A Kingdom Upside-Down

The Christian faith is rooted in the Jewish tradition. The first 39 books of the canon are Jewish. Jesus Christ, the God in flesh, the Savior of sinners, the Promised Messiah, was a Jew. His disciples were Jewish. The feasts, worship houses, and day to day practices in the time of Christ were Jewish. And throughout the New Testament the Jews are a staple in God’s revelation for mankind. Panorama view at the Fasilides castle

The Bible is a very Jewish book.

This explains Jesus’ various metaphors and illustrations as seen in the gospel accounts. This explains the various epistle writers’ frequent mention of a Jewish patriarch or practice. This explains the symbolic, apocalyptic language in the book of Revelation.

The Bible is a very Jewish book.

In the midst of this Jewish culture where the Jews are seemingly identified as the people of God, and God’s redemptive work is to benefit this people, Jesus does something unexpected, something outrageous, and to some, blasphemous. He announces that there is a significant development in God’s redemptive plan: an expansion of sorts.

In a time and place of all things Jewish – the proper and best in the eyes of the religious leaders, anyway – Jesus announces that it is not Gentiles that will be excluded from the Kingdom, but Jews!

Stick with me. Here is the scene:

Jesus has just preached the greatest sermon perhaps ever, taking the familiar Jewish teachings of Moses, and building upon them by specification and clarification.

At the end of his sermon the audience was amazed. Jesus had a way about him. There was a kind of authority in his teaching that was lacking among the religious leaders of the day (Of course, this is due to his divinity).

After this monologue, as he left, the gospel writer Matthew notes two encounters: one with a man with leprosy; the other a centurion – a Roman officer.

Both of these are found in Matthew 8, but it is the encounter with the Roman officer that has our attention.

A Roman officer has approached Jesus and begged him to heal his servant of his paralysis and rid him of pain. And as expected, Jesus obliges and says that he will go to this person. The centurion interjects, and to paraphrase he says not only is he not worthy to have Jesus in his house, but there is no need for Jesus to even travel there – the centurion believes that Jesus can say the word, and the servant would be healed.

Jesus’ response? Amazement (v.10). [Which is unique because I’m not sure of how often one can say that Jesus’ was “amazed”at someone or something].

Here is Jesus’ next words:

Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (v.10-12).

This is truly shocking. Why?

  1. Jesus says that not even Jews have that kind of faith – the kind of faith that the Jesus is truly Lord, and that as Lord of all creation he can do all things with anyone from anywhere he pleases.
  2. Jesus’ words reveal that God’s grace and redemption extend far beyond the borders of Israel and the ethnicity of the Jews. Instead, many will come from east and west – people of all tribes and tongues will come to Christ and be welcomed into the kingdom.
  3. This wide invitation to enter into the kingdom of God, to be heirs of the covenant promises, to be recipients of grace, mercy, and redemption comes by faith – not by works or bloodline. Jesus’ words are counter-cultural, and yet good news for you and me.
  4. Those who presume to be the “in” crowd – here, the Jews due to their ethnic and cultural relationship to the Patriarchs will be cast “out.” A lot of people use Acts 10 to illustrate the notion that God turns the religious economy on its head, and of course that is a proper passage with which to do so, but Jesus reveals this idea before Peter received it.

These four insights are profound. There is no doubt that this encounter between Jesus and the centurion stopped people in their tracks. Mouths open. Jaws on the floor. Nobody dared to move.

And Jesus responds to the centurion’s great faith in His lordship with,

Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.

And the servant was healed at that very moment.

In this brief encounter, Jesus foreshadows a kingdom turned upside down for the good of those initially thought to be outside the kingdom.

Those who thought they were the greatest, made the least.

Those thought to be the excluded, invited.

Those hailed and exalted, humbled by righteous judgment.

Those oppressed and marginalized, freed and welcomed.

Invited. Accepted. Beloved.

{What kingdom is structured with the sick and poor at the forefront? What king chooses to surround himself with the broken and the sojourner? King Jesus. No human kingdom operates like that, but thankfully, no human kingdom is God’s kingdom. His ways are above ours. His thoughts are above ours. His kingdom is greater and better than ours.}

Whether Jew or Gentile, the blessing of salvation and reconciliation with God are of grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone.

Jesus says this is how the kingdom of God looks, and as always, though different than first perceived, it is much better than one could’ve imagined.


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