Excerpt from God-Soaked Life

Every­thing God has done from the moment of cre­ation, and every­thing God will do until the end of time, is focused on the for­ma­tion of a mag­nif­i­cent, all-encom­pass­ing God-soaked lov­ing com­mu­ni­ty. Every­thing. It is his sole focus, his pas­sion, his obsession.

Her­ald­ed by Jesus

It’s no sur­prise, then, to dis­cov­er that when Jesus begins preach­ing open­ly in Galilee, his mes­sage begins with the announce­ment of God-soaked com­mu­ni­ty: The time is ful­filled, and the king­dom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). In all Jesus’ teach­ing and preach­ing God’s com­mu­ni­ty of love, the king­dom of God was a con­stant­ly recur­ring theme.

Jesus spent his time trav­el­ing from town to town in order to preach the king­dom (Luke 4:43), and he lat­er sent out his fol­low­ers on the same mis­sion: to pro­claim the king­dom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:2). He taught his dis­ci­ples that he had giv­en them the secrets of the king­dom (Luke 8:10) and that they should pray for its real­iza­tion among them: “[may] your king­dom come” (Matthew 6:10).

He told sto­ries about the nature of the king­dom, com­par­ing it to a tiny seed that grew unex­pect­ed­ly into a great plant (Matthew 13:31 – 32), a trea­sure hoard dis­cov­ered buried in a field (Matthew 13:44), a fish­ing net that sweeps up peo­ple from around the world (Matthew 13:47 – 50), and so much more. (These three exam­ples are from just one chap­ter of a sin­gle Gospel!)

He argued that his mir­a­cles revealed that already the king­dom of God has come to you” (Luke 11:20) and that peo­ple should seek this king­dom above all else in this world (Matthew 6:33). When he was put on tri­al and exe­cut­ed by the Roman and Jew­ish author­i­ties, it was­n’t for the reli­gious crime of heresy, but the social and polit­i­cal crime of sedi­tion: he was cru­ci­fied for announc­ing a new king­dom, a rival social order to that of Rome (John 18:33 – 37). The king­dom, God’s lov­ing com­mu­ni­ty, was so much the heart of Jesus’ teach­ing, preach­ing, and mis­sion that ulti­mate­ly it became the cause for which he was will­ing to be betrayed and killed.

Liv­ing Kingdoms

It’s easy for us, liv­ing in a very dif­fer­ent world from that of first-cen­tu­ry Pales­tine, to mis­un­der­stand all this talk about the king­dom.” There’s some­thing archa­ic about the lan­guage; we might pic­ture ter­ri­to­r­i­al lines drawn on some parch­ment map being pored over by armored knights while their steely-eyed monarch watch­es from his mag­nif­i­cent throne. King­doms seem to have more to do with Arthuri­an joust­ing or Tolkien’s elves than with our con­tem­po­rary world of polling booths and glob­al commerce.

Like just under a tenth of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, though, I grew up (and still live) in a mod­ern king­dom —in my case, the Unit­ed King­dom of Great Britain and North­ern Ire­land. I remem­ber the street par­ty we held, when I was a young boy, to cel­e­brate Queen Eliz­a­beth’s Sil­ver Jubilee; we hung bunting from the lamp­posts and laid out tres­tle tables groan­ing with food along the length of the road under a bright sum­mer sun. As a boy scout I renewed my oath every week to do my best, to do my duty to God and the Queen, and to help oth­er peo­ple.” My father and step­fa­ther served in Her Majesty’s Roy­al Navy doing their bit for Queen and coun­try.” To this day we Brits send let­ters in the Roy­al Mail, lick­ing and stick­ing stamps adorned with the monar­ch’s head onto the cor­ner of the enve­lope; we pay tax­es to Her Majesty’s gov­ern­ment; we buy pas­tries and cof­fee in the local café using coins and notes issued by the Roy­al Mint imprint­ed with the Queen’s image. Reminders that we live in this king­dom sur­round us every­where we look. 

But for most of us, most of the time, all this is only tan­gen­tial­ly about pow­er and author­i­ty, or ter­ri­to­ry and maps. The king­dom I belong to is, above all, a com­mu­ni­ty of peo­ple: my fam­i­ly and loved ones, my friends and neigh­bors, my col­leagues and acquain­tances, and the mil­lions of fel­low cit­i­zens whose lives are more dis­tant­ly con­nect­ed with mine. The monarch is per­haps best under­stood less as a ruler and more as a sym­bol of this huge soci­ety and all it rep­re­sents. Her Majesty’s gov­ern­ment reg­u­lates the com­mu­ni­ty, her armed forces pro­tect it, the Roy­al Mail helps to keep it con­nect­ed. But it’s the peo­ple who make it. Sure, we have what Win­ston Churchill called this scep­tred isle” on which we spend most of our time, but even the land isn’t the king­dom: when I trav­el abroad, I’m still a sub­ject and cit­i­zen, still con­nect­ed to my peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ty. The Unit­ed King­dom is who we are togeth­er, not where we live.

This is the kind of king­dom Jesus pro­claimed; this is what God had in mind from the very first moment of cre­ation: com­mu­ni­ty. A God-soaked com­mu­ni­ty of peo­ple whose lives are defined not by ter­ri­to­ries and author­i­ties, by shift­ing alle­giances to polit­i­cal sys­tems and philoso­phies, but by deep bonds of love to one anoth­er and to their Cre­ator. Rulers and nations come and go. The poet Shel­ley, in his great poem Ozy­man­dias,” describes a vast mon­u­ment to a for­got­ten dic­ta­tor in the Mid­dle East car­ry­ing a hubris­tic inscription: 

My name is Ozy­man­dias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Noth­ing beside remains. Round the decay 

Of that colos­sal wreck, bound­less and bare 

The lone and lev­el sands stretch far away.

The might­i­est cities will one day crum­ble, and the most noble soci­eties will pass. But God’s pur­pose remains stead­fast and can­not be frus­trat­ed. God, whose pres­ence fills all cre­ation, is call­ing peo­ple to life in a com­mu­ni­ty built on eter­nal foun­da­tions. He is call­ing you. 

— Tak­en from chap­ter one, The Invitation” 

Excerpt­ed from God-Soaked Life by Chris Webb, Inter­var­si­ty Press, 2017. Used with permission.

Text First Published September 2017 · Last Featured on Renovare.org September 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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