The Seeding of the Kingdom – NOW!
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?
We’d probably answer these pressing questions how as many ways as there are Christians but one often overlooked place to start is to remember how much teaching on the Kingdom 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 just as he told John the Baptizer (John 11:1-5). But, 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. The Virus. It is cruel and vile and we should ask God to rebuke it as he did in days of old.
Is it somewhat naïve to sing about “rocks and trees and skies and seas” in the face of such human tragedy.
Well, part of the answer is to see if God is even aware of all this. 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 or too capriciously good people might not understand – might get offended, ‘God is not fair.’ So let’s wait till the end, then it gets sorted out.”
This parable has many offshoots. It shows us judgment. It reminds us that people get away with nothing in the end. There is a judgment coming. 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 Reversals
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 a few years ago and won’t hand it 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. If you think this is a “stretch” just ask where we’d be without modern nursing in fighting the Coronavirus – it came out of war, the good seed among the bad, just as Jesus said.
- ISIS once controlled a territory as big as the American state of Ohio. These cruel cutthroats cut people’s heads off with knives. They looked formidable and unstoppable. But a President few people would equate with Christian values uprooted them in about a month. Murderers better beware – history has a strange way of turning on the overly cruel. CNN or MSNBC will never report this but God hates cruelty. There is a little book of the Bible named Obadiah but the networks won’t mention it. But it has one simple message – God hates cruelty and nations who engage in it are “on his list.” He often uses one nation or group of nations to punish others, just like the neighboring Vietnamese chased the insane Khmer Rouge into oblivion in the 1970s. The clock of history ticks slowly sometimes. Like the Asian proverb states: the mills of the gods grind slowly but they grind. ISIS has come under judgment for their wonton cruelty. So look around at vicious enemies who seem to “getting away with things.” Will God act now or later? That’s up to him but judgment there will surely be.
- Neil and his wife visited 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, every month, and every year. 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 groups as well. 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. If that is true then so is the sure certainty of rectification ahead. The seeding of the kingdom – small, insidious, almost unnoticeable.
In Pitched Battle
So 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 who died shall be satisfied and earth and heaven be one.”
It sometimes takes some serious reflection and rethinking on our part to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Too many 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. All this is 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. Nor does it notice the radical way of being human that Jesus lived and taught in the Sermon on the Mount, that’s being lived and taught by his followers.
So it looks like the wrong still rules, but lots of people refused to believe that in Jesus’ day, and they changed the world as his witnesses. So into the world 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. Now hundreds and hundreds of thousands of “front line workers,” a thousand of whom have lost their lives. She herself must have known that because of Jesus’ death the darkness of this world really was on the run, that the power on this planet really was God’s and no longer the Devil’s, and God’s kingdom and will really were being done on earth as it is in heaven. The Kingdom was being seeded now and when we do God’s will, good works of genuine charity, we are the good seed, the sons and daughters of the kingdom (Matthew 13:38). This is a battle – we have to come to have an “inner talk with ourselves” to prove all this is true.
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 of influence 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.” And that’s what enables us to live positively and optimistically 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, a little bit, right where we are – because that’s what seeding the Kingdom is all about.