It’s All A Gift


“Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” –Jesus (Luke 12:32)

The kingdom of God is what it’s all about. The reign and rule of God. The government and politics of heaven. God’s alternative structure for human society. This kingdom is how God saves the world from all that has gone wrong. Idolatry and injustice. Pride, greed, and lust. Poverty and disease, oppression and war. And ultimately, death itself. All of these human ills are what we are saved from through the reign of Christ. And get this…

It’s all a gift!
We cannot build the kingdom of God, much less fight for it.
We can only perceive the kingdom by faith and receive it as a gift.

How the kingdom of God comes is what the kingdom of God is.
If it comes by hierarchies building it or by armies fighting for it—
It’s not the kingdom of God.
The means are the ends in the process of becoming.

It’s All A Gift

In the midst of the human catastrophe — human civilization gone wrong from the very start, where Cain kills Abel and builds the first city — God has acted. Imagine a vast sheet — a sheet as vast as the world itself. This is human civilization. Now imagine God penetrating that vast sheet with a single pinpoint. This is the Incarnation. From this infinitesimal point — the birth of a peasant child in out-of-the-way corner of the world — God entered human civilization…and this changes everything! From that single life the kingdom of God comes.

It’s all a gift.
If you try to build it…it’s not the kingdom of God.
If you have fight for it…it’s not the kingdom of God.
We can only perceive it and receive it — we cannot build it or fight for it.

But this so hard for us to comprehend. It can only be done by faith. It’s hard to comprehend a kingdom that cannot be built or fought for, because human history is mostly about building and fighting. Think about it. What are empires? They are the greatest accomplishment of human civilization. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome… (I’ll stop before I hit too close to home.) How did these empires become what they became? By building and fighting. We call it “History.” And because we are completely scripted to admire the great achievements of civilization, we think all the great things are what we build and fight for.

But it’s a lie.

The kingdom of Christ is the Father’s loving gift to humanity.
It cannot be built.
It cannot be fought for.
It can only be perceived and received.
It’s all a gift.

Bricks and Horses

Have you ever noticed that the Bible has a rather poor opinion of bricks and horses? (Of course, it’s not masonry technology and equestrian arts that the Bible takes issue with, but what they represent.) Bricks represent empire-building and horses represent war-waging.

Brick technology is first mentioned in the story of the tower of Babel — a story representing the birth of empire and its intrusion upon the sovereignty of God.

“Come, let us make bricks and build a city with a tower reaching into the heavens.” –Genesis 11:3

God was not pleased and thwarted their empire-building. But the imperial desire persisted and empires were built. Brick by brick.

By “empire” I mean rich and powerful nations that will not stay in their allotted place, but seek to expand their borders and enforce their will upon weaker nations. Empires are malignant nations seeking to grow without regard for the common good. A cancer, if you will. Growth for growth’s sake. The domination and exploitation of weaker peoples justified by self-interest (Manifest Destiny) is not something God blesses — despite what the imperial anthems always say.

In the Biblical narrative the imperial project is born at Babel with the advent of brick-making technology. Babylon then becomes the image of empire all the way to the Book of Revelation.

The second mention of brick-making is in Exodus. As the Egyptian Empire was being built, we’re told…

“Pharaoh ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves, and made their lives bitter with mortar and brick.” –Exodus 1:13, 14

Pharaoh thought the Egyptian economy was more important than the well-being of foreign workers. Empires always think that the national economy is more important than anything. “It’s the economy, stupid” — that’s the mantra. For Pharaoh brick-making was more important than the welfare of the immigrant labor force. Pharaoh treated the brick-making Israelites as bricks. In the interest of empire people had become things. All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall.

God’s surprising adoption of an immigrant labor force languishing in the shadows of the Egyptian empire as his own people is the great love story of the Old Testament. The dominant picture of salvation in the Old Testament is the Exodus — Yahweh delivering Israel from their bondage. This is the event commemorated in Israel’s covenant meal. So that the God who raised Jesus from the dead is the God who first raised Israel from Egypt.

Then there’s horses. Horses were military technology. Egypt and Babylon loved their horses and chariots! And what did God overthrow in the Red Sea? Horses and chariots! Later God forbade the kings of Israel to multiply horses. Which is to say God forbade the building of a military-industrial complex. As the people of Yahweh, Israel was to trust in God…not in horses.

Some trust in horses and some in chariots,
But we will trust in the name of the Lord our God.
–Psalm 20:7

The Hebrew prophets criticized the kings of Israel and Judah for relying on horses and chariots purchased from Egypt. These faithless kings didn’t want to trust in God, they wanted to rely upon the conventional weapons of war. Their Gentile-styled obsession with conventional security eventually led to their demise — Israel was exiled to Assyria and Judah to Babylon.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he refused to ride a horse, choosing instead to ride a donkey. This was powerful prophetic theater. In rejecting the warhorse in favor of the farm animal, Jesus is signaling that it’s time to turn swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks. Jesus is announcing that the time has come for the nations to “study war no more.” Selah.

To summarize…
Human civilization reaches its apex in empire.
Empire is characterized by building and fighting.
Thus building and fighting become what we honor and admire most.
We swoon at the feet of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.
We’re convinced that the best things are obtained by building and fighting.

But Jesus says something else—

“Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

It’s all a gift!
We can’t build it.
We can’t fight for it.
The moment we try to build it and fight for it—
It’s not the kingdom of God.

Jesus builds the kingdom. Not us. When we try to build the kingdom, we inevitably create hierarchies that dominate people. We create priestly castes and make others second-class citizens. We integrate our systems of class, ethnic, and gender stratification through hierarchical domination. That’s empire stuff, not kingdom stuff!

We can’t build the kingdom.
And we can’t fight for it either.
As Jesus told Pontius Pilate…

“If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting…but my kingdom is not from this world.” –John 18:36

If we’re fighting for it, it’s not the kingdom of God.
(Did you hear that, culture warriors?!)
The kingdom of God is without coercion.
Behind the law is the gun — and the kingdom doesn’t come by the gun.
A legislated Christianity is just another religious empire—
It’s not the kingdom of God!

So if we can’t build it or fight for it…what can we do?
We can perceive it by faith and receive it as a gift.
We see it by rethinking everything in the light of Christ.
Unless we take it from the top and rethink everything we’ll never see the kingdom.
(This is what Jesus told Nick at night.)

The kingdom of God is here — if we have eyes to see it. And where is it?…

It’s where the poor are blessed, instead of the rich.

It’s where the brokenhearted are comforted, instead of those happy to be on top.

It’s where the meek get their share, even though they never fought for it.

It’s where those hungry for justice are finally satisfied.

It’s where mercy triumphs over judgment.

It’s where the pure-hearted see what the cynical never will: God is with us.

It’s where the children of God are making peace — undoing the works of the devil.

It’s where these children of God are being persecuted by those who just don’t see it.

It’s where the Jesus way is replacing the way of empire-building and war-making.

You don’t have to strive to be a success.
You don’t have wage a holy war.
You can be at peace.
It’s all a gift.


(The artwork is Happy Embellished Tree by Gloria A Petrey.)