What is the Main Thing?
From the very beginning, Jesus was clear about what His mission was and therefore what would later become our mission. Jesus handed His mission onto us. Jesus’ mission on the earth had two elements.
The first element is Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God. In Luke 4:42, it says this:
At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea
There are many stories about Jesus, who was so popular because of the way he preached and because of the miracles he did and people never wanted him to leave them. They wanted to hold Jesus close to themselves. Whenever He was put in that position, the gospel writers tell us that Jesus always said to them, “I have to go because this is why I have come.”
The central mission of Jesus, as he says, was for the purpose of going out. We see that in the prayers he prayed, for example, The Our Father prayer in Matthew 6 says:
He said, pray then in this way, Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.
The central thing that Jesus was about was the Kingdom of God. In Matthew 6 there is a passage about not worrying about what you have, about food and clothes and those sorts of things and it ends with this line in verse 33:
But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
The teaching about the Kingdom of God was central in Jesus’ time and that has been passed onto us for us to proclaim and to give to others.
Every aspect of Jesus’ life, whether it was the incarnation, God becoming human in Jesus, His miracles, teaching, the gathering of the disciples, the cross, the resurrection, the permanence of his presence, it was all pointing to the Kingdom of God. That’s what Jesus was here for. These were all the components of His evangelizing activity so that we would come to faith.
In ‘On evangelization in the modern world,’ Saint Paul VI says:
As an evangelizer, Christ first of all proclaims a kingdom, the kingdom of God; and this is so important that, by comparison, everything else becomes “the rest,” which is “given in addition.” Only the kingdom therefore is absolute and it makes everything else relative.
Only the Kingdom is absolute and by comparison, everything else becomes ‘the rest.’
Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is the most important thing. The Kingdom of God is the biggest reality that we must come to grips with and everything else is relative to the Kingdom or is just the ‘the rest.’
What does being relative mean? It means that there is a higher reality or a higher truth.
Jesus says, “Everything in life is relative to the Kingdom.” It doesn’t matter about your career. Your career is not as important as the Kingdom. Your marriage is not as important as the Kingdom. How good-looking you are or how many muscles you have are not as important as the Kingdom. How much money you have is not as important as the Kingdom. How successful you are is not as important as the Kingdom. Your position is not as important as the Kingdom. Your children are not as important as the Kingdom. Your marriage is not as important as the Kingdom. The most important thing of all is the Kingdom of God.
Jesus says, “It is the rejection of those most important things like Father, brother or Mother and the establishment of the Kingdom is the most important thing.”
Jesus gives us an upside-down, back-to-front set of standards.
We read the beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12 and it says:
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Jesus says, “There’s something different that you’re meant to live by called the Kingdom.” The current values of our modern world are relative to the values of our Christ-following world
A very close friend of mine and someone who has worked for the ministry passed away in the last seven days from COVID. It was very sudden. He was perfectly healthy with no underlying health conditions whatsoever. In the last week or two, we’ve gone back and forth with his wife and friends and family. I know of other people that have died and I know a lot of people who know people who have died in different countries. We have a huge number of people who’ve written to us and asked for prayers for family members, their daughters and their husbands and their wives, their children, their friends who have all died from COVID, let alone, had it themselves and the horrid effect of COVID, long term, upon some people’s health.
It is hard and scary for people who know that it’s coming and are wondering what are they meant to do? But there is another set of values for us that fly above the world’s values where we can breathe, and we have our being at a deeper level. Our trust is not in what we have or what we could do, but in God, amid the storms of life.
There’s a second element to Jesus’ mission, besides the Proclamation of the Kingdom. The centerpiece of evangelization, of the good news, Saint Paul VI says is this:
- This great gift of God (Salvation) which is liberation from everything that oppresses man but which is above all liberation from sin and the Evil One, in the joy of knowing God and being known by Him, of seeing Him, and of being given over to Him.
That’s what Salvation is, and everyone is invited to have Salvation.
Everyone is invited into the Kingdom of God.
Everyone is invited to know that they are saved and that the limitations we face, particularly of mind and of heart and physically are overcome because of what God has done.
God has a bigger play than what we have. It’s the Kingdom of God. It’s the fact that Salvation is offered to all of us, and everyone’s invited to it, but how do you achieve the Kingdom of God?
Saint Paul VI says this,
- This kingdom and this salvation, which are the key words of Jesus Christ’s evangelization, are available to every human being as grace and mercy, and yet at the same time each individual must gain them by force – they belong to the violent, says the Lord, through toil and suffering, through a life lived according to the Gospel, through abnegation and the cross, through the spirit of the beatitudes. But above all each individual gains them through a total interior renewal which the Gospel calls metanoia; it is a radical conversion, a profound change of mind and heart
Saint Paul VI says to us what many of us don’t want to hear, particularly we Catholics. My Catholic background says to just be prayerful, be nice, loving and kind to people. That is not what the Scriptures tell us. The work of bringing the Kingdom into our lives and living that Salvation out so that we grow in that ever-deepening joy and relationship with God, comes about through violence.
The violence that Saint Paul VI is talking about is not the violence of a fight, but it is toil. It’s hard work to be a Christian in the world today. It’s hard work to push off fear. It’s hard work today to deny yourself in order that you would live according to Kingdom principles where other people get by living, not according to Christian principles and the principles of the Kingdom.
It’s hard. It’s through life lived according to the gospel of love and joy and peace and of sacrifice and of suffering. It is through abnegation, which means to renounce that which is easy to us as given to us by the Lord. It is to reject the sin in our life, and it is to take up the cross. It is to follow Jesus.
What did Jesus say, “If you want to follow me, take up your cross?” That is the message of the gospel. It’s little wonder that so few people go to church these days. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we just preached a message of positivity? You can do it. You can be successful. You can be happy. Isn’t that so much nicer to preach that?
How else than through the spirit of the beatitudes? What is the spirit of the beatitudes? The spirit of the beatitudes is that less is more. The spirit of the beatitudes is not about the powerful, but the weak. The spirit of the beatitudes is, ‘Lord God, You are Lord, You are first, You are central.
The spirit of the beatitudes is so countercultural. While society values power and success, the beatitudes value the meek, humble, poor in spirit, the mourners and the hungry.
How do we gain this Proclamation of the gospel? How do we gain this Salvation?
We gain them through the complete and utter conversion of ourselves and that is where the violence is. It is wrestling with our own person. We Christians have in our lives the gift to be able to repent and turn to God over and over. We Christians have this ability to come to God in prayer and continue to wrestle with God for our whole lives.
We now are invited to work at the interior, total conversion of our mind that affects the way we live in all the practical things. We must take the gospel, do the work through prayer, study, discipline, sacrifice and ‘violence.’
We need to ask what does this mean for my marriage? What does this mean for my future plans? What does this mean for what I have? What does this mean for how I spend my thought time even when I’m idle? Just my thoughts. What does this mean for my heart? That’s where we must go. We don’t have a choice, but to go there to apply the gospel message to our lives and to ask the question, how do we grow?
The world needs the power of God and the peace of God and the presence of God. That only comes through Proclamation. It is the essential mission of the church to tell, and we’ve got to take that and show people in your marriage, it looks like this; in your business, it looks like this; as a parent, it looks like this. We must be able to apply it practically.