"The people living in darkness have seen a great light;on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
After 30 years of living in relative obscurity, Jesus begins his ministry of reconciling earth and heaven with a proclamation of hope, “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
These brief words lifted from the lips of Isaiah defined the life, ministry and work of Jesus. Jesus was sent by God into a world defined by darkness and death. As darkness limits our abilities see beyond its region, we as human beings are incapable of living full and complete lives as long as we remain in spiritual darkness. And no matter what we are able to accomplish with our lives, the lingering shadow of death reminds us of, as Solomon often said, "the vanity or uselessness of it all".
Here Jesus comes, bursting onto the scene of history with a hopeful proclamation that if believed and embraced would transform us from dwellers of darkness to dancers in life’s light. This proclamation is so profoundly hopeful that death’s shadowy presence no longer disturbs or distresses those who have seen and who have stepped into the great light. With this announcement, Jesus is telling humanity: "there is now available to all of humanity a new order of life; a new way of existing that is far better than the one presently lived by humanity; a new and more glorious way of being human". Matthew writes: “From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent for the kingdom of God is near."
Captioning the Life of Jesus:
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus was all about introducing and establishing God’s Kingdom on earth. Jesus, the “Light of the World” came to do the following things:
1. Expose ultimate futility and failure of this world’s order.
The darkness of sin that prevails and dominates all things in this world will leave us with absolutely nothing. 7 times in the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon said, “Vanity, Vanity all is vanity and vexation of the spirit.” Why is the spirit vexed? Because Solomon in his wisdom and through his own experience realized that the satisfactions, pleasures, comforts and good times leave us no better off. Jesus himself said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul"? Jesus came to be the light to expose the ultimate futility and failure of this world’s order.
2. Jesus also came to be the light in order to reveal a better way of existing.
3. Jesus came to reveal the way of becoming a better human being.
4. Jesus came to reveal the way to a life of ultimate fulfillment, perpetual joy, profound purpose, unrealized pleasure, and unimagined peace.
Sent By God:
Jesus was sent by God to this world to show us what he created us to be; to show us what a true and honest human being looks like. He is the "second Adam", the perfect created man, unspoiled by sin, full of God’s life, light and love to show us God’s way, and to lead us back into the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God:
The Kingdom of God is so radically different from anything that we know or are accustomed to. It is impossible for us to understand or to even participate in Kingdom of God if one has not embraced the life and lessons of Jesus.
Unless one has gone through a radical transformation of the heart, mind and soul that is possible only through one’s faith in Christ, then one cannot even begin to imagine or see the new possibilities and glorious potential that God has for them in his Kingdom. This radical transformation of the heart, mind and soul is what Jesus calls the "born again experience". And Jesus made this very clear in his conversation with Nicodemus that this experience does not occur through any act of human efforts. This means none of the following acts will not in any way get anyone into the Kingdom of God. Why you ask? Because: The Kingdom of God:
doesn’t occur simply by joining a church.
doesn’t occur by our good deeds or acts of kindness.
doesn’t occur by our associations with so called "good people".
doesn’t occur simply by educating our minds.
doesn’t occur through any of our human efforts. The truth is.....
This radical transformation of the heart, mind and soul only occurs when one opens themselves up to God, and allows for the spirit of Christ – the Holy Spirit – to bring them into a loving relationship with the Almighty God of earth and heaven. Jesus tells Nicodemus: " Marvel not what I say to you, you must be born again".
In order to understand and participate in this new order called the Kingdom of God, there must be a change so radical that your ideas, attitudes and behaviors change. This change, again, does not occur because we make it happen, it occurs when you open yourself up to light of God’s knowledge and love who is Jesus Christ. When this change occurs you immediately become, though imperfect and ignorant, a citizen of God’s kingdom. You will discover that your desires and passions have changed, and you now possess a desire to live a different life in love and service to God.
· Rev Frederick D. Favors – a personal friend of mine and a successful biology major in college was well on his way to becoming a doctor. But one day, he heard God’s call to conversion and soon changed his college major from biology to religion, and is now has become since that conversion experience and subsequently answering the call to ministry a passionate and prolific preacher of the gospel.
Purpose of the Kingdom of God:
The Kingdom of God is ushered in by Jesus to reveal the face of God to the world. The church, that is, the “real and authentic” church, is in the world so that the world might see God in us. “Our purpose” as the body of Christ in the world is to reveal love of God. We are called of God to demonstrate to the world the spirituality, the economics, the social relevance and the politic power of the kingdom of God. If we are honest with ourselves, we must confess that we, the church have done a poor job of revealing God’s love in this world full of lost and confused souls.
So before there can be a conversion of the world, there must first be a conversion of the church. God’s call to conversion is not directed to the world, but could it be that God is calling the church to conversion. In my travels and observations of churches around our city, state and country I am certain that before there can be a conversion of sinners, there must first be a conversion of the church.
Legend has it that Nero, the emperor of Rome, played his fiddle while Rome burned to the ground. Could it be that the church of America, like Nero, is fiddling while America descends into the abyss? Or more specifically, could it be, with a few exceptions, that the American churches are "fiddling" while our communities are being destroyed?
Addressing the Big "Why":
Why is it with all the churches of different ethnicities located in each state around this country, that with few exceptions, many of the schools our children attend tend to be at the bottom of every list;
AIDS is steadily increasing among black women, incarceration rates among our young men and women are getting higher with their pants getting lower, and skirts getting higher; economic exploitation continues to leave our people wallowing in pockets of poverty, ignorance has become coveted standard, destructive health habits are the order for the day, immoral behavior has become an excepted behavior among our people, with fewer and fewer genuine conversion experiences taking place in our churches.
Asking the Big" Question:"
Could it be that we, like Nero, are fiddling while our communities are being destroyed? Could it be that the world only sees us, and not God? Could it be that God is calling the world, and the church to conversion?
God is calling the world, to conversion because they are lost in sin. But God is also calling the church to conversion because she has forgotten who she is. The church is the bride of Christ. In Revelation the angel to the church of Ephesus warns to the church to return to her first love.
That’s what "conversion" means. "Conversion means to turn, to return, to bring back, to come back, to restore". God is calling the church to come back to her original purpose and design. Somehow we have gotten off track, and God is calling the church to come back home. Jesus came preaching repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. "Repentance is the first step toward conversion". The church of God needs to repent. We must tell God that we are sorry.
God we’re sorry for our:
Our pettiness and concern about things that don’t matter
Selfishness and willfulness
Sinful lifestyles we have lived.
Sanctioning sin with our silence.
Prayer: God Restore our joy, restore our power, restore our witness, restore the land.
Repentance: It's a Process!
Repentance is the first step to conversion, but in the process of turning away from something, we must turn to something. Repentance turns us away from things unlike God, but faith turns us to God. The call to conversion is the call to return to truth and faith.
Only when we are converted are we set free from the powers of sin and evil that holds us captive.
The conversion of the church marks the beginning of a movement that seeks to make visible the invisible kingdom of God.
Our conversion, therefore, cannot remain a private matter to be shared and discussed among fellow believers. But it must become public.
A converted church is not content to simply maintain its traditions that only satisfy a sanctified few. A converted church is like the young Jesus who said to his parents, “I must be about my Father’s business.” The Father’s business is a public affair.
A converted church is a public church, a community church, an open church for all people.
It is not an exclusive Christian club that welcomes only a certain kind of person. A converted church is a church that welcomes all into an experience of true community. Young, old, rich, or poor, all are welcome into a church that is converted. And in this experience we become one people, one voice, one heartbeat before God. We worship together. But the real strength and purpose of the church is seen when we serve together.
When the converted church dares to become public know that the world will resist, criticize and try to block the efforts of the church. Know that the unconverted among the converted will be used by Satan distract the church from her mission. But the converted church must not lose heart or lose focus. For they know that, “Greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world.”
When the converted church dares to become public the world will see the work of Jesus being done. They will began to see the following actions coming from the church's conversion experience:
There will be a great concern for those less fortunate.
A politic of love will rule the order of the day.
All injustices will be challenged not simply to benefit me or mine, but these challenges will benefit all people who are held captive by the satanic systems of exploitation and greed.
The conversion experience brought about by Jesus Christ had a definite effect on the early stages of the Christian Church. The effects of conversion in the early church were:
There was no longer those divisions that kept people from people;
There was no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female.
There were no privileged group or subjected poor. All were one in Christ.
In their perspective communities, the weak were protected and the stranger were welcomed.
People were healed, the poor cared for, and justice found.
Everything was shared, and the joy of the Lord made their lives full and complete.
According to Tertullian, an early Christian theologian, “When people looked at the early Christians people would say, ‘O how they love one another.’” A historian named Aristides describes the Christians this way, “they have a love for one another". They never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who would hurt them. If they have something they give freely to the man who has nothing; if they see a stranger, they take him home, and are happy, as though he were a real brother.”
God’s call to conversion is echoing throughout the land.
Conversion means to turn, to return, to bring back, to come back, to restore. God is calling the church to come back to her original purpose.
That purpose is to live out the greatest Christian virtue which is love.
The love of Christ is a "life-giving love" that when lived, publicly brings light to darkened lives and chases away that shadow of death. The converted church must develop the habit of looking out for what’s going on in the surrounding world; rejoicing with its joy, weeping with its grief, and above all eager for opportunities to bring love, comfort, healing and hope wherever possible; The converted church must cultivate a hope that dispels fear and offers promise.
Finally, with all of these efforts, the converted church must seek to bring a faith that welcomes people out of the darkness of their existence into the glorious light of God’s kingdom.
And we do this not necessarily by just speaking of Jesus all the time, though we should take every opportunity to do so, but by also living Jesus in public.
America and around the world must to see the power of a converted church. God has called all churches across this country and around the world to step up and choose to be that church.