Have you noticed that news travels fast these days…especially bad news. TV stations and internet news sites seem to thrive on telling us bad news. Evidently it boosts ratings and readership. Go figure. Sometimes, I wish I could be more like my cat, Sugar, because while I’m watching the news she just stretches out on the couch, eyes half shut, trusting completely in the care of her owners. But I’m not a cat…and bad news does irritate me and like you, I hunger for relief from the steady drone of negativity. That’s why I’m so grateful for God's Son and the extraordinary news he brings us.
Before sending them on their first missional adventure, Jesus said to his disciples: “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has drawn near’” (Matthew 10: 7-8). It should come as no surprise that we are not the first generation to hear bad news. Take 1st century Israel, for example. Here was a nation under the brutal occupation of the Roman Empire. Her people were scattered and beaten down. Her religious leadership was divided; and her political leaders corrupt. It’s not surprising that many people felt they were under God’s judgment, nor that people hungered for good news (Isaiah 52: 7). It was in those days that news of a teacher from Nazareth began to spread, a man of grace and truth, a man who spoke with God’s authority, who had compassion for the down and outs, who healed the sick, and said that God’s kingdom reign was drawing near in his own life and ministry.
The kingdom message and ministry of Jesus was and is in direct conflict with the drone of bad news that so characterizes our world; for he comes to cast out the kingdoms of darkness that operate here. Yet, as his disciples, we must be careful that in confronting the fearful, evil -- and just plain "bad"-- stuff going on in this world that we do not add to it. Here is Jesus' counsel:
First, he warns that we must address the evil that has taken root in our own hearts. Jesus says we must first remove the log from our own eye before attempting to help someone else get the speck out of theirs (Matthew 7: 3-5)! It’s so easy for us to talk about the evil that is out there…and forget the badness in our own souls. “Gradually it was disclosed to me”, said Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, “that the line dividing good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart.” The Apostle Paul reminds us: “We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Secondly, Jesus showed by his example that we must confront evil with the power of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus went into the wilderness just prior to his public ministry, the Bible says that he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1). As we surrender to the power of the Spirit of God we are enabled to confront the lesser powers of the evil one. Our Father in heaven is eager to give the gift of his Spirit to all who simply ask him (Luke 11:13).
Thirdly, we must confront evil with the goodness of God’s word. It was torah, God's word, that gave Jesus power to confront the evil one in the desert place. For Jesus reminds us that “One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4: 4; Exodus 23:25). The Psalmist declares, “I treasure your word in my heart so that I may not sin against you” (Psalm 119: 11). To the extent that we walk according to God’s word and trust in his promises – our power over evil will grow. Finally, evil cannot bear the worship and praise of the Living God. When Jesus said to Satan, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only!”(Matthew 4:10) the devil left him. When we glorify the Lord with with our lips and our love for others, the evil one must flee and the power of temptation loosens its grip on us.
The good news which Jesus’ proclaimed in the face of this world’s dark powers was more than words. After telling his disciples to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of heaven, he entrusts them with his own ministry: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” he says. As a young pastor I saw a boy in my home church pronounced “brain dead” make a complete recovery. It was the same day that I read these words from John 11: 25 in a devotional bible: “I am the resurrection and the life; and those who believe in me, even if they die, shall live.” Three weeks ago, I witnessed an act of sacrificial love as a woman in our church, moved by a prayer for one of our church members, donated one of her kidneys, and in so doing gave the gift of hope and healing to a man and his family. Nearly four years ago, a group of students from St. John’s traveled to Cameroon, and met countless children orphaned by AIDS and stricken with epilepsy. Today, an orphan support program has been birthed here in this congregation, giving hope to hundreds of children in that small African village. And just last week a woman named Mirja in our church who loves animals and works at the Westside Animal Shelter worked tirelessly to reverse a policy change that would have enabled animals to be destroyed more easily. Healing, compassion, service, and lovingkindness: that's kingdom work.
Friends, my prayer for you and for me is that we would know that the good news of the kingdom is not just nice or interesting news but that it is powerfully relevant. May we speak the news that is truly good and may we demonstrate its power: Where there is sadness may we sow joy; where there is hatred and prejudice, may we sow love; where there is sickness, healing; where there is evil, goodness; where there is fear, faith; where there is death, life. May the One who is the Light of the World not only empower us to preach good news, but make some good news; and be the subject of the next breaking story of God’s expanding kingdom in a city that is thirsty and longing for more of his peace, light, and love.