Along the western seacoast of Turkey there is a beautiful coastal town known as Izmir. Tucked amidst the high-rises and minarets is a Roman Catholic church built in the 17th century and dedicated to an early Christian many of us no longer remember from a time when Izmir was known as Smyrna.
There, nearly 1900 years ago, lived an early Christian named Polycarp, a convert during the ministry of the apostle John. Serving the Lord over the course of his life and well-respected in the church, Polycarp was wholly committed to the Lord Jesus at a time of great persecution for the church. The influence of the Roman Emperor appeared unlimited, and the basic declaration of allegiance to the Emperor was: “Caesar is Lord.” For the early Christians, the basic declaration of faith also reflected their allegiance: “Jesus is Lord.”
When Polycarp was dragged before the Roman Proconsul Statius Quadratus on trumped up charges, Polycarp was thoroughly interrogated and asked to swear allegiance to Caesar. “Swear, and I release you; curse Christ,” said the Proconsul.
To which Polycarp responded, “Eighty-six years have I served Him, and he has done me no wrong: how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” Again, the Proconsul said, “Swear by the genius of Caesar.” To which Polycarp responded once more, “If you vainly imagine that I would ‘swear by the genius of Caesar’, as you may say, pretending that you are ignorant who I am , hear plainly that I am a Christian.”
It is this bold statement that eventually led to Polycarp’s execution by burning in public in AD 156. Polycarp’s situation sets in bold relief one of the greatest challenges of any discussion of the kingdom of God. We live as citizens of earthly kingdoms by birth or by decision, even while we live as citizens of the heavenly kingdom through faith in Christ.
 The story of Polycarp’s martyrdom is found in many places but I relied on James W. Skillen’s telling from The Good of Politics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 47-48.
Join us for worship with Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM as we continues our five-week series “The Kingdom of God.” This weekend I explore what it means to live our citizenship in the kingdom of God in light of our citizenship within earthly nations and kingdoms. Follow along with the entire series here. Access the downloadable bulletin, sermon notes, and sermon discussion guide here.
You can also join in with a daily devotional for this series here.
We also continue in-person services at both 9:30 and 11:00 AM this weekend at the Eastbrook Campus, but you do need to RSVP ahead of time this week and in coming weeks. Find out more info here.
Each Sunday at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM, you can participate with our weekly worship service at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts. You can also access or download the service directly via Vimeo or the Eastbrook app.
If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this challenging time. Please give online or send in a donation to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.
“The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.
“The Church as a PoliticalForce” – I’m thinking about faith and politics a lot right now both because of our current teaching series on the kingdom of God, but also because I want to equip myself and others with a thoughtful and biblical understanding of faith in the public square. Here is Peter J. Leithart on this topic, giving specific attention to the book of Acts and the ministry of Paul. The last paragraph of this article is a very clear and helpful description of the tension and opportunity. (If you’re interested in this topic, you may want to consider joining us online this Monday night at 7 PM (CST) for Dr. Vincent Bacote’s lecture at Eastbrook, “The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life,” followed by Q&A.)
“Your Preaching Is Not God’s Work. You Are God’s Work.” – Todd Hunter has always been an important voice on evangelism, spiritual formation, and ministry. Here he offers some important insights for preachers as part of his own change of mindset based on a conversation with an invaluable mentor. Preachers, we need to learn and re-learn this lesson.
“Gaslighting” – Here is Alan Jacobs on the overuse or misuse of the term “gaslighting” and why it does not always apply or make sense in its contemporary use. “One of the more pernicious quirks of English usage to arise in the past few years is the employment — by a remarkably large number of people, it seems to me — of the term ‘gaslighting’ as the default explanation for disagreement. Nobody just disagrees with me anymore, they’re trying to gaslight me.”
“Here Are The 50 Books Nominated for 2020 National Book Awards” – Everyone probably knows that I am a book guy. I love reading (although I didn’t as a child) and was an English literature major in college. Well, one area of interest for me is book awards and seeing what books are nominated for awards and why. I always find a book or two that captures my attention (plus a few that I wonder how they made it to the list). Here is the latest list of the National Book Award nominees for 2020.
Music: Julianna Barwick (featuring Jónsi), “In Light,” from Healing is a Miracle.
[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]
As we journey through a series on the kingdom of God at Eastbrook, I encountered these word by St. Augustine of Hippo from a sermon on the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel of Matthew. I appreciated the way that Augustine reflects on the kingdom of our lives in relation to God’s kingdom.
Your kingdom come. Come it surely will, whether we ask or no. Indeed, God has an eternal kingdom. For when did He not reign? When did He begin to reign? For His kingdom has no beginning, neither shall it have any end. But that we may know that in this prayer also we pray for ourselves, and not for God (for we do not say, Your kingdom come, as though we were asking that God may reign); we shall be ourselves His kingdom, if believing in Him we make progress in this faith. All the faithful, redeemed by the Blood of His Only Son, will be His kingdom. And this His kingdom will come, when the resurrection of the dead shall have taken place; for then He will come Himself. And when the dead are risen, He will divide them, as He Himself says, and He shall set some on the right hand, and some on the left. To those who shall be on the right hand He will say, Come, you blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom. This is what we wish and pray for when we say, Your kingdom come; that it may come to us. For if we shall be reprobates, that kingdom will come to others, but not to us. But if we shall be of that number, who belong to the members of His Only-begotten Son, His kingdom will come to us, and will not tarry. For are there as many ages yet remaining, as have already passed away? The Apostle John has said, My little children, it is the last hour. But it is a long hour proportioned to this long day; and see how many years this last hour lasts. But nevertheless, be ye as those who watch, and so sleep, and rise again, and reign. Let us watch now, let us sleep in death; at the end we shall rise again, and shall reign without end.
Your will be done as in heaven, so in earth. The third thing we pray for is, that His will may be done as in heaven so in earth. And in this too we wish well for ourselves. For the will of God must necessarily be done. It is the will of God that the good should reign, and the wicked be damned. Is it possible that this will should not be done? But what good do we wish for ourselves, when we say, Your will be done as in heaven, so in earth? Give ear. For this petition may be understood in many ways, and many things are to be in our thoughts in this petition, when we pray God, Your will be done as in heaven, so in earth. As Your Angels offend You not, so may we also not offend You. Again, how is Your will be done, as in heaven, so in earth, understood? All the holy Patriarchs, all the Prophets, all the Apostles, all the spiritual are as it were God’s heaven; and we in comparison of them are earth. Your will be done, as in heaven, so in earth; as in them, so in us also. Again, Your will be done, as in heaven, so in earth; the Church of God is heaven, His enemies are earth. So we wish well for our enemies, that they too may believe and become Christians, and so the will of God be done, as in heaven, so also in earth. Again, Your will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Our spirit is heaven, and the flesh earth. As our spirit is renewed by believing, so may our flesh be renewed by rising again; and the will of God be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Again, our mind whereby we see truth, and delight in this truth, is heaven; as, I delight in the law of God, after the inward man. What is the earth? I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind? When this strife shall have passed away, and a full concord brought about of the flesh and spirit, the will of God will be done as in heaven, so also in earth. When we repeat this petition, let us think of all these things, and ask them all of the Father. Now all these things which we have mentioned, these three petitions, beloved, have respect to the life eternal. For if the Name of our God is sanctified in us, it will be for eternity. If His kingdom come, where we shall live for ever, it will be for eternity. If His will be done as in heaven, so in earth, in all the ways which I have explained, it will be for eternity.
Near the end of his magnificent letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul calls early believers to live fixed on the most important things, not superficial things such as what we eat or don’t eat, what we drink or don’t drink, but true life in the kingdom. This is how Paul describes the Christian life there:
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)
What does it mean to live in the kingdom? According to Paul the Apostle it means at least four things.
Righteousness As one of the central themes of Romans, righteousness is tied in with the work of Christ that justifies us before God by faith. But in the context of Romans 13 righteousness also has to do with living rightly in relationships within the Christian community. Kingdom living is about righteousness.
Peace Living in God’s kingdom is living at peace with God through Christ and at peace with others. This is not merely the absence of conflict but the fullness of biblical shalom where all things are right in God’s world as they should be. This is the sort of good life that all human beings truly desire.
Joy When righteousness and peace are present in our lives we will almost inevitably live with irrepressible joy in our lives. This is a joy that exists regardless of our circumstances, as Paul testifies in his great “epistle of joy,” Philippians, which was written from prison. Kingdom living is joyful living.
In the Holy Spirit All of these attributes, and kingdom life itself, comes through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enters our life through faith in Christ as both the powerful presence of God and the One who makes the realities of the kingdom real to us personally.
To be made right with God the Father, to live in the peace of Christ, and to walk in the joy of the Holy Spirit—this is what the kingdom life looks like. Doesn’t that sound good?
When we hear Jesus proclaim that “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15), He is letting us know that this sort of life is now accessible to us. We can enter it now—not just later when we die—and live in it by learning from Jesus and walking by the power of the Holy Spirit. Dallas Willard describes it this way:
By relying on Jesus’ word and presence we are enabled to reintegrate the little realm that makes up our life into the infinite rule of God. And that is the eternal kind of life. Caught up in his active rule, our deeds become an element in God’s eternal history.
So we must say, ‘yes,’ to Jesus and daily yield to the Holy Spirit. Have you done that? Have you surrendered the little realm of you life to the realm of His life? Have you given your ‘kingdom’ to God for His kingdom?