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This past Sunday, as we continued our study in the book of Acts, we read Acts chapter 14.  In this chapter, we saw Paul and Barnabas continuing on their journey to proclaim the gospel.  When they arrived in Lystra, Paul encountered a man who had been lame all his life.  As the man listened intently to Paul, it became clear to Paul that the man had the faith to be healed.  When Paul instructed the man to stand up, the man arose and began to walk.  The story continues in verse 11:

Acts 14:11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”

What is important to note here is that these people, who were not Jews, assumed that their gods had descended to earth and appeared in human form. They referred to Barnabas as Zeus, and Paul as Hermes, because Paul did most of the talking.  Contained within this portion of the story is a foundational truth – you relate only to those things with which you can identify.  Since these people knew nothing of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, when they saw Barnabas and Paul they immediately identified them as two of their own gods.  What is interesting to note is that Hermes was a herald for Zeus, who was the king of all of the gods. Apparently, they were able to properly discern that Paul was a herald based upon his speaking.
Why is this principle so important for us today? Because it shows us that we too will perceive God through the lens of our experience, which for each of us is a very narrow lens.  While this is certainly the fault of no one, both Christ Jesus and Paul made it very clear that if we desire to experience God to a greater degree, our minds must be transformed.  Christ Jesus said that a man must be “born again” just to see the kingdom of God.  Additionally, Paul instructed us to be transformed from this world by the renewing of our minds.  In other words, unless our minds are truly changed, we will continue to perceive God through that same lens we were taught to see him, which may very well be a very distorted lens.  So what lens do we need to perceive God to a greater degree?  We must have a kingdom lens.  This was the only doctrine that Christ taught – the kingdom doctrine.  So the principle is simple but important – the more we learn and understand about the kingdom of God, the better we can identify with it.  And the more we identify with the kingdom, the better we can relate to it.  Here is a simple test to measure how you relate only to that with which you can identify: if someone were to ask you to describe what the Lord Jesus may have looked like, how would you describe him?

Empty-Tomb-Picture-07This weekend, many will be celebrating the resurrection of Christ from the dead.  They will dress in their best outfits and join many in listening  to the annual message of how the sepulcher was empty when the stone was rolled away.  They will hear an inspiring message of hope and joy while being seated in the midst of perhaps one of the most popular services of the year.  Extra chairs will be set out in order to accommodate the extra attendees for this week’s service.  When the service is concluded, many will likely stay and enjoy a fellowship meal with other members and guests, or enjoy a special meal with friends and family.  Then, they will plan on celebrating the event again next year.
Is that what the resurrection has become?  An annual event for us to celebrate once a year?  In the kingdom of God, this resurrection is something we are to be thankful for daily, with our renewed lives being the proof that we were raised with Christ from the dead.  Yes, we too were dead – dead in sins and trespasses, dead to the things of God, and dead to Christ Jesus himself.  It is when we understand that the Jesus who was crucified, dead and buried, was the one that God made Lord and Christ that we begin to see the marvel and splendor of his eternal kingdom.  This is something to be celebrated not annually, but daily.  And how much more should we rejoice and be thankful that while we were yet estranged from the promises of God, God in his mercy and loving kindness revealed the gospel to us, that we might be able to hear it and live!
We are to walk in the resurrected life daily – “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.”  This truth does not happen once.  It occurs each day that the Lord God gives us the breath of life to be living epistles of his resurrection power.  It happens every time you submit to the rule of Christ in an area of your life where you once ruled.  For the saints of God, the resurrection isn’t celebrated once a year; it is celebrated daily by living resurrected lives.

KingdomOfHeavenYesterday, I answered the question “Why do you focus on the Jews?”  Today, I would like to follow up with a practical example to show the significance of understanding the Jewish influence on the kingdom of God.
Mark 12:28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? 29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
Notice that Christ did not recite one of the commands that was given to the nation of Israel on Mount Sinai.  He said that the greatest command was one that came from the book of Deuteronomy:
Deut. 6:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one LordAnd thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
To one who is not Jewish, that may not have much significance.  To the Jews, however, this passage has tremendous significance, and is paramount to their faith.  I will quote from the website http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Torah/The_Shema/the_shema.html:
“The Shema is the central prayer in the Jewish prayerbook (Siddur) and is often the first section of Scripture that a Jewish child learns.  Orthodox Jews pronounce each word very carefully and cover their eyes with their right hand.  Many Jews recite the Shema at least twice daily: once in the morning and once in the evening.”
This passage is the affirmation of faith for the Jews.  It is the equivalent to the Pledge of Allegiance in the United States.  But even more important, to recite the Shema is to take upon one’s self the yoke of the kingdom.  From http://www.whyisrael.org/2011/03/26/what-is-the-shema/:
“The Yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven
The first paragraph of the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, speaks of the acceptance of the yoke of God’s Divine Kingdom and rule. The Shema has been described as a declaration of faith, a creed. It has often been called the watchword of Israel’s faith (Wilson, 1989, p. 123). When the Shema is read, it speaks of the absolute singularity of God, it affirms faith in the one and only God who created the universe, it affirms the promise that God alone rules the universe; He revealed the Torah to Israel and will one day redeem the world from injustice and strife by righting all the wrongs and ushering in a better age (Hoffman, 1997, p. 19). In this paragraph Moses addressed the individual Jew (Donin, 1980, 151) and the foreigner who sojourns with Israel (Ex. 12:38):”
This makes Christ’s imperative in Matthew 6:33 even more grave and urgent:
Matt. 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
It is the kingdom of God which becomes the central influence in our lives.  So it is vital for us, followers of Christ, to do as He commanded and seek first the kingdom of God.  By doing so, we submit to His rule, thereby proving our heavenly citizenship.