The book of Acts begins with an ending.
Luke dedicates the very first portion of the book to wrapping up the story of Jesus on earth — the post-resurrection time before his eventual ascension. He says that Jesus appeared to his followers over a period of 40 days and “spoke about the kingdom of God.”
Which is what Jesus spent most of his 3-year ministry doing. He told parables about the kingdom. He talked about how different it was from the powers of the day. He declared it good news for the poor, freedom for the oppressed, and healing for the blind. He dropped hints everywhere that it would be a kingdom without walls — available to all people.
His disciples heard it over and over again as they followed Jesus around. And now they were hearing about it again. So how did they respond?
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” – Acts 1:6
So after 3 years plus 40 days hearing about the kingdom, the inbreaking of this new reality for all mankind, the reaction of Jesus’ closest followers was to ask about…themselves. They didn’t ask about the next step. No further questions about this mysterious counselor that Jesus had promised to send. They were worried about Israel. The Jews. Their people. Themselves.
We do this, though, don’t we? I wrote a few weeks ago about how we tend to individualize the gospel, to make it a “me-first” kind of experience. It’s a product of our culture, but it’s more than that. This is the human condition. We view the world from our own point of view (How could we not?), and without careful thought we can subconsciously treat the world as if it revolves around us.
But God’s kingdom turns everything on its head.
This kingdom works against our human nature to help us view the world from the point of view of the other. It is bigger, wider and grander than I could ever imagine on my own. Jesus’ followers eventually got that. But first, he gently guides them to a better path:
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:7-8
He says when the Holy Spirit comes, of course it’s going to start with Jerusalem — it’s where you are. But this thing will spread to Judea, Samaria, and everywhere else. This thing is going to the ends of the earth. It’s for everyone everywhere. It’s so much bigger than one city or one people or one nation.
And there’s something else in his answer, too. Judea and Samaria were enemies. They despised one another. Jews even considered Samaritans dogs, less-than-human. But the kingdom is for both. It doesn’t just spread to everyone, it also tears down the wall between them. The kingdom of God brings peace and reconciliation to the world where otherwise there is no hope.
Jesus’ followers were so focused on their own story that they missed this vital aspect of the kingdom.
Christians at our core are agents of reconciliation in the world. It’s the nature of the kingdom and the nature of who we are. I think sometimes we see ourselves first and foremost as defenders of the truth. So we find ourselves arguing and fighting with others. But the Truth is fine on his own.
The ways of Jesus don’t need to be defended, they need to be demonstrated.
And that means bringing peace and reconciliation to the world.
I have been reminded of that this week. This situation in Baltimore is breaking my heart. It’s too common. We’ve seen too much violence and injustice. My emotions and passions are aroused when I hear of a man dying from a broken spine with no explanation from authorities. I get upset when I see rocks being thrown at public servants. I’m confused because we all know looting is wrong.
It’s so easy to look on the situation from the safety of my couch in Oklahoma and make judgements. To see it all unfold through my middle-class white male lenses and decide what needs to be done to fix the situation. To stand up as an agent of truth and declare who’s right and who’s wrong.
What doesn’t come easily to me is seeing it all through the eyes of the disenfranchised and oppressed. To understand what it’s like in that community, with their history and their worldview.
But if I can do that, maybe I will understand better what justice and righteousness looks like for every person involved. Maybe I will seek to bring peace to every person affected.
Perhaps if we can all see outside our own point of view, real reconciliation will be possible.
Both in Baltimore and throughout the world.
I’ll leave you with these words from Dr. King. A man who gave his life to make reconciliation real in our country. A man who had a dream. May that dream one day become reality. And may we all experience justice, righteousness, and love for one another.