“As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” ( Matthew 10:7-8 )
So here are some questions I’ve been asking ever since I first read those verses as a new Christian: where are those disciples being sent out by Jesus today to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and drive out demons? Where is that dynamic, united, surrendered, devoted, Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered community of faith we see in Acts chapter 2? What happened to that Church?
Some scholars and theologians suggest that Church ‘grew up’ and ‘matured’ out of that ‘pioneering’ phase and so our ministry is different now. Well they are right on one count – our ministry is surely different now – but was it meant to be? Did we really ‘mature’ or did we lose the plot and walk away from the mission of Christ? I think we already know what really happened to the Church we read about in the book of Acts.
What began as a dynamic, Spirit-led community of faith was given State sanction about 300 years later and it became a religion. As it moved to Greece, Christianity became a philosophy. As it moved through Europe, Christianity became a culture. In Italy, Christianity became an institution. And when it finally took root in America, Christianity eventually became a business!
But the Church which Jesus birthed and promised to build; the Church against which hell itself will not prevail; was never meant to be a religion or a philosophy or a culture or an institution or a business! So for centuries now we have been struggling against these corruptions of the dynamic, Spirit-led faith community Jesus birthed all those years ago. It truly is mind-boggling to see how we have complicated what was so simple. When Jesus sent those first disciples out, He gave them a simple, six word sermon to preach.
Jesus told His disciples to preach exactly what He had been preaching: “The kingdom of heaven is near.” Then He told them to prove it as they: “ … heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and drive out demons.” And that is exactly what they did and when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon those disciples at Pentecost, the Church was born and the world was never the same again!
Now for centuries Christians have been praying what we call The Lords Prayer and contained within that most prayed prayer of all time are these powerful words: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
The purpose of the Church is to advance that Kingdom on earth, by God’s grace, for God’s glory, through God’s Spirit. That’s why I’m here. That’s why you’re here. That’s the mission of Christ – which is the only mission we have – and the prayer which embodies that mission best of all is, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth (right now) as it is in heaven (right now).”
Simply put, when we pray that prayer we are asking God to make real on earth now what is real in heaven:
There are no sick people in heaven.
There are no dead people in heaven.
There are no homeless people in heaven.
There are no refugees in heaven.
There are no marginalized or persecuted or oppressed people in heaven.
There are no unsaved people in heaven.
There are no lonely people in heaven.
When Jesus came to earth, He brought that reality with Him. Everywhere He went, the power and the authority of the Kingdom of heaven overtook the dysfunction and brokenness of this earthly kingdom. The sick were healed. The dead were raised. The oppressed were set free. The lonely and marginalized found a new family. The reality within the eternal Kingdom of God entered this earthly kingdom and basically all heaven broke loose! Then finally, before leaving us in the flesh, Jesus commissioned us to continue advancing the Kingdom of heaven across the whole earth, discipling people as we go. Everywhere Jesus went there was transformation as heaven was set lose on earth.
So where is that transformation today? When the true gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, the Spirit of God draws men, women and young people into a life-changing encounter with their Lord and Saviour. I don’t care how trendy or culturally relevant your packaging of the Gospel is, unless you are proclaiming ‘the kingdom of heaven is near’ and then allowing the Spirit of God to transform the lives of those who encounter that kingdom – you are not embracing the mission of Christ and you are not part of the Church Jesus promised to build.
Why do most of us still act like heaven is where we go after we leave this earth? Jesus brought heaven to us over 2,000 years ago when we released the Kingdom of God on earth. He then called us to partner with Him in advancing that Kingdom by He grace and for His glory. That’s why we are here. Pure and simple.