For years I worked at different churches, and each time I left my position, I left a little more free and a little more dinged up. I learned a lot from those experiences, but always felt that I was called to another sphere of influence. For years, I had seen the value of the church in individual people’s lives, but I didn’t see it as essential or vital. I saw God as essential, I just didn’t give the same respect to his bride.
Then 2020 hit and my perspective has been flipped on its head. The global church is a prominent feature in my prayers now, which it never used to be. I think I’m beginning to understand just how vital the church is for my nation and the world. I find myself wondering how the church can rise up in this moment of hopelessness and division and lead with truth and love.
When Jesus arrived on earth, the people were living in a state of despair. They were being oppressed by a horrible Roman government and the religious elite made it next to impossible for regular people to come and meet with God. Corruption was infused in the government and the church, creating a culture of hopelessness. And it was during this dark moment in history that Jesus decided to show up. In the midst of desperation, exhaustion, and fear, he brought the message of the Kingdom. May we follow in his footsteps!
“… Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 4:17 (NIV)
I have probably read this verse hundreds of times, but I’m not sure that I ever really took the time to understand it. For some reason, I had always seen this verse as a negative, as if Jesus was a street preacher with a sign angrily yelling at cars. “Repent” has a negative connotation to it, so I have naturally wanted to avoid it.
Jesus’s call to repentance isn’t a punishment, but is the first step toward a relationship with him. His urge to repent is an invitation to a better way of living. Repentance doesn’t mean cleaning ourselves up or becoming mindless religious robots, it means turning away from our sin and drawing near to him. When we repent, we acknowledge our own sinfulness and accept his free give of forgiveness. We walk away from the foolish ways of the world and toward his endless grace.
We don’t repent because we’re coerced to, but because we trust that Jesus has a better way. And once we’ve experienced the Kingdom, it’s really hard to go back. We don’t choose him because he demands it, we choose him because he has come near to us. His heart has been for us since the beginning of time and his love propelled him to action. During a dark time in history, he brought light to a hurting and broken world. Now we have the privilege of doing the same.
Philippians 3 tells us that we are citizens of Heaven, which means that we carry the culture of the Kingdom with us wherever we go. When we walk into a room, we have the privilege of bringing the Kingdom of God to that place. We bring Heaven near to earth when we serve our neighbor, love the unloveable, and extend forgiveness. Because of the Holy Spirit living inside of us, the Kingdom is always near. And when the Kingdom is near, lives change.
It’s so easy for me to get focused on what is going on immediately in front of me or get wrapped up in my own will and desires. For years, I wasn’t focused on the relevance of the Kingdom in my daily life. But this verse reminds me that the Kingdom is real and relevant and Jesus is urgently beckoning us to himself. And when he is near, repentance and restoration aren’t far behind.
Jesus came near to us, let’s bring him near to others today!
Are you aware of the nearness of God as you go about your day?
How can you bring the Kingdom near to others today?