We continue our study this morning in our doctrinal series entitled, Foundations of the Faith and this morning we come to the topic of the kingdom of God.
In Matthew 4:17 The Bible says that Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near." Central to the teaching and preaching of Jesus Christ was this message of the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven, as Matthew called it. Go through the gospels and you will find over and over again this theme of the Kingdom of God. The Beatitudes begin with a promise about inheriting the Kingdom of God, and draw to a close with the assurance that not everyone who says Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Given that it was of such importance to Jesus, it should be important to us as well. When the Bible talks about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, what is it talking about? And what impact does that have on your life and mine as we seek to live for Jesus in a day and age where anyone but Jesus seems to be in charge?
As we consider the Kingdom of God this morning I want us to focus on three specific areas, the first will be the theological scope of the Kingdom of God, secondly we will consider some applicable principles of the Kingdom of God and finally we will reflect on our how the what the Kingdom of God should mean to each and every one of us who claim to know Jesus as Lord.
I. Theological scope of the kingdom of God
Article 9 of the our confessional statement, the Baptist Faith and Message, addresses the Kingdom of God. It says:
"The Kingdom of God includes both His general sovereignty over the universe and His particular kingship over men who willfully acknowledge Him as King. Particularly the Kingdom is the realm of salvation into which men enter by trustful, childlike commitment to Jesus Christ. Christians ought to pray and to labor that the Kingdom may come and God's will be done on earth. The full consummation of the Kingdom awaits the return of Jesus Christ and the end of this age."
When the bible talks about the Kingdom of God it speaks about this kingdom in several ways. One way it speaks of the Kingdom of God is within the context of the general sovereignty or rule that God has over the entire universe. Simply put, this means that God is the absolute ruler of all that is.
Throughout scripture God is painted as a reigning monarch, as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Exodus 15:18 says, "The Lord will reign forever and ever." Psalm 24:10 says He is the King of Glory. When the prophet Isaiah saw the Lord, in Isaiah chapter 6, he saw Him sitting on a throne, high and exalted. 1 Timothy 1:17 says "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever, Amen." And Revelation 19:6 says, "Then I heard something like the voice of a vast multitude, like the sound of cascading waters, and like the rumbling of loud thunder saying: Hallelujah - because our Lord God, the Almighty, has begun to reign!"
The Bible paints for us this picture of God as the great and mighty King.
The second way in which the phrase, "the Kingdom of God," is used, is to describe the rule and reign that Jesus has in the hearts and lives of those who have come to know Him as Lord (another word for King) and Savior. We often talk about letting Jesus sit on the throne of our hearts or be the Lord of our lives. These are simply expressions we use to talk about the authority and the dominion that Jesus has in the lives of those who know Him.
Additionally, the scripture also presents the Kingdom of God both as being a present reality and something which will come to fruition at an appointed time in the future. Today Jesus reigns and rules in the hearts of those who love Him, and someday, all people everywhere will acknowledge His Lordship.
On Calvary's cross, Jesus defeated sin and death. When He rose from the dead He became the victor and death and hell no longer had any power over Him. But the day has not yet come when all things submit to His authority. While He has authority over all things, all things have not yet been submitted, willingly or unwillingly, to His rule.
Mind you, He is a Lord of all right now; there is nothing over which He does not have absolute authority. In fact, in Matthew 28:18 Jesus says, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." But in His sovereignty and in His grace, it has pleased Him to allow others to have temporary rule over certain areas. Ephesians chapters 2 and 6 tell us that the prince of the power of the air, the devil, who the Bible calls the god of this age, has been granted limited and temporary powers. And people today must choose who they will serve, they must choose whether or not they will serve Jesus or someone or something else. God has not yet brought the final reality of His rule to bear upon creation. We'll deal with that in greater depth next week when we come to our study on the end times.
Many people live their lives today as though they were in control of their own destiny, they live as though there is no God to whom they must ultimately answer, and they go throughout the course of their lives without a thought for the eternal realty which they will ultimately face.
The Bible tells us that someday the clouds will roll back, with the voice of the arch angel and the trumpet of God, Jesus will appear, and like it or not, every defiant knee will bow and every rebellious tongue will confess what we already know to be true, that Jesus is Lord of all.
That is the future reality of the Kingdom of God. Jesus is coming back, only this time things will be a bit different.
The first time He came as a baby in Bethlehem's manger, the next time He's coming as heaven's eternal king.
The first time He came He came He was attended by the barnyard animals, the next time He comes heaven's hosts will accompany their king, shouting with deafening voices that the King of all creation has returned.
The first time He came He was subject to the will of evil men, the next time He comes evil men will be subject to Him.
The first time His coming was only known by a few wise men who sought Him out to worship Him, the next time He comes, everyone, wise men and foolish men alike, those who sought Him and those who rejected Him will all bow before Him and worship at His feet.
There is coming a day when the Kingdom of God will come to fruition. When Jesus sits on the throne of David and rules forever and ever. Romans 8:20-23 tells us that all of creation waits for that day when it will be freed from the physical curse of sin. That is a future reality that has yet to consummate, but till that day, the kingdom of God exists within the hearts and lives of those who love Him.
II. Applicable principles of the kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God in its present application, speaks to Jesus Christ being the absolute Lord over all of our lives. This is what the Sermon on the Mount addresses, this is what many of the parables our Lord taught illustrated, that Jesus is to be Lord of our lives, He is to be the most valuable One who exercises authority in our lives.
But knowing that He is to be Lord in our lives and allowing Him to reign are two entirely different things.
Turn to Matthew 20:20-28 where I want to walk you through an experience between Jesus and the disciples and draw from that text, several applicable principles of God's present Kingdom, which I believe will be helpful as we seek to walk under the Lordship or Kingship of Jesus in our lives.
The passage has a corollary text in Mark chapter 10:35-45 where instead of the Mother of James and John asking Jesus for a favor, it is the disciples themselves. It is not unreasonable to surmise that both James and John, and their mother approached Jesus with the same request. As He responds to their request, Jesus gives us great insight into a life that is truly lived under the Lordship of heaven; He shows us what Kingdom citizens should really look like.
(Read text) To properly put this in context we need to remember that in the last two verses before our text, in 20:18-19, Jesus has just told His disciples that He will be betrayed by the chief priests and that they will mock Him, and scourge and crucify Him.
So, now, understanding that Jesus has just told them about His death, instead of contemplating what that meant, they are jockeying for position within His kingdom. They are exhibiting their ambitions, eager to get ahead of one another. Remember, back in Matthew 19:28, He had told them that in His Kingdom, each of them would sit on a throne and would judge the twelve tribes of Israel, but this was apparently not good enough for James and John. They wanted a little better position, they wanted the choice cabinet positions within the new kingdom of Jesus.
As we consider this dialogue, we are able to draw several principles from it.
A. The Kingdom of God is about glorifying God, not advancing the ambitions of men
Look at verse 22, Jesus says, "You don't know what you're asking." In other words, the kingdom of God is not what you think it is. Jesus would make it clear that His kingdom was not like that of the Gentiles. He would tell Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world. His kingdom was all about bringing people out of spiritual bondage and into spiritual freedom and life, not about amassing earthly power and wealth. But the disciples were looking at the kingdom of God, just like they looked at the kingdoms of men. They were operating within God's Spiritual kingdom like the world operated within its physical kingdoms. They were ambitious and their ambition showed in their request.
Things haven't changed much in two thousand years. Many people today continue to seek to use the Kingdom of Heaven to further their own earthly empires. Churches across the ages have been ravaged by power groups and control centered division. Instead of truly seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness many see the church as just another business, just another gathering of people where the ambitious get ahead and the less ambitious get left behind. This was not what Jesus said His kingdom was going to be. It is not what His kingdom was about then and it is not what His kingdom is about now. I wonder what Jesus would think about the Christian superstars, singers with the same kinds of contracts and demands that secular stars have; preachers who now have booking agents and charge outrageous speaking fees and the host of Christian television personalities who live like they are rich and famous? I wonder what Jesus would have to say about the way many view His kingdom today?
Make no mistake about it, even as Jesus evaluated the motivation of the request made by the mother of James and John, He evaluates the requests we make of Him today. He is looking past the words and into our hearts to see who we are trying to glorify and whose kingdom we are seeking to advance.
B. Life within the Kingdom of God is life lived under God's authority
It is interesting to recognize that Jesus did not simply come out and tell the disciples "no" to their request. In fact, after He tells them that they don't know what they are asking, He goes on to tell them that what they have asked of Him is not even His to give but rather belongs to the Father, Who will give it to those for whom He has prepared it. Jesus was again communicating that He was not here to do what He wanted, but to be obedient to the Father.
In John 6:38 Jesus tells us that He did not come to do His own will but the will of His Father who sent Him. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prays, not My will but Thy will be done. Jesus clearly lived His live under the absolute authority of the Father. In turn, we are to live our lives under the Lordship, authority or Kingship of Jesus.
Where the disciples went wrong was at the point of wanting to exercise their own will. Rather than being content with what God would give them within His kingdom, they were trying to advance themselves, to get God to bless their selfish agendas, rather than being submissive to what Jesus had already told them their role would be.
How often do we too go wrong at this point? How often do we want to accomplish our own agenda rather than truly be open to the leadership and influence of God's direction in our lives? And are we not all too often discontented with the plan God gives us because at the end of the day the role He has asked us to play is simply not big enough?
Living under authority means the choices in our lives are all laid at His feet and left to His discretion. It means we go where He tells us, when He tells us and stay as long as He tells us to stay. It means we give no thought about any glory for ourselves, whether or not we get the credit, or whether or not we ever get what we want. Our only goal, as was the goal of Jesus, should be to do the will of the Father.
Living under authority, simply put, means that we walk in obedience to what He has told us to do.
C. Life in the Kingdom of God is upside down from life in the empires of men
Go throughout the New Testament and you find Jesus preaching this same message. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Those who seek to save their lives will lose it and those who lose their life for the sake of the Kingdom will save it. John the Baptist said it well when he said, "I must decrease so that He might increase." Life within the kingdom of God is upside down from that of the kingdoms of this world. We have been called to be different from the world. We have been commissioned with the responsibility of showing the world around us the difference Jesus can make in our lives. Whereas the world is hates those who hate them, we are to love our enemies. In the world when someone slaps you, you slap back, in the kingdom, we turn the other cheek. Go through the Beatitudes and you see that it is the meek who inherit the earth, that you are blessed when others persecute you and say all manner of evil against you on account of Jesus.
Our problem is that we want to inherit the kingdom of God but we don't want to have to suffer in order to do it and unfortunately the way to greatness in the kingdom of God is through humility in the eyes of man.
The British pastor, Michael Green, says that "Jesus contrasts greatness in the eyes of the world with greatness in the kingdom of God. Greatness in the world is determined by status; in the kingdom of God, by function. In the world greatness is shown by ruling; in the kingdom of God, by serving. In the world's eyes, the great are those who can order others about; in the kingdom of God they are those who endure hard times and injustice without complaining. How slow the church has been to learn the lesson!"
D. Greatness in God's kingdom belongs to the servants, not to those who want to be served
The classic argument here is that if Jesus came to serve and not to be served, how much more should we as His servants desire to serve instead of desiring to be served?
Let's face it; in much of what we would call the kingdom of God, things are just like they are in the kingdoms of men. People are measured by their status, not with respect to their service. But Jesus says that in His kingdom, regardless of what we may think, irrespective of how we may want to assess things, those who are truly the greatest are those who are the servants, not those who are being served.
One of my friends once told me something which has never quite left me. He said, "Calvin, do you realize that the people at the front of the line in heaven will probably not have white skin?" What he was saying was that we have Christian brothers and sisters in other countries who have truly sacrificed more for the kingdom of God than any of us could. There are those who have given their lives for the sake of the Gospel. On earth they are measured as the last, but in heaven, they will be among the first.
God does not measure things as man measures them. God's ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts. He even tells us in Matthew 7 that not everyone who says Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of the Father in heaven.
III. The kingdom of God and my life
If you are a Christian, a person who has been transformed by the power of God and in whom the Spirit of God resides, you are a citizen of the Kingdom of God. All that Jesus has to say about the kingdom applies to you, whether you realize it or not.
The late Christian Missionary Alliance preacher, A.W. Tozer, in his book, That Incredible Christian, has a chapter entitled, Marks of the Spiritual Man. While I gave them to you several years ago, as I contemplated what a person's life would look like were they to live it under the authority of Jesus Christ, I was led back to Tozer's seven marks that characterized the spiritual life. Listen and see how you measure up.
First, a desire to be holy rather than happy. The truly spiritual man knows that true contentment comes from being right with God not from having perfect circumstances and material possessions here on earth.
A man may be considered spiritual when he wants to see the honor of God advanced through his life, even if it means that he himself must suffer temporary dishonor or loss. Such a man, says Tozer, prays, ‘Hallowed be Thy name,' and silently adds, "at any cost to me." This is the position of a man who so desperately wants God's glory to be made manifest through his life that he will pray, "Lord, whatever it takes, make me what you want me to be for your own glory, not for mine."
The spiritual man wants to carry his cross — This cross is not forced upon us, it is not a burden we grudgingly bear, it is something we take up as we follow Christ, it is the instrument which will bring death to self. Carrying a cross means to be attached to the Person of Christ, committed to His Lordship and obedient to His commands. The man who is so attached, so committed, and so obedient, is a spiritual man.
The spiritual person is one who sees everything in this life and the life to come from God's point of view. God, says Tozer, looks at and through at the same time. His gaze does not rest on the surface but penetrates to the true meaning of things. The carnal Christian looks at an object or situation, but because he does not see through it he is elated or cast down by what he sees. The spiritual man is able to look through things as God looks and think of them as God thinks.
The fifth mark of a spiritual person is that they would rather die right than live wrong. A true mark of a spiritual man is that he is not careless about the way he lives. He will never be willing to purchase a few extra days of life on earth at the cost of compromising his eternal relationship with God. He wants most of all to be right in God's eyes, even if that puts him at odds with those around him. Again, his desire is to be right with God, whatever it costs.
The sixth mark of a spiritual man is that he desires to see others advance at his own expense. This is the mark of a true servant. He is willing and desirous of seeing others get the spotlight and receive the accolades of men, rather than advancing himself. As a servant he realizes that all glory belongs to God and it is His to give to whom He will, it is not ours to gain.
Finally, the seventh mark of a spiritual man is this: He makes decisions based on eternity, instead of basing them on the temporary reality we know as earthly life. By faith he is able to rise above the tug of earth and the flow of time and has learned to think and feel as one who has already left the world. He is living in the spiritual realm, not merely the material world.
All of these characteristics are evidences of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of an individual. They demonstrate that Jesus is in control of your life.
What are the marks of your life?