As we have tamed Jesus to fit into our western orthodoxy, I am afraid we have lost much of the passion and fervor that marked the early followers of Jesus. Recently, our church staff has been doing some strategic planning under the direction of a strategy coordinator trained by the International Mission Board, and sharpened by four years in the fields of East Asia. One of our assignments was reading the book of Acts with fresh eyes looking for church planting and life principles. As I read pages I had studied and preached from in the past, I was struck by the boldness and abandonment of the early followers of Jesus. They were constantly on the march. They were literally turning the ancient world upside down.
It appears the early followers of Jesus believed He came to establish a new world order. No longer was Caesar Lord, but Jesus was Lord, and Christ. Dying on crosses as revolutionaries was to be expected since they were literally trying to change the world one heart at a time, one family at a time, one city at a time. What began as a flicker in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost became a raging wildfire fanned by passion and persecution that swept the first century world.
The gospel of the Kingdom preached well among people on the margins of life. The poor, the outcast, the sinner, and tax collector became prime targets and messengers of the Way. It appears the disciples actually took Jesus seriously. They did not simply ascend to a “knowing” the truth. They settled for nothing less than “living” the truth.
In the sermon on the plain Jesus shocked his audience of common ordinary people on the margins of life by turning the world systems upside down. In Luke 6 Jesus said:
“Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God”
Note there was no spiritualizing of the message here. Jesus literally said, “Blessed are the poor”—not the “poor in spirit” nor humble, but poor. Jesus was not glorifying poverty as a mark of spirituality. He was simply stating the obvious—the King came to bless the poor, in other words, the Kingdom of God can touch anyone, any where, no matter who you are, what you have done. There are no margins in the Kingdom of God everyone is invited to the table.
To amplify the point, later Jesus declares:
“Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”
Jesus confronts the wealthy power brokers of the world systems. It is a wake up call. Stop living by the standards of this world, and take up the values of the Kingdom of God. This was not a popular message then. It is the kind of message that can get you crucified, and it is not a popular message today.
Tony Campolo, professor at Eastern College says:
“Jesus never says to the poor, ‘Come find the church,’ but he says to those of us in the church. ‘Go into the world and find the poor, hungry, homeless, imprisoned,’ Jesus in his disguises”.
I am afraid we have gotten things backwards. Shane Claiborne in The Irresistible Revolution wrote:
“Jesus doesn’t exclude rich people; he just lets them know their rebirth will cost them everything they have. The story (the rich young rule added) is not so much about whether rich folks are welcome as it is about the nature of the kingdom of God, which has an ethic and economy diametrically opposed to those of the world. Rather than accumulating stuff for oneself, followers of Jesus abandon everything, trusting in God alone for providence.”
I must admit what Shane describes is much closer to the church on the pages of the book of Acts, than the churches of the West. As we dream new dreams about how to embrace this rapidly changing world we live in. I pray we will return to some of the basic Kingdom values of Jesus. It would be a great place to start.