When Jesus walked the dusty streets and open fields of Israel, healing the sick, and doing miracles among the people, He was proclaiming: ‘Turn to God and change the way you think and act, because the kingdom of heaven is near!” Most of His fellow Jews no doubt misunderstood. At one point the crowds following Him even tried to make Him king. They were looking for a leader, a political savior who would overturn the Roman Empire’s occupation. But as Jesus made clear when he later would stand on trail: “My kingdom is not of this world…”
In our day you might say we also have a similar misunderstanding about why Jesus came. We have fallen as well into a small and atrophied vision of the purposes and plans of GOD that were enacted through Jesus life, death and resurrection. Somehow we’ve boiled the good news of GOD’s kingdom down to a hyper-personalized fire insurance policy for eternity- with very little implications for the ‘here and now’. Or we boil it down to devotion to a sacred book with little or no regard for the Author. Or we boil it down to a complex set of do’s and do not’s- devoid of love. Or we boil it down to a politically-charged social transformation of society. Or we boil it down to a self-centered pursuit of perfection. Or we boil it down to a thousand different abbreviations and aberrations that may hold pieces of the whole picture but in of themselves leave us (and the world) unchanged at the core.
The Apostle Paul said to the Christian community in Galatia: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all.” Jesus said we need to turn away from our self-centered living because His kingdom is coming. Do we understand what this means today? This is not a ‘say a prayer and go to heaven’ message. This is a call to a whole-life pursuit of Him- the One who holds all of Creation together by His power.
This abbreviation of the Gospel message reminds me of my eight-year-old son and how he loves to read. He has read many of what we consider ‘classics’ like ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’, ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘The Three Musketeers’. But I’ve noticed many of these books have been greatly abridged for juvenile readers. For a few of the books he’s gone back and read the full versions. To his surprise there was usually much more to the story and sometimes a whole different ending. He told me he had no idea that he wasn’t originally reading the full versions of those classic stories.
I wonder, do we perceive our own editing of Jesus radical call to a transformative life lived in devotion to Him, in the fullness of His Holy Spirit? Is it time to re-read the whole, unabridged story again? Or do we need to ask ourselves: what is the Unabridged Gospel (aka: the Gospel of the Kingdom)?