The Kingdom of God
Jesus’ baptism is the beginning of his ministry, his coming out party if you will. He appears onstage for the first time in Mark’s gospel. John is still the center of attention, but Jesus is moving toward center stage. He is ready to announce his message to the world.
Or is he? Mark tells us (as do other evangelists) that Jesus is immediately whisked away (Mark says driven by the Spirit) into the wilderness. This is his final preparation. Can he stand up to the tough times?
Native American tribes call this experience the vision quest. In order to be accepted as an adult by the tribe, a young man must go off by himself and spend time in solitude. Alone with his thoughts, he is free to explore the breadth and depth of his mind, to determine what he is made of. Can he take on an adult role in his society? Can he contribute something of value to that society? Can he stand up to the tough times in his life? In the life of the tribe?
In a similar manner, Jesus is alone in the wilderness. Mark (and others) says he is tempted by Satan. Will he be able to stand up to the difficult days that lie ahead? Will he be able to contribute something of value to his society? We know the answer. Satan is no match for the Son of God. Jesus’ follows God’s plan to the bitter end.
Jesus emerges from the wilderness declaring that the kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom has broken into the world and is about to be fulfilled. People are called to prepare by repenting and believing the good news of the kingdom.
We know the story: the message, the miracles, the torture, the execution—the resurrection. In the person of Jesus Christ the kingdom of God had indeed broken in to the world, and the world would never be the same. Two thousand years on, the kingdom is still breaking in to the world, although we often despair of its complete fulfillment when we see the evil around us.
But did the breaking-in of the kingdom begin with the baptism, or the wilderness temptation, or Jesus proclamation? Was this the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, or did it begin much earlier?
The kingdom of God broke in to the history of the world in the person of the child in the manger. The Christmas story declares it in no uncertain terms. Luke describes the angels’ appearance to the shepherds, who were told a Savior, Christ the Lord, had been born. The Messiah was here!
Matthew tells us wise men—magi, priests—traveled from the east, perhaps from as far away as Persia, to seek the child born king of the Jews. This news so upset the ruling king, Herod, that he sought to murder his rival in his crib. The kingdom of God had broken into the world, and the world would never be the same.
Before Jesus called his first disciples, before he worked his first miracle, before he uttered a word of his message, before his wilderness experience and his baptism—before he could speak a word, the kingdom of God had been declared by angels, shepherds and magi.
Jesus Christ entered the world, not as a conquering king, not as a military leader, but as a tiny baby, helpless and without official pomp or recognition. The kingdom of God has indeed broken into the world, and the world will never be the same.
We inherit the message from angels, shepherds and magi. Go into the world and spread the good news. The kingdom of God is here!