Not long ago, my beautiful wife and I thought, 'You know what? Let's go down travelling for the long weekend!'
We wanted to do some touristy stuff down the south end of Tasmania, especially around the whole Port Arthur area. And thanks to family being in the area, we even had a free place to stay.
Unfortunately, they already had house guests for the long weekend, and our booking was just a little bit late. So, we ended up camped in the yard in a tent on some really comfortable mattresses for two nights. We had a great time road tripping around over the weekend, but soon enough Tuesday morning came around—and it was time to pack up.
Have you ever been camping before? Actual camping? As long as I can remember, setting up camp is quite simply one of the best things ever. But packing up camp? Not so much. Do you want to know what the worst part of packing up camp is? The sleeping bag. Little eight-year-old Blaine hated packing up sleeping bags.
They come out of their little pouch so easily, but it's a genuine effort to make them fit back in when you're trying to roll them up. I can remember folding it in half, trying to put as much weight on it as I could, rolling it up, and trying to cram that sucker into that pouch. After half an hour of vain attempts, I would just give up and get Dad to do it.
But Dad wasn't around to help me pack up after our trip to Port Arthur. My sleeping bag was easy, but my wife's—not so much. She had one of those fancy feather down sleeping bags that poof up absurdly large, and somehow they're meant to fit in a pouch that's almost half the size of mine.
So while my wife was inside the house, enjoying a shower or breakfast, or something like that, I was labouring over her sleeping bag into trying to get it into the pouch. Three minutes later, it was finally in there, but it was a genuine effort. It would keep poofing up in all the wrong places, and I had to work to fit that sleeping bag into the pouch. But of course I'm a grown man, so I won. I tied the straps around that pouch and felt quite accomplished. But man it was an effort.
A ministry which doesn't fit the mould...or the pouch
By the middle of Jesus' ministry on this earth, different groups of people were struggling to fit Jesus into the pouch that they had created for him. They couldn't quite figure him out.
Everyone had all kinds of expectations of who Jesus should be. Was he the Messiah, (he said he was) but did that mean he was going to overthrow the Roman Empire in his local town? Was he going to become the new King of Judea? Was a he a prophet? Was he a rebel? Was he a threat to everything that the leaders and religious police had worked hard to establish? No one could fit him in to a particular category, box or sleeping bag pouch.
And that's just what Jesus intended.
By his words and his actions, he showed he was going to fulfil all of their expectations—but not in the way they thought. This was the genius of Jesus' teaching, and this is why he used parables or stories to teach people about one central, fundamental message: THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS HERE.
The Kingdom of God is the most revolutionary, controversial, and utterly scandalous teaching anyone back in Jesus time had ever heard. Why? Because it completely flipped the paradigm of everything they thought they knew about God. And it's really important we get this because the Kingdom of God has massive implications for how we should be living on this earth today. So buckle in, it's about to get serious.
Unlike the kingdoms of this earth, which usually establish themselves from the outside, the Kingdom of God grows like a seed from the inside (Mark chapter 4, verse 1). This seed grows every time we listen to Jesus' teaching and put it into practice.
Secondly, unlike people's perception of God at the time, Jesus spoke of a radically inclusive Kingdom of Heaven. Instead of God's chosen people (law abiding Jews) being the only ones who could claim to be close to God, Jesus brought the Kingdom of God to the very least of civilisation.
God wants to include everyone in his kingdom, and we see these values through the parables (or stories) of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son in Luke chapter 15.
An accessible kingdom
Another completely unexpected message Jesus taught regarding this new Kingdom of God, was that God was near to every man.
In order to understand just how revolutionary this is, we need to have a look at how the people of Jesus' day saw God. How did they interact with, or view God? God was distant. His presence was said to be in the innermost part of the temple which was in the centre of the city, but only a handful of people had ever gone in where God's presence dwelt. Only a few people could have claimed to have ever spoken to or be heard by God, and the only way God would notice you (or so the average Jew was taught) was if you spent your entire life memorizing God's law and putting it into practice.
But now, here is Jesus speaking to thousands of people on a mountain side, teaching about the Kingdom of God with statements like, 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'
Jesus speaks of a Kingdom in which God is near and hears the prayer of the everyday Joe. For the first time, in the history of God's people, Jesus was encouraging everyone he encountered to ask God for what they needed, just as a child asks a father for what they need. This was absolutely mind-blowing for the average Joe...the average Jew, back in the first century, and it's still mind blowing now. The fact that we can go to the Almighty God of the universe who made all things and is above all things and say:
'Heavenly Father, you are so holy. We want your Kingdom to be here on earth, we want earth to look like heaven. Please look after us, and give us everything we need to live. Please forgive us for all of the times we've messed up, and we're going to try and forgive everyone that's ever wronged us, because we know that you're good and will keep us safe from all temptation and tricks of the enemy.'
This blows my mind! Jesus goes on to say to the crowd on the mountainside that not only can we talk to God, but in the Kingdom of God, he even knows our needs before we can verbalise them! We don't have to worry about tomorrow, about what we'll wear, or what we'll eat because our heavenly Father is good and provides all of those things!
Speaking into a world freaking out about the Roman occupation, about really heavy taxes, and about a really economically dry climate, Jesus says, guess what? 'Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness and I'll take care of the other stuff.'
The Kingdom of God is a kingdom where God is near to every single person, and this is something that makes the teaching of Jesus, thus Jesus himself, so revolutionary and powerful both in the first century and today.
Blaine Packer is a graduate of Worldview Centre for Intercultural Studies who is passionate about media and mission. Currently residing in Launceston, Tasmania, Blaine is involved in both media and local ministry work at Door of Hope Christian Church.
Blaine Packer's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/blaine-packer.html