Monday, September 12, 2016

Fast in Fall day 1 : A Kingdom within Reach.

Twice a year we fast for 3 days as a church, coming together each evening  to seek God in worship and prayer. Although fasting is not always pleasant, it's always worth it. God has met with us in remarkable ways during these times, healing us, encouraging us, and leading us. Although He meets with each of us in unique ways, I usually blog each morning to provide a common theme around which to pray and prepare our hearts for our gathering that evening. So here we go, Day 1 of our Fast in the Fall.

After the launch of Jesus' ministry in His home-town synagogue, He travelled around with a very uncomplicated message. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 4:17) For Jesus, the kingdom was not something distant and remote. It was near. It was breaking in. It was within reach. All the prophets, culminating with John the Baptist, told of a Messiah who would deliver Israel as a suffering servant. And now He was finally here, the Lamb of God, taking away the sins of the world. This is the gospel!  But see how Jesus didn’t just come preaching the gospel? He preached the ‘gospel of the kingdom.’ (Matt 4:23) In essence, He was saying, "Through my life, death and resurrection I will establish a new reign, a new administration that is within reach for those who receive me as their King."

For Jesus, entering the kingdom of heaven wasn’t just describing somewhere we go when we die. He was describing something we receive while we’re alive. Dallas Willard said it like this in his book, The Divine Conspiracy, “ Becoming a Christian is not about getting into heaven after you die. It’s about getting into heaven before you die. The treasure we have in heaven is also something very much available to us now. We can and should draw upon it as needed, for it is nothing less than God himself and the wonderful society of his kingdom even now interwoven in my life. This is not by-and-by, but now.”

Jesus' kingdom ministry was not only a proclamation of the gospel. It was marked by a dramatic demonstration of power through prayer. He healed all those afflicted with various sickness and pains, and set free those who were oppressed by demons. (4:23-24) His kingdom came from the outside-in, setting right God's created order. During this fast, can we ask God for greater expectation and boldness for God's kingdom to come in these ways? While all physical, mental and emotional healing will only be complete when King Jesus finally returns, healing is a normal mark of the kingdom and should be on the increase where God's people are praying for it with humble boldness. Fasting is also a key to bringing the kingdom into  particularly obstinate situations. "This kind only comes out through prayer and fasting." (Matt 17:14) Let's present these situations to God as we fast. They are not out of reach of the King. 

But what of repentance? Why did Jesus preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand?" We have to understand that His message of repentance was revolutionary to the Jewish people who viewed Israel as the Kingdom of God and its Roman oppressors as the enemies of the Kingdom. You don't tell an oppressed people to repent, do you? You tell their enemies to repent! But the kingdom stretches way beyond any political or cultural boundaries, calling everyone to give their ultimate allegiance  to King Jesus, in order to come under his loving reign. Repentance, viewed through  kingdom lens, is the acknowledgment that I have made someone or something else king in my life. Repentance is resisting the urge to blame someone else for my problems. Fascinating that the church in Acts 16 were accused of stirring up trouble in Thessalonica because they claimed that, "There is another King, one called Jesus!" Today, can we allow the kindness of God to lead us to repentance, as we turn from having other kings or shifting the blame, and re-pledge our allegiance to King Jesus who is able to save us in the most harsh and hopeless situations. It may  worth spending some time reading Matt 6:25-33 , and asking, "What things have I sought after that have distracted me form seeking first the Kingdom of God?" His kingdom comes from the inside-out as we repent and allow him to transform our affections and our shift focus.

Finally, let's rejoice in the fact that it is not because of our condition, but because of His grace, that the kingdom comes!  Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to bestow on you the Kingdom!  (Luke 12:32)  Happy Fasting!

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