The Kingdom Is Winning
By Jonathan Buck and Neil Earle
Imagine this scene in a church meeting. The piano player gave a brief introduction and we’re off singing, “This is my Father’s world.” But that’s as far as we got because someone yelled out, “Stop! I’m sorry,” he said, “but how can this be the Father’s world when there’s so much evil and suffering still? Didn’t you see the news last night?”
Maybe the hymn writer had an answer. Ah, verse 3: “This is my Father’s world; O let me ne’er forget, that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”
But, someone else asked, “If God is ruling, how can the wrong be oft so strong still? If Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9), if his kingdom is already here in essence (Luke 11:10), surely the wrong should be a lot less strong, shouldn’t it?”
Perhaps the last part of the verse had an answer: “This is my Father’s world, the battle is not done; Jesus, who died, shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one.” But, a third person asked, “If Jesus has already triumphed over every power that exists as it says in Colossians 2:15 how can there be a battle that’s not done yet? What battle still needs winning?”
Peace on Earth or Earth in Pieces?
Well, for a start, it’s obviously a battle for belief, because the questions themselves show how hard it is for people to believe this is the Father’s world when wrong remains so strong.
In the Book of John belief in Jesus as God’s Messenger is the key issue. The Jews had great trouble believing Jesus. He came announcing, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15), but three years later they were still stuck with the Romans, cheating tax collectors, greedy priests and the temple being treated like a market, so how could they believe in good news when their world was still such a mess?
And two thousand years later we could ask the same question, because if Jesus appeared today and announced: “Repent and believe the good news, that through me the Father began the New Creation and for the last two thousand years the Kingdom of God has been ruling on the earth putting things to rights,” what would be the reaction? Hang on, Jesus, didn’t you watch the News last night?
“Ah, but,” he could say in reply, “I have witnesses, evidence to prove it’s true: I told them in Acts 1:8 to testify of me to the ends of the earth. Remember those two fellows in Luke 24 whose hearts burned within them when it dawned on them what the Father had done through me?” (verse 32).
Where is God?
So let’s take a second look. One often overlooked place to start is to remember how much teaching on how this strange Kingdom works is inherent in Jesus’ most famous teaching tool – the Parables. Christians tend to push the Kingdom off to the future or wait to be “raptured” or to blanch before the “bad news” charges of the skeptics and retreat into their private enclaves. But the Kingdom Jesus started has been on the march for 2000 years (John 11:1-5). However, the Parable of the Sower shows the Kingdom comes not in power right now but secretly, quietly, almost imperceptively, almost insidiously like…like, well a seedling growing in your back yard.
Jesus used these simple-seeming analogies to open to us such complicated issues as to how good and evil can co-exist after his appearing. Or how the world is in such a mess since the Messiah came.
No wonder belief is fading today. We are in one of these “bad news” cycles right now.
Is God even aware of all this evil? Enter the Parable of the Tares.
The Multi-faceted Plan
A man sows good seed. While he slept an enemy sowed bad seed and it produced noxious weeds at harvest time along with the good wheat. The bad stuff was already growing but too intertwined with the good produce, so the man said leave it till harvest. Then we’ll stick the bad stuff in the fire and clear the crop. That’s in Matthew 13:24.
Jesus’ disciples were clearly intrigued – what’s going on here? Does God tolerate the bad weeds? Is that in his plan? “Yes,” says Jesus. “That’s a very good picture of the world today is it not? But if I intervene too quickly good people might not understand – might get offended, ‘God is not fair.’ So let’s wait till the end, then it gets sorted out.”
Right now, the good and the bad are mixed together like his Dragnet parable. “Good fish and bad fish. All in the same net. The angels will come at the end of the age and separate the wicked from the good (Matthew 13: 47-52).”
Meanwhile the good seed of the Kingdom is bearing fruit, silently, insidiously, quietly, like leaven a housewife places in a loaf of bread. That’s another parable. So is Mark 4:26-19. A man sows seed. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil first produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.”
The truth is God’s plan is always forging ahead. God is working though the world may take no notice. CNN will miss it. FOX news won’t see it. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal won’t be in on the secret. The secret of how the kingdom keeps growing.
The Great Reversal
Now let’s look at some appalling news stories and see how the kingdom acts like leaven in the midst of it all. We’re not God so we can’t see everything but here’s a start, at least.
- Russia gobbled the Crimea some time back. But if you grew up in some countries the Crimea makes you think of two things. First, the Crimean War of the 1850s and the Charge of the Light Brigade. More disaster, surely. But the Crimean War is even more famous for the name Florence Nightingale! Remember her? The devout Christian lady known as “the Lady with the Lamp.” Florence Nightingale rushed her small staff of nurses to be near the Crimea to save lives and became a legend. Her example utterly transformed nursing and helped lead to the International Red Cross. Just ask where we’d be without modern nursing – it came out of war, the good seed among the bad, just as Jesus said.
- The 50 million displaced persons my wife and I learned about in visiting San Francisco for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in 1995. There we saw the meager tents and rations millions of people have to endure every day. It struck home to me then that Jesus too was a refugee. Herod’s sword went out after the holy family and they fled to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15). Remember? Jesus’ answer here is a promise, keep believing the good news, hang on, a time is coming when he will wipe every tear from our eyes, when families will be reunited. The refugee crisis has stimulated international aid agencies to respond and innumerable Christian agencies to spring up. We have a church connection with one young girl who donated the best years of her life to victims of war-torn Central Africa and got sick in the process. Once again, the good seed with the bad. And the sure certainty of rectification ahead. The seeding of the kingdom – small, insidious, almost unnoticeable.
In Pitched Battle
Yes the old hymn was right after all. “The battle is not won.” There is a struggle out there but the good seed is assured it will win out.
Jesus hands the reins over to his witnesses to convince people that a new world had opened up when Jesus rose from the dead. How? “I am going to send you what my Father promised,” Jesus told them (verse 49) – the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) – and the Spirit would enable them to be bold and effective witnesses to the good news that this world is God’s world with Jesus in charge, but in secret (Acts 28:31).
Jesus had a deep desire to be “about his Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). He explained what that meant in the Lord’s Prayer, that the Father’s kingdom and will “be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) – or, as the hymn writer phrased it, that “heaven and earth be one.”
It takes some serious repenting, or rethinking, on our part, though – just as it does today. Because if people believe the Kingdom of God only comes in the future, or the world’s so bad we have to be raptured off into the safety of heaven, or there’s no point in trying to improve the world because it’s all going be destroyed, that’s hardly in tune with the earth now being the Father’s world and Jesus providing witnesses to prove it, is it?
You have to believe, and then good things start to happen here and now (Mark 11:23-24). Believe the good news, that he’s making this world into the Father’s world right under people’s noses right now, and he’s giving the Holy Spirit to those who believe it to help make it happen (Acts 5:32). The Spirit then provides the necessary power to enable us to prove to people that the Kingdom of Heaven is in operation on this planet, making earth and heaven into one.
Believing that may still be a battle, though, because it looks like the world is falling apart. The media would certainly have us believe that, but the media doesn’t focus on the millions of little temples of the Holy Spirit pouring out a steady stream of life and love as it’s lived and loved in heaven.
So it looks like the wrong still rules. So we go to “open people’s eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18).
One Florence Nightingale amid a world at war. But how many nurses are there today? Christian counteraction, you see. God’s kingdom and will really were being done on earth as it is in heaven. The Kingdom was being seeded now and we are the good seed, the sons and daughters of the kingdom (Matthew 13:38).
Like Jesus, we can bring the needs of earth to heaven in our prayers, and bring heaven to earth in our actions, so that in our little sphere wrong is not oft so strong, and the Father’s world can be more easily seen and felt.
And that, as the hymn writer wrote, is what satisfies Jesus: “Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one.” We can live positively in a negative world; it’s knowing that Jesus is being satisfied right now by the little things we say, do and pray about that make heaven and earth be one where we are – and inch by inch the Kingdom slowly advances.