The Kingdom of God Is Here (Matthew 10:5-15)

Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:

“Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.

“Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.

“When you enter a town or village, don’t insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people and be content there until you leave.

“When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. You can be sure that on Judgment Day they’ll be mighty sorry—but it’s no concern of yours now. (The Message)

“People can’t observe the coming of God’s kingdom. They can’t say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ You see, God’s kingdom is within  you.” Jesus, from Luke 17:20-21, GW

When Jesus told his followers that the kingdom of God is here, he didn’t simply mean that it all of a sudden showed up. No, it’s already here. It always has been. We just haven’t paid attention. And we haven’t noticed because we keep looking for a location, somewhere outside of ourselves. But, as it turns out, we already have what we’ve been searching for.

Christianity, at its core, is about following Christ. And that journey with Jesus is first and foremost a journey into oneself. This is why the Lord tells the disciples not to go first to outsiders. There’ll be a time for that. But now, the journey to their fellow Jews was to be an internal walk into the very depths of their own souls and the soul of a nation.

The singular message of this particular mission was to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. It is here. In fact, it is so near and here that it is actually within you. But the disciples needed to discover this for themselves by going out and removing all obstacles to awareness of God’s light.

Jesus sent the disciples out and told them not to take anything with them because they already had what they needed. The kingdom of God is already within them.

A Byzantine fresco of Jesus sending the disciples, 12th century

So, they were to leave all their baggage and their stuff behind. The disciples were to be stripped of all their trusted outer resources so that they had the ability to see themselves, to others, and human need – and then to be moved in their hearts with compassion, just as Jesus is. 

Whenever we take all our pre-packaged stuff with us into relationships and the doing of Christ’s mission, we already assume we know what other people need. If we have nothing with us, then we are able to see people for who they actually are; we can genuinely listen to what they are saying. 

You have freely received compassion from God, so freely give it away. Not everyone will respond, but that’s not your business; they will have to deal with God on that later.

Compassion is to be our response to human need. Yet, we don’t always respond with compassion because of the obstacles within our own hearts and lives prevent us from seeing others and their needs.

The following are a few of obstructions which hinder us from compassion and perceiving the kingdom of God within us, and how to deal with them:

  1. Contempt. Contempt breeds contempt. Unacknowledged and unresolved anger produces bitterness. Hatred feeds more hatred. Our environment makes a difference. For example, if you find you have to check your heart at the workplace in order to do your job, then you need to either you quit your, or bring forth the kingdom of God by tirelessly advocating for compassionate treatment of people.
  2. Busyness. I’m referring to an unhealthy pace of life. Many of us work too much and do too many things. We cannot have compassionate hearts by moving so fast that we fail to see other people’s needs. Slow down. No one is going to come to the end of their life and wished they had been workaholics. Make a thoughtful plan to slow down enough so you can tune into the needs of others and have emotional energy for them.
  3. Resentment. It’s possible to become coldhearted by excessive and unrelenting caregiving. This is the same sort of problem as an unhealthy pace of life; you give so much that you actually begin to resent the people you care for. Caregiving has to be meticulously balanced with self-care. There’s a time for everything, including rest and recuperation.
  4. Inaction. Only receiving and not giving is what I call “spiritual constipation.” It’s when a person listens to hundreds and thousands of sermons and podcasts but doesn’t listen to their neighbor. They have no intention of putting anything they hear into practice.

However, with nothing restricting or obstructing God’s kingdom within us, we can see the divine image within each person and within ourselves. We can begin to radiate that divine presence and be transformed by it’s inner light.

Like Jesus, transfigured before the disciples on Mount Tabor, we too, become transfigured by God’s energy of love touching our hidden divine energy as image-bearers. That energy now comes forth because we have left everything behind to follow Christ and experience the generosity which, ironically, only comes from having nothing.

This is a spiritual walk we cannot take alone. The road we travel is the way of community. Just as God is community – Father, Son, and Spirit – always in a unity of love, so we, as God’s image-bearers with the divine light within us, must strip ourselves of everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

We are to fix our eyes on Jesus and see him, the pioneer of our faith, the Light of the World, the Living Water, and Bread for the world, who endured all things for the redemption of humanity and all creation.

Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself: We praise and bless you for those whom you have sent in the power of the Spirit to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by their prayers and labors, and that in every place your servants call upon your Name; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.

Matthew 10:34-42 – The Trouble with Jesus

Jesus teaching the disciples, from the Catacombs of Domitilla, Rome

Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
    a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (New International Version)

Jesus is the sort of guy that gets up in our grill and confronts us with this: All of life centers in him. That may sound incredibly narcissistic. For Christians, it isn’t, because we discern and confess along with the Apostle Paul:

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20, NIV)

The Christian’s confession of centrality in Christ means that we believe Jesus is the most important person there is. That confession often makes us troublemakers, as we follow in the footsteps of the Lord who was himself a troublemaker.

That may also sound like something that happens when a narcissist is in control. Again, for Christians, it isn’t, because we realize that trouble is central to Christian mission; the way of the resurrection comes through the cross; the way to succeed is to fail; and whoever loses their life will find it.

We Should Expect Opposition

We should not be obstinate, pigheaded, short-sighted, legalistic, or use the Bible as a brick to throw at people who disagree with us. That will certainly bring opposition and trouble. But this is not the kind of opposition we’re talking about. Being a jerk is antithetical to the gospel. Don’t be a jerk.

The opposition Jesus experienced came through being humble, meek, just, merciful, pure, and peace-loving. According to Christ’s Beatitudes, embracing these values will smack against their opposites. Pride, criticism, judgmentalism, and selfishness are ensconced everywhere throughout this fallen world.

The virtues of Jesus are counter-cultural; they’re different than how the world typically operates. 

As people who must live in this world, we need to avoid the extremes of simple assimilation into the culture, or an outright rejection of the culture. Blending into culture, and separating from it, are both ways of avoiding opposition and trouble. 

Instead, there is a third way that encompasses both shrewdness and innocence. And it is faithful to the way of Jesus. We need to interact with and engage the culture as salt and light. 

Assimilation means that we lose our saltiness. Isolation means that we hide our light.

But interaction means that we are discerning and seek to apply understanding and truth in the concrete situations of life in the world.

It means that we learn critical thinking skills. It involves listening to others and discovering their values. It requires speaking into another’s life with grace and truth. It is a matter of following the words and ways of Jesus, the center of all things.

Any fool can stand against something and complain about it – shouting from afar about what they don’t like. It’s also foolish to accept everything without question. As followers of Jesus, opposition and trouble is going to come when you rub shoulders with the world. If we never experience opposition, it’s probably because we have either succumbed to the culture or have removed ourselves from it.

We Will Inevitably Upset Our Family

Trouble will likely come from family. In many countries of this world, a family member who becomes a Christian has brought shame upon the entire family and, so, is in jeopardy of being shunned, rejected, or worse. That sort of trouble may be foreign to many, but family separations certainly occur in our own culture because of faith commitments to Jesus. 

Jesus stated that anyone who takes the easy way of loving family more than him is not worthy of him. Anyone who does not take up their cross and follow Jesus, even if it means trouble, is not worthy of following him. 

Each one must die to self. Let… it… go….

Die to the old life; take up a new life – a life dedicated wholeheartedly to Christ.

The old life involves holding onto a spirit of unforgiveness and bitterness; avoiding certain people; refusing to make things right with others. The new life entails keeping steadfast love, caring for others, embracing humility, being self-less, thinking the best of others, forgiving others, taking pleasure in truth, remaining patient, and always trusting God, no matter what.

We Are Going to Feel Afraid

Fear has to do with the unknown. If we expect opposition and trouble, then we won’t live in dread of what might happen. The early Christians even rejoiced in their suffering because they considered it a privilege to be walking in the way of Jesus. (Acts 5:41)

God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. (Philippians 1:29, CEB)

We will receive special help in times of trouble and fear. We have the Holy Spirit, given to us to be our Helper for such a time as this. God is with us.

When you go through deep waters,
    I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
    you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
    you will not be burned up;
    the flames will not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2, NLT)

God sees everything and isn’t taken by surprise by your hardship; the Lord will eventually deal with all that is wrong in this world.

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

It is a privilege to follow Jesus into trouble. This is “upside-down” theology. In giving my life away to Jesus, I find it. In getting into trouble, I find peace. In taking up my cross, I find purpose and joy. 

The flooding of thousands of square kilometers of rain forest in Brazil has given birth to an unusual industry – the extraction of underwater wood. Millions of tree trunks, below the waters of a lake formed by the 1980 construction of a hydro-electric dam, captured the entrepreneurial vision of Juarez Cristiano Gomes.

He invented an electric saw that works underwater and set up a company to extract this wood. Lumberjacks equipped with air tanks go down as far as 164 feet but are never in danger of being smashed by trees they cut since they “fall” upward to the surface.

The kingdom of God is upside-down. Facing trouble and opposition doesn’t make us fall; it actually lifts us up.

So, count the cost. Give your life away. In doing so, you will certainly not lose your reward from God.

Matthew 10:16-25 – The Place of Trouble

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
 
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
 
“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! (New International Version)
 
Take a moment to let this statement from Jesus sink-in: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”… 
 
To name the obvious: A pack of wolves will attack a flock of sheep because a wolf is a hunter, and a sheep is the prey. In short, wolves eat sheep.
 
So, when Jesus said this to a group of guys who are familiar with rural metaphors, they clearly got the message: The Lord is putting us in a place of danger. We are at risk. We could lose our lives.
 
From the mere human perspective, Christ’s words to his disciples are outlandish. Here we have a group of people who are following Jesus. But they likely didn’t sign-up for this! Perhaps they began to think their Lord was a bit off his rocker. Maybe he ate a piece of moldy bread or a leftover fish that didn’t agree with him.
 
Sometimes, followers of Jesus Christ completely lose sight that he was a troublemaker and warned us about trouble in the world. 
 
It’s not that Jesus was intentionally pressing everyone’s buttons; he was just being himself, and that sent a whole lot of people, at the worst, gnashing their teeth and caballing to kill him; and, at the least, causing them to question why they are even paying attention to him. 
 
Then, when you throw into the mix that Jesus also tended to get all up into people’s grill and confront them with bold assertions that they can only be rightly related to God through himself, on his terms, there ends up being a large chunk of folks who simply walk away, believing Christian discipleship isn’t for them.
 
Yet, Jesus wasn’t presenting something brand new. He was lifting up a truth which has been with God’s people throughout the ages: God never promises to keep us from trouble.
 
In fact, the Lord does just the opposite: He promises we will face a great deal of trouble because of our spiritual commitments. However, there is a further promise: God will be with us through the trouble, and not apart from it. We don’t even need to worry about what to say because God’s very Spirit will speak for us.
 
This is one reason why Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep. Yes, Jesus is sending out his disciples like vulnerable sheep among ravenous wolves. However, he forever stands as the divine sentinel, watching over the flock, keeping them safe, going after the strays, and challenging the predators.
 
We may be in a difficult place of trouble, yet Jesus is present with us by means of the Holy Spirit. We do not fear and instead live with confidence in the middle of hard circumstances because God is with us. And if God is with us and God loves us, nothing can separate us from our Lord – no matter how cunning and intimidating that big old wolf is.
 
Therefore, we should expect opposition and trouble. There are going to be times that we unintentionally disrupt and upset our families, our co-workers, and those around us. 
 
It’s not that we are trying to be obnoxious or malicious; it’s just that by simply loving Jesus and seeking to follow him, we are going to upset some people – and, as Christians, we need to be okay with that reality. 
 
Facing trouble is really not the worst thing to be experienced; to be separated from God is the most terrible thing that could ever happen to us.
 
My friends, it is okay to rock the boat, shake the tree, upset the fruit basket, stir the pot, and make waves if you are doing it because you are committed to God’s will and you are truly living into the words and ways of Jesus. 
 
Because Jesus faced a great deal of trouble, opposition, and suffering, he is able to help us through our own overwhelming stuff.
 
So, count the cost. Give your life away. In doing so, you will actually find it – and find that you are saved and safe.
 
Holy God, you are jealous for your Name to be honored and adored. My life is yours. Use it for your glory in this fallen world. If trouble and persecution occur, I’ll consider it a privilege to suffer for Jesus and an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to show up. Amen.