February 6, 2018 Terris Neuman

A Kingdom of Swords, Force, and Power on Earth

“He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said, ‘Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed . . . ‘“Mark 4:3

“He also said, ‘This is what the Kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.’” Mark 4: 26

“Then Jesus said, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’” Mark 4:9

The Kingdom of God is one of the central themes of Jesus’s entire ministry. Note Mark 1:15: “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The Old Testament prophets waited expectantly to the time when God would bring His rule on earth to establish justice and peace. We can get a taste of this kingdom by looking at the ministry of Jesus. The crippled begin to walk, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised. His miracles declare that what God has formed God will save. As one theologian has put it: “The Kingdom of God is creation healed.”

All people hold worth because God is Creator and Redeemer; all are crafted in God’s image and Christ died for all. Jesus demonstrates this not just with miracles but with the people he reaches out to. He seems to be driven by a mission that lies outside the view of the religious establishment of His day. This mission demonstrates that God’s love and interest in people is never based upon their ethnicity or status. Jesus visits with Samaritans, prostitutes, tax collectors, men, women and children, the rich and poor, the Jew and Gentile.

In the Kingdom that Jesus brings, social barriers dismantle. Where God rules, ethnic superiority ceases to exist since God created all and desires to save all.

The church consists as One Body, One Spirit, One Lord. This kind of kingdom thinking threatens the kingdoms of this world because it categorizes everyone as equal. Rome utilized worldly power to get the job done, whether by eliminating the Christ Child (Herod) or the adult Jesus (Pilate). Roman chariots, swords, and crosses worked to intimidate, and this higher Roman power maintained the status quo by eliminating all that opposed it. Government leaders throughout history have used and continue to use this type of power. To this day, Rome just doesn’t get it.

But neither did the disciples who wanted to eliminate Rome by making Jesus king (John 6), eliminate the Samaritans with fire (Luke 9), and eliminate those who come to arrest Jesus by using swords (John 19:10). Swords are effective, whoever uses them. Those representing Christ ironically wanted to apply the same methods as the political and religious establishments, a worldly power. So Jesus’s words in John 18:36 were a stumbling block to Pilate and, later, the disciples: “My kingdom is not of this world.” Not a kingdom on earth – to this day – exists as an expression of the kingdom of God. This is a presence of another kingdom that does not come by political means or physical force.

Jesus states that someone can bring in a kingdom as fierce as the Roman dominion with chariots, swords, guns and bombs but it wouldn’t be His.

The kingdom that Jesus brings comes by a very different means – scattered seed. It is paradoxical. To the world, it looks obviously weak. Some might think that having the angels sing to nameless shepherds wastes time; it’s power misused. Or that a man being crucified on the cross could not possibly be the Messiah. It really comes down to which dictionary one uses. Rome’s? The religious establishment’s? The disciples’? or God’s? It really depends on which kingdom rules one’s life.

The seed even looks weak to some within the church: as feeble as a vulnerable baby in a stable or a vulnerable man on a cross. Jesus comes preaching parables to reveal the nature of God’s kingdom.

The disciples are to be the salt of the earth, not steak on a plate.

This kingdom of God is like a seed, like yeast, like a man coming into Jerusalem on a donkey, swordless(!) and dying on a cross. Status, possessions, numbers, accomplishments and brute force characterize the kingdoms of the world. That kind of power fills our ears because we live in a culture that commits to this. Interestingly, before telling this parable, Jesus tells the people to listen (4:3), and after Jesus tells the parable, He tells them to listen again (4:9). Living in the Kingdom of God begins with listening. Can the church today hear what Christ speaks to the church in Mark 4? The text awaits us. It is up to us to hear what it says.

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About the Author

Terris Neuman Dr. Terris Neuman was born in Pensacola, Florida, and became a Christian at the age of 19. He received an associate degree from Pensacola Junior College, a BA from Southeastern University, an MA from Wheaton Graduate School, a ThM and a DMin from Columbia Theological Seminary. He has published articles in The Journal of Pentecostal Theology, Pneuma, Paraclete, Advance Magazine, Faculty Dialogue, and the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. Dr. Neuman has been a pastor in Michigan.