I will never forget my first visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Having grown up as an avid, card-collecting, playing-every-chance-I-got baseball fan, it was hard to tell who was more excited – me or my grade-school-age kids.
The anticipation of being within touching distance to life-size memorabilia exalting bigger than life baseball legends displaced typical back-seat grievances with giddy storytelling and solemn recitation of player career stats.
Once inside the museum, we wondered if we’d ever been as lucky as we were at that very moment. We saw uniforms, bats and gloves used by Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. We stood just on the other side of the glass from soldiered rows of plaques, posters and pictures of baseball heroes come and gone.
As I took a step toward a Detroit Tigers exhibit, I looked back to see that my 10-year-old son remained wide-eyed and mesmerized in front of the Babe Ruth display. In focused concentration, he didn’t notice my approach – or for that matter that I had ever walked away. There he stood in unconquerable reverence, rubbing his index finger and thumb up and down the locker handle as if it would, somehow, impute an invisible connection between him and the Sultan of Swat!
This moment went beyond strikes and home runs and innings. This was one of those soulish moments we encounter, even as children. In that instant, my son caught the purpose of a museum – to remember and encounter a person who has gone before us. A great baseball player had stood in front of that very locker, had changed into his uniform, and had then entered the field to make his mark on history. Babe’s hand had opened that actual locker on many occasions. As I watched my young son, I stepped back and thought about our love of heroes.
At the time of Christ, Israel too desperately wanted a hero, but not for the sake of a game. From that time on Jesus began to preach, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’ (Matthew 4:17).
We know that at the time Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven, most of the Jews in Palestine had specific expectations. They were waiting for a hero, their Mashiach (Messiah) to rid their region of the Roman scourge and restore peace with their people (God’s chosen) as the ruling class. The prevailing Jewish idea of messiah was that of a great human leader like King David, not a savior. However, in reality, Jesus wasn’t there to build a physical kingdom at all.
The difficulty at hand is one of language and abstract thought. When our Lord spoke these words, he used the Greek word basileia, which many in modern times have translated kingdom, but in actuality, this Greek word was used as an abstract noun inferring power, dominion, or in this case, kingship. Its original meaning is seen in Aristotle’s writings and translates as the fact of being a king; or the power of a ruler.
In actuality, Jesus said, Repent, for the kingship of God is near. He was referring to the kingship or lordship of our lives.
Let’s consider another famous passage. your kingdom (kingship) come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). There was a popular adage among the Jews in the first century and it said, The kingdom of thy Messiah come. Jesus purposely altered this well-known expression, and said, Thy kingship come. Jesus’ deliberate slant of this colloquialism was most certainly noted by all and its purpose was to help those listening understand that the kingdom wasn’t about territory, but authority, and that the Messiah (he) had arrived.
It is a holy and sobering thing to give your heart to Jesus. You are in essence saying, Thy kingship come, thy will be done on earth (in and through us) as it is in heaven. As Jesus said, But rather seek ye first the kingship of God (Luke 12:3). If we do that, we will be best prepared for our life on this earth and the joy in our days to follow.