Sermon for Sunday, January 4, 2009
Dr. Dan Doriani
CHRIST IS KING AND HIS KINGDOM IS NEAR
Matthew 4:17, Luke 4:42-43, 1 Corinthians 4:20
When a president gives his inaugural speech, everyone listens for his central goals and guiding principles: What does he plan to do and why? What are his passions? If I follow this leader, will I be part of a cause worth living for?
In the New Testament, Jesus’ first words are, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 4:17). When he proclaims his kingdom, he proclaims a big idea, one worth living for, one to carry us through this year and beyond.
1. Jesus proclaims the kingdom
Jesus speaks about the kingdom of God seventy times in the gospels. It is his most common theme. Mark 1:14-15 says Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming, "The time has come; The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" Matthew says, "Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people" (4:17, 23). Luke says, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent" (4:43).
The meaning of "kingdom." Today we have nations, not kingdoms. For some of us "kingdom" stirs images of crenulated towers, knights on stallions, damsels in distress and peasants with wooden rakes. But for Jesus "kingdom" is not a political concept. When he says, "The kingdom has come," he means God exercises his authority with power. The gospels use three terms - "kingdom of Heaven," "kingdom of God" and "the kingdom" to mean the same thing: God reigns on earth as in heaven." Heaven" is a circumlocution for God that Jews often used to avoid taking God's name in vain.
In the Bible, kingdom refers more to the work, the rule or reign of a king, than it refers to his land. When Jesus says "the kingdom has come," he means, "God has begun to rule or reign." (Kingdom is a noun of action.)
Jesus has begun the reign of God because he has authority to rule (Matthew 28:18). God's power breaks into history when he teaches, heals, and breaks down the strongholds of Satan. The kingdom is not a nation with geographical borders, but it manifests itself in space and time.
When Jesus says, "The Kingdom is coming" (or has come), he means God reigns in the lives of his disciples, in public and in private. When Jesus' followers do his will, the kingdom comes.
So then, to "enter the kingdom" (Matthew 5:20, 7:21, Luke 18:24-25, John 3:5, Acts 14:22) is not to cross a border. To enter the kingdom is to yield to God's rule. When we enter the kingdom, we join God's side in the cosmic conflict between good and evil.
In the Lord's prayer "Thy kingdom come" is explained by the next phrase, "Thy will be done" (6:10). When God's kingdom comes, his will is done because his disciples follow him, as Jesus reigns in our life.
God is king, Lord of creation (Psalm 10, 21, 24, 29). He created all things, sustains all things, and rules the nations. In the beginning, Israel had no king to show that God rules. Later, Israel's kings were supposed to rule according to God's law, keeping the Bible at their side (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). In Jesus' ministry, God's rule became deeper and wider.
2. Jesus brings us under his reign
The reign of Christ is personal. Christians should hope to see God reign in their lives. This hope is often disappointed. Some time ago, we trusted in Jesus and said we submit to him, but many of us make little progress day by day. We repent of sin, pray for obedience, and resolve to sin no more, only to fail again. Why do we fail? We need to hold two truths in tension.
First, the believer does have a new life through union with Christ. The old self is crucified with Christ, "so that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin" (Romans 6:6-7). Sadly, we never escape from sin in this life. Yet we are "alive to God in Christ Jesus." Sin no longer reigns (6:11-12). It doesn't dominate us. So, there is a gap, dissonance: We belong to Christ and want him to rule our lives, yet we still rebel against him.
A sinful nature remains. Sin's dominion has ended, but sin continues. John says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8).
We're like a good army that routed a tyrant from our homeland. After the tyrant is overthrown, remnants of the old regime remain. The evil army still wages counterattacks, tries to subvert the new regime and regain their lost power. How?
As sinners, we acquire habits, skills, at sinning. Little children discover how far they can needle an older sibling before they pay for it. Philanderers learn how to recognize potential partners. Skilled liars learn how to make people trust them. Whenever there is a habit of sin, there is a well-worn path to sin. We turn into old habits the way we make the right turns to go to work without even thinking. It takes time to change strong habits.
And society is full of sinners who entice us to join them. Sinners are recruiters. Drinkers seek drinking buddies. Gossips discover others who like to whisper. So we face dark urges from within and temptations from without. We struggle to resist. This is how and why we fail to yield to Jesus' reign.
Jesus inaugurated his reign
So the kingdom is here in part, not in whole. We await the perfection of all things when Jesus returns. Jesus dealt the decisive blow to Satan and proved the kingdom has come when he cast out demons. Satan is like a strong man, prepared for combat. Jesus overpowers him, removes his weapons, ties him up, and sets his prisoners free. Jesus said, "If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." It has arrived. (Matthew 12:21-29, especially. 12:28).
3. The kingdom is a present reality
There is more to come. Jesus says the kingdom is a present possession: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). Jesus proclaims the gospel to the poor and they receive salvation (Luke 4:18-21). When he repents, Jesus tells Nicodemus, "Today salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:9).
Jesus accomplished Messianic tasks, foretold in Isaiah 35. When the Lord comes, Isaiah says, "Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy... the ransomed of the Lord will return. Everlasting joy will crown their heads" (Isaiah 35:5-6, 10). Jesus performed all these signs so we know he is the Messiah (Matthew 11:1-6). He fulfilled the law and the prophets and gave his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 5:17, 20:25-28). The king has come, so his kingdom is here. It can be spectacular. More often, it comes quietly as people yield to God daily in words, deed and attitudes.
We should claim the kingdom now. If the kingdom is here, we need to act like it. Lawrence of Arabia said, "All men dream, but not equally." If the kingdom has come, we should dream large dreams.
The kingdom is here, but there is more to come. Jesus tells his disciples the kingdom is ours, yet he tells us to pray "Thy kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10). It's growing toward a climax when God will root out sin, when people from every nation will come and the righteous will shine like the sun (Matthew 13:23, 39-43). Until then, there is darkness, but it's limited. Jesus says Satan is "bound" so he can no longer deceive the nations (Revelation 20:3). But he is like an angry dog on a long chain. He can still hurt us and tempt us (Matthew 13:19).
The reign of Christ shapes our identity.
So Jesus reigns but we battle sin. It's important to get an accurate picture of ourselves. Scripture say this about us: We live in tension, between the times. We have one foot in the kingdom, under Christ and in heaven and one on earth acting like most everyone else. We are citizens of heaven, yet we live on earth.
Hebrews expresses the tension this way: "By one sacrifice [Jesus] has perfected those who are being made holy" (10:14). Through the atonement, God granted us perfection in Him. But we struggle to claim it. So Hebrews also says, "We are being made holy" (10:14). We are perfected in principle, but still have to work it out day by day.
Behold the grandeur and the misery of man, the ecstasy and the agony, of our experience. We have grand successes one hour and miserable failures the next. Because we are heirs of Christ, our lives can be beautiful. Yet we fail: our temper flares, we give in to irrational fears and old habits.
Since the kingdom is here, we are optimists. But since it is here in part, we are sober-minded. We are optimists, but not triumphalists. We expect to see some results, not perfect results (1 Corinthians 9:22).
The Kingdom and our work
It is easy for Christians to take a narrow our view of Jesus' reign. We think we serve our king when we go to church, pray, share our faith and so forth. This is good, but if the kingdom has come, there is more. It will pervade all of life – work, play, leisure.
Many claim to be Christians on Sunday and perhaps at home. But the rest of the time they live like pagans: they lie, curse, steal, have mistresses. But real faith shows in all of life.
A Christian obstetrician works his pro-life convictions through the fabric of his practice. Although his offices are in a prosperous part of his city, about twenty percent of his expecting mothers are unmarried and another twenty percent of pregnancies are unplanned. So many patients think about abortion. He doesn't perform abortions and is ready to tell his patients abortion is wrong, but he does more. He spreads pro-life principles throughout his practice.
His language is pro-life. When he or the nurses announce the news they don't say, "You are pregnant." They say, "Congratulations, you are going to have a baby." The staff calls it a baby not a "fetus." They say, "This is your baby's heartbeat" or "This sonogram is a picture of your baby."
Second, the counsel is pro-life. A patient may say, "Now I have to decide what to do" as she contemplates abortion. The doctor says, "You made your decision when you conceived this child. Now your baby is growing inside you." If a mother says she can't care for a baby, he suggests adoption.
Third, the economics are pro-life. If a woman says, "I can't afford to have a baby" someone explains the resources such as insurance and the state. If necessary, he waives all fees to protect an unborn child. So the Christian physician weaves kingdom principles into his practice. God's rule should permeate all we do.
By contrast, our first child was conceived 1981, when we were in grad school. When the medical person passed the news of the pregnancy, she immediately offered to set up an appointment at the women's clinic. Clearly "choice" was woven into the fabric of that medical clinic.
In 1987, we lost our third child through a miscarriage. Our doctor was out of town and the doctor who covered for him didn't bother to conceal his displeasure at getting a call on July 4th. We had to go to the hospital at 3:00 a.m., he finally appeared at 6:00, looking like he had just rolled from bed. He barely talked to us and when he did, he spoke of our unborn child as "tissue" and "the product of conception." The depersonalization went on from there until I was horrified and wanted to shout, "That's not tissue; that's my baby!"
Later I spoke to another physician who knew the man. The way he acted I assumed he was pro-choice, but no, my friend said that he was absolutely pro-life. I'm glad he didn't perform abortions, but I certainly wish his values had influenced the way he treated us, the way he talked about the situation, including our loss.
If Jesus is our king, it should transform everything we do and say. It should shape every relationship, guide every word and permeate every aspect of life.
Justin Martyr, a second century theologian, grew up a short distance from Nazareth. Long before the invention of iron plows, Justin said the plows Jesus and Joseph made were still in wide use in his day. Clearly Joseph and Jesus did excellent work in their shop. The Lord reigned over their craftsmanship.
And Martin Luther said that even the milk-maid can tend her cows to glory of God. She knows her honest work answers the prayers of God's people, "Give us this day our daily bread." And as we work, we should pray, "Lord your kingdom has come. Make that clear throughout my life."
Christ the king has principles for our work. If it is to please God and truly bless our families, it must at least be honest, lawful activity. A believer can never take work that requires sin – deception, stealing, mindless destruction (demolition can be legit). Christians can't be hit-men or drug-runners. If we must choose between a job that requires immorality and no job, we choose to have no job.
I know a Christian man who owned a string of convenience stores. He had removed pornography from his stores and had never allowed lottery ticket sales. By God's grace, his stores were still profitable. This was significant, he said, since magazines, alcohol, lottery tickets, and cigarettes are high profit items for retailers. I asked him to clarify: had he also removed cigarettes from his stores? No, that wasn't what he meant, he had never really thought about not selling cigarettes.
I said cigarettes are the only legal product that when used according to instructions, kills one third of its customers. They're designed to foster addiction. The instructions say: insert product in mouth. Set on fire. Inhale. My friend looked surprised. "But there is so much profit in tobacco." We all have blind spots!
In the same vein, a leader at a software company once approached me. "My boss recently asked me to lead a project to write a software program to distribute and sell lottery tickets more efficiently." There is a lot of money in this and it would be good for my career to do it. Until now, I've seen it as a technical problem with a technical solution. Do you think I should look at this project from a spiritual perspective, too?" Yes. "Should I look for a different project?" That makes sense.
Christ is king; he reigns over all of life – work, leisure, friendships, whatever. Even if there aren't many Bible verses about something, we must still ask: How does the Lord exercise his reign here? How might he use me here?
The Church is the focal point and vanguard of the kingdom, but the kingdom is more than the church. The Lord calls the redeemed to govern the world for Him, to rule the earth and subdue it, so that all things are subject to his reign.
Celebrations – Weddings
The goal is to yield everything to the Lord. Let's admit: Many are the times we hardly have the first idea how to do this. We know how other people act, we know what is easiest. But what is biblical or best or most pleasing to the Lord? Let me share an example, a riddle from my life over the last two years. It was important and I had to think about long and hard.
Sixteen months ago, one of my sweet, beautiful daughters put on a wedding dress and said, "I do." In ten weeks, a second daughter will do the same. I could see these things coming; I knew our society provided several scripts or prototypes for the event.
5The first is the grand wedding, the society event, the blowout, with its display of the family's status. A sub-type features the princess-tyrant who says, "This is my day to shine even if the price is a year's wages and woe to all who stand in my path."
The second prototype is the simple wedding, where bride and groom don suit and dress, gather a few friends, go to the chapel and quietly begin a new life. One sub-type is the destination wedding that blends the simplicity of a small guest list with the splendor of a beach or mountain setting.
Third, some parents pine for the minimalist past: "We got married for $700, in a borrowed suit and borrowed dress. We drank fruit punch and munched celery sticks at the reception. We've been married 30 years, so it must have worked."
The Bible was not, in any essential way, written to determine the right way to celebrate a wedding. But if we look around, we know we can't just follow the culture. Some never marry, many fly to the justice of the peace and others have crushingly stressful events. The first are too small, the last so big they make us wonder. Have formal weddings gotten so big because most couples now cohabit first? If the marriage brings nothing new to the relationship, maybe we need a big event to compensate for that. Since the lifestyle hardly changes, ramp up the party.
Can the Bible teach us to how to celebrate a wedding? No passage tells us how to do it. Yet if we "love our neighbors as ourselves" and "count others more significant" than ourselves, as Christ did (Philippians 2:3), that rules out selfish agendas: the princess-tyrant and the penny-pinching paterfamilias.
The example of Jesus is important. He honored marriage by attending a wedding at Cana (John 2). But he did more than attend; he promoted the festivities.
Weddings appear fifteen times in the Bible, always tangentially. Weddings are a time of "gladness of heart" and "mirth" (Song of Solomon 3:11, Jeremiah 7:34, 16:9, 25:10,) a time for processions and feasting (Matthew 25:1-13, Judges 14:10-14). The bride is adorned (Revelation 21:2). Gathered friends and family sing love songs, feast and celebrate, sometimes for days (Psalm 78:63, Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19, Luke 5:34, Judges 14:12-17, Genesis 29:22-23). In the beginning, when Adam met Eve, he burst into poetry. "This at last is bone of my bones" (Genesis 2:23).
This doesn't tell us exactly what to do, but it shows that weddings call for celebration - feasting, joy and song. We shouldn't always fight the wedding-industrial complex. And the participation of groom, families and community, forbid domination by any one person – the bride or her mother.
Wedding practices vary widely from culture to culture, so we felt free to appraise our culture's practices critically, yet fondly. We decided to avoid the extreme commercialization that can make weddings a burden. We agreed that weddings have probably become too bloated. But that doesn't mean it's right to react by dropping the celebration. The Bible blesses celebrations, so we decided to celebrate - a big, fairly simple party with everyone and then a smaller one where we could dance. So we embraced a real celebration.
This is our effort to think through the best way to celebrate a wedding - looking at our culture, but taking our direction from Christ the king – who helped a wedding celebration go right. I want to conclude with one more example.
The point here is not to tell you how to plan weddings. I am urging you to think through all of your life issues in light of the reign of Christ. Ask yourself: Where am I unsure of the best way to follow my Lord? What are the scripts, written by our culture, that could lead us away from God's paths? As I take my questions to the Lord and seek his will from Scripture, what guiding principles do I find in God’s Word? What parameters are given in Scripture that would at least keep us from making big mistakes? What models are provided by Scripture and by godly people?
6In all this, the goal is to live out our conviction that Christ is King. I am not trying to prescribe the way to celebrate a wedding – there is infinite variety there. I am trying to illustrate the principle that Christ reigns over all life. We should aim to show that this year. It should show that by faith, we are united to Christ – and no longer in bondage to sin or old habits or the culture.
Jesus said "Blessed are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of God. We are poor in spirit if we know our brokenness, our need of Christ. And that is the first step in living for Christ our King.