Ours is a day when Christianity is often reduced to a message about individual salvation and sentimental platitudes about a future place called heaven. To be sure there are individual aspects to our salvation and we do look forward to the reality of heaven to come—though in a profoundly different way than most speak of it. But there is more to our faith than “being saved” or “going to heaven.”
When Jesus began his ministry his charter was simple. He came “proclaiming the gospel (good news) of God” Mark tells us (Mark 1:14). What is that good news? “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” At the heart of Jesus’ message; at the heart of his vocation; that which he came to accomplish and establish is the kingdom of God.
Kingdom is a word that we are so familiar with that it’s easy to skip past it. We use it in biology and in our theology. Most of us, however, as good Americans, almost never use it politically or to speak of our government. We don’t live in a kingdom because we don’t have a king. And because of this, the idea of a kingdom is empirically difficult for us to grasp. We don’t know what it’s like to have a bad king. We don’t know what it’s like to love and owe our lives to a good king. We don’t know what it’s like to submit to the king. But this is the language Jesus chose to describe what he was doing.
A kingdom can be defined as:
1) a realm associated with or regarded as being under the control of a particular person or thing
2) a country, state, or territory ruled by a king or queen
3) a state or government having a king or queen as its head
4) anything conceived as constituting a realm or sphere of independent action or control.
In establishing the kingdom of God Jesus is casting himself as the king who stands at the head of God’s kingdom. The gospel, then, is much bigger and expansive than we perhaps first realized. It’s not all about us or about a future in heaven. It’s all about Jesus and his kingdom that he established, a kingdom into which we are invited to join and by which we are invited to find our identity.
Most people don’t realize it, but this Sunday is sort of like New Year’s Eve on the church calendar. It’s the last Sunday of the year. Next week will be the first Sunday of Advent and thus the first Sunday of the church’s year. This last Sunday of the year is called Christ the King Sunday. It’s a fitting name since it leads us to Advent, the time when we are focused on the second coming of Jesus, when we will finally see him as King of kings and Lord of lords.
On this Sunday we render to our King our praise and thanks and subservience and servile obedience.