The people who were sitting (living) in [spiritual] darkness have seen a great light, and for those who were sitting (living) in the land and shadow of [spiritual and moral] death, upon them a Light has dawned.Matthew 4:16 (taken from Isaiah 9:1-2)
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent [change your inner self – your old way of thinking, regret past sins, live your life in a way that proves repentance, seek God’s purpose for your life], for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”Matthew 1:17
As Jesus was walking by the sea of Galilee, He noticed two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, “Follow Me [as My disciples, accepting Me as your Master and Teacher and walking the same path of life that I walk], and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him [becoming His disciples, believing and trusting in Him and following His example].Matthew 4:18-20
As we read further, we read that Jesus repeated these actions with James and John, and they responded just as Peter and Andrew did, they followed Him, becoming His disciples, believing and trusting in Him and following His example. And just as He did in the early days of His ministry, so Jesus continues to do what He has done over the centuries, noticing people like you and like me, issuing the invitation to follow Him as His disciples, and providing (because He no longer is physically present with us) His Spirit to assist us in being His disciples as we believe and trust in Him and follow His example. And so a Kingdom is being birthed and built.
My question today is, “How does a Kingdom flourish?” I am using the word ‘flourish’ to mean (1) to grow luxuriantly (2) to achieve success (3) to be in a state of activity or production (4) to reach a height of development or influence. Obviously, in God’s sense of things, the responsibility for building is not ours, but His. The Kingdom is God’s idea. He created it. He redeemed it by sending a great light. Jesus came and lived and provided the resources and example for the Kingdom. He provided the framework, but is that enough? Apparently not, because Jesus called human beings to follow after Him, to believe and trust in Him and follow His example. So we must participate in the process.
I have had a picture in my mind that might help explain what participation in Kingdom building might look like. I have never played in an orchestra, but I love to attend a concert because I love music. Here’s what I see before the concert begins. The musicians are seated. The are preparing to play…they tune their instruments, making sure that everything is in general working order. Once that is accomplished, the first violin player enters the stage, he stands before the rest of the orchestra, they all attend to him, and he plays a note to which everyone else tunes his instrument so that every instrument is perfectly tuned to that of the first violin player. The conductor enters the stage and the orchestra is prepared to perform the composition. Every member has his music score and his instrument ready and turns his attention to the conductor, eyes fixed on him, as he raises his arms to begin. He moves his arms to say, ‘More softly. More loudly. You play now. All together now.’ The orchestra members follow exactly what he is saying. The result is magnificent and glorious!
What actions preceded that performance? Each musician, for years, has studied music and become proficient on his instrument. He practices, almost daily, becoming knowledgeable of both his instrument and a variety of music scores. The orchestra, built upon the proficiency of each individual member, comes together to practice prescribed pieces of music. They work through an individual piece, learning to play together, and learning to attend to the ways of the conductor, getting to know him, obeying him, and coming to trust him. After weeks or months of practicing together, the orchestra is prepared for the glorious concert.
How does this illustration translate into Kingdom building? Jesus calls each of us into His Kingdom. Individually we study His word and get to know Him. We have the added benefit of having the conductor live inside of us at all times. He is interpreting and empowering His word into our lives and our very beings to shape us into who He created us to be from before time. But remember, God is building a Kingdom made of individuals. We each have a part to play. As God works in individuals who come together, we are tuned together to watch God and respond in obedience individually and corporately. Who does the tuning? Our pastors teach us from an accurate assessment from God’s word because they too are being shaped as they follow Jesus and respond to His calling to believe and trust in Him. They lead us as we worship, as we sing, and pray, and speak God’s word back to Him through liturgy.
To what end do these actions take place? So that together we love God and we love one another. God builds that into us. Even as we learn to love, even in disagreement, we are showing our love for God and our obedience to Him. How does that even happen, especially at such a time as this? We go back to our conductor and ask Him to teach us even how to think, to question what shapes our thinking. It is through Him that we come to unity, to love, to believe together through the power of the Trinity. The result of our having a ‘believing’ love for one another results in a joy in being together, caring for one another, celebrating with one another. Examples: collecting money to provide for the needs of one of our own. (We have a benevolence fund that we use for such purposes, but a group of us can decide to do that, too). We had Christmas carolers from our church come to our house for the first time ever. We were blessed. Helping one another find cars or dentists or chiropractors. We see this often on our church Facebook group. When we do these things, when we creatively think of ways we can bless one another, when we follow God’s promptings in obedience…. God’s Kingdom is growing, and flourishing.
I want to close with a note in my study bible on Psalm 149:6. “Let the high praises of God be in their throats, and a two-edged sword in their hands.” The focus of the psalm switches from the congregation at worship to the army in training. Israel’s army was to be the vanguard for the battle of the Lord. Their training was to have a strong component of praise and worship to God.
As we celebrate the Light Who came into this dark world, may we, as this part of God’s Kingdom, flourish in every respect to be all that God intends and needs us to be in this dark hour.