Posts Tagged ‘Kingdom’

SubversiveI was almost immediately turned off by this book when one of the first things I saw was a quote by Shane Claiborne. I pressed on because that's the deal and eventually arrived at page 24-25. What I read on those two pages inspired me to press on further:

From the time of the murder of every young boy after Jesus' birth to the day of his crucifixion, Jesus was opposed by an empire intent on maintaining the status quo. This kingdom labeled Jesus a troublemaker, rabble-rouser, dissident, community organizer, agitator, nonviolent revolutionary, renegade, rebel, and traitor. But none of this was a surprise to God, for God was preparing the world for the coming revolution.

Many of our Sunday schools continue to encourage followers of Jesus to embrace a respectable Jesus, an agreeable teacher with pleasant stories to tell about how to be good. But no one would crucify this Jesus. No one would be threatened by such bland personal morality. Instead, they'd invite this Jesus over for a cup of tea and a chat about the weather. (24-25)

At this point, I was fairly well hooked. I mean, if this was the basis for everything else Greenfield was going to write in the book, then how could it go wrong?

Greefield goes on over the next eleven short chapters to explain to his readers all the various ways that he and his friends believe Jesus is subversive. Jesus is subversive in sharing, parenting, charity, suffering, and vocation among others. And, sure enough, Greenfield and his followers have all managed to flesh these various subversions rather well. It is very compelling the way he and his family have lived out these subversive behaviors that Jesus evidently taught, lived, and advocated. "He came to inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. He came to subvert the world as we know it" (27).

I'm torn, frankly, as to whether or not I like this book. There are times when I was all over it and marking up my pages, underlining sentences, posting quotes on Twitter. When Greenfield talks about money and power and how the birth of Jesus took place in that shadow and then goes on to talk about Jesus preaching an alternative to empire–wow, I was hooting and hollering and jumping up and down on my couch.When he poked the bear and said, "Today, too many of our churches have concocted a dozen ingenious reasons why these stories no longer mean what they say," (78) I was again stunned that someone had the nerve to say it, and mean it.

Then there were other times when I was fairly well convinced that I was reading the party platform of the liberal wing of the American government. There were times when I felt as though Greenfield was loudly condescending towards those reading the book who might take exception with his particular understanding of what kingdom means and how we might go about being subversive. There were times when I deeply disagreed with his particular take on something Jesus said or did (for example, his conclusion that the feeding of the 5,000 was a mere 'beautiful miracle of sharing and abundance', 51.) And there were times when I felt that his activism bordered on the absurd (for example, the Pirate Flash Mob is something I seriously doubt Jesus would participate in precisely because it is absurd. See chapter 9, 'Subversive Citizenship.')

In the end, I came down on the side of liking the book. It seems to me that what I heard him saying is that what really matters is Jesus and love in Jesus' name. We need not be divided by our binary code of political opinions if we are united in our passion for the Lord's heart.

I think there is a lot about this book to commend and I do recommend it to my readers who want their faith to be challenged and who want to start living a more Jesus driven, Kingdom oriented life.

There are parts of this book that people are going to like. There are parts of this book that people are going to hate. As I noted above, I'm not sold on all of his exegetical points and I'm not sold on all his practical applications of said exegesis. At the end of the day, however, this is a book that tells the story of how one family decided to live out their vocation among the poor of the world. I think they do it well and I think it would be great if more people could live in such a way. That's not, necessarily, Greenfield's ambition though: "You must resist the temptation to do nothing because you can do only a little or because you can't like someone else who seems more radical. It takes many candles to overcome the darkness" (164). He goes on, "There is nothing prescriptive about the stories I have shared in this book. The stories are merely demonstrations of how God has worked in my life and the lives of those around me" (164-165).

That is a helpful caveat and helped bring the book to a good close for me. Each of us is called to a place in life and we struggle to live out that life faithfully in the place God has called us. The Lord called Greenfield to live among the poor and enrich their lives. He called me to educate children with special educational needs–many of whom are poor and living in single-parent environments. Others will have their own calling to be faithful to. It's not always easy. Greenfield's book, despite my reservations, is a helpful corrective and a powerfully prophetic word to the church in America that has grown too Conservative, too Binary, and too wealthy to mount any formidable offense against the powers of darkness that prevail in this land. Prophets like this are necessary for the church to wake us up. One only hopes it's not too late.

I love the quote he includes on page 27 from Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador: "A church that doesn't provoke any crisis, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone's skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is proclaimed–what gospel is that?"

Herein is the challenge for Christians–especially American Christians–who live in a sterile environment where faith amounts to a mere tithe on the first day of the week. I think this book is a wonderful example of a radical alternative to the empire of this world, a counter-cultural challenge to be exactly the opposite of what this world expects Christians to be: white, clean, tidy, and full of all the right answers. This book got under my skin, it unsettled me, it challenged my privilege, and my values.

Let's hope that the provocation continues in me and begins in others.

5/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase Subversive Jesus (Amazon, $11.40)
  • Author: Craig Greenfield
  • On the Web: Alongsiders
  • On Twitter:
  • Academic Webpage:
  • Editor:
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Pages: 182
  • Year: 2016
  • Audience:
  • Reading Level: High School
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this book via the BookLook bloggers review program in exchange for my fair and unbiased review.

Part 2 of 3: What the Church Needs to be Preaching. Now.

In part one of this short series of posts, I talked about what I think the church needs to be doing now, namely, preparing the way for the coming of Jesus. By preparing the way, I mean: calling people to repentance. It may seem simple and, perhaps, a wee bit out of sync with all the fancy things that churches are told they ought to be doing, but it seems to me that everyone needs to repent–including the church. In fact, the apostle Peter himself wrote: "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).  Funny that Peter said this to the Church!

My point is, hopefully clearly, that there is always room for repentance and that perhaps this ought to form more our core message even today.

So there's that. John preached repentance. Jesus preached it. Paul preached it. Peter preached it. Clearly this is an important aspect of our preaching. But there's also another important part of our preaching that I want to explore in this short post. It has to do with the Kingdom.

For whatever reason, I can count on my one hand the number of sermons I have heard about the Kingdom in the local church. One sermon stands out because I was still in college at the time and didn't understand a single word the preacher preached. He preached from Matthew 13 and used Robert Farrar Capon's book The Parables of the Kingdom and its rather complicated (at the time for me) text to expound upon what Jesus was saying about the Kingdom. To this day I'm not sure I understand what the preacher said that Sunday or what Capon wrote in his book.

Scott McKnight has done a superior job teaching us about the Kingdom. His book Kingdom Conspiracy was a shockingly devastating book that nails it from the first page to the last. I took a lot from the book. Here's one thing McKnight wrote:

Kingdom mission flows from the kingdom story, and that story focuses on on God at work in history as God brings that history to its focal point in Jesus as King. That kingdom story, then, focuses on God as King through King Jesus. That story counters all other stories, especially stories that make humans kings and queens and thereby become stories of idolatry. […] This kingdom story tells the story of a kingdom; kingdom is a people, and that means kingdom mission is about forming the people of God. That is, the kingdom mission forms a kingdom people and that kingdom people in the present world is the church. This means kingdom mission is all about forming and enhancing local churches as expressions of the kingdom of God in this world. Which leads us back to a central reality of kingdom theology: there is no kingdom without a King. (123)

He says on the next page, which also happens to be the first page of chapter 8 "The King of the Kingdom", this: "Indeed, God is king, but God rules through his Son, the Messiah, the Lord, King Jesus." (125)

A little later he writes, "This ideal-king psalm [Psalm 72] leads to one of the most important observations about kings and kingdoms: kings determine what their kingdoms are like" (his emphasis, 128).

There is so much more I'd love to share, but this is a short post and you really should get your own copy of the book. But here's the point, from Mark 1:1: "The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus the Messiah." He then goes on to tell the story of Jesus: the things Jesus said, the things Jesus did, the places Jesus visited, the people Jesus interacted with, and the things Jesus preached. So, from the get go of Mark's Gospel, we, the readers, know that this is the Gospel (good news) about Jesus.

A few verses later, Mark tells us that John the baptist had been put in prison and that Jesus picked up where John left off. Mark wrote, "Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the Gospel of God. 'The time has come,' he said, 'the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the Gospel'" (Mark 1:14-15). Well this is certainly interesting isn't it? Mark says the Gospel is about Jesus, the Messiah. Then John prepared the way for this Gospel to be preached. Then Jesus came on the scene preaching this same Gospel. And Mark uses the same word in all three places: 1:1, 14, and 15 all contain the word 'gospel' (or, as some translations say, 'good news.')

What are we to make of this? Well, if I may put a very sharp point on this, I will say: Jesus went around preaching…himself. The good news, or Gospel, is Jesus. Jesus preached that the kingdom of God was 'near' (interestingly, after he started preaching) and that because of this proximity, we ought to…wait for it…repent and believe the gospel! This is remarkable, isn't it?

Now, I think about this. The content of the Gospel is Jesus (of course this is fleshed out for us in several places; 1 Corinthians 15 comes to mind). It's what Jesus preached–and somehow this good news about Jesus, this Gospel, is related to this Kingdom of God he also proclaimed as near. We need to think about how, in our pulpits, we are going to make this connection both central and clear. We need to be telling a different story from our pulpits. We need to be constructing a different mission in our churches. We need to be preaching a different kingdom in our congregations. We need to be assuring the church and the not-church that Jesus is king, has received all authority in heaven and earth, and will be returning to claim his rightful place as King of this world.

We need to talk about the good news that Jesus is King. That Jesus rules.

In short: we need to be talking an awfully, significantly, larger amount about Jesus. We need to talk about the things Jesus did: he did miracles, he showed compassion, he demonstrated God's mercy, he loved unconditionally. And we need to talk about these things not as mere object lessons for how we can live better lives, but for the sake of themselves, for the sake of Jesus. In other words, these are the things Jesus did that characterize the Kingdom he said was near! Are we talking about them in our churches? Why do they matter? Why did Jesus do them? What do they signify or point to? What do they tell us about Jesus?

We need to talk about the things Jesus said. What did he say about himself? What did he say about the Kingdom? What did he say about humanity's need for repentance? What did he say about God's wrath, God's love, God's mercy, God's church, and the way of life he called us to? Jesus said his life was defined by the cross and resurrection. He told us that our way of life will be defined by taking up our cross, denying ourselves, and following him. Well, what are we saying about this life? What did Jesus say about the kingdoms of this world? What did he say about the end of exile, forgiveness of sins, and return to the Land? And again: we ought to talk about these things as part of the meta-narrative they are embedded in and not as if they were merely ways to help us live a better Americanized version of Christianity. We tell of the things Jesus said because Jesus said them. They are his words to us! We ought to listen to what he said. And we ought to preach them.

What story are we telling in the church? The world has all sorts of narratives out there floating around and many people are falling for them hook, line, sinker, and bobber. What story are we telling? Are we merely telling the story of mere salvation? Is it a mere join the club kind of thing? Or is it something greater, grander, better, bigger, badder, more magnificent and spectacular, and grandiose–and I'll run out of adjectives before I can run out of talking about the peculiar beauty and power that is the Kingdom of God Jesus was telling us about in his story. It's sad when our politicians speak more about Jesus than the church does. Jesus didn't call us to spend a lot of our efforts preaching theology–as important as that is–but he did tell us to spend a lot of time talking about himself. Jesus is the Way. Jesus is the Life. Jesus is living water. Jesus is the bread of Life. Jesus is truth. Jesus is the Resurrection. Jesus is I Am. That's who and what we ought to preach.

I wonder: are we selling people short by not telling them this story? It's a better story, isn't it? I'm not content with the stories of this world. I want a better story. I'm willing to bet there are other folks who feel the exact same way. So let's tell them the story of Jesus–for the sake of Jesus and nothing else. When people come to the church, they should hear the story of Jesus–for the sake of Jesus. I think Jesus is far less concerned about us leading 'good' lives here in America than he is about his kingdom being proclaimed and the good news about himself being heralded from our pulpits.

So the question remains: What ought the church to be preaching? Now? I think the answer is simple: Jesus.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Just Jesus.

Part 1 of 3: What the Church Needs to be Doing. Now.

Been thinking about church. I do that a lot for some reason. It's not like I have anything else to do with my time. (/sarcasm). The truth is, I'm fairly heavily involved with my local church through helping lead worship (singing, playing guitar, reading Scripture), teaching a Bible school class, and teaching at a small, local Bible College. I also do pulpit supply whenever I can, wherever I can. I wish every day was Sunday, sometimes.

I have a love/hate relationship with the church. I have spent my entire life married to the church. It has seen my best days (baptism, wedding) and my worst days (termination, heartbreak). I am almost 46 and the church has never not been a part of my life in some way, some shape, or other. So this post isn't about any church in particular, it's about the church in general. It's a short sermon sans a pulpit.


Here's the first of three things the church ought to consider when the church considers its appearance and mission to the world. All three will be drawn from Mark's Gospel, chapter 1.

First, preparing the way. The last thing faithful Israelites heard from the prophets before a what must have been a dreadfully long 400 year silence, was this: "I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me…I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes" (Malachi 3:1, 4:5). There's a lot more to Malachi's thoughts, but this is where Mark's Gospel begins. That is, he begins by telling his readers that this is what the prophet(s) said, and this is what happened, "And so John the baptist appeared in the wilderness" (Mark 1:4a).

I doubt seriously this is what people had in mind. Maybe they expected some flashbang or shock and awe. Maybe they thought about fire from heaven or miracles galore. Maybe they thought and end to the Roman occupation with a giant military coup. Yet there was John. Preaching a "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." So, it seems, what Mark is telling us is this: the way John prepared the way for the Lord's arrival, the way he prepared people for the appearance of the Lord in his temple, was this: Take personal inventory of your sin and repent. Imagine that such a task–preparing the way of the Lord–could be accomplished with such an unflashy medium. Preaching: repentance.

This is decidedly not how we prepare the way of the Lord in the church. Instead we draw them in with fidgets and gadgets and gimmicks. And all churches do it. To an extent, some churches even make repentance a gimmick. John did nothing fancy. He simply went out and preached that people needed to repent. Interestingly enough, when Jesus took up the mantle of gospeling after John was put in prison, he did the same thing: "The time has come. The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:15). John didn't even draw people in with supernatural power. He went as far away from them as he could in fact–the wilderness. He didn't hang out at all the swank places eating rich fair–he simply at locusts. He didn't look particularly fashionable–he wore scratchy camel hair and a belt. Yet people went to him. And listened. And were baptized by him.

Maybe there is something to what John was doing? Maybe the Lord knew what he was doing? Maybe we need to imitate John? Maybe part of our preaching objectives ought to be calling people to repentance from their sin?

How is it that such a simple message was able to prepare a generation of people for the arrival of the Lord in his temple? And why don't we do more of this in our churches? I mean, isn't the Lord going to return someday to claim his bride? Maybe the best message that the church can preach to the world and to the church is that they and we need to repent.

I've been thinking about it. There's a lot to do in the church in America, here in the last days. Maybe it is time for the church to stop pushing a gospel of America and to start preaching repentance again. It's just a thought. Maybe it is time for the church to abandon all the tricks and gimmicks and all the sermon series' about How a Good American Can Have a Happy Outlook on Life.

Maybe it's time for real power in our pulpits again.

I saw the other day in my Twitter feed where someone quoted a certain political candidate as saying if he is elected to the presidency Christians will have power in this country. Everyone knows that such statements are merely populist in nature, but if it has even a thread of truth in it, the church ought to be afraid. The church doesn't need power (and I'll demonstrate this in a future post). The church needs prophets. The power will come, but not from politicians. This is all another post. In the second post, I'll write about preaching the Kingdom.


Read: Matthew 3; Psalm 2; Isaiah 42; Genesis 22; 1 Peter 1:1-12

It is quite impossible for me to overstate how important it is for us to see the big picture in the Bible. We are so accustomed to reading the Bible to find either how to be saved (in some way that we usually get to retain our American identity and be Christians) or as a great search for how to live a successful happy life. 

But the big picture is not limited to a few verses here or there that tell us some magical formula for how to join the 'safe and happy' club. Scott McKnight sums up brilliant the point: "The messianic, lordly, and kingly confession of Jesus is not incidental to the Bible. It is the point of the Bible, and the gospel is the good news that Jesus is that Messiah, that Lord, and that King." (The King Jesus Gospel, 141).

This 'big picture', though, is, again, not confined to the New Testament. It is the message that was heralded for years in the Old Testament. Listen to Peter's words: "Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicated when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories" (1 Peter 1:10-11). The OT prophets were struggling to understand Jesus, to point to Jesus, to announce the coming kingdom which was in Jesus. Periodically we get glimpses, glimmers. Only in the New Testament do we get the full taste.

There's an old saying that floats around the church and goes like this: The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed; the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. It's kind of corny, but it is no less true: the Old Testament was telling its way to the New Testament. Matthew says from Abraham to David to Jesus and all points in between (Matthew 1). Matthew 3 points out for us an even greater connection because he says that the prophets also pointed to John as 'the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.' John was heralding the announcement that what the prophets had been pointing to was now beginning to happen.

The Kingdom was coming, the King had arrived, it was time. And there was only one direction he was pointing: Jesus.

I'm sure when Isaiah said that he was talking about YHWH, but now here is the New Testament saying that John announced Jesus. And when John announced a Kingdom that was coming, he was also point to Jesus. Whatever else might be said, our eyes are being trained here to look away from Herod (chapter 2), to look away from John (3:11-12), to look away from a certain ancestral connection (3:7-10), and to look directly to Jesus. Of Jesus, the voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." This, interestingly enough, is the same sort of language used in Psalm 2, a royal Psalm, when a King was ascending to the throne.

John cuts through it all too when he announces Jesus. John announces a Kingdom and points to Jesus. John baptized with water, but pointed to the greater baptism of the Holy Spirit which would be brought about by Jesus. John called people to repent, but pointed to Jesus as the final arbiter of righteousness. John was a voice in the wilderness who prepared the way, but deferred to a greater voice from heaven that announced Jesus as the Son. John came as a messenger, Jesus came as Messiah.

Advent is a time to think about this arrival. John announced a lot to the people:

    1. The coming wrath (v 7)

    2. The coming kingdom (v 2)

    3. The coming Lord (v 3)

    4. The coming Spirit (v 11)

    5. The coming King (v 17)

We too are heralds. We too have an announcement to make to people about this King, and this Kingdom. We too have something to say about the Holy Spirit. We too have something to say about the coming of the Lord to visit this planet. Now as we prepare through Advent for this announcement at Christmas time, we pause to allow the Lord to teach us words to say. We are mere 'voices.' We are no more worthy to untie Jesus sandals than John was. Yet we have a message to proclaim. We may not always know exactly when to say it; we may be in a wilderness too. All John knew was that he was a voice pointing not to baptism, ancestry, or his own good looks. John's message was Jesus.

The message is simple and complex, but the essence of it is what I wrote above, what is concealed in the Old Testament, and what is revealed in the New Testament: The King has come, the Kingdom is here, the Spirit is available, the Lord has visited us, and only in Him will we avoid the wrath.

During Advent we allow the Spirit to prepare our hearts to receive the one who visited us all over again and we prepare for his soon arrival again, here, among us. We will not miss him when he arrives and we hope others will not either. So herald his coming! Announce his arrival! Prepare the way of the Lord!

John's message was Jesus, should ours be anything less?


I was in Sunday School this morning and we were talking about something in John's gospel. Somehow or other the conversation drifted to the book of Daniel–a book I am currently making an extended study of for purposes that are my own right now. Nevertheless, we got there (to Daniel) and somehow started talking about Jesus being the Son of God. Or maybe we went there in order to talk about Jesus being the son of God. Frankly, I'm not altogether certain because for some reason the two ideas came together in my head and I started thinking hard about Daniel and from seemingly nowhere the book of Daniel opened up before me and I saw a theme stretched from one end of the book to the other–every 'chapter', every page, it is there. At this point it was only in my head and memory so it was a theory.

So I started checking my idea–throughout the rest of Sunday school and part of the worship time–and sure enough it's there. I had to be safe and double check because I am fully aware that to some the book of Daniel is a prop for a theological system that eminently benefits the Christian publishing houses in America and that looking at things in Daniel a little less finely might be troublesome. Yet that is precisely what I started to do. That is, I started looking at things less finely. In other words, I started to look at the forest instead of the trees. Looking at trees can be daunting when considering the book of Daniel because there are so many trees to look at. For example, trying to take a nice stroll through chapters 10 and 11 is nearly impossible. There are kings and beasts coming at the reader from north and south, land and sea. It's so overwhelming, that it even made Daniel sick most of the time.

And these kings and commanders come and go. They run roughshod over any and all that stand in their way. The decide morality, they collect taxes, they worship war (11:38), and make war wherever they go. What Daniel seems to be telling us is that it makes little difference where these rulers come from, they will have only one thing on their minds: destruction and self-aggrandizement. It seems to matter little, furthermore, when they rule. It might be the first year of a king; it might be the third year of a king; it might be kings who reigned in the past or kings who will reign in the future. They will all collect taxes. They will all blaspheme the Truth and the True King. They will be powerful–of this there can be no doubt. They will hold life and death in the palms of their hands. Nothing in the text of Daniel says, however, that we ought to live in fear or recoil in terror of these men. Nothing. In fact, the book's constant refrain is exactly the opposite: go and live.

From the first chapter to the last, the book of Daniel is about endurance. Consider 1:21: "And Daniel remained there until the first year of Cyrus." Daniel outlived all of them. Now consider 12:13: "As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance." Daniel will live.

I suppose we can read Daniel and see clues to 'unlock prophetic revelation' or we can read Daniel as a book designed to teach us three overarching truths.

First, there are two kingdoms in Daniel's book. The kingdom of man as represented by Nebudchadnezzer, Belshazzar, Darius, Cyrus, shaggy goats, horns, kings of the north and south, and others whom we cannot identify with any real precision. These kingdoms come and go. They are here and gone. But without fail, no matter how monstrous they are at any given point, the refrain is always the same. "Yet he will come to his end…" (11:45) Every kingdom in the book comes to an end at some point. Except one: "His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation" (4:3) a refrain found more than once in Daniel.

Second, these two kingdoms will clash, but both cannot win. Only one will win. Only one will endure. Kings of earth will try and try and try, but they will always fail: "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever" (2:44). And they will continue to clash over and over again throughout history. I don't think that just because Jesus came to earth that the book of Daniel has suddenly ceased to be relevant. Not at all. There are still wars. The wicked continue to be wicked (12:10). Violence is still perpetrated upon the righteous. And kings still do whatever they want (11:36).

Third, there is hope for those who trust in the Lord. I can't help but sense in this book a theme that the righteous will live not because, necessarily, they press on through tough times but because God is there with them. In chapter 1 we see it this way: "And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God." In chapter 3 it looks like this, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods." Later in latter chapters, it looks like this: "Then I Daniel looked and there before me stood two others, one on this bank of the river and one on the opposite bank. One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river" (12:5-6). In other words, wherever God's people went, he was with them. He was protecting them. I think Jesus said something similar, "And surely I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).

I think Matthew's book is excellent commentary on the book of Daniel. The Emmanuel promise is especially magnificent in Daniel's context. But the point is greater: we need not become unhinged in the face of all these absurd billy goats and many horned monsters who are running around as if they were something special or important. The writing is on the wall for all of them, not just Belshazzar. Yet, I might say the point is even bigger than merely seeing these earthly kingdoms trampled and all things put to rights: We have hope either way. Or: "But at that time your people–everyone whose name is found written in the book–will be delivered" (12:1). And: "Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days" (12:12). God will not leave his people without hope.

I have more to say on this matter, but this post is long enough. In conclusion, I will say this. It is very typical of those who study Daniel to fixate on identifying the who this guy is and who that guy is and to try and tuck them neatly into a historical context. They fixate, in other words, on the trees. And in trying to identify specific people and specific times and specific places they miss the overall point of the book of Daniel which is something like I have sketched above: 1) there are two kingdoms; 2) they are constantly at war and one will ultimately lose; and 3) God's people are not left without hope in the midst of it all. I need to explore this all a lot more and I will be posting my findings periodically. Just remember not to get so hung up on seeing trees that you miss the forest. It sounds cliche; it is. But that does not mean it's not true.

PS–I think it's especially important to understand the concept of Kingdom in this book and to explore the larger implications as they unfold later in the life and ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus. I also think a good case can be made for the Emmanuel theme in Daniel. I'm convinced the book is teaching us that God went into exile with his people and did not abandon them their to their own devices or wholly to the whims of their pagan captors. In my next post I will show how important Kingdom is in every single chapter of Daniel's book.


The readings for June 22, 2010 are as follows: Numbers 16.20-35, Romans 4.1-12, Psalm 94, Matthew 19.23-20.

What I hope to do is provide a thought or two on the daily readings as a means of keeping myself accountable to the daily practice of reading from the Scripture.

Numbers 16.20-35

In the early days of the church, God still dealt with people this way. Remember Annanias and Sapphira? Paul wrote in Corinthians that some people even died because they at the Lord’s Supper with contempt for the Body of Christ.

I wonder if the Lord still deals with people in the church this way? I wonder if there are still people like Moses who will intercede on behalf of the people? Still, who knows exactly how the Lord works in the church that is the Body of Christ?

Yet somehow or other in this strange act of God’s vengeance Moses, God’s servant, was also justified and vetted. Strange.

Romans 4.1-12

I like that Paul speaks of the ‘promise with value.’ He does so backhandedly when he writes, “For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless.”  That means what God has promised us has value to those who pursue it by faith.

Frankly, I like that God has made promises to us and that all of the effort is on Him and not us.

We are blessed! It’s a wonderful thought to know that our blessedness comes not from achievement or abundance on our own part but from being forgiven by One who holds the power to forgive.

Psalm 94

O LORD, the God who avenges,
       O God who avenges, shine forth.

Rise up, O Judge of the earth;
       pay back to the proud what they deserve.

How long will the wicked, O LORD,
       how long will the wicked be jubilant?

There’s another beatitude in today’s reading in verse 12: “Blessed are those you discipline, Lord, those you teach from your law.” So two readings and, so far, two beatitudes. This Psalm is packed full and I want to note simply that the Psalmist has his eyes upon the Lord his fortress, his Rock.

Matthew 19.23-20

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?"

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?"

Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

What we find impossible, God does not. What we see as a massive chicane, God sees as an open road. What we cannot handle, God can. He’s talking here about rich and poor. The rich, he says, do not have a shot according to man’s ways and means and thoughts. Kingdom values are upside down: last are first, first are last. Who can make sense of it?

I suppose it is logical to ask, as Peter did when pointing out that they had in fact left all to follow Jesus: “What will there be for us?”

I suppose it is also logical to ask, as an American who has much and hasn’t been asked to give up much: “What about us? Are we too rich to enter the Kingdom? Are we mere fat men stuck in a needle’s eye waiting for judgment? What about us?”

What hope is there for even the poorest of Americans who live well above the standard of living of most of the poor in the world? Does anyone in America have a shot?

Well, who can be saved?



This is a special episode of the Life Under the Blue Sky podcast. This is the audio from the sermon I preached on January 25, 2009. I have already published the print version here. The sermon takes about 37 minutes and is based on Luke 9–the entire chapter.

Download here: Kingdom of the Cross

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Friends, here is the text for tomorrow’s sermon from Luke 9. The gist is that Jesus has given us power and authority to do something. That something is defined by Jesus himself as ‘proclamation of the kingdom’ and ‘healing the sick’ and ‘authority over demons.’ It seems to me that sometimes we church folk have forgotten about the power given to us, what Paul calls Resurrection power. Still, we have to be careful. This power is nothing like the power that the world wields. This power has the power to confound and perplex for that very purpose. It will all make sense once you have read the entire text. grace and peace. jerry PS- This sermon grew out of thoughts I posted the other day and posted here.

The Kingdom of Crucifixion
Luke 9:1ff


“Taking up the cross is not a merely passive operation. It comes about as the church attempts, in the power of the Spirit, to be for the world what Jesus was for the world—announcing his kingdom, healing the wounds of the world, challenging the power structures that keep anger and pain in circulation. We need to pray that we will have the courage, as a church and a Christian persons, to follow the Servant King wherever he leads. That, after all, is why we come to his table. We have seen in our century what happens when people dream wild dreams of world domination, and use the normal methods of force and power to implement them. We have not yet seen what might happen if those who worship the Servant King, now enthroned as Lord of the world, were to take him seriously enough to take up our cross and follow him” (Following Jesus, NT Wright, 51)


1When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. 4Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” 6So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.

Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, 8others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. 9But Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And he tried to see him.

10When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, 11but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. 12Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” 14(About five thousand men were there.)

But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. 16Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. 17They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.

18Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” 19They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” 20″But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

21Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” 23Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

28About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

34While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen. 37The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. 38A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. 40I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”

“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.” Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. 43And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, 44″Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.” 45But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it. 46An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.”

49″Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”50″Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” 51As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55But Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56 and they went to another village.

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Jesus gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases.

It kind of makes me wonder, seeing what he armed them with, what they would be up against. After all, he didn’t send them out with AK-47’s or Master Cards.

He sent them out, indeed, as sheep among wolves, doves among vipers, and he stripped them of all outer defenses: No staff for defense, no sack for extra gear, no bread for sustenance, no money to pay people off, no extra shirt for the long journey. Maybe he was reminding them that he was sending them out into a hostile badlands much like the Lord had sent the Israelites. Maybe even here Jesus was thinking about Scripture:

But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. 5 During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. 6 You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 29:4-6)

So Jesus arms these men he sends out with nothing more than power over sickness, authority over demons, and a proclamation about a kingdom. And so they went, village to village, proclaiming the message of the Kingdom and healing people everywhere. They went out and did the very thing they were armed to do.

It appears they did it well. And it appears they did not lack anything they needed, despite the fact that they left everything behind. Jesus gave them power to accomplish a mission and that is just what they do.

Jesus warned them, however implicitly, that this power did not come from them, that this power is not for them, and that this power is not to be used for any purpose other than what he has assigned it, and that this power will confound people, and that this power is unlike anything found on earth among those deemed powerful.
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John 3:1-8

1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” 3In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” 4″How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” 5Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

I admire Nicodemus for having the courage to come to Jesus and talk to him. Jesus may have admired his courage, but Jesus had other news for Nicodemus, news, I believe, shocked Nicodemus to his very core.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus and says something like, “Rabbi, we know…” and then he goes on and says ‘this’ and ‘that’ and ‘here’ and ‘blah, blah, blah…’ In other words, Jesus, we have a whole bunch of information about you, where you are from, about the signs you are doing; we even have this sneaking suspicion that you are from God. Seriously, who could do these things if he were not from God? We might expect Jesus to be flattered, and sort of like, ‘Oh, shucks!’ But that is not what Jesus does. Instead, Jesus upends Nicodemus, hamstrings him, turns the tables on this intrepid nighttime inquisitor by saying, “Nicodemus, you can have all the information about me that you want, but it is not going to help you. You can have all the right information about me that you have, but it is not going to help you. You can ply me with platitudes, but it will not help you in the lest bit. If you are truly interested in the Kingdom of God, you must be born again. Apart from being born again, you have no chance at the Kingdom I proclaim.”

I imagine at this point Nicodemus must have tripped over his own tongue and stammered and choked on his matza. So, Nicodemus either plays dumb or trumps Jesus’ ace by saying, “OK, Mr., if this is true, how do you propose a man go about it? Surely you must be joking! You are speaking of something that is physically impossible!” But Jesus does not get out-logiced (not really a word, but worked with me here) in conversations. Furthermore, he is unrelenting and not about to change his demands just because Nicodemus points out a rather illogical demand. There is, in short, not changing the tune or the demand: You cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless you are born of water and Spirit. The demands do not change just because of our objections. The demands do not change because we have a more reasonable argument. The demands do not change because something is physically, humanly impossible. The demands of Jesus are the demands of Jesus. Whatever water and Spirit means, and I think we have a rather decent idea of what it means (See Titus 3:5, for example) it is certainly a demand that Jesus makes of all who wish to enter the Kingdom of God.

So far Jesus has told Nicodemus two things. First, he said having information, albeit the correct information, about Jesus is not enough. You cannot even see the Kingdom of God with the right information. Second, he told him that being from the right group (in this case, being an Israelite) is not enough. You cannot enter the Kingdom of God just because you happen to be born into the right family. In both cases Jesus made the same demand, You must be born again (or, ‘from above’) if you wish to participate in the Kingdom. Now, in verses 7-8, he makes one last point and again he ties it to being ‘born again.’ His point in these last two verses is this: Being humanly alive is not enough. You can’t just go down to the local store (or local church) and put on some new clothes, smile a lot, be in the right places, say the right things, do the right things and expect that this is a satisfactory born-again (or ‘from above’) experience. No, Jesus says. If you want to be born again (‘from above’) it must be a work from outside of yourself; it must be something over which you have no control. People who are born again are these peculiar people who have been born not just of water but simultaneously of Spirit. We are a peculiar people who have been touched by God deep in our being. People who are born again of water and Spirit are being changed from the inside to the outside.

Ultimately, this being born again is not something you can control in the sense that the human controls the direction that God makes us all we were born to be, in the sense that we have any idea what it really means to be human and alive, in the sense that we can shape ourselves in the knowledge in the image of our Creator (see Colossians 3:9-10). What I mean is this: Only God truly knows the direction the Spirit will carry us, the shape he will give us, the truth to which He will conform us. It is not a human directed enterprise; It is a Spirit directed enterprise. Merely human directed enterprises amount to little more than therapeutic counseling sessions that enable us to ‘live to our fullest human potential.’ Jesus has other things in mind for the direction of our peculiar lives. We are being crafted by the Spirit into the Imago Dei; we are the portrait of Christ. Only the Spirit of Jesus can make us look like Jesus.

It’s not enough to have the right information. It’s not enough to be from the right group. It’s not enough to be humanly born again (as in made physically whole, psychologically sound; we don’t need Oprahed or Dr Philed to get into the Kingdom). In all cases we must be born again of the water and Spirit. This is the demand of Jesus. It is his peculiar demand for people who wish to participate in His Kingdom. If you want to participate in His Kingdom you have to do things His way. If you don’t do things His way, it is not His Kingdom you are participating in at all. Funny thing is this: Neither the world nor the church nor any human being sets the standard for entrance into the Kingdom; Jesus does. He has the right to do so. John Piper has written, “And what Jesus demands from Nicodemus, he demands from all. He is speaking to everyone in the world. No one is excluded. No ethnic group has a greater bent toward life. Dead is dead—whatever our color, ethnicity, culture, or class. We need spiritual eyes. Our first birth will not get us into the Kingdom of God. But we do not cause ourselves to be born again. The Spirit does that. And the Spirit is free and blows in ways we do not comprehend. We must be born again. But this is a gift of God”—(What Jesus Demands from the World, 39).

Being born again means, in simple terms, that we must not put stock in, trust in, or hope in the flesh. Being born again means, in simple terms, that we must die to this life and be reborn by and in the Spirit. Paul wrote in Romans 6: “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” That’s what Jesus is talking about here.

I hope your 9th Day of 90 with Jesus is Blessed in the Lord!

Soli Deo Gloria!