Growing up I was always excited to walk into one of my classes at school to find a substitute teacher. The first thoughts that would come to my mind would have something to do with how little work we as a class would have to do or what I could get away with. Most substitutes were simply babysitters that had a list of things to tell us and were there to keep in the classroom until the bell rang. Many of the substitutes knew nothing about the subject for which they were overseeing and therefore from an educational standpoint they weren’t as good as our teacher.
As someone who over the last several years has realized that some attention must be given to my ever increasing weight, I have tried a number of the substitute sweeteners. Of course they all have a unique taste and in my opinion don’t come close to being as good as sugar its self. Then you include the discussions about long term health concerns and you have to wonder just how good are they.
Substitutes tend to be shortcuts that simply don’t measure up the real thing. It seems to me that in our Western culture a substitute message has been developed even for the Gospel of Jesus which doesn’t come close to measuring up to the real thing.
Different types of words are used but essentially the substitute message has to do with the minimal entry requirements for getting into heaven. For many the Gospel of Jesus has become all about getting into heaven and avoiding hell and the Gospel provides us with the secret answers needed to cross the eternal “bridge” into heaven. The film clip below, while funny in many ways, is a great illustration of how the message of Jesus is being presented to our world.
If you have the right answers you’ll get in and if you don’t then it’s off to hell. And in order to discover the right answers you must repent first and then you’ll be accepted and have access to heaven.
What was the message of Jesus? Jesus’ overall focus was on one thing during his days on earth, the Kingdom of God (Mark 1 v.14, Luke 8 v.1, Luke 9 v.1-2). Even after his death and resurrection he spent 40 talking with his followers about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1 v.3). And we can see with the very last verse of Acts (28 v.31)that even Paul, who traveled all over the known world telling others about the Good News of Jesus, was also focused on the Kingdom of God.
What did he say about the Kingdom? “The Kingdom, the in-breaking Shalom of God, is available now to everyone through me.” He didn’t say we had to wait or we had to discover the secret answers, he simply said “The Kingdom of God has come!” The religious leaders of Jesus’ day insisted people change their ways before gaining access to the faith community. But Jesus accepted people, not matter who they were. He presented them with the reality of experiencing and belonging to the Kingdom of God, which led to them thinking about who they were and how they lived out their lives. To put it simply, acceptance came before repentance.
Finally, Jesus was about letting people know that the Kingdom wasn’t something one waits for but is something “here and now.” Look at the prayer he taught his disciples to pray in Matthew 6. Verse ten states, “your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” He spent his life showing how the Kingdom up there can be lived out down here and challenged those who follow him to live the same way.
His message wasn’t one of repent and experience heaven when you die. But it was one of the Kingdom has come and is available to all, be a part of it and help continue moving it from up there down here.
What thoughts come to your mind? What questions come to mind? What do you disagree with? Agree with? Does it change anything for you?