Jesus has come to show us the way. He points us to a landmark we would not be able to see without Him.
It is out there, just beyond the horizon.
Something similar is happening at the University of Hawaii, a school with an enrollment of 48,373 students. This school is enormous, spread out across 10 campuses on four islands up to 330 miles apart.
That’s like having one campus in Washington, D.C., and another in Columbus, Ohio.
University of Hawaii students and visitors needed something to show them the way. So, in 2018, the campus at Manoa began to explore ways to honor the heritage of Native Hawaiians. This was important because the university is one of the most racially diverse schools in the United States. Over one-fifth of the student body identifies as Native Hawaiian.
The result is a new system of signs to help visitors and students navigate the campus. It is the first wayfinding system at an American university to include an Indigenous language, and it recently won a Fast Company World Changing Idea Award.
Each sign includes a QR code synced with a map accessible by smartphone. No surprise there. But the signs also point the traveler’s gaze toward significant locations that can’t be seen from the campus. They might point to another island, the Wailele Spring, or even Oahu’s Diamond Head volcanic cone.
Significant landmarks. Invisible from certain locations, but critical to Hawaiian identity.
Jesus is also creating a new wayfinding system when He begins His Galilean ministry and calls the first disciples. Like the Hawaiian system, Jesus links His system to an important landmark: “the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:15).
This kingdom cannot be seen, but it is essential to Christian identity. Jesus says that it “has come near,” or “is at hand.” Jesus does not tell everyone to look at him and listen to a message about himself. He does not say, “Give me your attention! I have arrived. I am the Messiah, the Son of God.” Instead, he says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near” (v. 15). According to New Testament scholar Suzanne Watts Henderson, Jesus “proclaims a message not about himself but about the ‘good news’ that God’s kingdom has dawned.”
Yes, the kingdom of God has dawned. It is out there, just beyond the horizon.
So, what is this kingdom? Is it an iconic location like Diamond Head? No, the kingdom of God is much more of a power than a place. It is probably better to talk about the reign of God or the kingship of God. “God’s reign is at work to restore the earth and all that is in it,” says Henderson. As the clearest sign of this kingdom, “Jesus prevails in hand-to-hand combat with the armies of evil to restore human dignity and cosmic purpose.”
When we follow Jesus, we don’t just get directions. We get a new life.
Right after Jesus announces the kingdom, he says, “repent, and believe in the good news” (v. 15). To repent is to turn around, reverse direction or change your mind. Jesus the wayfinder is saying that the first step in following him is to believe in the good news of the kingdom of God. Whatever you are currently looking at, stop. Turn yourself around. Point your gaze toward the greatest of God’s landmarks, the kingdom.
When you do this, you discover that the words of Jesus are true: “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (8:35). You find that greatness doesn’t come from victory over others, but from serving them. “Whoever wants to be first,” says Jesus, “must be last of all and servant of all” (9:35). You find that Jesus uses the power of the kingdom not to dominate others, but to heal the sick, pronounce forgiveness, cast out demons and feed hungry crowds. He restores “well-being in the created order,” says Henderson, “and challenges evil powers.”
The kingdom of God is an unexpected place. It is a surprising power. When you follow the guidance of wayfinding Jesus, you find yourself living a life of sacrifice and service, healing, and hope.
Jesus put this challenge in front of his very first followers. Mark tells us that as “Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea, for they were fishers. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people’” (1:16-17). Jesus redirected them from being fishers of fish to being fishers of people. He pointed them toward a whole new horizon, toward something they had never seen before.
And how did they respond? They repented. They changed their minds and reversed direction. Mark tells us that “immediately they left their nets and followed him” (v. 18). Then, going just a little farther, Jesus “saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him” (vv. 19-20). That was an even bigger change of course than the one made by Simon and Andrew. Those first two left their nets, but James and John left their father and the hired men.
Zebedee probably had some high hopes for his family business. But when Jesus pointed James and John toward the kingdom of God, the future of the corporation suddenly looked very bleak. Time to repaint the sign that said, “Zebedee and Sons Fishing Company.”
Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, and He gave them the guidance they needed. He challenged them to be “fishers of people,” and to share the good news of God’s kingdom with others. Jesus gave them a new way to navigate life, one that was based on healing, helping, serving, and sacrificing.
That’s a new way to do business. It is a new life, not just a new direction.
At the University of Hawaii, the wayfinding system is designed to inform people about landmarks, anchoring the site in its Hawaiian history and culture. For Indigenous Hawaiian people, the “land is their ancestor,” says Brian Strawn, an investigator for the project. “They come from the land, so it’s literally about hoping to share their love and knowledge of the natural world around them with others.”
The same is true for us. We come from a particular place: The kingdom of God. This spiritual land is our ancestor, and it provides us with important landmarks. When we change direction and follow Jesus, we share our love and knowledge of the kingdom of God with others.
We do this by putting the values of the kingdom into action in our daily lives. Alissa Wilkinson is a film critic for Christianity Today who appreciates all kinds of films, not just those with religious elements. One thing she tries to bring to her work is love. She writes, “Love bids us to care for and identify with others beyond the point of our own comfort.”
As citizens of God’s kingdom, we are challenged to love, care for and identify with people beyond the point of our own comfort. This includes the disagreeable person at work, the immigrant worker at the grocery store, the teenager struggling with her sexual identity, or the reclusive neighbor who never rakes his leaves or shovels his sidewalk. Wilkinson sees value in films that don’t even mention Christianity, but instead focus on issues such as justice in the world of Muslim teenagers. Love and justice are both kingdom values.
At the same time, Jesus says that the kingdom has “come near” (v. 15). This means that it is not fully present. It remains our ultimate destination, the goal toward which we are working. In the novel Windows of the Heavens, a Methodist pastor named Harley Camden reads his congregation a line from the book of Revelation: “The angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life … and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Then Harley says to them, “Begin with the end in mind.” …
“Today’s Scripture is the end of the story,” he says. “It is the goal to which God is moving, from the first day of creation to the end of time. … God wants there to be harmony between water and cities, and between plant life and human developments. … The city and the river and the tree of life all live in harmony. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
Harley pauses to let that message sink in. “Begin with the end in mind.”
The good news of the kingdom of God, first proclaimed by Jesus, is the news that God is working to bring harmony between heaven and earth, and between human society and the natural world. This is a kingdom of love and justice, healing, and hope. We move a little closer to this destination when we make decisions that are in line with the values of the kingdom of God.
Our journey begins when we choose to do our wayfinding with Jesus.