The Kingdom of God
As I'll be going on vacation in a couple of days, I'm loath to start anything new here. But not only that--it seems I've been going through a period of re-assessment and re-focus in my spiritual life lately. Maybe it's even a "reformation"! This is something I'll probably blog more about when I get back, and perhaps the time away will even help me in this process.
But for now, I'd like to share a passage from another book I've been reading. The book is called The Kingdom of God in Bible and Church, by John Bright. Published back in 1953, it is an examination of the Biblical concept of a "kingdom of God" as it evolved within the pages of Scripture as well as the pages of Biblical history. Each chapter is for me a kind of mountain trek. The reader senses he is following and expert guide, with the last pages of the chapter providing a kind of grand vista from the very peak. Thus, in his chapter on Isaiah 40-66 (what is often called the Second Isaiah), Bright elucidates the historical and theological significance of Isaiah's Suffering Servant theme. As Bright sees it, the Suffering Servant is far more than a conveniently conforting metaphor ("He died in my place"), but a direct challenge to all who call themselves followers of Christ. And his words are every bit as relevant now as they were 50 years ago:
As for the cross of the Servant, it is not strange to us. We own to a crucified Savior. In that we stand in the mainstream of the Christian faith from the beginning onward, and we do well to do so. We enthrone the crucified Savior in stained glass, wood, and stone--and in doctrine. To that cross we look for salvation. But we want that cross not at all. Indeed we would have it the chief business of religion to keep crosses far away. We want a Christ who suffers that we may not have to, a Christ who lays himself down that our comfort may be undisturbed. The call to lose life that it may be found again, to take up the cross and follow, remains mysterious and offensive to us. To be sure, we labor to bring men to Christ, and we pray, "Thy kingdom come." But our labor we see as a labor of conquest and growth, successful programs and dollars. Can it be that we are seeking to build the Kingdom of the Servant--without following the Servant? If we do so, we will doubtless build a great church--but will it have anything to do with the Kingdom of God?
Let us then be reminded that the task of the Church is not and cannot be other than the Servant task. We pray as we have been taught to pray, "Thy kingdom come." And the answer we get is the answer of the Servant: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross." We renew our prayer, "Thy kingdom come," because we have no other prayer to pray. But we renew it with the deepest confession of sin: have mercy upon us, for we are unprofitable servants! [emphasis added]