“You are the light of the world–like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden (Matt. 5:14, NLT).”
In my last post, I talked a bit about how God’s Kingdom is distinctly different from whatever country we may live in. It is distinct and set apart. Since this statement requires some additional discussion, I’d like to continue working through this topic. A good place to start would be with God’s original chosen people, Israel.
A long, long time ago–before Jesus was born–God gave the “Law of Moses” to the Israelites for a few reasons:
Firstly, this law was meant to make the Israelites aware of their sins so they could do something about it. After all, how can a person obey instruction if no instruction has been given? And how can a person be aware of disobedience if, again, no instruction has been given? To God, however, sin is still sin, and it comes at a price–death (see Rom 6:23). Since Jesus had not yet come, God established the sacrificial system.
If any one of the common people sin by violating one of the Lord’s commands, but they don’t realize it, they are still guilty. When they become aware of their sin, they must bring as an offering for their sin a female goat with no defects (Lev. 4:27-28, NLT).
Secondly, this law was meant to keep the people safe (see Lev. 13, 14, 15, & 18) and to maintain peace (see Lev. 19). This shouldn’t be too surprising, since we have our own laws and justice systems that are supposed to protect us.
Thirdly, the law was designed to make the Israelites stand out among non-Jews and other countries–make them look different.
… Do not mate two different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two different kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven from two different kinds of thread (Lev. 19:19, NLT).
Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards. Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord (Lev. 19:28, NLT).
In obeying these commands, then, the Israelites would be noticeably different from every other nation around them. The Israelites were told to avoid doing things that were done by everyone else.
In the middle of all these rules, we see a couple of small, hidden statements, like: “For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure (Deut. 7:6, NLT).”
If someone asked why they lived so differently, the Israelites could simply say that they belong to God, and God had chosen them to be holy–set apart for a specific purpose.
This is characteristic of God. He wants his people to live differently from the world because the world does not know him. Now for the Israelites, this system was shallow; it focused only on their behavior. It had no effect on the sin in their hearts, so they still couldn’t know God in the way that God desired. It could even be argued that they were just an earthly people group that devoted themselves to God’s purposes.
And then Jesus came.
Jesus brought with him–in fact, he established–God’s Kingdom on earth.
But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43, NLT).
One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there! [no geographical location]’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you” (Luke 17:20-21, NLT).
In this Kingdom of God–this new holy nation–the people can be one with God in everything they do. They no longer have to be separated from him because their hearts are pure. They don’t need the old behavioral rules that make them look different from everyone else–they already think and act differently because they have been completely changed. This causes them to be fundamentally unique, not only in their beliefs, but in their relationships and emotions. Every aspect of their lives looks like an alien culture to this world.
Understand this, friend: If you are a follower of Jesus, you are part of this holy nation. You are a citizen of God’s nation. You are governed by its law, and protected by its King. This law, however, is not a law of behavior; it’s a law of the heart. Once the heart is fixed, everything else falls into place.
This is the first step in understanding what it means to live as part of God’s Kingdom.