Honestly, the only thing I admire about Christopher Columbus is that he was bad at math. Of all the deficiencies in one’s education, being bad at math is the only one that doesn’t count. For example, Paul Harvey may not have been a great mathematician, but he still was extremely wise. It was Harvey who gave us this truism and tell me you don’t agree with it: “If there is a 50-50 chance that something can go wrong, then 9 times out of 10, it will.” Amen and amen. Back to my point: in the 1400’s, navigation depended upon a lot of guesswork. This was primarily because no one knew the circumference of the earth or how to measure latitude. But there were theories. The first theory came from the Greeks. It utilized the Roman mile (roughly 1.47 kilometers). The second theory came from Arabic scholars. Unsurprisingly, it also utilized miles, but their mile was larger (it was 1.8 to 2 kilometers in length). Now, Columbus needed financial backing for his journey; and he figured that a shorter voyage would require less time and, hence, less money. He also figured that less money would be far easier to secure. And so, when talking to potential financial backers, he calculated the earth’s circumference using whatever method gave him a smaller number. When his backers pressed him to support his findings by utilizing the other method, Columbus would do his magic and come up with the exact same answer. And, yes, you are right, that is impossible (unless you are very bad at math). In short, all that bad math convinced Columbus that the earth was 25% smaller than it actually is. But that was a figure his supporters could get behind. Having been star-struck by his fancy math, they financed his whole expedition. So, we are left with a question: Was Columbus really bad at math or was he just a swindler? I prefer to think that Columbus had one good quality and that he was simply bad at math.
But with all of Columbus’ faults, you have to admit, Columbus dreamed big. He had a vision to find a passage to Asia, and he was willing to go where no man had gone before (except for the millions of men and women who had gone there before and, as a result, lived there—and let’s not forget, Leif Erickson!) to make that dream a reality. That’s what dreamers do. They see a much bigger world than the rest of us do, and they do everything in their power to achieve that dream. Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Columbus believed in the beauty of his dreams.
Jesus was also a dreamer. His dream was the Kingdom of God come to earth. Now, some would say that his dream was crazy, but Jesus believed in this beautiful dream and gave his life so that it could become a reality. But what about us? Think of all the dreams that appeal to you. My guess is that they have one of three characteristics. They are big (few people have a life dream to collect fingernail clippings). They are significant (they want what they are doing to matter). And they are compelling (they want to give their all to their dream). But those aren’t the words we usually use to depict what a Christ follower does. When we talk to someone about Jesus for the first time, we don’t talk about advancing the kingdom; we talk about being saved. We don’t talk about Jesus’ revolution to change the world; we talk about going to heaven when we die. We don’t talk about overcoming the world with love; we talk about coming to church at least once a month. Somehow, I feel we have exchanged Jesus’ kingdom vision of giving ourselves away for the sake of others and making-a-real-difference-out-in-the-world with a much tamer vision of personal piety and individual salvation and church life. Not that there is anything wrong with these things in of themselves, but I’m just worrying about whether the message, “we are going to go to heaven when we die,” seems a little less than the dream Jesus had for his followers. And all you have to read to see this is Jesus’ parables. Understand this: when Jesus spoke in parables, he was doing more than giving content. He was giving his disciples a picture of the kingdom that would create a fire inside of them that could not be extinguished. And this picture was big and significant and compelling.
Sarah Gadon said, “We all want to be part of something that is going to change history or make history or be bigger than ourselves.” Jesus gave us exactly that. But there is a problem. Jesus’ original audience would have found his statement here confusing because the kingdom didn’t look big. From the earliest days of the Old Testament, everyone knew that when the Kingdom came, it was going to be huge. Count the sands on the beaches, Abraham. Look at the stars. Kings are going to descend from you. I’m going to give you that land and Jerusalem will reign over all the earth. And all the nations will stream to worship in the temple. With apologies to Honeycomb Cereal, “The Kingdom’s big — big, big, big. It’s not small — no, no, no.” But when Jesus came, the kingdom was small; and it didn’t get much bigger. To be big, Jesus needed to gather up an army or call down a legion of angels or recruit the people to oust Rome. But that never happened. And before anyone could stream to the temple, it was destroyed. And so, some began to doubt if Jesus did inaugurate the kingdom or, if he did inaugurate it, if it ever really got off the ground. There was just too little of the kingdom in principle and in practice to believe that the real kingdom had come. We have the same problem. We talk a lot about the kingdom, and we even pray for the kingdom to come. But the world is not getting better. The cause of Christ is not taking hold; and peace, love and righteousness are not exactly on display.
Jesus speaks directly to this problem with a parable. He says (Mt. 13: 31-32): “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” The kingdom, Jesus says, will start out small, but will grow until it encompasses everything. This is not just a kingdom for Jerusalem. This is not just a kingdom for Israel. This is a kingdom for the world. Revelation 11:5 confirms this: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” Jesus’ kingdom is a world-wide kingdom; and he invites you to get on board now, because, while it looks like the Kingdom is barely holding on, it will soon expand so that it will cover the whole earth.
This idea is critical for us to grasp. While the kingdom will start almost imperceptibly and grow exceedingly big, so too will small acts done in Jesus’ name blossom into something great. One wouldn’t think that feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty would be that big of a deal; but in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, we see that small things mean everything. In that parable, the king says (Mt. 25:34-36): “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” These are small things, no doubt, but small things done in Jesus’ name turn out to be huge. Jesus’ kingdom is not made up of flashy acts or big shows, it’s made up of little things infused with faith, hope and love so that they resound throughout eternity. Don’t ever give up hope. It is these seemingly tiny acts, acts filled to overflowing with love, that set heaven ablaze with God’s delight. Josie Bisee said: “Dreams come in a size too big so that we may grow into them.” Jesus would certainly agree.
Jesus also says involvement in his kingdom work is the most significant thing we can do. He tells us this in the Parable about the Drag Net. There is a judgment coming, and how we respond to Jesus and his Kingdom will determine our place in that day. Here’s the parable (Mt. 13:47-50): “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Note that warning. It’s rather significant in the flow of the parable. Jesus also tells the Parable of the Two Builders and calls us to build wisely. The parable includes this warning (Mt. 7:26-27), “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” And he tells the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price that puts everything in perspective. There, we read (Mt. 13:45-46): “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” How important is Jesus’ Kingdom dream? Jesus says it is worth our everything; even more than that, Jesus is saying that when we invest in the kingdom, we will find life’s greatest treasure and joy.
Jesus says his kingdom is also compelling. There’s a commercial on TV these days about a guy who has a passion to design shirts that look good untucked. Now, that is a passion! Honestly, I am very happy for him, and I am sure his shirts look good; but as far as compelling visions go, that doesn’t do it for me. Jesus, however, has a vision for changing the world. He says to his disciples (Mt. 5:14 and 16): “You are the light of the world. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Jesus says, “Come change the world.” He says (Mt. 28:19-20): “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus says, “Come change the world.” Jesus also has a vision for a spectacular return on investment. Think also of the Parable of the Sower. Jesus says, there, that if we let the seed take root with us, it is likely that that we will produce a great crop (Mt. 13:23): “yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Jesus says, “Come change the world by allowing me to change you!”
Bottom line: Jesus gives us a very compelling vision. Jesus says, if you want to do something compelling with your life, join my kingdom and go and change the world. It’s as Shakespeare said, “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” Jesus invites to embrace a vision that is compelling from top to bottom and, in the process, discover who we may be.
Let’s get back to our main question: What is a Christian? We can now say that a Christian is someone who follows Jesus and embraces Jesus’ kingdom vision so that it becomes the driving force in their life. A Christian is someone who understands that the kingdom is far bigger, far more significant and far more compelling than making money or having fame or being popular. In fact, it is the most significant thing in which we can invest ourselves. But what does that look like? That’s what we will talk about next week. In the meantime, dream big and take in this quote from T.E. Lawrence: “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.” Amen and amen!