When I was a boy I went to kids camp at Ottawa Valley Pentecostal Camp (OVPC). Now, I am originally from ‘the Valley’, and attending the various camps and services at OVPC was a staple experience for our family. My siblings and I would attend the week long children’s camp and also enjoy the children’s programs and services during family camp. I mention this because I’m fairly certain that I learned my first ‘kingdom’ song at kids camp. It went like this:
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you, Hallelu, Hallelujah”
Time and time again we would sing this song at chapel services and children’s church. We would even practice it so that we could perform it for the adults in the main service. There were even actions that went with the words too! It was really cutting edge for its time. However, I am not sure that I sung this song for the right reasons.
Here’s what I mean.
While singing this song, I believed that as long as I was a good little boy and sought after God’s kingdom first, then ‘all these things’ would be ‘added to me’. This meant that I could expect a new bike, lots of money, and all of the deserts known to humanity as long as I sought after ‘the kingdom’… Hallelujah! The problem is that I was singing this song while thinking about ‘all these things’. I knew that I should not be thinking about all the things that I wanted, but there seemed to be a premise and even a promise made that if I would seek the kingdom first, then a whole bunch of stuff was going to be coming my way. No wonder we say Hallelujah at the end!
Here’s the point.
When presented this way, seeking the ‘kingdom’ can become sort of a means to an end, and we can be tempted to think that God’s Kingdom is quid quo pro for riches. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It was Matthew who remembered Jesus saying these words about ‘seeking first the kingdom’. We can see it for ourselves in his gospel (6:33). If you decide to read some of what Matthew wrote, you will notice that the context of Jesus’ words and ‘seeking the kingdom’ has more to do with the provision of basic clothing, shelter and food than riches. Jesus seems to make the point that Father God will provide our basic needs when one follows through on seeking His kingdom. In other words, seeking the kingdom is more about the divine presence of daily bread rather than diabolical loaves magically appearing.
In my previous blog I wrote about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and the associated problems with the ‘systems’ of this world.
Here’s the gist.
I am convinced that the Bible helps me understand that there are hostile forces at work here in this world. Furthermore, these same ‘powers’ operate in a progeny-like fashion revealing their true source. The New Testament writers also seem to pick on this and characterize these powers similarly; Jesus is depicted as One who reflects the behaviour of Father God (Yahweh) here on earth, and others who represent and reflect the nature of someone else. The temptation scene in Luke helps me understand who the other ‘parent power’ is.
In Luke’s cosmic showdown in the wilderness, the devil now steps out from behind the curtain for a direct confrontation with the only One who is able to perfectly manifest the good purposes of Yahweh and implement His kingdom for humanity. It is Jesus, the Nazarene. Remember Him? But now Luke overemphasizes the point that behind Jesus isn’t just a stable, some animals or angels; we see that behind Jesus stands the Holy Spirit!
So after Jesus successfully resisted the diabolical will of Satan, Luke tells us that He then began to demonstrate what God’s kingdom looked like. In other words, Jesus demonstrated what Spirit-empowered living is all about: healing a broken world.
Here’s the idea.
The Bible teaches that God’s Spirit is present everywhere, and that the entire universe is His field of operations so that the redemptive purposes of God are completed in all of creation. There was no doubt in Jewish thinking, that the world and all creatures are dependent upon God for life and strength. When the New Testament speaks of resurrection and new creation, the creative power of the Spirit is always assumed. This means that it is the Spirit who brought life to the world in the first place, and it is only the Spirit who can bring new life to it.
If that is true, then a proper kingdom longing then, is for God’s Creator Spirit to come and make everything new. Could it be that simple?
One Old Testament prophet says that creation will be desolate ‘until the Spirit from on high is poured out on us, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field’ (Is. 32:15). Clark Pinnock says that “these OT prophets can speak of the Spirit this way because He is the power of Creation.”
If the Spirit is all of those things, then perhaps Luke is correct in emphasizing the Spirit’s empowering (anointing) upon Jesus. For Luke, it seems that the Spirit is now on Jesus because God’s ‘energizing life’ is now available and here to bring about God’s newness of life to a hurting and broken world.
When reading the Gospels, it is apparent that God is for those who suffer and is always on the side of healing, restoration and redemption. There are those who believe that God’s Spirit ought to extend towards and effect the systems of humanity itself. This means that they very ‘systems’ of the world could reflect a power that is liberating and transformative rather than dominating and punitive.
Perhaps it is as simple as this. I guess it all depends on which song you are singing.
In our nation there is major reckoning concerning the injustices committed against First Nations people and the attempted genocide of their culture by those claiming to represent Jesus and His Father. If the Bible portrays the kingdom of God to be ‘good news’ because it signifies a new world order that embraces those who hurting, broken, and living on the margins of society, then perhaps we really do need the power of Yahweh’s Spirit now more than ever.
I will end with this.
According to NT Wright, the followers of Jesus are commissioned and empowered by the Spirit to announce to the world that there is a different way of being human. If this is true, then followers of Jesus who orient themselves to this type of living demonstrate a counter-cultural character that is more aligned with God’s Kingdom than the ‘systems’ of this world. In other words, a genuine Spirit empowered witness seeks to bring God’s ‘newness’ into any and all situations via the life of the Kingdom Spirit.