Recently I spent a weekend at a discipleship retreat with a team of seven others from my church. It was great fun! As we learned and prayed, our inspiration for making disciples grew. We dreamed and planned for how we might develop leaders in our congregation. Truthfully, while it was energizing, it also felt more than a little overwhelming.
Mixed with the enthusiasm, a feeling of incompetence began to quietly grow. Accompanying stress was settling in. Would I really have the necessary time to follow through on these marvellous plans we had made? Would I have the skills? Am I wise and Spirit-filled enough to be used by God in such significant ways? These questions and anxieties were filling my mind. Could God really use me to bring his kingdom here on earth?
The good news is that it is not up to us. The fulfillment of God’s kingdom is going to happen regardless of our degree of faithfulness. It can happen through me. It can happen in spite of me. It will probably happen with a wondrous combination of the two. Whatever the case, God is going to eradicate brokenness, pain and evil. With or without us, he is going to restore beauty, truth and love.
John’s vision of the new heavens and new earth gives us a glimpse into the final arrival of God’s kingdom. It’s a glorious picture. The symbolism of no sea indicates that chaos and evil will be non-existent. The tender image of God wiping our tears leads into the declaration that there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain. God will be with us. All things will be made new! The yearning which Jesus taught his disciples to pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” will be realized forevermore.
What’s fascinating is that in this fulfillment scene there is no human activity. The faithful have overcome and now inherit all that God is giving. However, that activity was prior, bringing them to this place of presence in the new heavens and new earth. As the bride of Christ arrives on the scene, it is a descent from heaven, rather than a rising from the earth. It is God’s initiative and power that makes everything new and good.
Does God use our efforts toward this end? Of course. We yearn, pray, work and love toward the kingdom of heaven coming on earth in the here and now. However, you and I have been struggling to establish the kingdom of God for many years without final success. The global historic church has been muddling along in this endeavour for several millennia. By now it is safe to conclude that it will not arrive fully and finally through us. As pictured in Revelation 21, our good and mighty God will step in and have the last say. He will judge evil, raise up the oppressed and give true life that will last forever. God will set up his kingdom in the new heavens and new earth. This is super good news!
Following Jesus and taking part in his mission can feel overwhelming at times. The cross we bear can feel heavy as we strain forward. We wonder if we can really fulfill all that he has invited us into. Truth is, we can’t. But he can and he will. And so, with this news, I proceed forward with hope. I can dream, plan and act with the freedom that God’s kingdom will come through me or in spite of me. Thanks be to God!
Ryan Jantzi pastors Kingsfield-Zurich Mennonite Church, Ont., where he’s fascinated with exploring the interplay between traditional church and new expressions of mission.