The kingdom of God. This was Jesus’ favorite subject. We find the phrase on Jesus’ lips more than a hundred times in the gospels. If forced to parse Jesus’ message down to one theme, this would be it. But what is this all-important kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is God’s nation. It is the territory over which God reigns. Where ever he has subjects, where ever he has people, where ever men and women give final allegiance to Christ – there is God’s kingdom.
Jesus recognized a duality in this kingdom. Yes, it is substantial and real, but it is also elusive and unseen, recognized only by those with eyes and hearts of faith. That is probably why Jesus described the kingdom the way he did. See, he compares the kingdom of God to a farmer who goes out to plant his crops. Only beneath the surface, quietly and unnoticed, do the kernels break open and grow.
He compared the kingdom of God to a priceless buried treasure, hidden and concealed in a field. He said the kingdom was like mixing yeast into a bowl of flour. With a little patience and a little time, the yeast would encompass the whole batch of dough. And Jesus compared it to the growth of a mustard seed. Though small and insignificant at first, ultimately the seed is marvelously transformed into an enormous tree giving shelter and shade. Whatever this kingdom of God is, and it is more than we can think or imagine, it is something that grows and strengthens only with time. It is not always seen or heard from, not always obvious or observable, but below the surface it is there. And one day it will break open on the world.
If Jesus were here today, telling his stories and yarns and reaching for pictures that describe the kingdom of God, he might reach for the Mississippi River. “The kingdom of God, to what shall I compare it?” he might ask. “It is like the Old Man River.” The headwaters of the Mississippi River are not what you might expect. Flowing out of a little, glacial lake in the frozen tundra of northern Minnesota is a small rivulet. This stream is so narrow, so shallow, that one can walk across it with water up only to his or her knees. But a drop of water, flowing out of that lake, begins a journey that will carry it more than 2000 miles through the heart of North America to the Gulf of Mexico. And that’s not the only drop to make the journey.
If you go hiking in western New York, and a drop of your perspiration hits the ground, that drop will find its way to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. If you drop your water bottle while camping in the Grand Teton Mountains of Idaho, those droplets will find the Missouri, the Mississippi, and finally the Gulf of Mexico. With more than twenty major tributaries, the Mississippi River Basin sustains with its water and commerce more than fifty percent of the American population. The center of this country would be a desert without it.
And by the time the Big Muddy reaches Louisiana it is three miles wide, two-hundred feet deep, and moving the mass of a hundred-fifty tractor trailer loads of water every second. But in Minnesota, children can play in it as if it were a mud hole. So it is with the kingdom of God. With his creative power and love at work in people, Christ is calling a new world into being, even though it doesn’t always look like a new world.
People are still hungry. Wars are still fought. Injustice is still tolerated. Spiritual darkness and hardness of hearts still abound. It looks a lot like a mud hole. But this river known as the kingdom of God is gaining momentum. Little drops turn into big drops. Tributaries and rivulets collapse on top of one another. The basin of God’s power draws everything to itself until finally this river brings life to the whole world.
What is the kingdom of God? It is a farmer sowing his crop. It is a hidden treasure in a field. It is a growing seed. It is a trickling glacial stream. But more so – surprisingly, deliberately, and unexpectedly – the kingdom is coming.