In Acts, the Ethiopian eunuch comes to God after a disciple miraculously appears next to him and instructs him.
Martin Luther, cowering under a tree during a lightning storm, promised God that he would seek after God if he would only spare his life.
C S Lewis was a staunch atheist who set out to prove the non-existence of God and that search led him to a real encounter with a very real God.
St. Paul was blinded on a road.
The prophet Samuel grew up always knowing God, even sleeping right next to the Ark of the Covenant as a boy.
And today the experiences are wide and varied. People meet God in churches, homes, fields, mountain tops, hospital beds.
In chapter 23, we find Luke wrapping up his story of how Christ views the Kingdom of God.
We find two men next to Christ hanging on their own trees. Two men- same crime (They were rebels against the Roman Empire. Most versions call them thieves and while they might have also stolen, Rome crucified its rebels to show an example of what happens when you defy Caesar as God and ruler), same sentence, same opportunity, same struggle, same trials.
And yet for one of those two rebels, the Kingdom of God started right there, on a cross. Life started on a cross.
Where does the Kingdom start for us? When we’re dead? In heaven?
1st rebel- Still believed in his pride, in his anger, clung to it, believed only in salvation being earthly and immediate and that he deserved it
2nd rebel- Nothing more to give, nothing more to believe in, all his ego and pride gone, nothing but Christ was left
1st rebel- Angry over his sentence. The unfairness. How could things not have worked out to his benefit in life?
2nd rebel- Accepting up his sentence. Realized who he was.
In the end, what did either of them have to bring to Christ?
We shake our heads at the 1st rebel but it should be a stark lesson to us about how pride can affect us even in the direst of circumstances. Maybe it’s even worse on us in those situations, maybe it makes us grip tighter to our pride, to our own sense of worth. We want to wallow in the idea that our worth is based on the things we do and how we feel and that our actions are going to be enough to get us out of our mess if we would just try hard enough. Try again. And again. And one more time with feeling.
And we hang upon our cross screaming about how the world isn’t fair.
But this whole time, Luke has been pleading with us to see where our worth really comes from. But it’s hard to see things differently than we always have. It’s hard to believe a different story about ourselves than the one we have always known. We feel like we need to make a deal with God so that he will let us eat the scraps that fall from his table. We feel like we can coerce God into giving us what’s fair by showing him all the good we’ve done for him in our lives.
Those ways do us no good. In fact, they actually negate the truth of our pain and suffering because those solutions are illusions. And when you try to cure a very real sickness with imaginary medicine, you are saying that you don’t really believe in the realness of the pain to begin with. You certainly aren’t serious about healing when this happens.
“Worry not about what you will eat or what you will wear or what you will do when your lungs fill up with fluid and you literally drown on a cross.” I know that’s hard to do. Everyday we have to remind ourselves that God knows who we are to him. Everyday we have to remind ourselves of our worth even in the midst of very real pain and suffering and confusion and fear. Because fear will steal that quicker than we can imagine.
All week my pride and ego have wanted to give into fear. Those things have wanted me to doubt my worth to God. And every day I have had to get up and step back on the line. Every day I have had to remind myself of worth. I’ll tell ya, it doesn’t relieve the consequences of the things that I have said or done. It doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have been wiser in my dealings with people and I can’t say that it makes it easier or the heaviness all that lighter. Not yet. But there is comfort and joy in it knowing that all of it is blessed as the Kingdom of God works its way backwards into my life redeeming the bad parts of my life. Especially the bad parts.
We often speak of where we meet Christ in our lives but is there something about where they met Christ in his life? At the height of his suffering, pain, humiliation and abandonment.
What reason did they have to believe? And yet one did.
In Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones we saw that with God, there is never a “too late”. There is never a time with our relationship with God, with others and with ourselves reach a point where it becomes impossible to start again fresh and clean and with purpose and worth.
Where does the kingdom start and end for you?