the kingdom of God

Apotheosis of St. Ignatius
Andrea Pozzo, Late 17th century
Church of St. Ignatius, Rome, Italy


Acts 1:1-11

For Sunday, May 24, 2009
Ascension Sunday

What mattered most to Jesus during his last 40 days on earth? Just as Luke ended his gospel with Christ’s ascension so does he begin his sequel, the Book of Acts. In the first chapter we learn that Jesus was with his disciples for 40 days between his resurrection and ascension. What mattered to him? The kingdom of God (v. 3). “He spoke to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”

“Well, good, that matters to us too,” thought the disciples. Their country was a mess and they were out of power. Sound familiar? So their question to Jesus naturally followed: “Lord, is this when you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” That Jesus was going to do this was a foregone conclusion: it was just a matter of when.

Jesus’ first response addresses the question on the level which the disciples were asking: “It is not for you to know the times or dates . . . (v. 7).” There are Christians who are convinced they have figured out the time and dates of Christ’s return. We’ll know the millenium when we see it, but just as ‘the kingdom’ didn’t mean what the disciples assumed it meant, so ‘the millenium’ may mean something different than what we presume.

Jesus then moves to a much deeper level of consideration regarding ‘the kingdom’. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses, starting right here in Jerusalem, and extending to the very ends of the earth.” This response makes clear that the kingdom of God is so much more than a mere political consideration. It is a matter of the Spirit and of mission. The mission for which we have been empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is not to establish a Christian nation here in America but rather to establish the kingdom of God among every nation of the earth.

This is not to say we ought not seek to have a redemptive influence in our own country. I have been astounded of late to watch our government’s profound hesitation to make moral judgments while at the same time having no hesitation about dictating the kind of light bulbs I’m allowed to put in my house.

Yet as much as this matters to me, and ought to matter, what needs to matter more is the mission of God to proclaim his kingdom to every nation of the earth. What matters to God is not whether America is a Christian nation, but whether people from every nation of the world are being redeemed and reconciled to him. Jesus did not die on the cross and rise from the dead so that America could become a Christian nation but so that people from every tribe, tongue and nation could come together around the throne of heaven.

This Memorial Day weekend, let us Americans indeed love our country, for it is a profound blessing given to us by God. Yet let us not lose sight of the blessing at once more profound and more enduring: the kingdom of God.

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