The Kingdom of God is Expanding in the Islands

by Oct 21, 2014

This weekend, many of us got a powerful glimpse of God’s kingdom at the Overflow Conference. Along with hundreds of people from dozens of churches, we saw dead people come to new life through the grace of Jesus, marriages healed through the love of Jesus, and leaders raised up through the power of Jesus. We saw God expanding his kingdom! Now the question is how we can join him in his work.

That’s the mission Jesus called us to:

I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matt. 16:18-19)

Everyone knows that keys are a symbol of authority. Remember when you first got your driver’s license? Car keys were power! Or when you got the key to your first house? That key was proof that you were the king of your castle.

I once worked at a large church with almost a hundred rooms. The number of keys you had was a symbol of how much author- ity you had, except it worked in reverse. I was the lowest guy on the totem pole, which meant I had to carry around a whole carabiner full of keys, one for every individual office and room I was allowed to access. The guys at the top of the organizational chart had only one key, but that key let them into every door in the whole church. I had to walk around playing “Jingle Bells” on my belt loop all day long—ching! ching! ching!—but they had one key to rule them all.

That’s the kind of power Jesus promised us. He’s not here in the flesh anymore to open the door of the kingdom for people— he’s given us the keys. That means we have a joyful obligation to keep ushering more people inside the door, which expands the kingdom’s population and therefore God’s reign. And, if you can believe this, one day we’ll have not only the keys to the kingdom, but a shared title to the kingdom along with Christ! “If we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:12).

Now, it’s tempting to believe we can expand the kingdom just by doing nice things for people. Some Christians observe the many good humanitarian things Jesus did and see the kingdom expanding anywhere anyone does anything good. They have the best of intentions, but they don’t see that we can’t talk about advancing the kingdom of Jesus unless we understand the atoning death of Jesus. Don Carson explains:

Many writers begin with the expression “the gospel of the kingdom” . . . and then expound the gospel entirely in terms of what they judge to be central to the kingdom. Commonly this is carried out by focusing on the social and communal values of the kingdom, and the word “kingdom” becomes an adjective: kingdom ethics, kingdom justice, kingdom community, kingdom gospel. . . . All that the canonical Gospels say must be read in the light of the plotline of these books: they move inevitably toward Jesus’ cross and resurrection, which provides forgiveness and the remission of sins. That is why it is so hermeneutically backward to try to understand the teaching of Jesus in a manner cut off from what he accomplished; it is hermeneutically backward to divorce the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels from the plotline of the Gospels.

We can do a lot of things without proclaiming that Jesus died for our sins, was raised to bring us new life, and reigns over us as king. But none of them will really advance the kingdom. So I’m praying that our church and others across Hawaii will be desperately dependent on the grace of Jesus and passionately vocal about the reign of Jesus. I hope to see us increasingly proclaim the gospel in word and deed — taking more and more practical steps to tangibly bless people in Christ’s name, and also boldly proclaiming the salvation and kingship of Christ.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross, rise from the dead, and ascend to the throne of the universe to make things better in Hawaii. He came to make all things new, which means we cannot rest until people are redeemed and radically transformed by his grace. That’s how the kingdom of God will expand in the islands.