The Heart of the Gospel (Jon Fryer)
… So Jesus had been hanging around with the disciples for just over a year, and he says to them “Now its your turn. You’ve been listening to me and watching how I do things for months, and I think you’re ready to start spreading the message yourselves. Go to the lost sheep, and tell them this message ‘The Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near to you’. That’s all. ‘The Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near to you’. And to prove that your words are true, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Oh, and don’t take along any spare clothes, or money, or tools, because you are working for God, and He will look out for you.”
Ok, so when teaching his guys what to say, Jesus just gave them one sentence that he obviously thought summed up his whole message, one phrase that he thought covered the entire heart of his message to the world. I think that one sentence is probably worth thinking about, seeing as it is therefore probably the most important message in the history of the world.
Lets work through it logically: “The Kingdom …” That’s the first part of the message – if there is a Kingdom, then there must be a King. If there is a King, then He gets to make the rules… and you don’t get choose. This is not a democracy. The King is the King whether you like it or not. You either live under his rule, or you leave the country. If you stay in the country, then you either follow the laws of the land, or you break them. If you break them, then there are consequences. This part of the message is a reminder that you can’t just live the way you want to live without there being consequences. The world has forgotten that, and that’s why it is in such a mess.
“The Kingdom of Heaven…” Secondly - There is a Heaven. That’s an important thing to remember, because if that is true then is should change the way that we live. By forgetting the King we forgot the laws of the Kingdom, but once we remember it means that we can’t just carry on the way we were. The people in Jesus’ day were the same as they are now – lovers of money, out for themselves, lovers of pleasure, greedy and selfish. But if this world is NOT all that there is, then suddenly our priorities should change. If this world is not everything that there is to experience, then suddenly all those things should be less important. If this world is just a prelude to something better, then surely our priority should be to gain for ourselves that better place, rather than wasting time on the things of the everyday world that are just an empty lie, and that have been pulled over your eyes to blind you to the truth that there is something better.
Thirdly, if the Kingdom of Heaven has “drawn near”, then it must have been far away. Why was it far away? Not because of God. Because of us. You remember the story. “In the Beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth” and everything was good, and everything was perfect. But Lucifer, the most beautiful of the angels, looked up the stairs of Heaven to the throne of God and said to himself “I’m the most beautiful, I’m as good as God, what right does He have to be the King? I can be the King. I will ascend the mount and take the Throne of God for myself”. But the fact is, he wasn’t as strong as God, and he was thrown out of Heaven, and down to the Earth. Later, God created man and woman and put them in the Garden of Eden. Everything was good, and everything was perfect. And God said the people “I’ve done all this for you. Everything here is for you to use as you like. But I am the King, and I want to set just one rule – don’t eat from the tree at the centre of the Garden”. But then Satan came to Eve and said to her “What a spoil sport! Look at the fruit there – you can see that it’s the best in the Garden. What a killjoy! Did He really say you will die if you eat it? He only said that because if you eat it you will be like Him…” and Eve took it and ate. Now you see, the story is not about fruit. What it is about is ‘who is in charge?’ Satan tempted Eve to commit the same sin that he did. By eating from the tree that God had forbidden Eve said ‘I’m in charge, I get to make the rules’. In effect, she said “You are not the King, you don’t make the rules, I do” and she effectively tries to take the throne away from the King, just the same as Satan did. And we might say that God is unfair, that that story is nothing to do with us, but every time that we do something we know is wrong, that hurts someone else (and we all know that we do these things) then what we are saying is ‘Your rules don’t count. I make the rules. I am the King’. But there can only be one king in a country. For us to be the King, that means that we have to leave the Kingdom in order to set up on our own. This is why the Kingdom was far away from us – God didn’t throw us out, we got up and walked out of our own accord! Unfortunately God’s Kingdom is the Summer Kingdom, the source of everything that is good. Outside of that Kingdom, where we decide to put our little thrones there is only winter, only death, only a pale and brittle copy of the way things are meant to be, and we are banished.
However, Jesus’ message is “The Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near”. God didn’t leave us out in the cold, even if that is where we chose to be through our own stupid fault. Most of the world’s religions are an attempt by man to earn his way back to God. That’s pointless – it can’t be done. How could you ever again persuade the King that you were trustworthy when you tried to take the throne from Him? But this is the heart of the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus came to bring: God Himself wants you back, and He has done all of the work necessary to make it happen, because no one else could ever even come close. The Bible says “Our lives are poured out on the ground like water and cannot be recovered. But God does not take away life, but instead finds ways so that a banished person does not remain apart from him” (2 Sam 14;14). The way God found was Jesus. You see, its not as simple as asking us to come home again. When Eve listened to Satan rather than God, although she may have thought she was saying ‘I want to make my own rules’, what she actually said is ‘Satan is my ruler’ – your King is whoever you make yourself subject to, who ever makes the rules that you follow. By listening to Satan rather than to God, Eve actually said ‘Satan is my king. I belong to him’. Every time that we go our own way we also sell ourselves to Satan, and that means that he owns us. If God wants us back, then by the laws of His own Kingdom He has to buy us back. And the exchange rate is a life for a life, blood for blood. Fortunately, God so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son in a ransom for our place. When Jesus died on the cross He paid all of the cost, and did all of the work necessary to allow us to go back home again. You remember that when he died the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple was ripped in two – that was God’s way of saying “There is no more barrier, the way home is open, the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near to you because you were unable to draw near to it – please come home.”
Fourthly, the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near to you. To you. If anything, that’s the most important part of Jesus’ message, for two reasons. Firstly, his message demands a personal response. The Kingdom of Heaven has drawn close, but you personally have to make a decision to come home. God has brought it as near as he can, but now you have to move. You can choose to stay where you are, or you can choose to come home, but you have to make a choice. Secondly, and even more amazingly, this is God’s love letter to you. He is interested in you personally. Its all about you. Despite all of the bad stuff, He did all this for you, because He wants you back. He loves you. He loves you. You individually. This is not a vague group thing along the lines of ‘I love Man United’ or something. He loves you specifically, and He wants you to come home so that He can have a relationship just with you. This is revolutionary. No other God in any other religion cares so much about you personally that they will do all of the work for you, even to the point of dying for you. Jesus loves you – what are you going to do about it?
Now if the Kingdom of Heaven actually has drawn near, if we have made that decision to return home with Jesus, then surely that has some impact on the world around us – after all, Heaven is next door, so close that you can touch it. The things that Jesus told his disciples to do were to prove his point, that the Kingdom actually had drawn near, both to them, and to the people they were talking to. And if the Kingdom has drawn near to you personally, then you need to be doing the same things to show other people that it has drawn near to them too.
Heal the sick. There is no sickness in the Kingdom. Sickness is a result of the world being twisted out of shape by sin, and in the Kingdom all is under the rule of Christ. In the Summer Kingdom everything is healthy and fruitful, the way it is supposed to be. If the Kingdom has drawn near, then we should expect to see healing occurring – both physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
Raise the Dead. Death has no dominion in the Summer Kingdom. Death is the end result of sin – by God’s laws evil can not be allowed to live forever, and this is a mercy as much as a punishment. But if the Kingdom has drawn near, then Death has lost its hold, just as it could not hold the King – the King holds us now instead, and the Bible tells us that nothing can take us out of his hands, not even death.
Cleanse those who have leprosy. This isn’t about a skin condition! Jesus already told his guys, and therefore us (who are also his guys), to stretch out our hands to heal the sick. This is about separation. In Jesus’ day, people though that leprosy was both highly contagious, and that it was a result of the person afflicted leading a sinful life, and so for both reasons someone with leprosy was thrown out of town and not allowed to mix with other people. They had no income, no medicine, no help, and no contact with other people. At best, kind and generous people would throw them food or money, but only from a distance. Jesus was different. Jesus reached out and touched them, despite the danger and despite the social stigma. What He was saying is ‘I love you’. That’s the message – the Kingdom has drawn near to you, and therefore there is no more separation, no more division, between man and God, but also between man and man. If the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near to us as a congregation, then between us there should be no old grudges, no discrimination, no-one left out in the cold.
Drive out Demons. Sin has lost all its power over those who choose to return home to the Kingdom. Satan is no longer their ruler. Jesus is the King and we are under his protection and nothing can harm us. There is healing and forgiveness in the Kingdom, and everything that has been broken can be fixed at the command of the King. If the Kingdom has truly drawn near then sin will have no grip, neither by supernatural force, nor by us refusing to forgive.
Take no money, no bag for the journey, no extra clothes. In the Kingdom there is no need and no cost, for the King is generous beyond all comparison. Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Whatever you ask for in my Name, says Jesus, will be done for you. Let me tell you, when you are doing the will of your Father in Heaven then you are on the Kings business, and all the resources of the Kingdom Without End are at your disposal. When you speak with the authority of the King then you can expect the winds and waves to obey you, for the sick to be healed, and for demons to flee. Everything is given into your hands, because everything is in the hands of the King whom you serve.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
And He told them, “The fields are white unto harvest, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field….
…Go! I am sending you. Go to the lost sheep, and as you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has drawn near to you.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.
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