The speed of light is approximately 186,000 miles per second – a speed impossible to wrap our minds around. But the universe is massive on a scale that makes even such incomprehensible speed seem somehow not fast enough. For example, the sun is around 93 million miles away from earth. This means it takes a bit over 8 minutes for light from the sun to reach our planet. In other words, we are seeing old light. By the time we see the first light of the sun each morning, the sun itself is actually 8 minutes ahead, and when the last light of day reaches earth, the sun has in fact been beyond the horizon for 8 minutes. When you consider the implications of this on a cosmic scale, it can be both awe-inspiring and perhaps a bit frightening at the same time. Everything we see in the sky is history.
I’ve recently started studying the sermon on the mount for a sermon series coming up later this year. In his introduction to the sermon on the mount, Craig Keener quotes Wayne Meeks, who said the teaching of Jesus in this section is “intended to be an infusion of the future light into the present darkness.” That is such a wonderful description of Jesus’ teaching and what the Kingdom of God is all about in the here and now. God has promised a wonderful future for his people and his creation through Jesus Christ. As Paul writes, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22-23) Our hope is a resurrection hope. We hope for a new heavens and new earth, where we will live with new, resurrected bodies; a place without death, without suffering, without pain and sadness, but instead full of God’s glory and the sheer joy and absolute peace that come with him. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
But, while we wait for that wonderful day, we must live in the here and now. Rather than sitting around staring off into space (as the disciples did when Jesus ascended), that means we must be reflecting that future glory into the world around us right now. In a sense, it is the opposite of what we see with physical light. Physical light is always lagging behind; it is always a story of the past. But the Kingdom of God is always ahead of its time; it is a message from and about the future. As Meeks says, the community of God (i.e. the church) is called to bring that future light into the present darkness. We aren’t called only to prepare people for that future, but to bring that future into the present to whatever extent possible. Just as we experience the past through the light of the sun and stars, so through our lives the world should experience a taste of the future God has promised.
If we want to know how to do that, a great place to start is with the sermon on the mount. In this teaching, Jesus presents his people with the ethic of his Kingdom. The sermon on the mount is more than commands and moral teaching that we are expected to observe. It’s not merely an updated version of the ten commandments. The sermon on the mount shows us what the Kingdom of God looks like. God’s future Kingdom is a place where the mourning are comforted, where the humble are lifted up by God himself, and where the pure in heart see God face to face. It is a place for peacemakers and the persecuted. God’s Kingdom is a place where anger is replaced with peace, where lust is replaced with contentment, where relationships and vows are no longer broken. It is a place where enemies are friends and where worry is no more. Most importantly, it is a place where Jesus is fully honored as King among his people.
To think and live in this way is certainly not easy in the present world. How much we need God’s grace! Nevertheless, the more we reflect this ethic in the world around us, the more brightly that future light will shine in the present darkness. This isn’t merely a theological distinction – it is intensely practical and important for the church’s mission. Often times, it seems as though we are trying to grab non-Christians and point them to a pin of light off in the distance, begging them to strain their eyes and see it and walk towards it. But what if instead, we brought that light into their lives right now? What if they could see that light through our communities? What if, through the church’s life and our personal relationships, they could feel the warmth of that future light right now? Perhaps we wouldn’t have to be grabbing and pointing so much. Perhaps more people would be grabbing us, asking to explain what they are experiencing.
As we experience the sufferings and troubles of this life, we will naturally begin pining for that world to come. It is good and right that we look forward to that day. But we must be careful that this does not lead to an escapist mentality, such that we become unable to bring that joy-filled future into the darkness of the present. We won’t be able to do this perfectly. Only Christ can bring the day in which every tear is wiped away. But we shouldn’t let what is perfect become an enemy of the good; Jesus has called us to engage in the good while we wait for the perfect.