I had my first prescription for eyeglasses filled at a local “big box” store, and when I tried them on for the first time to make sure they worked, they seemed to do nothing to help my vision.
“It takes a while for your eyes to adjust if this is your first pair of glasses. Give it a few days, and you’ll be fine.” Heeding the counsel of the big box store expert, off I went to pick up the men I was driving to a conference a couple hours away.
Strangely, my eyes didn’t improve over the next couple of days, and I asked several vision-corrected friends if it had taken them time to adjust to new glasses. None had taken time. In fact, all had experienced instant correction. Something was wrong.
And then something dawned on me. I have a far-sighted eye, and a near-sighted eye. Both needed some help. So, I took my glasses off, flipped them around, and saw clearly for the first time in three days. Big box store put the lenses in backwards.
I often think about those backwards lenses when I listen to Jesus’ description of life in His kingdom. One of those lenses in backwards descriptions comes in response to His squabbling followers, angling as they were for the key positions in His coming kingdom. The backward lenses that needed to be flipped? That greatness in Jesus’ kingdom functioned like the kingdoms of the world: dominion, lordship over others. “Not so with you” Jesus declared. And here’s the flip of the lenses: greatness in Jesus’ kingdom is expressed by serving others.
This way of greatness flows from Jesus Himself: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) The King of kings came to serve – and to give His life on behalf of others. To be Jesus’ follower is to follow those footsteps. To serve, by giving to others what Jesus has given to us.
The first generations of Jesus’ followers participated in the launch of this new life-giving, lens flipping way of kingdom living.
They experienced the new life promised in the new covenant.
They experienced the new power promised in the coming of the Holy Spirit.
They experienced the new humanity promised in the preaching of “peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near” (Is. 57:19/Eph. 2:17).
And, having experienced Jesus’ new life, new power, and the new humanity, they “turned the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6) Actually, they turned it right-side up, announcing that the rightful king of the world had come to conquer sin through His death, and conquer death through His resurrection from the dead. They gave away what Jesus had given to them; they served Jesus by serving others.
The first expressions of the right-side up kingdom Jesus brings are recorded in the book of Acts. New life brought wholeness to broken lives. New power brought boldness to fearful circumstances. New humanity brought close those formerly far away.
They also had plenty of disagreements, sometimes argued, and at times simply had to part company. New life, new power, and new humanity did not instantly remove old challenges. The way of service in Jesus’ kingdom was something to be worked on, and worked out in real life.
That working on, and working out the way of life–giving service is something with which every generation of Jesus followers has needed help. And while so much of our world is massively different from the first century setting of Acts, there are significant similarities to the challenges we get to work on, and work out, in our cultural setting today.
What it looks like to have little political muscle, but have Spirit-filled power.
What it looks like to become family with those formerly far away.
What it looks like to participate with Jesus in the lens flipping, life-giving, life saving process of turning the world right-side up.