Why is it awesome to be a follower of Jesus? (Part 1)

How can two people with similar Christian backgrounds grow up to have such different beliefs? I have several friends who have very similar stories; we grew up in similar Christian homes, listened to the same Christian music, went to church almost every Sunday. But now they want nothing to do with Christianity, while I'm going to attempt to show how following Jesus is awesome. How is that possible?

I think a large part of the answer is there seems to be something missing or even stolen from the Gospel in American Christianity. For if the Gospel were so awesome and truly captivating why would people walk away? To attempt to explain, allow me to share a little of my journey.

As a kid, Christianity was all about going to church and being good. During high school it was all about going Christian concerts and events and "being saved." Later it was about having the right translation of the Bible, and eventually being able to look up the original Greek words. In college it was all about having the right theology and God "having a plan for my life." But in the end, it seemed Christianity was most about being "Heaven bound". The truth is that all of this is utterly lacking in comparison to the Gospel which is so much more. So much bigger. So much better. So much more beautiful.

The word ‘Gospel’ means “good news” – but what's so great about this news? The answer I've always heard was that Jesus died for our sins so one day we can go to Heaven. And while this is certainly good and true, it is quite small compared to how Jesus defined the Gospel. In Luke 4:43 Jesus said, "I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God to other towns as well." What does he mean, “as well”?  I did not see any reference to sin or the cross or even Heaven before these words. Instead, we see Jesus quoting from Isaiah 61 and declared its fulfillment: He was the awaited Messiah. He declared that God had anointed him to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed and the arrival of the Lord's favor. This is the Gospel! This is the good news! This is the theme for His ministry and the Kingdom of God. We can see it throughout the Bible, from the Old Testament Prophets and throughout the New Testament. The Good News is explicitly the arrival of Kingdom of God with its King, Jesus.

Now if you think that the Kingdom of God just means Heaven, let me clarify some details:

First, some of the confusion with the Kingdom of God comes in the terms used. Only in the Gospel of Matthew is the Kingdom of God is called "Kingdom of Heaven." All the other New Testament authors said “Kingdom of God” This is reconciled when we see that “of Heaven” and “of God” are being used synonymously. As a random example, I could say that I live in a country under "the government of Obama" or "the government of Washington D.C.". This certainly sounds weird, since we don't talk that way, but the meaning is the same. The Kingdom of God was inaugurated 2,000 years ago with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

It can also be confusing when theologians explain the Kingdom as "now and not yet."  They’re referring to the many verses that clearly state that the Kingdom of God came then (with Jesus’ ministry) and is still here now. To name a few, look at: Mt 12:28, Mk 9:1, Lk 8:1, Col 1:13, 1 Thess 2:12. There are also a few verses that focus on the later, where the Kingdom of God is fully revealed, when the New Heaven and New Earth are finally established (see Lk 13:27-29 and Rev 12:10). The point is this, Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God, and He calls us to be citizens who continue to bring His Kingdom to earth from heaven (Mt 6:10) until His second coming.

Second, the Kingdom of God that Jesus set up didn't look the way the Jews thought it would. The Jewish people eagerly waited for their Messiah King, one who would establish a Jewish kingdom once again, like David did. A kingdom where they could over throw their Roman oppressors and again enjoy the favor of God. But the people didn't always get what He was doing. Even John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus, who said that the "Kingdom was at hand," later wondered if Jesus was the awaited King, when he was sitting in jail. His confusion came because God's chosen people had very clear expectations of their coming Messiah. Yet Jesus fulfilled none of them. They wanted physical power and physical justice in a physical Kingdom, and they wanted it now. Yet Jesus wasn't interested in their dreamed up plans. Jesus had a much bigger plan and it was completely upside-down and backwards in that world's eyes, and it still is today.

Third, even though this Kingdom wasn't their wished physical government, it is no less real or current. Several times the Bible records Jesus saying, "Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Kingdom of God after it has come with power.” We can wonder when it precisely came into power, but the point is it came. We can also look at when Jesus being questioned by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. Jesus articulated to Pilate that His Kingdom is not of this world, or else his followers would be fighting to prevent his arrest and to establish it. Upon hearing this Pilate says, "So you are a king?" Jesus acknowledges and states, "for this purpose I was born". While the Kingdom of God did not war with Rome like a normal establishing Kingdom, it's real none the less.

So how does the Kingdom of God make following Jesus so awesome? 

For without the Kingdom of God, Christianity is at best a list of theological statements to intellectually accept, with another list of what not to do.

Yet in the Kingdom of God, Jesus wasn't interested in making intellectual believers, but creating a model for how to live, which can be copied by His disciples, who would make disciples, who make disciples.

Without the Kingdom of God, our lives functionally look like everyone else, while we wait until we can go to Heaven.

Yet in the Kingdom of God, we have the privilege to be citizens now, co-working with God, in the business of restoration and redemption.  

Without the Kingdom of God, Jesus is just a sacrifice to appease an angry god, who happened to teach nice ideas.

Yet in the Kingdom God. Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith, who endured the cross for the joy of bringing Kingdom, with citizens who would walk in His radical footsteps.

Without the Kingdom of God, Christianity is just another world religion, trying to convince everyone else, that theirs is right.

Yet in the Kingdom of God, Jesus came to end religion, to establish grace, where people want to follow Him, since His way leads to life.
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