Most preachers have a favourite sermon, in the same way most artists have a favourite painting, and most singers a favourite song. Have you ever stopped to consider if Jesus did? Perhaps a better way to phrase this is to ask did he have a favourite subject he chose to speak about? And if he did, what was it? Perhaps it was the subject of salvation or forgiveness? Or maybe it was faith and miracles? It may surprise you to discover that the subject Jesus spoke more about than any other was, ‘The kingdom of God’. In fact, he framed all his other teachings around this one central theme.
From the commencement of Jesus’ ministry he began to preach, “The good news of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). His very first message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). At the very core of the ‘Lord’s prayer’ is found the statement, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Yes, it appears Jesus had a favourite sermon.
What convinced me most of this wasn’t simply his emphasis on the kingdom throughout his earthly ministry, but the realisation that Jesus made it the most important subject he spoke about after he was raised from the dead! Luke begins the Book of Acts by telling us that after the resurrection Jesus appeared to his apostles over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:1-3). Having accomplished the work of salvation one could be excused to think Jesus had no need to remain here any longer, but he did. And how did he chose to spend his time, he gathered his disciples together and for forty days he taught them about one thing - the kingdom of God!
As both a follower of Jesus, and a church leader, I often ask myself, how much emphasis am I giving to the thing Jesus made his number one priority? Not just in my sermons but in the broader context of the mission of my church, and my own personal expression of faith.
I'm sure I'm not the first person to consider these things. After all it was E. Stanley Jones in his 1960's classic book, 'The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person', who wrote, “My fear for the church of the future is not that they shall reject the kingdom of God, but that they shall in fact reduce it”. He was speaking in the context of what happens when the church withdraws from places of engagement with and influence in mainstream society and instead focuses primarily on itself. In other words, it reduces the kingdom to simply being the church. I think E. Stanley Jones' question deserves an answer. Have I, has my church, fallen into the trap of reducing the kingdom of God?
My personal experience, in over thirty years of church ministry, would lead me to suggest that for many believers very little is understood about the kingdom. In fact, at the risk of sounding provocative, I would also suggest the topic of the kingdom rarely features in most churches teaching. And when it does it is often represented as simply being heaven, or a future state, or equated with being kingdom minded where we celebrate the fact that our church identifies with the wider body of Christ. I would go further to suggest that it is rare to find the phrase 'kingdom of God' in most churches mission statements and yet Jesus framed his complete ministry around this theme. How can this be when it was the thing Jesus spoke about more than anything else?
As a church leader I find it deeply challenging that Jesus is recorded as having taught on the kingdom of God over 100 times, yet he only mentioned the church twice, and in one of those occasions he simply said, he would build it! The statisticians amongst us would tell us that Jesus preached on the kingdom 50 times more often than he preached on the church! As a church minister I am not one to suggest the subject of the church has little value, that would be like a doctor suggesting that a hospital is not an important thing, or a pilot suggesting having an airplane isn't such an important matter. But the truth is, for a doctor health is the main thing. And for a pilot, safely transporting people to the destination is what it is ultimately all about. The hospital and the plane are essential elements that enable this to happen.
I believe this is also true of the church. It is in understanding the meaning of the kingdom of God that we really discover the wonder and value of what the church is and what it's ultimate mission is all about. However, we must ensure we don't fall into the trap of making the church the destination rather than the vehicle in which to get there?
So, what do we really know about the kingdom, and why is it so important? In this series of articles I invite you to join me on a journey, a journey of discovering the wonder of the kingdom. In doing so may we not only find ourselves listening to Jesus' favourite sermon, but may we discover the part we are called to play in becoming the answer to his prayer, 'Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven'.