Advancing the Kingdom
“O God, who has set before us the great hope that thy kingdom shall come on earth, and has taught us to pray for its coming: Make us ever ready to thank thee for the signs of its dawning, and to pray and work for that perfect day when thy will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (Methodist Book of Worship, 1965)
7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:
“ ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear.
The Great Tradition
People did not believe in John the Baptist. The works of Christ were held to be of no importance. His torment on the cross was a stumbling block. “Until now” prophecy has been dormant. But now the law is fulfilled. Every prediction is finished. The spirit of Elijah is sent in advance through John’s words. Christ is proclaimed to some and acknowledged by others. He is born for some and loved by others. The violent irony is that his own people rejected him, while strangers accepted him. His own people speak ill of him, while his enemies embrace him. The act of adoption offers an inheritance, while the family rejects it. Sons refuse to accept their father’s last will, while the slaves of the household receive it. This is what is meant by the phrase “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence.” Earlier expectations are being torn apart. The glory that was pledged to Israel by the patriarchs, which was announced by the prophets and which was offered by Christ, is now being seized and carried off by the Gentiles, through their faith. (Hilary)
Prayer of Confession
“Lord, we wait for a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness will reign, but we confess we have not been leading lives of holiness and godliness. We know that your Son came into the world to show us the way, but while we sing ‘Joy to the world, the Lord is come,’ we have failed to be faithful disciples. Forgive us we pray, and through your Holy Spirit enable us so to live that we might help your kingdom to come, and your will be done here on earth. Amen.”
One of the emphases of my ministry is to call followers of Christ to “extend the Kingdom of God into every sphere of life.” The word “extend” means to stretch, lengthen, prolong, continue, expand, enlarge, offer, put forth, give, impart, and present, just to name a few. While each of those words is similar, each represents a slightly different emphasis which is key in understanding our Christian mission.
Interestingly, the 1984 NIV translation of our Scripture emphasizes God’s Kingdom as “advancing.” This has a military ring to it. Jesus adds that forceful (violent, NIV 2011) people lay hold of this forcefully advancing Kingdom. My NIV footnote says,
“They enter the kingdom and become Christ’s disciples. To do this takes spiritual courage, vigor, power, and determination because of ever-increasing persecution.”
John Piper says advancing the Kingdom of God in such a way requires a “wartime mentality.” The Kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing yet the kingdom of darkness actively resists it. As people seeking godliness, we are daily fighting for our lives and for the lives of those we love and who’ve been entrusted to our care. The world, the flesh, and the devil are formidable adversaries. If we do not maintain a wartime mentality, being ever vigilant and standing firm in our faith, then we, and those we love, will suffer the ravages of war, the consequences of our poor preparation.
Therefore, we must fight the good fight of faith. We must enter the battle through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14). This narrow gate is Jesus himself. Living life as his disciple means entering into new life through him and traveling the “Kingdom road” he has set before us, regardless of how narrow and hard it is. Peter says many will leave this Kingdom road and wander off because they love the wages of wickedness (2 Peter 2:15), which results in death (Romans 6:23). The battle rages all around us, but we must stand firm in our faith, or we will not stand at all (Isaiah 7:9).
Standing firm takes a wartime mentality. We cannot assume we are ever safe from attack. We must be ever watchful and on guard. We are called, commanded, and expected to fight, persevere, press on, and stand firm. But we are never asked to do this in our strength, but the Lord’s.
The wonderful paradox of Scripture is that while we persevere, our hope is not in ourselves. Our hope is in the Lord. The battle is ultimately his.
Forceful people lay hold of the Kingdom of God, which our Lord causes to advance in and through his power. Therefore, we work through his power (Colossians 1:29). God’s Kingdom advances as faithful followers of Christ represent their King in every sphere of their lives, even in enemy-occupied territory.
Such a faithful witness will not be easy. After all, it is a war. There will be a cost which we’re commanded to consider before we enter the fray. The enemy shoots his fiery darts at us daily (Ephesians 6:16). He hides and waits to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). The world sends out its false teachers to lead us astray (2 Peter 2:1ff).
In John 17, Jesus does not pray to take us out of such a world, but all throughout Scripture our Lord promises to never leave us nor forsake us. More than that, he fights on our behalf. And in so doing, he advances his Kingdom. Don’t you want to be a part of such a glorious Kingdom? Don’t you want to know such a glorious King? This Advent season we celebrate the King who was born in a manger and ultimately overcame the world. We are called to continue his mission.
As we immerse ourselves in the Advent season, let’s embrace a “wartime mentality” in the advancement of God’s Kingdom. Let’s prayerfully and dependently recognize the opposition, stand firm in the faith, and engage in the battle with the assurance that the ultimate victory belongs to our Lord. May this Advent be a season of the intentional and courageous extension of God’s Kingdom into every sphere of our lives. In the words of Jesus, “Whoever has ears, let them hear” the call to actively participate in the forceful advance of the Kingdom. Amen.
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Listen, my son, and be wise, and set your heart on the right path: (Proverbs 23:19)
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.