The Already Here Kingdom Pt. 2
Have you ever had the experience of frantically looking for your keys only to find that they are in your pocket, or in the ignition of the car or hanging from the lock on the back door—just where you left them? You may have looked all over the house for your hat, only to find it sitting right there on your head. As you searched and searched, it was there, on your head, all the while.
Just where is the kingdom of God? In Mark 1:15 Jesus said “the kingdom of God is near.” In Luke 17:20-21 he says, “the kingdom of God is in your midst.” So is the kingdom near, but not here? Is it here, but we just don’t know where to look?
The Interpreter’s Bible comments about Luke 17:21 saying that when Jesus said, the kingdom of God is in your midst, he was saying that “God’s dominion is already on display in your midst.” Such an emphasis is one obvious meaning of this passage—the kingdom has already come, and continues to be present in our world, through Jesus, the King of the kingdom, our risen Lord.
Jesus, God in the flesh, came to our world bringing the gospel, the good news that proclaims the kingdom of heaven. When he died, the kingdom didn’t end—it continued, for he rose from the dead, and is very much alive and present in our world, in the lives of those who believe in him and trust him.
When the King of the kingdom came, he never left, and not only that, the seed of the kingdom that he planted has continued to grow for almost 20 centuries. Let’s think about that concept of a seed for a moment—and as we do we’ll consider one of Jesus’ parables.
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”—Matthew 13:31-32
The parable of the mustard seed is a parable of the kingdom—it begins with the familiar words of kingdom parables—the kingdom of heaven is like. Jesus gave the parable of the mustard seed to explain his kingdom. He planted the kingdom and it has grown.
Now, we need to stop at this point and consider what many of those who say they follow and fear God have done to the kingdom. Within Christendom many have co-opted the kingdom, they have taken over the idea of a kingdom and used it for their own ends. Co-opt means to commandeer, taking something and using it for one’s own use. Many who are entrapped by spurious, pseudo religion that exists and even thrives within Christendom have taken the basic idea of a kingdom and re-defined it to serve their own institutional purposes. They still call it the kingdom of God but their definition differs radically from the kingdom Jesus proclaimed.
For example, when many preach and teach the parable of the mustard seed, they read their own movement—their own denomination—their own group—into the parable. They will effectively say, “Yes, you see, our group/ church/ congregation/ denomination/ movement/ ministry started small— because that’s the way God does things. But look at what God has done with us so far. That’s a proof he is involved in what we are doing. And he will keep adding to our numbers over time, until we are, like the parable says of the mustard tree, “the largest of garden plants.”
So, rather than glorifying God for the growth of his kingdom in the world at large, many instead glorify themselves —identifying themselves as the kingdom—and drawing a boundary around those who are, or will be, in the kingdom, as determined by those who become paid-in-full members of a specific brand of Christ-less religion.
But this idea is a travesty and a corruption of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The mustard seed grows and grows and grows—it is not limited by someone’s theological garden or field. The very point of the parable is that the mustard seed of the kingdom cannot be contained in a church building or by the doctrines and dogmas of a denomination! But what has religion done? It’s perverted the kingdom, co-opting it for its own purposes! Let’s read on in Matthew 13 for another parable of the kingdom of heaven:
He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked through the dough.” —Matthew 13:33
The word “mixed” (describing the action the woman takes in co-mingling yeast into dough) can also be understood as “hidden.” Just as yeast leavens a large quantity of flour, so too the kingdom of heaven leavens the world. The kingdom of heaven, like leaven, might seem to be hidden, and in some ways it may have continued to be hidden since it was first introduced into the flour of this world by Jesus.
It’s the yeast in the flour that makes the dough rise—and will eventually cause it to become bread. In a similar way, the kingdom of heaven is the spiritual leavening agent that infiltrates the entire world. Both of these two parables are telling us that one of the important aspects of the kingdom of God is already here! Thomas Merton, one of the most influential Christian authors of the 20th century, once said that, apart from God, human perception of the kingdom of God is somewhat like a person riding on an ox looking for an ox.
The kingdom of God is hiding in plain sight! Something like the hat you’re looking for that’s on top of your head— or the keys you are frantically searching for that are right there in your pocket. That’s the central meaning of our keynote passage, in Luke 17:20-21, when Jesus said that the kingdom doesn’t come with careful observation, nor are people able to point it out to you by saying “there it is”— because, as Jesus said, the kingdom is in your midst.
The kingdom of God grows because Jesus planted it. The kingdom of God grows of itself, and it grows according to God’s plan. In that regard, the kingdom of God is a mystery to humans because it defies our predictions. It grows outside of churches that attempt to hoard it and control it and it grows inside of churches that attempt to kill the kingdom, in favor of their own kingdom.
If the kingdom of God could have taken over the entire world by people carefully studying the Bible, or by people evangelizing the world, or by people marching to the drum beat of religion—then the kingdom of God would have completely overgrown the entire solar system by now. The ultimate success of the salvation of the world has not been assigned to human beings. God will take care of the ultimate success of the kingdom, in fact, he already has. The kingdom of heaven has been planted by Jesus, God in the flesh. The kingdom of heaven has leavened this world. Speaking of his crucifixion Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).
He said he would draw ALL people to himself. He didn’t say some. He didn’t say he would only draw those who believed in the right creeds and doctrines. He didn’t say that he would draw all those who worked hard to do all the right things and avoid doing all the wrong things—he said ALL. Jesus used that word “all” many, many times when he spoke of the success of the kingdom of God. He used the word “all” so many times that Christ-less religion gets the heebie-jeebies reading it, because they want people to believe that they and they alone can punch tickets for the kingdom.
The kingdom of God is hidden—it’s hiding in plain sight. It’s not captured by religion—it can grow within religion— it can grow in a building called a church—and it can and does grow outside of that building and that set of doctrines. It grows wherever God wants it to, which, if you read the Gospels carefully, means everywhere. No boundaries can stop the kingdom of God. No one can stop it.
Religion at the time of Jesus was looking for a different kind of kingdom than the one Jesus planted—and Christ-less religion today continues to make the same mistake. The kingdom remains hidden to Christ-less religion because it is looking in all the wrong places.
• Christ-less religion is looking for a kingdom that is limited to a finite, humanly qualified group of chosen people— but the kingdom of God is for everyone.
• Christ-less religion is looking for a kingdom that will come at some future date, and while that is partially true, the kingdom is already here as well.
• Christ-less religion is looking for a kingdom that they can help establish, by their missionaries, by their religious activities, by their hard work—but the kingdom does not need human efforts to grow.
• In fact, it may well be that the kingdom of God grows best when humans don’t get in its way.
• The kingdom of God is here—already—though as far as much of institutionalized religion is concerned, it is hiding in plain sight.