Don’t Miss This: Stewarding the Kingdom Now (Part 1)

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” (Matthew 11:20-24)

Last week, I talked about the sin of unresponsiveness and how that thread tied together the country towns of Jesus’s day with the iconically wicked civilizations of Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre and Sidon.

In Luke 19:41, Jesus grieved for Jerusalem:

As He approached and saw the city, He wept over it, saying, “If you knew this day what would bring peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days will come on you when your enemies will build an embankment against you, surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you and your children within you to the ground, and they will not leave one stone on another in you, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation. (my emphasis)

Although Jesus is not presently walking among us in his physical form, we saw last week that the kingdom of God has come. The world is different than it was before Jesus came. God has come to dwell with us — and he has stayed, in the person of the Holy Spirit.

And so we have the same responsibility to respond to the presence of God in our midst that Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum, Jerusalem, and all the rest did.

And we have the same noisy, distracting world trying to prevent us from doing so.

The Priority of Our Attention

Above all, response to God is about the priority of our attention. Yes, there are thousands of competing voices — but we choose where we will listen.

Every time we get on the Internet, we have 2 billion websites to choose from. But we only land on one at a time, and which one is our decision. In much the same way, we can choose to focus our attention on the voices of the world, or we can focus it on God. We can tune into the world’s frequency, or we can tune into the kingdom’s.

It’s up to us.

Practically, how do we ensure that we don’t miss the day of our visitation? How do we make sure that we live within the gifts God has given us?

The answers are not complicated or fancy.

We can read our Bibles regularly.

We can set aside time to pray and worship.

We can place a high priority on fellowship with other believers.

We can tithe our incomes.

We can devote our efforts to God, even in (especially in) the very ordinary realities and demands of day-to-day life.

We can seek to acknowledge God in all our ways (Proverbs 3:6), thanking him daily for his presence and asking him to fill us, bless us, and use us.

It’s really that simple.

Turning Away from Distraction

Of course, “simple” doesn’t necessarily mean “easy.” To give God the priority of our attention, we have to take that priority away from other things. (Life is a set of trade-offs, a reality I don’t love, but have found to be true.)

This doesn’t mean that we never think about anything except God. That’s impossible and impractical, and even God doesn’t do it. Priority means first. When we give God our primary, first, topmost attention, Jesus and his kingdom become the context and lens for everything else.

(C.S. Lewis wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it, I see everything else.”)

Yet practically speaking, to live fully in the era of our visitation — that is, to live as fully present with God as he is with us in this time in history — we will need to purposefully turn off competing voices.

The litmus test is pretty simple: Anything that sets itself up against the knowledge of God needs to be torn down (1 Corinthians 10:5).

Anything that demands we conform to the pressures and priorities of the world, as opposed to the things of God, does not deserve our attention. “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).

Discernment is necessary, as Romans says; there are things we need to turn off and others we need to dial down. Some of these things may even be “Christian” in nature: Paul warned extensively against wasting time on fruitless arguments and “myths” that came from quasi-biblical sources, for example (Titus 1:13-14; see also 2 Timothy 2:15-26, just for starters).

Perhaps ironically, in our day I am concerned that an over-focus on end-times theories may rob us of our ability to walk with God now. While we wait for the Second Coming, are we living fully in the realities of the First Coming? These realities are not insignificant. We have a mission to carry out. We have a community to love. We have the Holy Spirit indwelling us. We have the promises of God for here and now.

As the story of John the Baptist demonstrates, the people of Israel in Jesus’s time were actively and eagerly anticipating the coming of the Messiah — and their eyes were so firmly focused on their vision of his coming that they looked right past him.

He is here with us now. Let’s worry less about becoming the end-time church and instead focus on being the right-now church, for the future may be given to us, but the present is already ours.


This is Part 198 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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