24 May 2013

The Kingdom

Manuscript for 6 April 2013

We come to church this morning mindful of the violent world we live in. This is the way things are this side of heaven. This is the way earthly politics works. But today I come to you bringing a message of another kingdom, a message of a new politics. Keep that in mind as we listen for the Word of the Lord today.

As we see our children grow up, we try our best by the grace of God to raise them to be God-fearing men and women. We want them to be good Christians and good Adventists. We want our children to be successful, to be productive citizens of our country, to be strong in the community. Our parents wanted the same thing of us. So naturally, as our children, our young people reach an age where they are to make big life decisions; they try their best to make good choices. And they will ask questions to figure that out.
Why am I alive?
Why am I here?
What is my purpose in life?
These are all leading to one of the greatest questions we can ask ourselves: What is the will of God in my life?
We may still be asking ourselves these questions even now as adults. Even in an older age, as adults, we may still be asking what is the will of God in my life?
This is a good question. This is an important question, and that is something we will answer.
We will answer that question What is the will of God in my life? and and maybe I can explain why I am here in this part of the world today.

                                                                                       
When we look at the life and teachings of Jesus, what do you think is his biggest message? What was the most important idea he taught? Was it his example in living? Justification? Salvation? Prophecy? Obeying the law?
The phrase that occurs the most in the Gospels is the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. Jesus says it in the Gospel about 80 times. This is more than the phrase “good news” or “cross” or “salvation”. The kingdom of God is Jesus’ most important message. But what does it mean? Is he talking about Heaven where God lives? Is he talking about the place we go to after the Second Coming? Is he talking about how we become saved, how we get to heaven?
Our scripture this morning came from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 1, verses 14 and 15.
Mark 1:14-15 – Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.
The kingdom of God; is he talking about Heaven where God lives? Is he talking about the place we go to after the Second Coming? That is how we might understand it at first. That is what we may have heard before. But in our scripture, this doesn’t sound like Jesus is talking about Heaven. Why would Jesus be preaching about Heaven when He hasn’t even died for our salvation yet? No, Jesus is talking about something bigger, something great and important.
            Jesus talks of the kingdom of God in two ways. He talks about it something in the present, something here and now. But Jesus also talks of the kingdom of something of the future, something still to come.
Let us look at ways Jesus talks of the kingdom in the present.
Matthew 12:28 – But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.
John 3:3 – Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Mark 10:15 – “Assuredly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”
When Jesus says, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” he is referring to the present. When Jesus asks us to receive the kingdom as a little child, he is asking us to receive it here and now.
Here are some texts which refer to the kingdom of God as something still to come.
Matthew 8:11 – “And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”
Luke 9:27 – “But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.”
Here Jesus is talking about the future, a kingdom of God that will happen when sin and evil are no more. So we see that Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God as something we can see now, and something we will see in the future.
            But why does this matter? Why does it matter that the kingdom of God be both a present and future reality? It is important because of what the kingdom of God meant for the people who heard Jesus preach two thousand years ago, and what it means for us now, and what it will mean in the future.
            When Jesus began preaching that the kingdom of God was near, people would have understood it to mean that God was returning. God was returning and he was going to be king and he was going to restore the kingdom of Israel. The people would have understood it to mean that God was now in charge. God was going to replace the Roman kingdom, the Roman government. God was going to replace Caesar, and God was going to be king. Maybe this would make sense if I said Ang bayan sang Dios or Ang pagdumala o ang gobyerno sang Dios diri na, It would be as if I were to go into the streets of Manila and preach that the God was going to take over the government of the Philippines. How crazy would that sound?
            The kingdom of God doesn’t mean just heaven. It isn’t only the place in the sky where God lives, or the place we go to at the Second Coming. The kingdom of God means this: It is wherever God’s can take place. It means that God is in charge. It means God is going to bring his power into place. It means God’s plans will start happening. God was restoring a kingdom of Israel, but it wouldn’t belong to just the Jews. This kingdom of God would be bigger than any earthly kingdom. It would be wherever God was leading people. Wherever God’s will is taking place that is the kingdom of God.
Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God in parables so that those who were interested would understand, and so that those who didn’t want to know, wouldn’t know. Because Jesus always spoke of the spiritual kingdom in parables, we must understand it spiritually. Jesus would say, “The kingdom of God is like unto mustard seed,” or “the kingdom of God is like unto a farmer.” In a way, Jesus was saying, “The will of God looks like this – a mustard seed, which may be small, but it grows into a a great tree,” or “The will of God looks like a merchant who bought a pearl of great price.”
Remember when a scribe asked Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment?” And Jesus answered:
Mark 12:29-34 – “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
            The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
            The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
            When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.      

It is no longer enough to preach the three angels’ message. We must live the three angels’ message. We must live the kingdom of God. How awful does it look when we only preach that Jesus is coming soon, but we fail to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and love the broken? That would be horrible, disgusting. No one would listen to us and we would look like hypocrites. You see, we cannot see Heaven as a place we will escape to, as if it were some reward for enduring this world. No that is wrong. We must fight the injustices in this world. We cannot leave sin and injustice alone. We cannot ignore it. How could God call us good and faithful servants if we are not trying to make our community a better place?
When Jesus sees that the scribe knows that the will of God is to love the Lord with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself, Jesus tells the scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” So this tells us where the kingdom of God is. The kingdom of God is where God’s will is taking place. For example, look at the Lord’s prayer. Notice the parallel Jesus makes with the coming of God’s kingdom and God’s will being done. They are clearly related.
What does the will of God look like? It is where, as Jesus says in Matthew 25, where we are feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, taking in the stranger and the outsider. The kingdom of God is where we are clothing the naked, healing the sick, visiting those in prison. It is where we love God and we love our neighbor.
            So what would the kingdom look like for us? What if I started preaching, the kingdom of God is near, Himamaylan? What would it look like if I said, “God is in charge of Himamaylan now; Heaven has invaded Negros,”? What if instead of the annoying awful tricycles that go around all day long blasting campaign songs for the mayor or governor, what if Jesus came to Himamaylan, and he started going around the neighborhoods and the streets shouting, “God is now in charge of the government of Himamaylan, Diri na ang pagdumala sang Dios,”? The political candidates would be out of business.
What would it look like if God was in charge of the city of Himamaylan? What if the kingdom of God came to Himamaylan? How would we change what we did? I imagine we would start clothing the naked, we would start feeding the hungry, and we would start healing the sick. Corruption and embezzlement would cease. Citizens would work towards peace and ending violence. People would work towards a better future. Our community would start looking like a better place. This is what we must imagine. Jesus is calling us to kingdom living. Jesus is calling us to a new politics, a new economy, a new social policy, a new healthcare, a new community. In this new kingdom, we must think and live differently from the sinful wickedness of this world and point people to a better way in Christ.
            What is beautiful about the call of Jesus is that he is calling us – broken, weary, evil sinners – to build for the kingdom of God. He does not call the perfect; he calls the poor and the wretched. Jesus said that tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom of God before the Pharisees. Why did the multitudes follow Jesus? Why were the common people so enchanted by him? Because he was talking to them, the common regular folk. Jesus wanted them. Jesus wanted the broken, the weary, the poor, the wretched, the sinners.
            Our prophet Ellen White says “Christ uses the expression, “the kingdom of Heaven,” to designate the work of divine grace upon the hearts of men.” In other words, Jesus refers to the kingdom to show what it looks like when God’s grace is working. Our prophet also says, “Earthly kingdoms rule by the ascendancy of physical power; but from Christ’s kingdom every carnal weapon, every instrument of coercion, is banished. This kingdom is to uplift and ennoble humanity. God’s church is the court of holy life, filled with varied gifts and endowed with the Holy Spirit. The members are to find their happiness in the happiness of those whom they help and bless.”  You see, the kingdom of God is a way of life, it is a way of seeing the world. The kingdom is about showing God’s love through our lives and our actions.
            And so this is what I have learned. This is what the will of God is like. This is why I am here in this part of the world, because kingdom living calls us to who knows where. You must seek the kingdom, the will of God for yourself.
            Jesus is calling us to work for the kingdom of God now, so that we may see the kingdom he has prepared for us at the Second Coming.
Luke 17:21 – “Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with [n]signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
When Christ says, “the kingdom of God is within you,” he is saying it is up to you now to make it a reality. It is now up to you to advance his kingdom, to bring a new politics, a new economy, a new healthcare, a new community.

And Jesus came to Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, saying, “The time is fulfilled. Repent, and believe in the gospel. The kingdom of God is at hand.
The grace of God be with you all.

Ryan
Central Visayas, Philippines
           

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