Jesus, the promised king, came into the world and brought with him the promises of the kingdom. “Good news,” he proclaimed to anyone who would listen, “God’s shalom, God’s kingdom, is at hand! He’s kept his promises; he’s restoring his people and his land!”
“That’s great!” you think. And then…you look around you.
A small child lying quietly in the dust. Barely clothed. Bones stretching dry skin to the breaking point. Starvation written across every pore. Breathing? Just. No family in sight. No one cares.
Three men crouching in the bushes. Guns in hand. Bloodstained clothing. Explosions everywhere. Hearts racing. Will they make it home? Does anyone still wait for them? Fear.
A young girl running through the darkness. Clothes torn. Desperate. Dark alleys. Closed windows. Will anyone hear? Will anyone see? Is he coming?
College kids in an apartment somewhere. Loud music playing. Alcohol almost gone. Sex just getting started. Enough distraction to dull the pain and hide the boredom. Is there anything else? No one knows.
A family at home. TVs, computers, video games, headphones. Separate rooms. No talking. House full of people, hearts full of loneliness. Can it last?
A quiet room. You’re alone. Only your thoughts to keep you company. Those same thoughts. Why won’t they go away? What’s wrong with me? I’m glad no one knows. Hiding.
Blink….Blink….Blink….On and on it goes. The images won’t stop. A mosaic of despair and brokenness.
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. (Mark 1:15)
How can that be? How could Jesus say two thousand years ago that the kingdom of God was at hand, and yet we look around today and see so much death, so much destruction? This wasn’t how the story was supposed to end.
We misunderstand the story when we think that the coming of the Kingdom should have brought the instant restoration of all things. After all, the king has returned, shouldn’t things be better now?
The problem is that the Kingdom doesn’t work like that. At least, not yet.
Jesus compares the Kingdom to a woman making bread (Mt. 13:33). I don’t know if you’ve ever baked your own bread, but it’s a pretty amazing process. You take this big batch of dough—with all the flour, salt, sugar, water, oil, and whatnot—and you sprinkle in just a tiny amount of yeast, a couple of teaspoons at the most. Mix it all together and wait. It’s not very much yeast, so you wouldn’t think it would make any difference. But, after a while, that yeast works its way through the entire batch of dough, causing it to bubble and expand. Eventually, if you’ve done it right, you’ll end up with a nice, fluffy loaf of freshly baked bread.
Sometimes, though, it takes longer than you’d prefer, especially if you’re in the mood to eat some of that fresh bread, steaming slightly from the oven, and smothered in butter and jam. (Great, now I’m hungry.) So you stand in the kitchen staring at the bowl, wondering if anything is happening. I’m not sure why you do this. Unless you’re superman and can shoot laser beams from your eyes, staring at the dough probably isn’t going to do anything. The yeast doesn’t care that you’re staring. So you’re just wasting your time. Your best bet is to go find something to do while you’re waiting. The yeast will do its thing in time. Trust me.
That’s a great image for the Kingdom. God is at work in the world, but it’s so hard to see at times. And we’re often impatient for everything to be done. So we stare at the world, waiting to see if anything is really changing. As if staring would make it happen faster.
Instead of just being frustrated that it’s not happening faster, we should go find something to do while we’re waiting. The yeast will do its thing in time.
[This is an excerpt from my book Good News for the Living Dead: A Fresh Take on the Gospel Story. I posted the first part a while back, but wasn’t sure how to answer my own question: “How could Jesus say two thousand years ago that the kingdom of God was at hand, and yet we look around today and see so much death, so much destruction?” So the second part is the beginning of my answer. There’s more, but I think this gets us pointed in the right direction.]