Poised for hope, but discouraged by the tardiness of God, they groaned for redemption. And then, in the most unseemly of places, a promise is made to couple of yet-to-be married peasants. They were to have a child, and this child was to be the One for whom all of Israel, and all the world longed for. This Child would be special, the very presence of God in their midst (Emmanuel) and the one who saves (Jesus). But his birth wouldn’t be the one expected of a great leader, there was no palace or court, no power or wealth. There was only a cave on the side of a hill, a stable in the town of Bethlehem, among the sheep and donkeys, in a hidden hole under the shadow of Herod’s temple, the Roman Ruler’s Jewish puppet. This was the hope of Israel?
Little is told of his story until he reaches the age of 30, the age in which Rabbis gather around them students. This man, Jesus, makes his way throughout the land gathering the most unlikely group of world-changers, men from the working class, violent men, liars and cheats, women of ill repute, beggars, lame, and outcasts. He calls them! And they follow, into the uncertainty, into the unknown, into the difficult and disruptive moments, into the conflict and misunderstandings, and they follow. As Jesus calls, he speaks, and his message is simple, The Kingdom of God has come near. It is the space of God’s Reign and power. It is a space in which the righteousness of God is witnessed. And we only participate as we surrender our lives totally to this Kingdom.
But this wasn’t the Kingdom that many were looking for. They wanted armies. They wanted might. They wanted restored fortunes. They wanted their enemies to suffer. But Jesus said in His Kingdom, we bless our enemies and pray for them. In His Kingdom we aren’t measured by what we gather to ourselves but what we’ve given away for others. Power is determined by our capacity to love others. His army is a rag-tag bunch of misfits, vagabonds, and ragamuffins.
Wherever Jesus places his feet, whether in Galilee, Samaria, Gentile lands, or Jerusalem, those that witness his work or hear his word are given a glimpse of a redeemed world, a world brought under God’s redemptive designs. It’s a world where the blind see, the poor hear good news, and those oppressed by the unruly forces of darkness are freed. It’s a world where the exploited and forgotten are valued, where there are no lost causes, and where those cast down by the judgements and prejudice of others are lifted up. It’s a world that’s turned upside down, where the greatest are least, and where servanthood is preferred over authority. In His Kingdom vision, those that for too long had taken for granted their place of “favor” or “election,” those that consider themselves the “in crowd” of God’s people are often left standing outside looking in, where humility trumps position, dependence on grace trumps self-righteousness, and a spirit of mercy is preferred over rule-following.
And so the stage is set, the tension is mounting. The Kingdom of God has now come into conflict with our Kingdoms, the way we want it. And at every turn Jesus is pushing, challenging calling into question our stories and assumptions, our attitudes and intentions. He is piercing the heart and pulling back the veil. He is displaying faithful living! He is showing the true sign of holiness. He is living in perfect harmony with the will of the Father and calling those that follow to do the same. He is calling into question the agendas of the powerful, the rich, and the hypocrisy of religious leaders. Followed by the fringe folks, the prostitutes, the tax collectors and the untouchable lepers, where ever he goes things are shaken up. There is fervor building. There is a threat mounting. This Kingdom of Jesus is not safe for the status quo.
After nearly three years of public ministry, Jesus mounts the back of a donkey and rides into Jerusalem in anticipation of an epic showdown. The Hope of Redemption would meet the Powers of Oppression. God in the flesh would meet the gods made by those in flesh. What would the result of such a confrontation be?
Let’s take another look at Luke 17:
Ok…so today let’s finish out Luke chapter 17. In reading the story of the Lepers, ask yourself the question, “Is there a difference between being fixed and being made well.” Jesus seems to “fix” all the lepers, but only the one that returns is declared to having been made well. Also, Jesus then addresses something the Religious Leaders were struggling with, the Kingdom of God. Notice how those you’d expect to get it seem to miss it. What might it mean in your life to believe, “Whoever tried to keep their life will lose it?”