand and read Psalm 8. You will find out that you are royalty!
I didn’t mean for this post to be this long, but I just wanted to encourage you! Hold your head up! Be encouraged! No matter what’s going on, you are loved! You are valued! You matter! And you can make it! YOU ARE AWESOME!
In the Bible, John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV) For years, I thought God’s greatest gift to mankind was His Son; Jesus! But after looking more intently at the whole body of the Gospels and at what Jesus said about why he was born, I am convinced that God’s greatest gift was not Jesus, but rather what Jesus came to provide! Look at the just quoted text again, do you see it? The giving of Jesus was not the ‘end,’ but rather the ‘means’ to the end! God did not give Jesus for Jesus, God gave Jesus so that those who believe in Jesus should not perish, but have everlasting or eternal life! God gave Jesus, so that we might have eternal life through Jesus! Hence, the greatest gift is not Jesus, but eternal life through Jesus!
Now, when I first considered this, it sounded a bit blasphemous and disrespectful to me until I started carefully considering the statements of Jesus. For instance, consider Jesus’ reply to Thomas in John 14:6. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (KJV) We quote and cite that verse all the time, but have we actually considered the implications of what Jesus said? Jesus said; “I am the way!” When Jesus said that, he was in a sense saying: “I am not it! I am not the destination, I am the means, the avenue, the conduit, the way to get to the destination!” I live in the Atlanta, GA area, but my original home is Jackson, MS. In order to go from Atlanta to Jackson, I must go west on I-20. I-20 is not the destination, I-20 is ‘the way’ to the destination! Practically speaking, there is no other way for me to get to Jackson, MS except by I-20! (There are ‘other ways’ but they are not practical!) Most traditional Christians ‘stop’ at the way; they stop at Jesus! But Jesus said that he was not the destination, he said he was the way!
Wow! Do we really understand the implications of what Jesus said? Jesus was saying: “Don’t stop at me, I’m just the way! My job is to get you (back) to the Father! Keep going until you get to the Father!” Consider the conversation Jesus had with his disciples in John 16. In that conversation, Jesus was telling them how things would be when he went back to the Father and the Holy Spirit comes to them. In verse 23, he says: “And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” (KJV) Then he says: “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (ESV) Jesus was saying that when the Holy Spirit comes (in that day) they (his disciples and by extension, all who become his disciples) would not have to ask him anything, so that he might ask the Father on their behalf, but they would be able to ask the Father themselves, in his name! We often miss this: The mission of Jesus was to provide the means (by paying the price and penalty for sin) for us to be restored as ‘sons of God!’ In the Kingdom of God; Jesus is the only begotten or ‘unique’ Son, but Jesus is not the only son! All who believe and have been born again are sons of God! (‘Son’ in this instance is not a gender-specific term; it is a legal term that refers to status or position, hence, it refers to males and females). This is what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he wrote: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:14-17 KJV)
Oh! I wish we could see this! So many of my preaching brothers and sisters are so fixated with the thought of just wanting to hear the Lord saying to them: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” But if we read the Scriptures carefully, we would understand that God WILL NOT say that to us! Why? Because in Galatians the Apostle Paul wrote: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Gal. 4:4-7 KJV) It’s really an insult to God the Father and to Jesus the Son, that after so much was given that we might (again) be ‘sons’ we still insist upon being called servants! The classic Black Baptist ‘preaching-close’ of “Well done thy good and faithful servant” makes for good whooping, but it’s actually bad theology!
Now, as Jesus said to his disciples in John 16:12: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” (KJV), So let me wrap up a few bread crumbs I dropped along the way. You might recalled that earlier I paraphrased Jesus as saying: “My job is to get you (back) to the Father!” I put the word ‘back’ in parenthesis to place emphasis on the fact that Jesus came, not to take us to a ‘new’ place such as Heaven, but rather to restore us back to our original position! Have you ever notice that everything in God’s plan of salvation is a ‘re?’ It is a plan of redemption, restoration! We must be re-born and we must repent! Everything about salvation is a ‘re!’ Why? Because the whole plan is about talking us back to the relationship we had with God before sin entered into the world! God’s plan of salvation, Jesus coming into the world, the Cross, the Resurrection; it’s all about getting back to God’s original intent as specified in Genesis 1-2! Did you know that Genesis 1-2 are the only two ‘perfect’ chapters in the Bible? From Genesis 3:1 to Revelation 22:21, the Bible is about God’s plan to recover Genesis 1-2! That’s why I don’t believe in calling funerals; ‘home-going’ celebrations! Contrary to what traditional Christianity advocates, Heaven (the place where God dwells) will NOT be our final destination! Why would God go through all the trouble of making a ‘physical’ world and giving us ‘physical’ bodies if God intended for us to spend eternity in a purely spiritual dis-embodied state? I mean; think about it! If Heaven is our final destination, the Resurrection is pointless! No! John writes in Revelation 21:1-3: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” (KJV) The goal of traditional Christianity is to go and ‘be with God,’ but according to the Bible, God’s ultimate goal is come and ‘be with us!’ In the END, we will not be bodiless spirits floating among the clouds, but rather we will have glorified bodies, living on the new earth!
So, in essence, the greatest gift is the Kingdom of God! What is the Kingdom of God? It is God’s sovereign rule and will! It is the Eternal Life and the Abundant Life Jesus came to give us access to! It is God’s original intent for us as specified in Genesis 1:26-28! It should be our greatest quest and it is God’s greatest gift! Jesus said in Luke 12:29-32: “And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (KJV) The greatest thing about God’s greatest gift is that we don’t have to wait until we die to get it; it’s available right now to all who will accept it! This is the Gospel (the Good News) that Jesus peached: “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (KJV)
Recently, a friend
posted on his Facebook page the poster you see above. I replied to his post by
saying: “Good admonition! The problem is that most modern Christians have no
idea what the Kingdom of God is!” Now, the irony of that reality is that the main
theme of the ministry and life of Jesus was the Kingdom of God! The Kingdom of
God was the subject of every one of his sermons! The Kingdom of God was the
object of every one of his teaching sessions! The demonstration of the power
and presence of the Kingdom of God was purpose for every one of his miracles!
Yet, those who claim to follow him today, know very little about the Kingdom of
God as he presented it!
Now, I hope
you noticed what I just said: I said, “Those who claim to follow him today know
very little about the Kingdom of God ‘as he presented it!” Most of what we
think we know about the Kingdom of God today was gathered from the writings of theologians
(Early Church and modern) and from ideas in art and culture, but what did Jesus
say about the Kingdom of God?
As I write this, I am reminded of the frustrations I experienced as a young teen, helping my father in his work. My father was a greens-keeper at a golf-course and in the course of his work, he repaired and worked on small engines and the equipment used to maintain the course. When I first started working with him, during the summer-breaks from school, my frustrations stemmed from the fact that I was a little slow in remembering the names of the tools he worked with. For example, when my father would have his hands full working on a machine, he would ask me to bring him a Phillips-head screwdriver or a crescent-wrench. More often than not, before I got the hang of it, I would bring him a flat-head screwdriver or a pair of vice-grips instead! It was really frustrating for me to be rifling through the tool box, not knowing exactly what I was looking for! Often, when I couldn’t figure it out, I wouldn’t bring him what he asked for, I would just bring him what I thought he asked for!
the way it is with many Christians today! They really don’t know what Jesus
meant when he said: “But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.
. .” And since they don’t really know what he meant, they just go by what they
think he meant! Just like the difficulty I experienced when looking in my
father’s toolbox, it’s difficult to look for or even find something, when you don’t
exactly know what you’re looking for!
So, what did
Jesus mean when he said; “But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his
righteousness. . . ?” Well, I finally learned the tools my father needed by the
process of elimination. In other words, even before I found out what vice-grips
were; I found out what they weren’t! Therefore, let’s first look at what Jesus ‘did
not mean’ when he talked about the Kingdom of God. Now, there were times when
he did, but most of the time, when Jesus was talking about the Kingdom of God
or the Kingdom of Heaven, he WAS NOT talking about the Heaven we most often
talk about! I remember as a young Christian, when I first read Matthew 6:33, I
just assumed that Jesus meant that our first priority should be; to seek to live
a good life so that we might go to Heaven after we die! But that is not what he
said and that is not what he meant!
Most often, when Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, he was talking about the sovereign rule or the authority of God; the realm of God’s rule. In the preaching and teachings of Jesus, the terms; Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven were not primarily referencing a place or location, but rather the act of ruling or the state of submission to God’s rule. Therefore, to ‘see’ and to ‘enter into’ the Kingdom of God in John 3:3 and John 3:5 are not references to seeing and walking through the pearly gates after death, but rather, to perceiving, understanding, and submitting to God’s sovereign rule in one’s life now! Note the tenses, Jesus did not say; ‘will not see’ or ‘will not enter’ (future tense), he said; ‘cannot see’ and ‘cannot enter’ (present tense). Now, there were times when he referenced the future aspect of the Kingdom of God. In the parables, he talked about the angels separating the wheat from the tares and separating the good fish from the bad fish. He talked about going away and preparing a place for us in John 14; that was future tense.
So in summary,
here is what the Kingdom of God is from what we have discussed so far:
The Kingdom of God is the sovereign
rule of God.
The Kingdom of God is a present
The Kingdom of God is a future hope.
Now, I don’t want this post to be too long, but I just want to focus on the aspect of the Kingdom of God as a present reality before I go. While traditional Christianity has done a good job of presenting the Kingdom of God as a future hope, it has done a very poor job of presenting the Kingdom of God as a present reality! The reason for that might be because it seems to be hard for people to wrap their heads around the reality that the Kingdom of God is not one or the other, but rather, the Kingdom of God is both! The Kingdom of God is indeed the culmination of history when God shall subdue all evil and sin, death and sickness will be no more and we will reign with God throughout eternity. Yes! That is the Kingdom of God! But the Kingdom of God is also, the sovereign rule, authority, and power of God working in and through the lives of His people for the purpose of His will being done presently on earth as it is done in Heaven! You see, the problem with traditional Christianity is that only one aspect of the Kingdom of God has been presented! We’ve done a great job in preparing people to die, but we have ignored the fact that there is one thing everybody must do before they die; they must live! We’ve done a great job in preparing people for life in the here-after, but we’ve done a dismal job in preparing people for life in the here-and-now! The Gospel that Jesus preached was like the candy I used to eat as a kid, called; Now-and-Later. But the gospel we preach makes the same mistake we made with the candy when we were kids! Although the actual name of the candy was and is: Now ‘and’ Later, we called it: Now ‘or’ Later! Jesus preached a ‘now and later’ message, but the message of most modern preaching is ‘now or later!’ And that message has no appeal to a person who is struggle to make ends meet and to survive in life! It’s really no real consolation to know that things will be better after they die; they need some relief now! The Gospel of the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached addresses that need! In Mark 10:28-30, we read: “Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.” (Mk. 10:28-30 KJV) Did you read what Jesus said? He said; ‘now in this time. . . and in the world to come. . .” The real Gospel, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, the Gospel Jesus told us to actually preach is the now ‘and’ later Gospel!
There is a lot more I could say about what the Kingdom of God is, but if I keep going, you will quit reading! But read Matthew 13 in your Bible. In that chapter, you will discover several examples of what the Kingdom of God is and what the Kingdom of God is like; now and later!
The average Christian today does not seem to realize it, but there is a fundamental difference between the concept of Heaven preached today and the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God that Jesus, the Apostles, and the Early Church preached! The concept of Heaven, as it is presented in most Gospel messages today, is primary about a glorious place where believers go after death. It is presented as the ultimate and eternal reward of the righteous. Now, while that is indeed ‘good news,’ IT IS NOT the good news or the gospel that Jesus preached!
When we preached about Heaven, we’re talking about a place of reward in the future, but when Jesus preached about the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God, he was primarily talking about a realm of existence or a way of life in the present! If we would carefully study the preaching and teachings of Jesus as they are related in the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), we might be shocked to discover that Jesus really didn’t say much about the ‘Heaven’ we preach so much about today! But rather, Jesus was obsessed and consumed with the message about the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God!
We read of the inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry in Matthew 4:12-17: “Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:12-17 ESV) Notice what the Bible says that Jesus began to preach: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ Jesus didn’t preach: ‘Repent, so that you might go to Heaven when you die!’ No! He preached: Repent (the Greek word that is translated as ‘repent’ literally means; ‘to change one’s mind or to change the way one thinks!) for the Kingdom of Heaven (primarily, a reference not to the ‘place’ called Heaven, but rather to the rule or authority of Heaven/God) is at hand (near, present). Jesus was calling for his listeners to submit to the rule or the authority of Heaven/God in their lives! It was a call for them to change their thinking or their way of thinking (which would subsequently cause a change in their actions) in light of the presence of the Kingdom that was being manifested in his (Jesus’) life and ministry. The Kingdom of Heaven was at hand because it was present in the life and ministry of Jesus. The main message of Jesus was for his followers to submit to the rule and authority of God in and over their lives!
Now, if you were to look up the Greek word that is translated as ‘kingdom’ in the phrase; ‘kingdom of God’ or ‘kingdom of heaven’ in the Strong’s Dictionary, you would find the following: ‘royal power, kingship, dominion, rule 1a) not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom 1b) of the royal power of Jesus as the triumphant Messiah.’ In the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains commonly known by biblical scholars and students as; Louw-Nida, we find this notation: ‘It is generally a serious mistake to translate the phrase ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ‘the kingdom of God’ as referring to a particular area in which God rules. The meaning of this phrase in the NT involves not a particular place or special period of time but the fact of ruling. An expression such as ‘to enter the kingdom of God’ thus does not refer to ‘going to heaven’ but should be understood as ‘accepting God’s rule’ or ‘welcoming God to rule over.’ [Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 479.] As an aside, the term ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is used in Matthew’s account whereas in parallel passages in Mark and Luke, we encounter the term; ‘Kingdom of God.’ This is because of Matthew’s Jewish tendency to avoid the direct use of the term ‘God.’ Hence the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God are both references to the same concept.
But, not only was the message of the Kingdom of Heaven/God the message or the gospel that Jesus preached, it was the only message he commanded his disciples to preach! In Luke 9:1-2, we read: “Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.” (KJV) When a would-be disciple wanted to delay following Jesus until after his father died, Jesus said to him: “Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. (Lk. 9:60 KJV) Luke’s last record of the Apostle Paul at the end of the book of Acts says: “And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.” (Acts 28:30-31 KJV)
Jesus said that we are to seek first the Kingdom of God (the rule and authority of God in and over our lives) and his righteousness (God’s way and God’s standards) and all these things (the things we need in life, that the world is so stressed over) will be added to us. The Kingdom of God is the answer to stress and anxiety! The Kingdom of God should be our first and ultimate priority and concern! It was for Jesus! So much so, that even after his resurrection, we read in Acts 1:3: “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3 ESV) His first words were about the Kingdom of God and his last words were about the Kingdom of God! If the Kingdom of God was of such importance to Jesus, then surely it should be of importance to us!
Personally, I think the church has missed it! We’ve been preaching the wrong message! We’ve been preaching about Heaven as a ‘place’ of rest AFTER death, when the message Jesus wanted and wants us to preach is about the Kingdom of God as the ‘power’ for life BEFORE death! In all of my years, I have discovered a fundamental truth that is often over-looked! There is one thing everyone must do before they die! They must live! The church has done a good job of preparing people for life after death, but it has traditionally and historically done a poor job of preparing people for life BEFORE death! We’ve gotten the ‘later’ aspect down pretty good, but the Kingdom of God is about NOW and LATER! When we get the ‘now’ right, the later will take care of itself!
I encourage you to do the research and read the Bible for yourself! If you would take off the lenses of religious traditions, you just might discover the Bible contains, not out of date principles for another world, but dynamic principles for living life on earth today! The message of Jesus has not changed! The need of mankind is still the same! The answer to the world’s stress and anxieties is still the same! It is the message of Jesus! It is the message Jesus commanded us to preach: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven/God is at hand!” If we get the message of the Kingdom right and apply its principles and teachings in our daily lives, we will not only experience the eternal life that Jesus promised for us later, but we will also experience the abundant life that Jesus promised for us now!
This post was written by Aubry Smith and taken from Bible Study Magazine
When I was 13 my mom had a seizure in the middle of the night. After multiple tests and exploratory surgeries, the neurologists diagnosed her with terminal brain cancer. She had four months to live. As my siblings and I prepared our goodbyes, nearly every church in the county was praying for my mom’s healing.
A year later, the same team of doctors declared my mom in remission. Many people in our small community, convinced of God’s power and His hand in this miracle, came to faith. I was one of them.
It seemed too good, and then it wasn’t. A few years later she began forgetting things. She began telling cashiers at the grocery store personal information and bought the same vacuum cleaner every week. Her surgical scars suddenly opened, and an infection spread through her skull, nearly killing her. After a year in the hospital and countless surgeries, one-third of her skull was permanently removed. Now in her 50s, she lives in an assisted living residence, remembers very little about her life, and cannot function on her own.
Rather than undergoing the quick death of brain cancer, she now suffers the slow death of dementia. The miracle that brought me to faith years ago now brings me to a spiritual crisis. Why would God provide a miracle only to allow even more suffering later on? In John 11, Jesus attends the funeral of His friend Lazarus. Although Jesus was aware that Lazarus lay dying, He intentionally delayed His arrival so that God would be glorified (11:4). Lazarus’ sisters and their fellow mourners all assert that Jesus could have healed Lazarus and spared them their suffering (11:21, 32, 37). In response, Jesus calls Lazarus—rotting and wrapped in burial linen—out of the tomb. Many believe, and God is indeed glorified.
What we are not told is when or how Lazarus died again. There’s no account of him being whisked up to heaven like Enoch or Elijah, so we must assume he died later on. We’re also not told the fate of the others Jesus healed. Did they ever get sick again? They surely died too.
Jesus preached that the kingdom of God is near. He showed us what that kingdom is like: the dead are resurrected, the sick are healed, demons are powerless, creation is restored, and God is worshiped. In his resurrection, Lazarus bore witness to God’s kingdom and power. Was God any less present or powerful when Lazarus died the second time?
We see glimpses of the coming kingdom, but it is not fully here yet. Death has not yet died; sin and brokenness still abound. Sometimes miracles—signs of the coming glory—break into our world and show us that the kingdom of God has come to us in Jesus. But when suffering remains, we wait for complete restoration upon Jesus’ return.
Jesus’ response to Lazarus’ mourners is one of hope. They desire resurrection and life for their brother. Jesus draws them to Himself, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die” (11:25, emphasis mine). Jesus, the Suffering Servant, is the God who suffers alongside His people. Although He knows that this is not the end for Lazarus, He is “deeply moved” by Mary’s anguish and the sight of His beloved friend’s tomb (11:33, 35, 38).
My mom’s miracle showed my community that God is near and that His kingdom—one without disease or mental illness—is coming in fullness one day. But her dementia reminds me that it is not yet fully here, pushing me to lean into Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, who weeps with me as I wait.
Scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation (NLT).