The Church a Light
Many people in the U.S. are asking the questions, “What can bring this country together again?” “What will unite us?” The answers seem to be as broad and diverse as the shades of skin and cultures involved in the discussion. The voices are loud and dramatic. And then there are those who are silent. The best answer I can give you is that there will only be unity by bringing the Kingdom of God, in all of its diversity, together.
There are actually a lot of similarities between our world today, and the world that Jesus lived in 2000 years ago in Israel. The Roman Empire ruled over Israel. The Romans were not all from Italy. They were diverse because of the kingdoms they conquered and then employed. There was incredible racism of the Jews towards them. There was also internal fighting within Israel between the Samaritans, and the Jews. But even further, there were many factions within the Jews themselves. There was a diversity of religious beliefs and cultures that was in the country and flowed through it because it was a crossroads between Africa and the Middle East. There was racism, fighting, discrimination, stereotyping, pride, fighting, chaos, murders, psychopaths, and every other example of hatred imaginable.
In the midst of all that, Matthew 4:23 tells us, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.”
We may read this and think to ourselves, “what is so special about this passage?”
What is special is that JESUS WENT TO GALILEE. He went to the places where Satan had wreaked havoc. Jesus proclaimed that there was a new kingdom in town and that he had come to make that kingdom a reality. This place was poor, sinful, hopeless, and illiterate, there was no way that anyone of any kingly status would waste their time in a place like this, but Jesus would have no place for prejudice in his heart, these were his children and he needed to break down barriers that indicated these people as worthless. It was a giant billboard saying, “THESE PEOPLE ARE IMPORTANT TO ME TOO!” Through Jesus’ actions the prejudices of the people were either heightened or eradicated. This was always the process of Jesus, to be face to face with the “other,” and then treat them as His kings and queens. By this people were shocked and the walls they once had built up were brought into question.
Mark 1:14, 15 tells us that Jesus came preaching the gospel, the good news, which was the essence of what he came on Earth to do. Jesus wasn’t ignorant of people’s issues or their concerns, in fact we know that Christ felt injustices and pain himself. He walked on the same dark Earth we walk on. But in answer to it all, He gave the people good news. That good news was specifically about the Kingdom of God or Heaven, a place where injustice no longer exists, prejudice no longer exists, and hate no longer exists. That good news was the hope for people to keep living, to keep loving, to keep moving forward on this Earth, until they reached the heights of heaven. This is the good news He preached while he experienced the suffering of the imprisonment of John the Baptist, the death of Lazarus, his own trial, and even while He hung on the cross.
People were waiting for the Messiah for thousands of years, He was (in their minds) to bring about political relief from the Roman rulers, a man of deliverance. What was extremely disappointing to them, and what may be extremely disappointing to us today is that Jesus was not there to liberate them from political oppression, but to liberate people from the lies and oppression of Satan.
This statement alone does not indicate that Jesus did anything that was not against the system, but it does indicate that Jesus had not set out to defeat worldly systems of oppression, but was putting the axe at the root– the supernatural systems of oppression. Every human act of evil is a part of a supernatural kingdom of evil. It was this kingdom of darkness that Jesus came to break!
The lies of Satan had crept into the church, here are a few of the lies that the church at the time believed:
- That it was unlawful to interact with foreigners (Acts 10:28)
- That illnesses were punishments from God (John 9:3)
- That there was superiority to be found in your position and wealth (Mark 2:13-17)
Over time there was a prejudice that began to harbor in the hearts of God’s people.
When he preached about the gospel of the kingdom we know that he was offering another citizenship that was not of this world. This citizenship would accept His Lordship and rules over the rules of any kingdom of the world. This citizenship was and still is calling us higher by teaching us a few things. Let’s look deeper into way that Jesus approached the world he was living in.
- Jesus preached the message of the gospel of the kingdom of God as an alternative to the kingdom of the world where people experienced sickness, disease, oppression, hatred, poverty, and pain. This was a message of hope that the Kingdom of heaven would be one of relief, peace, and joy. This was a promise of a future to those that would chose to follow Him and His teachings.
- Jesus taught his disciples that in order to live in this kingdom that we must accept Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts and bring goodness, righteousness, and truth in our lives today (Ephesians 5:8). At no point did he insinuate that following him would be easy but he displayed that the kingdom of God and its citizens were those that would suffer for the sake of the gospel.
- Yet, Jesus did not just preach, he also liberated. Jesus liberated the blind man from his blindness, he liberated the sick man from his sickness, he liberated all from the bonds of sin. Jesus was not ignorant to the physical pains and troubles that they encountered.
Racisms Big Brother:
When it comes to racism we think of a few battles here in the U.S., but when we look deeper into the hearts of all we will find that there is a bigger brother we must talk about. The big brother of racism, is prejudice.
“Prejudice is a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.”
Many people can agree that they have prejudice in their lives but when it comes to racism people have a harder time agreeing. But prejudice is the starting point for racism to develop in the heart of a person.
Racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
So take a moment, and cut any prejudice you may have towards people of a certain class, gender, ethnicity, or skin color from your heart. The moment you begin to box people into ideas rather than seeing them as the Imago Dei we have already sinned against our Creator. There is no space for prejudice, there is no space for hate, and there is no space for racism in the heart of a Christian.
In order to bring something miraculously good in the midst of chaos, there must be something different about the church that catches everyone’s attention. Let’s take a look at the description of the NT church:
[Act 2:42-47 NIV] 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The light of the NT church in the darkness was the great compassion that each member was showing to those who were around them. They met together in fellowship and community, sharing with each other, and sacrificing so that each one’s needs were met. Because of this kingdom living they enjoyed the favor of all the people that were around them and people wanted to join them. This was service based kingdom living following their King as he knelt down to wash the feet of the disciples in John 13. What I have done for you, Jesus says, do for one another.
Is the church today, are you, telling people a message of hope in the face of racism and injustice through your your loving actions towards those around you? Do you tell people about the kingdom of heaven when they speak of the discrimination that has been done to them? Is your focus being together and meeting the needs of all of those who are apart of the kingdom of heaven that is at hand? Are you looking forward to the fulfilled kingdom to come? Or, have you lost your hope?
Read John 17 to yourself
- Find Something New: We know that Jesus had a fervent prayer life and a strong relationship with the Father. But never until this point do you see a word for word insight on what He would say in His prayers. From this passage we see that Jesus had a strong desire for those on earth to experience what He experiences, to know what He knows, to feel what He feels, and to do what He has empowered us to do. Discuss the desires that Jesus has for the world. What are some of the areas he focuses on? Who does He talk about? And what does He ask the Father to help us with?
- Find Something Interesting: Jesus prays that no one would be taken out of the world but that they would remain in it and remain far from the evil one. What benefit is there to leave people in a dark and distressed world? Does it make a difference when purified and light-bearing people are in a bad situation? Think of a time when you were in a dark situation, and there was a person (it can be yourself or someone else) who stood up in the midst of it all to share hope. What was it like? Does being a light mean that you will be safe from hurt? Read John 17: 14. Just like the salmon that swim upstream we must realize that not all the attention we get from being different will be positive, in fact, we almost become an easier target. If the salmon would just swim downstream they would not be eaten by bears but it is because of this unordinary behavior that makes them stand out.
Read John 13
- Find Something Interesting: What were the disciples arguing about leading up to Christ’s actions? What did Christ demonstrate through His actions? Sometimes we allow our situation, position, or class to dictate how and who we humble ourselves to. We may be willing to humble ourselves if the situation lends itself to us doing so. Christ demonstrated this humility to serve others in various ways and to various people. How many examples of Christ humbling Himself can you think of? What people groups did Christ serve? What were the roadblocks of discrimination that should have kept Him from coming to earth or serving others?
- Find Something Life Changing : Many of us may have felt the pain of discrimination, to our loved ones, to ourselves, or perhaps we have struggled with discriminating against others. But God has an awesome way of turning bad situations into a platform for His light to shine farther than the pain that initially hurt us. The gospel has a unifying power between the heavenly and the earthly, between people of all skin color, ethnicity, and status. Under God there is only one choice, love one another. In what ways can we be something “out of the ordinary” in a dark situation?
- How is the gospel Good News in the face of racism? Is the Good News only for the future or does it begin now? If so, how? https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=249&v=sAg7rn7fH3Q
Share with a group or write it down