“I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43)
There are numerous things that vie for our attention in this digital age. Computers, smart phones, tablets, social media apps – they all ring, bleep, notify, chime and alarm us of the next seemingly important thing. Much of the time, it is just social candy that distracts us from more nourishing things in life.
This is also true spiritually. We can easily become distracted from our mission and purpose as Christians, if we’re not careful. Here are a couple of things that can distract us:
1. Focusing on results, rather than action. When Jesus came to earth, he gave Israel priority. He wanted the whole nation to hear and know that God’s promises were coming true. Their Messiah had come; “the kingdom [was] at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
He commanded his first ministers to remain in Israel and preach the good news to the household of God only (Matthew 10:5) (remember how Paul remarked that the gospel came “to the Jew first”? Romans 1:16). Jesus insisted that Israel hear “the good news of the kingdom.”
To accomplish this, Jesus did not stay in one place very long: “I must preach…to the other towns as well” (Luke 4:43). Some accepted; some rejected. He kept moving. He instructed his disciples to do the same (Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5). The gospel must travel. I believe this is at the crux of Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 1:17. Paul wasn’t sent to keep count of conversions, but to deliver a message.
We are grieved for all who reject the gospel. But we must keep moving. There are others who need to hear. We must ask ourselves, “Am I focused on preaching the good news of the kingdom, or keeping count?”
2. Politics. We’re not referring to elections specifically, but the whole spectrum of public affairs to which we give our attention. Speaking of the kingdom God promised to Israel, that subject provides us a worthy illustration of this point.
God promised Israel a King that would conquer all kingdoms, whose kingdom would stand forever (Daniel 2:31-45), who would reign in perfect peace (Isaiah 9:6-7). When Jesus was born, there were displaced Jewish people all over the known world living under the iron thumb of Rome. Many Jews believed – desperately hoped – that Messiah would unify the fractured nation, cast off Roman power, and usher in Israel’s glorious kingdom.
His disciples were brokenhearted when Jesus began to speak of his demise (Mat. 16:21-22). When he died, his followers’ hope seemed dead also. Jesus’ predictions of his own death had been ignored because even his closest followers had a different idea of his nature and mission. Even after the miracle of the resurrection, they held on to their preconceptions, largely fueled by the politics that affected the nation’s physical existence (Acts 1:6).
When Jerusalem was crushed by Rome in A.D. 70, and then when rebels drew their last breath at Masada, the rest of Israel’s spirit was vanquished. To this day, 20 centuries later, many Jews believe the Torah is filled with equal parts wisdom and fantasy, that heaven and hell are metaphors for the conscience, and that Messiah is not, and was never meant to be, a real person. Why? The focus was wrong. They were so focused on their hatred for Rome that they read into Scripture something about their Messiah that wasn’t really there.
Israel’s Messiah came right to their doorstep, preaching the kingdom, professing to be their King, and proving it by mighty words and deeds, and they missed it.
Imagine: a nation so focused on the politics of the day that they did not notice when God walked among them. Is it possible that we could be so distracted?
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