The Kingdom – here, but not yet fully finished.
OT Reading: 1Kings 19:1-13.
It is the second Sunday of November; it is the day on which Remembrance Sunday is celebrated. It is the Sunday nearest the 11 th November, the day of the Armistice that brought WWI, that war which many believed to be the war to an end all wars, to a close. We have had our moments of silence during which time we considered those who gave their lives in order to protect the freedoms that we enjoy as a nation even today. Some of us may have thought about particular people we knew personally while others of us may not actually have known anyone who gave their life is this way and we will have thought about sacrifice in more general terms. In doing this we do not wish to glorify war but to remind ourselves that humanly speaking we owe a great deal to others who lost their lives in one war or another.
Wars have been such a feature of the relations that nations have had with each other. Many nations, including our own, are currently engaged in armed conflict. It seems as though that is the way kingdoms do things – except for the Kingdom of God which is not of this world and which operates according to a completely different set of principles. And yet many are so used to the worldly way of doing things that they expect the Kingdom of God to function like that too.
A Poor Question
Like so many people since the Pharisees had enough information to get things horribly wrong. A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. When you start to learn something new you usually have to begin with a simplified version of the facts and then move on to more and more precision as your understanding grows. But some folk act as though they are experts just because they have a certain grasp of the basics. You might think that you know quite a bit about your own chosen subject but listening to some of the questions on Mastermind will quickly challenge such thoughts.
The Pharisees were not beginners in their chosen subject which was religion and they did know a lot about the subject. But the trouble was that they failed to see how it all fitted together. You know what that can be like if you’ve ever tried to put together some flat-pack furniture – yes, you can have all the necessary pieces but how on earth do you screw them together? It’s possible to make some big mistakes with flat-pack furniture but you can make some far worse decisions when it comes to the more important matters of religion.
Plenty of our contemporaries are like this: they have picked up a little bit about Christianity and now they think their views are reliable and trustworthy and if they think that religion is purely a matter of private personal opinion then that must be right.
It is however possible to know something about a matter and yet to be profoundly wrong with the conclusions you draw about it.
The Pharisees had heard about the Kingdom of God and they had come to their own conclusions about it and about how it would be manifested in the world. They thought of the Kingdom of God as being bound up with their Messiah and they believed that his coming would lead to a turnaround in the way their nation fared among the other nations of the world. When such a kingdom came it would surely do so in a striking and impressive manner – so they asked Jesus, who was always banging on about the Kingdom of God, just when this Kingdom would come.
Luke mentions the Kingdom of God more than 30 times in his gospel and he has already recorded quite a bit of what Jesus had to say about it but the Pharisees were still thinking about it with their old mind set. For them this Kingdom had to be some sort of institution that was tangible and observable – when it came it would clearly visible to the naked eye. Ah, but when would it come? That was what they didn’t know so they asked Jesus. "When will the Kingdom of God come?"
Now before we proceed any further I want you to realise that this is relevant to us all today. There are many people in our world who still think like those Pharisees of old. They want things to happen in a spectacular way and in an impressive way. You can recognise them quite easily for they say things like:
If God were to do something dramatic then they’d sit up and take notice – a miracle perhaps just for them
If God were to speak to them directly with a voice from heaven
If God would jump through this kind of hoop for them then they’d believe in him and pay him attention.
It may even be your mind set this morning. You want to feel some tingles down your spine or you want to experience some other tangible sign and until you do you won’t believe.
But these Pharisees with their preconceived ideas had got it wrong, very wrong, and Jesus told them so.
Jesus corrects this misconception
Jesus’ answer is plain for all to see in v.20
"The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed"
He then went on to add that that the Kingdom had in fact already come and their focus on observable signs meant they had missed it entirely:
"behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you."
What a tragedy it was for the Pharisees! The Kingdom had come and they hadn’t realised it. They were actually addressing the King of that Kingdom and they didn’t know his identity! They had their own preconceived ideas and they were so intent of pursuing these that they had missed this event of crucial importance. Worse than that they were in danger of stubbornly refusing to allow anything to change their thinking!
Are you looking for the wrong thing and missing the wonderful truth that is staring you in the face? Are you looking for something that is not promised at all and in danger of failing to see just what it is that God is doing?
It is time to put away our prejudices and listen to what Jesus has to say.
Firstly, he says, "Don’t fixate on observable signs – you won’t see any because the nature of this kingdom is different from the other kingdoms of this world."
Secondly he went on to explain this difference. This kingdom, he said, is spiritual in nature. The kingdoms of this world are interested in the external trappings of pomp and circumstance but the kingdom of God is not like that; it comes in quietly and simply in a personal and internal manner – this kingdom comes to be ‘within you’ – yes, it will have effect, it’s coming cannot be without effect, but those effects are the outworking of its presence in a person’s life not a fanfare that is sounded at its arrival.
Thirdly, this Kingdom has come to be in the midst of them. It is in the midst of them because the King himself has already come and is living amongst them performing the works the Father has given him to do and teaching the things his Father has given him to teach.
Do you now see just how wrong the question of the Pharisees was? They were asking the King himself when the kingdom was to come when he was already there at work bringing new life, kingdom life, to those who responded to him in faith and trust. This is a kingdom that works from the inside out – change is brought about by heart transformation and not by forceful imposition from the outside.
This King is here now, King Jesus, will you recognise him today as your King? Don’t keep on putting off coming to him because you want to see some dramatic sign – come and put your trust in him and in him alone. He calls you to bow the knee to him now while you have the opportunity and it is not for you to lay down conditions as though God must perform some tricks in order to prove he is worthy of your trust.
Nor should you imagine that God is somehow unfair or unkind because he makes salvation so accessible to us. There’s no need to run here or there following every report or rumour in order to try to ascertain where the truth lies. Jesus has come into the world and dwelt amongst us. While here he did in fact perform innumerable miracles and signs but these were not acts of gratuitous display: he did poor sinners good! The greatest thing he did was to lay down his life as a sacrifice before taking it up again in the resurrection thus conquering death itself. And these things have all been carefully recorded so that we might believe.
Of course it is possible to refuse to believe and to dress up that refusal in a whole variety of ways. The Pharisees knew so much about him, they knew of his authority over sin and death but instead of yielding to him the vast majority simply persisted in rejecting him!
More instruction about the Kingdom of God
Having spoken to the Pharisees Jesus then turned to his disciples to give them some further instruction: the kingdom may have already come but it had not yet come in all its fullness and indeed it wouldn’t come in all its fullness until Jesus returned a second time to the earth when everything would be laid bare and judgment would be poured out.
Jesus alludes to the delay of an unspecified length of time that must pass before the kingdom of God would come to its complete culmination:
v.22 "The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it."
Jesus knew that this delay in his coming would potentially cause his followers some issues. His enemies would mock and taunt his followers over this delay suggesting that he would never come. During this period of waiting his disciples would earnestly desire to see him again but it wouldn’t happen straightaway. From other parts of Scripture we understand that at least part of the reason for this delay is to ensure that none of those for who Jesus died would be lost but that all of the elect would indeed come to him in faith. The delay is not due to inability or forgetfulness but love!
And yet with the desire to see him come again rumours would fly – he’s here or he’s there – as men decided that they knew better than Jesus who said knowing the time of his return was in the Father’s care and not in ours.
Frequently in history groups have arisen proclaiming the imminent coming of Christ. The JWs prophesied that he would return in 1874 and then revisited that date making it 1914. Now they maintain he did return in 1914 but that his return took place in secret and was invisible!
Ill-informed and disobedient Christians can be taken in by such things becoming nervous that they have somehow missed out on their Lord’s return. But Jesus’ words dispel any such fear – it will simply be impossible to miss his return:
v.24 "For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day."
So you don’t have to worry every a crank announces that he is Jesus Christ returned in the flesh. You don’t have to wonder whether he’s right, you don’t have to try to check it out. Why not? Because Jesus has declared that his return will take place in such a way that no-one will be left in any doubt about it! It will truly be an unmissable event.
There are other things for the believer to be aware of. Jesus didn’t proceed by giving his disciples a list of all the things that would take place prior to his coming. He wasn’t particularly interested in giving a kind of road map of the future but he did think it important that his followers knew about his sufferings! Before the Kingdom would come in its final completed form he would indeed have to suffer many things and be rejected. As his ministry developed and the climactic events of the end of his life approached Jesus would teach more and more clearly concerning how he would be rejected by his own people, handed over to the Gentiles and crucified. He added to his revealing of these truths that he would rise again from the dead – it is this resurrection that makes his return possible and meaningful.
Jesus Return – Illustrations of Judgment
The coming of the Kingdom of God in its final and perfected form at the return of Jesus is such a momentous truth that we are not surprised to find that it was prefigured in the pages of Scripture. Jesus referred to two different events in OT history that laid down the pattern that would be followed by Jesus in his return in glory. Having referred to these two historical accounts Jesus then moved on to add a couple of illustrations to press home what he wanted to communicate.
Let’s look briefly at this.
The two events of OT history are distinct yet teach the same truths. The first of the two OT accounts concern Noah and his deliverance at the time of the flood and the second conerns Lot and his deliverance from Sodom.
Both accounts are linked to a judgment theme.
Noah lived at a time when the wickedness of the human race had become so serious that God had decided to send judgment in the form of a universal flood.
It took Noah a long time to build his boat in the middle of a plain miles removed from any sea. It was a enacted message. God was going to judge and judgment was inevitable. Yet how gracious this building of the boat was! It drew attention to human sin and called for repentance – there was ample time for men and women to have a change of heart. But they carried on living their lives paying no heed to Noah’s preaching. They went on and on going about their regular daily business until the rains began to fall and the deeps opened up – judgment which had been long announced as a certainty now broke and when it did it took the indifferent totally unawares. There was separation at the time of the flood: most were lost because of their sin just Noah and his family were saved.
Lot had chosen to live in the red light district and he stood as a sore thumb. He didn’t want to participate in the wickedness of the men who lived there and they understood him to be criticising them. He was – his behaviour was different to theirs and he shone a light onto their perversity. And do you know what? They didn’t like it one little bit. His lifestyle was far from perfect but it did serve to convict them of sin and warn of judgment but his warnings too fell on deaf ears.
It wasn’t a flood this time but it was fire and brimstone – a volcanic eruption like no other. Lot with his wife and daughters were able to begin their escape while the rest of the inhabitants still went about their normal daily lives. The judgment was certain and sudden when it fell.
And Jesus urged his disciples to take heed and to learn the lessons of history:
v.32 "Remember Lot’s wife." he said.
Why did he say that? Many of you will already know. How tragic her story was!
Lot and his daughters were on their way to safety – they didn’t have far to go just to the next village where they would be safe and Lot’s wife was going with them. Just think: disaster was about to strike but she was actually on her way to safety – indeed she was nearly saved but then something happened. The draw of her old life in Sodom began to tug at her and its appeal was just too strong, it was too much for her. She didn’t want to leave it all behind and she stopped and turned and looked behind and she was lost! Instantly turned into a pillar of salt! She had a divided heart you see. She loved the world too much and she lost everything in that moment.
My friends "Remember Lot’s wife" – nearly saved but loving the world too much she was lost. She wouldn’t give it up and she was lost.
I’m reminded of one of the ways in which men catch monkeys in the wild. They put a peanut or something similar in a bottle with a narrow neck. The monkey comes and sees the peanut, puts his arm instead the bottle and closes his fist on the peanut. Only now his fist is too great to draw out of the bottle and get away to safety. He could escape if only he’d let go of the peanut but he clings on and his captured. My friends will you lose your eternal soul for the equivalent of a peanut? How foolish it would be to long for the passing things of this world and to miss out on becoming a member of the Kingdom of God with such a wonderful King, King Jesus, to rule over you.
May God have mercy on us all.