Kingdom of God – Introduction
Last fall, in Sunday School, we went through the book of Mark. Two themes that seemed to surface were that Jesus preached a lot about the kingdom of God, and that the kingdom He preached was upside down from what society, or maybe just the religious people of the day, considered important or normal. As a follow-up to that conversation in the fall I wanted to do a series on the Kingdom of God. After some research I found an article by Ryan Baltrip on preaching.com that will serve as a structure to set the series. In the article he talks about contrasts, what the kingdom of God, and what it isn’t.
The Kingdom of God is really the central core of our faith. The Kingdom of God is what we live within as followers of Christ. As we read the New Testament, we find the followers of Christ are radically transformed by their faith, by the Spirit of God at work in them. From attitudes to action, Paul describes a people no longer content to just focus on the things of this world, but people who are living for an unseen world, a world not yet arrived in some sense of the word.
In the Old Testament we see God creating humanity with whom He walks and talks – a humanity made in His own image. From the fall onwards we see the story of redemption unfolding, God raising a nation from one man to be His witness to the surrounding people of His reality, of His right as deity. The people were to live under His rule, and ultimately, He promises to establish David’s kingdom forever (Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever. 2 Samuel 7:16). But the fulfillment of that promise wasn’t just an earthly lineage with an earthly king, it was to be fulfilled in the incarnation where God became human to dwell among us, and to ultimately die that we might live.
And in the New Testament we see Jesus constantly talking about the Kingdom of God. His first public proclamation after the temptation and withdrawing to Galilee – From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 4:17). He, as the Messiah, had come to rescue His people and to sit on David’s throne forever. In Philippians 2 we read For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11).
But what is the kingdom of God – how does it affect you and I? Is it just a call for people to make decisions for Christ and to read the Bible? The truth is that we are to be part of God’s present, real and active rule on this earth. What is God calling us to be, to do? Do we really get His rule on earth? SO much of life seems random, that we fail to understand we can choose to see that randomness from another perspective, God’s perspective. In our look at the Kingdom of God, we will look at ten tensions. Much of life is lived between two extremes. Self-image vacillates between the extremes of eating, from gluttony to starving ourselves. The best place, most healthy place is in the middles between the extremes, but sometimes it is a struggle to find that sweet spot. A guitar makes beautiful music because of the tension in the strings. Too much or too little and the note is sharp or flat, so it is with understanding our faith, understanding the Kingdom of God.
Ideology vs. Person
The First tension is Ideology vs. Person. While we may not have thought much about it, the kingdom of God has been predominately proclaimed as an ideology. Throughout the early 20th Century, the kingdom of God was taught as an idea. Liberalism made the kingdom a utopia brought about by social reforms and by fighting for social causes, while the person and work of Christ were minimized. In contemporary 21st Century, some theological undercurrents once again cast the kingdom of God as a utopian ideology that masks the person and work of Jesus Christ. Maybe not meaning to, they elevate the idea of the kingdom over the kingdom in a person. From such a perspective, the kingdom of God becomes an ideological idol that replaces Jesus Christ. We have liberation theology and ecology movements that seek to bring heaven on earth through what we do, when the Scriptures seem to say that heaven is already here on earth (Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven). While the pursuit of social justice and good ecology is good work to be involved with and in, it is not the basis of the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God is found in a person, a ruler. Jesus did the work of the Kingdom in His death and resurrection. The kingdom, we discovered, is not a physical rule, but a spiritual rule. The call of Jesus is for all to surrender their lives to his rule – If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me (Luke 9:23). I have said it before, that the Kingdom of God is anywhere where the rule of God is in the heart. Remember the story of the sheep and Goats. There were people who were religious, but did not do anything as a result of their religiosity. They didn’t make it. Those who were transformed by faith and as a result helped the poor, hungry, and sick, they did find God’s pleasure upon them. Yes, there was a difference between what they did and did not do, but it wasn’t the works that gained them approval – it was the heart attitude that led to the works of service.
The Kingdom of God is focused on the person of Christ. As Leslie Newbigin writes, “when the message of the kingdom is divorced from the Person of Jesus, it becomes a programme or an ideology, but not a gospel. In Pauline terms, the preaching of the Kingdom then becomes a preaching of the law.” The Good News is that God has come to you with the offer of grace – grace through Christ. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). The free gift isn’t just eternal life, it is connected to Jesus Christ our Lord, our Ruler.
The phrase I grew up with was Jesus our Savior and Lord. God saves, but He saves us so He can be Lord. The Kingdom of God isn’t found in a building, a fancy program, or in the pages of a book – the Bible is not the kingdom of God – it is found in a person’s heart. This is why when I talk about sin, I talk about how selfishness is the root of sin. The opposite of God’s rule in our heart is our rule – selfishness. Jesus was disgusted by the rich people in the temple who would make a big show of putting a bunch of money in the offering. They weren’t doing it because God rules in their hearts, they did it because they wanted everyone to see them and think they were special because of what they were doing. Yes they were giving, but it was out of selfishness, out of feeding their own egos. Jesus pointed out the widow who had a few pennies – her offering was truly significant because she truly gave it to God.
A number of years ago I was threatened by a person that their giving would stop if I didn’t give in to their power struggle. I simply replied that their giving had no effect on me. When people give, they are giving to God. God is the one that looks after our needs. If they stopped their giving, it didn’t matter because God supplies our needs, not their pocketbook. It is shocking, when you think about it, how easy it is to believe that God needs our stuff. He created the world the universe – God doesn’t need our stuff to accomplish His purposes, but in our surrender to Him, as we give generously to Him, we find true freedom and blessing as a result.
The kingdom of God is fulfilled and established in the crucified, risen, and reigning Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of God IS all about Jesus Christ as Lord of your life.
The Whole vs. The Pieces
We are talking about the Kingdom of God. What have you come to understand so far?
As an older teenager we started a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle on our ping pong table. It was huge, and I don’t believe when we first set out the pieces that they all fit on the table – we had to use the bottom of the box for the first bit so there was room to work on colours and patterns. I would put an 8-track in the player, sometimes a record, and spend a lot of time searching the pieces, working the smaller sections, putting it all together. I am a border puzzler – I do the outside border first, then prominent colour features, then fill in the more difficult uniform pieces. We eventually finished it – it took time. And as you work on the puzzle, you constantly check the box top. When you can see the big, complete picture, you can find where the different sections are in relation to each other, you can even sometimes identify where an individual piece goes. It is much harder to take a puzzle and try to put the pieces together without knowing what the big picture is; and a puzzle without pieces is simple art you hang on a wall.
The second tension in understanding the Kingdom of God is the tension between the pieces of the kingdom puzzle or the big picture. Preaching, teaching and learning about the kingdom of God can be like putting together a puzzle. Week in and week out, the preacher challenges us to live our lives for Christ, but sometimes we don’t get a real framework for understanding the kingdom of God. In other words, we need a kingdom worldview. For example, most studies focus on a specific text. We might examine a cluster of texts all related to a specific topic. But when the we move on to the next study, or the next biblical book, we forget to make the necessary connection between the various truths. As a result, we have a nice cluster of small puzzle pieces with little or no idea of how to arrange them or how to put them together in our minds and lives. The truth is, all these disconnected links interconnect and form a larger whole – “we can’t see the forest because of the trees,” for we are left without a proper view of the bigger picture.
So I want to highlight both the smaller pieces with the larger picture of the kingdom puzzle – a kingdom worldview. We proclaim the kingdom of God in Christ as the main theme of the Bible and of all preaching – and leave with the question each week: “What are you doing to respond to the call of Christ today?” “What are you doing with Jesus Christ today?”
Let’s start with the big picture – the box top:
God’s Story: God had a plan from the beginning of time – Creation, the Fall, a people raised to be His witness, culminating in God incarnate – Jesus Christ. Jesus died for our redemption, and has ushered in a New Covenant, which is salvation through faith in Christ’s finished work. God saves us to be part of His Kingdom, performing good works which He has prepared for us from the beginnings of time.
The Church: We find the context of this New Covenant is the church, though the application is found in our individual response to God’s grace. The church’s mission is the mission of God – redemption of humanity or, as Jesus said, “As we are going into the world, make disciples…” It is the body of Christ, of which God is the head, and we are the various parts. Together we do the work of God in the world.
Us: We are saved to become like Christ in our thoughts, words, and actions – conformed to the image of Christ (God did the work, the work of salvation is complete, accomplished through the life and death of Christ. God calls us and equips us for the work He has for us – indeed, he has a wonderful plan for us, for you as an individual.
And now the puzzle pieces:
God: Who God isn’t, and who He is – Moralistic therapeutic deism (MTD), coined in 2005 by Smith and Denton, who say that it has become the dominant religion in America. They summarize MTD in the following five statements:
- A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
A study released last fall – Renegotiating Faith – says it has evolved even more into a Universal Gnostic Religious Ethic (UGRE), where religion simply becomes a psychosocial cultural construct – God is not even needed. It is a religion behind all religions, a way of managing public spaces without judgement, the universal set of standards that all religions try to get at in their own imperfect way.
Who He is: Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Omnipresent, omnipowerful, omniscience
God: Sovereign, Creator, yet personal
Jesus Christ: God incarnate, fully God AND fully human, finished work of salvation on the cross
Holy Spirit: Regenerates, transforms, guides and convicts of sin, indwells, unifying
The Church: universal body of Christ, exists to fulfill mission of God (not to build itself up), vehicle for revealing the Gospel into culture; guide people to spiritual maturity
Us: Our core outcome is to be transformed into the image of Christ (thoughts, words, actions) by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us. This is a partnership – God can’t do this work if we hold onto sin (grieving the Holy Spirit), nor if we try to do it on our own strength or in our own wisdom. The Fruit of the Spirit is evidence of that transformation. We participate through spiritual habits/means of grace (“means” not “ends”):
Study and Self-Examination
Silence and Solitude
Simplicity and Fasting
Gratitude and Service
Baptism and Communion
Witness and Worship
Fellowship and Stewardship
1) The Bible prescribes both personal and interpersonal spiritual disciplines.
2) Spiritual disciplines are activities. They are not attitudes.
3) Things that are practices taught or modeled in the Bible.
4) Spiritual disciplines found in Scripture are sufficient for knowing and experiencing God and for growing in Christlikeness.
5) Spiritual disciplines are derived from the gospel, not divorced from the gospel.
6) Spiritual disciplines are means and not ends. The end, that is, the purpose of practicing the disciplines, is godliness. “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7, NASB).
Wesley’s quadrilateral: SCRIPTURE, tradition, reason, experience
Vision vs. Decision
Why do you do what you do? I have seen pictures of beautiful quilts, quilts that are works of arts. These quilts were made up of the typical little squares of colours by people who did not know each other, who did not know what the finished project would look like. They were simply given colours and suggestions of patterns, made their squares and then submitted them to the organizer. The end result was a work of art that really, was much more than the sum of the parts, because there was something more, something bigger at work. These people were busy doing what they were doing without really understanding or knowing the bigger picture. They didn’t really know why they were doing what they were doing.
I think too often we labour and work and live in small areas, places where we are able to do our little projects, our creative pieces, and never really glimpse the bigger picture at work that we are part of. Life can feel very small and disconnected from bigger things, the bigger realities of life. Do you ever feel like life passes you by? Like, maybe, the things you are doing don’t add to something beyond yourself, that it doesn’t really matter?
In the kingdom of God there is a tension between the things we do within the kingdom, and the kingdom itself. We are really good at defining the doing, the calling for the decision to do and change and be, but sometimes we don’t connect it to the bigger vision of the kingdom, our place in it, and the importance we play in God’s kingdom. In God’s kingdom you have a vital role, a vital piece of the larger whole
Calling for a decision is an important part of the kingdom. When Jesus first announces the kingdom, he says, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1). He called upon those who heard his message to make a U-turn, to change their direction in life. He called for his disciples to come and follow Him (Matt. 4.19). He called for an immediate decision from them, and that is exactly how they responded. The kingdom of God calls for a decision from those who hear the message of Jesus Christ – deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me!
We find that calling throughout the New Testament:
Romans 6:11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Romans 12:1 Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
Colossians 3:1-3 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Ephesians 4:17,22-24 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord… that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self… and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
2 Corinthians 10:5b we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ
In the context of this call we always find transformation, about stopping and starting behavior and actions. We stop, put off, turn our back on unrighteousness, and we invite, embrace, and move into righteousness. We aren’t just saved FROM something, but also saved FOR something, and that something isn’t just a list of do and don’ts, but to be engaged within the kingdom of our Savior. Without this bigger vision, though, this transformation can devolve into Law. We simply do because it is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, the Law can’t save. Law can’t give hope. Law simply stands there and waits for us to fail, and then it becomes alive with the judgement – you blew it. Sinner. Penalty. Guilt. Shame. Who wants to live with that, like that? Who can live with that? There are people who have turned their back on the church, on Christ, because they did not understand this tension between decision and vision. They had the pendulum swung right over to decision, and they missed why they were doing what they were doing. And some in the church hit them with the Word of God and say, “You blew it. Sinner. Penalty. Guilt. Shame.” And while those people are half right, they are wholly wrong.
We make the same mistake at salvation. As a pastor I call for decisions for Christ, to surrender to Christ, but I need to make sure you understand what the kingdom of God is all about. People call for decisions only on the basis of human sinfulness. People mark how sinful, how guilty, and how shameful we are, and then they relate that Christ died to take away our sin, shame, and guilt. Then, we will offer an invitation for anyone who wants to be free from sin and who wants to go to Heaven when they die, and so people will make decisions only to escape the negative consequences of sin and have no grander direction or purpose for their lives – it was just about escaping the judgement on sin, the dealing with the helplessness that comes from trying to do life, to be good, on our own strength. We talk about holiness, how your life needs to measure up to a different standard, the standard of God’s character. And that is all true, but it is only half of the message of the kingdom. Leaving the Gospel there lacks a vision of the King who will fill every part of your life and every nanosecond of your day with fullness and purpose.
This kind of vision of the kingdom of God gives you the proper context for understanding your decision for Christ. Christ’s call is to be a part of His kingdom, not just a momentary decision so that you can go to Heaven when you die. God’s rule in your lives is not just a list of rules on an ancient stone tablet. When you surrender your life to Christ, yes, your sins are forgiven, but the Gospel opens you to a life of adventure, a life of transformation, a life of heaven on earth. Your life becomes part of what God is doing in the world – instead of just being an object of His love, of His redemption, you become an agent of His love, an ambassador of His redemption. You will understand, in a way you never did before, the reason for your creation, the purposes of why you are the way you are. Every aspect of your life – work, play, family, and relationships – can be a part of God’s present, real, and active rule in this world.
The truth of the kingdom of God, is that God is Sovereign. His will cannot help but be accomplished. He is moving history from what was, to what will be, that life only consists of what He has ordained and allowed. History becomes, in reality “His Story”. And as a follower of Christ you believe, you realize, that this life – the yesterdays, todays and tomorrows – are but a flash of a moment, yet they connect to the eternity in the life beyond death because of who you are in Christ. You know that nothing, absolutely nothing can separate you from the love your Creator has for you, that your Creator has made you with purpose and reason and strengths. You know that you are never outside of God’s care, that nothing can come against you that hasn’t come against Him, and that He has provided a way through it. You know that even in pain and loss, there is hope and redemption to be found. You know that it is okay to be emotional because God gave you emotions. You know that whenever you blow it, there is grace waiting for you to come back home, that there is a light on the porch waiting for your return.
There is this kingdom life, rooted in our spirit, that is real, much more real than the 5 senses we rely so much on each day. And the decision to follow Christ, to pursue holiness, to be transformed, is how we connect to this reality much bigger than us and our small little piece of life. If we think that we can do whatever we want because there are no consequences tomorrow for what we did today, we have accepted the lie that there is no vision. The best this world has to offer is community – love, togetherness, a band of brothers and sisters. Those are good things, great things, but they are not sustainable in this fallen world. They can’t be upheld in this world that is rooted in sin, in selfishness. You have to open your eyes to the bigger reality that includes love and community, but goes beyond the limitations of time and space, to the eternal purposes of God rooted in Christ.
You are a prince, a princess in the kingdom of God. You are a warrior equipped with armour and weapons strong enough to pull down spiritual strongholds and defeat the worst of the spiritual enemies. You are the one God chooses to use to pull your fellow humanity from the brink of spiritual death, to speak words of life that God uses to redeem them. In the kingdom you lay claim to the riches of Christ, lie eternal in the presence of the One who Created you. So go, walk in the decision of surrender of Christ, but live with the vision of the kingdom.
Story vs Proposition
When you think of the New Testament, what is the difference between the Gospels and the letters?
- Subject – life of Jesus vs. life in Jesus
- First hand accounts/experience vs. Application
- Listen and consider vs. Listen and apply
- Who was Jesus? vs. Who is Jesus?
- Story vs. Teaching
What is the difference between story and proposition?
Ryan Baltrip is the Senior Pastor of Little Flat Creek Baptist Church in Corryton, TN, says this:
Evangelical preaching, for the most part, follows a propositional preaching model. Most evangelical preaching textbooks teach students to follow a very linear, point-by-point sermon model as the vehicle for delivering truth.8 The propositional model encourages a thorough exegesis of the text to find the central theme or the “big idea” of the passage. Then, the rest of the sermon is build deductively around that theme, following the text point by point. The preacher is encouraged to find the main principles and the timeless truths of the text, to organize them in an orderly progression, and to then make applications of those points at the end.
This is a western approach, following a logical, deductive argument. But when we go into other cultures, we often drop this method with its preconceived applications, and move to something different, like chronological Bible storying. With a majority of people today being functionally illiterate or semi-literate, meaning “people might have the ability to read, but it means very little in their day in, day out living; they choose or prefer not to use it.”
So, we have Jesus, telling parables and stories of the kingdom of God, and Paul, who uses propositional argument – we need both. Let’s not forget the Kingdom of God is story, with characters just like you and I in the plots.
(Rich man asking “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”) “… it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the KINGDOM OF GOD.” When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:24)
Takeaway: We can’t do any good thing to get obtain eternal life. The kingdom of God is something provided to us by God – we can’t buy it.
(Talking to Pharisees) “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus *said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the KINGDOM OF GOD before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him. (Matthew 21:28-32)
Takeaway: A caution to those who think they are spiritual, and know so much about God and spirituality. If you do not honestly search for God, for truth, you may end up rejecting that which you are so proud of knowing.
And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)
Takeaway: The spiritual growth that happens in us and others is, in part, a mystery – the work of the Spirit. There is a time to take advantage of it, or to at least recognize that it is mature… We probably know better when it isn’t….
As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)
Story vs. Proposition part 2
Last week we were talking about the Kingdom of God as story. I think it is significant that when Jesus talked about the kingdom, he used story and illustrations. Think about it. People thought the Messiah was coming to establish a new, earthly kingdom, and that the Messiah would deliver them from the Romans and that he would sit on a throne in Jerusalem – a king from the line of David. When you think about that kind of kingdom, what kind of stories come to mind? Epic battles, warriors in shining armour, powerful weapons, divine strategy… and which of those things did Jesus talk about in His parables? Why didn’t the people get what He was about? How did they miss what He was saying about the His mission, about what was written in the prophets? Why did they throw palm branches and coats on the road before Him on Palm Sunday, when it was obvious if you listened to Him that He wasn’t coming to establish a kingdom centered in Jerusalem?
Jesus talked of pearls and swine, two brothers who went on different paths in life, servants looking after a master’s vineyard and his banking while he was away. And when he did preach about the kingdom, he used words like poor in spirit, mourning, gentle, desire for righteousness, mercy, purity, peacemakers, and persecution. Just what kind of kingdom has those qualities, those stories. I think these stories give us clues, hints, truths even, of what the kingdom of God is, and what it isn’t.
Wise with choices – I think one common thread in these stories is that people in the kingdom make wise choices. Whether it is what to do with money, or the simple understanding of using what you have, the people Christ talked about made wise choices of action. Sometimes the choice was obvious, sometimes maybe not so much, at least to our modern ear, but every day we are faced with choices to go, or do, or say, or think… follow God’s lead if you want to make wise choices in the kingdom.
Wise with relationships – Another common thread in Christ’s stories about the kingdom is that those who did well in the kingdom were wise in their relationships. The prodigal son knew that value of his father’s integrity. When you read these stories, think about how people are interacting with one another.
Wise with purpose – In stories of the kingdom, why are people doing what they are doing? There is good work ethic, servants who work with integrity and excellence for their master, who are subsequently rewarded. When you read these stories, ask yourself why they are doing what they are doing
We are so good about the statements of the Kingdom – Love one another; deny yourself and take up your cross daily; be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God; whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. But to really understand the kingdom, it needs to be understood in story, it needs to be lived out in story. Let’s start by looking at a few more parables:
So He was saying, “What is the kingdom of God like, and to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his own garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.” And again He said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.” (Luke 13:18-21)
And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11)
And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Luke 18:15-17)
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3)
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones…’ Matthew 25:31-45
FINISH THE PARABLE:
So, what would the kingdom of God look like in your life?
- The kingdom of God is like a man in a kitchen, who although he has no idea what he is doing, cooks a meal for his family.
- The kingdom of God is like a man in a garage, who, on a warm and sunny Saturday, clears out his horde of “useful junk” he was saving for a repair job that would never come. He let go of his reliance on “stuff”.
Are you making wise choices, the best choices, in God’s kingdom?
How are you treating people in the kingdom?
Why are you doing what you are doing in God’s kingdom?
Sacred vs. Secular
In his last couple of sermons Pastor Steve has preached about the stories that Jesus told about the Kingdom of God, our response to those stories and then the challenge of living a Kingdom of God story out in our lives. He ended his sermon last week with the question: “What’s your story?” Back in the day, we would call this our testimony and this story usually focused on how we came to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Pastor Steve challenged us to consider how the story of our lives are changed because we know Jesus as Lord and Savior.
What’s your story? What’s our story? We all have a story of God at work in our lives – at least I hope we all have a story about how the life of Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit – God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven – is being lived out in our every day lives. My focus today is on the challenge of what the author of the article that this sermon series is based upon calls the tension between the sacred and the secular. He says, “Preachers should teach their listeners that they are to be part of God’s present, real and active rule on earth…and equip their listeners to see where and how their lives fit into the realm of God’s kingdom rule.” Before we go any further, when you hear the words “sacred” and “secular” what comes to mind? What does “sacred” mean to you? What does “secular” mean to you?
Sacred – 1a: dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity; b: devoted exclusively to one service or use (as of a person or purpose). 2a: worthy of religious veneration: holy. b: entitled to reverence and respect.
Secular – denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis. – of this world
The writer of that article says he uses secular as “referring to life outside the church community as part of the larger culture (work, social activities, etc.).” He goes on to say that people who attend church live in the “secular” world and that it is the preacher’s responsibility to describe/show how the “sacred” and the “secular” fit together and that we teach people how to embody the Kingdom of God in every aspect of their lives. For me, this brings Romans 12 to mind. Here are excerpts of this chapter from a translation called The Voice (video):
Brothers and sisters, in light of all I have shared with you about God’s mercies, I urge you to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure; this is your reasonable, essential worship. Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete…For in the same way that one body has so many different parts, each with different functions; we, too—the many—are different parts that form one body in the Anointed One. Each one of us is joined with one another, and we become together what we could not be alone…Love others well, and don’t hide behind a mask; love authentically. Despise evil; pursue what is good as if your life depends on it. Live in true devotion to one another, loving each other as sisters and brothers. Be first to honor others by putting them first. Do not slack in your faithfulness and hard work. Let your spirit be on fire, bubbling up and boiling over, as you serve the Lord…If people mistreat or malign you, bless them. Always speak blessings, not curses. If some have cause to celebrate, join in the celebration. And if others are weeping, join in that as well. Work toward unity and live in harmony with one another. Avoid thinking you are better than others or wiser than the rest; instead, embrace common people and ordinary tasks…Never let evil get the best of you; instead, overpower evil with the good.
From my perspective, Romans 12 brings the sacred and the secular together – SECred or SACular for a bit of a play on these words. For me, sacred and secular come together in the Kingdom of God – on earth as it is in heaven. There is no tension. God is making all things new – right here and right now – on earth as it is in heaven – and God is making all things new through my life and your life. While we all want something or someone to come from somewhere (a super hero or a supernatural event), God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven happens through our common, ordinary, everyday lives. At the Church of the Nazarene USA/Canada conference I was at a couple of weeks ago, this was a common theme. We as God’s people are to be out there as agents of reconciliation, as ambassadors of God’s love and grace. OT scholar Walter Brueggemann says God is trying to form a people who will be God’s image (imago dei) in the world (we as Nazarenes do too). The world will always be trying to mold us who are the people of God into its own image. We need to ask ourselves if we are going to be more shaped by the God we worship or by the world around us. In the Adult SS class, we are studying the 10 Commandments. The commandments were given so that God’s people could truly show up as God’s people (God’s image) in the world. They were given not to be a way to salvation but to actually BE SALVATION – living rightly with God and with one another – on earth as it is in heaven. The people of God in the OT struggled to be the blessing to the world that God intended them to be. In the NT we have the life, death and resurrection of Jesus through which God demonstrates living rightly with God and with one another – God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven – the new creation as Paul describes it in II Corinthians 5:7. In the new creation the old divisions between people have been erased and God, through the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit are forming a new people who are united in diversity – the new creation has invaded the old creation. The church embodies the new creation both when we gather and when we scatter. Scott Daniels (Embodied Evangelism in a Secular Age – pastor at College Church in Nampa, Idaho and professor at NNU) used the illustration of those little spoons that ice cream shops use for samples. We all like to have a sample of ice cream or gelato. Daniels says we are invited to be the sample spoons of the Kingdom of God – witnesses of new creation – on earth as it is in heaven in and through our common, ordinary lives that have be
As we read in Romans 12, we give our individual lives to God as a sacred offering, but that life given to God cannot be lived alone or in isolation. We come together in community to worship, to share our common life in Christ and also to receive so we can live our daily lives as a signpost of God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. We come together so we can learn to make space in our lives to allow God to act and to be shaped and formed to be reflections of Jesus (imago dei – image of God) in the places we find ourselves. Where the world is trying to shape us into its own mold we bring God’s shape, God’s life, God’s love, God’s grace, God’s salvation, God’s new creation.
Where Jesus went, holiness happened. By this I mean, Jesus through his life brought the sacred (set apart for service/worship of a deity) into the secular (of this world). One of my devotional readings this week was Luke 8:40-48. It’s the story of the woman who had suffered for 12 years with constant bleeding…
On the other side of the lake the crowds welcomed Jesus, because they had been waiting for him. Then a man named Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come home with him. His only daughter, who was about twelve years old, was dying. As Jesus went with him, he was surrounded by the crowds. A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding, and she could find no cure. Coming up behind Jesus, she touched the fringe of his robe. Immediately, the bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. Everyone denied it, and Peter said, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.” But Jesus said, “Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.” When the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. The whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed. “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”
Everywhere in Luke Jesus is healing, Jesus is eating with sinners and Jesus is challenging those who considered themselves sacred. Here, in this scene, as in many others in the Gospels, the sacred and the secular meet – SECred – SACular – God’s kingdom on earth as it in heaven. Here’s a short video that brings all of this together…
I think one of the best things we can do for each other is to bless and commission one another to be God’s witnesses, God’s image in the power of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives (those little spoons from which we sample ice cream). I’m grateful that you pray for my work as regional chaplain with Correctional Services Canada. But here’s the challenge. Let’s pray for and commission one another to be that meeting place between sacred and secular where we each live our lives. The whole of our church experience is not what happens here but as God’s “called out” ones to bring God’s good news where we are – to be a sample spoon filled with life looks like when we live a life for God through which God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. Let’s pray for Sherry in her work as a teacher, let’s pray for Joyce as an education assistant, for Rick in his ongoing job search, let’s pray for Lito in his work to make sure the poles that keep electrical lines in the air are in good repair, let’s pray for Arleen as she cares for children in her daycare, Don as he does custodial work, Joan in her ministry of helps, Karen in her work at Parables, Bonnie in her work with older adults and in her studies, for Pastor Steve as he pastors and works for Boys Brigade, for Ben, Heather, Mica, Gen, Psalm and Jeremy as students, Jim and Winnifred and Bruce and Dorothy as they are out and about as seniors…You get the point. Our whole lives matter to God and when we leave this place God goes with us. In fact, God goes before us and is waiting for us to catch up with what He is doing!
We are intersections of the sacred and the secular – SECred – SACular – God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. As the short video we just watched says, “The people who belong to Jesus join Him in this worldwide restoration project. The called-out ones – the Church – are committed to advancing this good news of God’s kingdom into the world not as a means of helping people avoid the world but rather, to see God’s kingdom life made real here and now – the whole church with the power of the whole gospel to the whole world.”
Missional vs. Existential – Being and Doing
Last week Pastor Debbie talked about the Kingdom of God in terms of Sacred and Secular. She doesn’t see it as a tension to hold, but rather as an inclusive approach – wherever we go, whatever we do is sacred. With the follower of Christ, there is no secular. There is nothing we do or are involved in, or even are, that, for us, isn’t sacred, because the heart of who we are, as a Christian, is “in Christ”, or “Christ in us”. So, we sing, “This is My Father’s World, and to my listening ears, all nature sings, and round me rings, the music of the spheres.” And that is, in part, what I mean when we hold things tension in the Kingdom of God – when you hold a coin, you hold both sides at the same time. With some of these topics, we can focus too much on one thing over the other – too heavenly minded to be earthly good, or too helps oriented at the expense of our personal stewardship and spiritual care.
The attempt of this sermon series is to give you some good handles to hold you hold this idea of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is primarily spiritually-based, and so it needs to be looked at in ways different to many other things of life. I have talked about prayer to the Christian is as water to a fish – it is something that we walk in, that surrounds us, all the time. It isn’t an event, in that sense, but experience itself. Paul said to the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing – a constant communion with the Holy Spirit, and I think this is a great sense of what the kingdom is like. The Kingdom of God is like a lake in which all the fish swim.
Let me recap where we have been:
Ideology vs. Person: Sociological (almost political idea) of what it looks like her on the ground (i.e., liberation theology, dealing with poverty, etc.) in tension with the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The Whole vs. The Pieces: God’s story down through the ages, with the current context of the church where we find ourselves being transformed into the image of Christ is detailed as the Trinitarian deity sending the Church with the Gospel into culture where we witness through our transformation by God’s Spirit rooted in Spiritual Habits, Means of Grace.
Vision vs. Decision: God as Sovereign and at work in this world gives us context for our response to God’s grace and our decision to follow Christ, keeping us from turning that grace into the Law.
Story vs. Proposition: While the kingdom can and is taught, it is perhaps best understood by stories: stories of redemption and transformation, of intentional rather than careless behavior, of wisdom with choices and relationships.
Sacred vs. Secular: On earth as it is in heaven, we become the sample spoons of the kingdom of God through our transformed lives, through holiness.
Are you getting a handle on the Kingdom of God? Do you have a sense of how broad the kingdom is, yet how close and personal it is? There is a unity that ties it all together. Consider water – About 71% of the earth’s surface is covered in water, and oceans hold almost 97% of all of earth’s water. It is in the air as water vapour and clouds, in the rivers and lakes, the glaciers and great sheets of ice on the poles and Greenland. It is in the ground as moisture and in the aquifers, outside our doors in the snowbanks, and in you and me. In fact, our bodies are anywhere from 50-65% water. Water is everywhere, a part of practically everything, and without water, there is no life. The kingdom of God is like water, it touches everything, bringing new life. It takes so many different forms – even in a single form, a snowflake, there are countless patterns because the 10 quintillion water molecules that make up an individual snowflake are all affected by the changing temperature and humidity within the atmosphere. The kingdom of God is rooted in you and I, and we are as different as snowflakes – even identical twins have vast differences – trust me, I know.
And so I want to leave one more thought about the Kingdom of God. I have touched on this before, but I want to take time today to unpack the Being and Doing of the Kingdom. The Being refers to Christ incarnate in us, that when we accept Christ as Savior and Lord, as Forgiver and Leader, we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.) Our essence and nature has changed as a result of being part of God’s Kingdom. We are the flesh and bones of God’s kingdom, and give the message that, yes, God’s Kingdom can change the world, can impact and influence culture, but only to the point where it has transformed the individual, changed u, changed our life. The mission of the Gospel is not to create a Christian nation, but to create transformed individuals. This is your destiny as a follower of Christ. In Romans 8 we read And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. Predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son – that is the destiny of all who follow Christ, who call Him Lord and Leader. It means that if you are following Christ, the end result will be that you are going to look like Christ – conformed to His image. He didn’t call us to look like something else, of for a different purpose, Christ has called to you so that as you walk in faith through His grace, you will come to look like Christ in your thoughts, words and actions. This is the Being, the existential part of the Kingdom of God. The missional part is the doing – everyone has a part. All of the church’s activities, and all of our activities, if we are truly missional, are focused on fulfilling God’s purpose and mission in the world, His misseo dei. An English rendering of this Latin phrase speaks to the “mission of God.” It is God who has a mission to set things right in a broken, sinful world, to redeem and restore it to what He has always intended.
Therefore, mission is not the invention, responsibility, or program of the church. Instead, it flows directly from the character and purposes of a missionary God. In the words of South African missiologist David Bosch, “It is not the church which undertakes mission; it is the missio Dei which constitutes the church.” Or stated in a slightly different way, “It is not so much that God has a mission for His church in the world, but that God has a church for His mission in the world.” God’s mission is not the church, it is a redemptive mission in the world, and the church is God’s instrument sent into the world to participate in this redemptive mission. And here’s the kicker – God’s mission, His doing, is one with His Being. It isn’t just what He does, it is who He is – the incarnation wasn’t just an act of God, it was God’s character in action. You know where I am going with this, don’t you? Your being and doing should likewise be as indivisible. Your doing is who you are, and what you are is what you do. You cannot separate the two. Just as God is Being and Doing, so are you to Be and Do. You weren’t saved to run around in the muck of sin, to play the games of the world, you were saved to be Christ in the world.
That chapter where Paul tells us we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5) finishes with this: Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Our being is rooted in our relationship with Christ, our doing is rooted in Christ’s character in us.