Friday Sermon 8/14/15“Jesus Came Preaching God’s Kingdom”
by Rev. Chris Rice
Mark 1:14-15; Matt. 4:13-17
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”[a]
17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
You might be surprised to learn that, the American Civil War, which claimed the lives of at least 620,000 combatants, took a while to actually end even after April 9, 1865. When Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, the news was heralded that the war was over. But not until after the final battle on May 12 at Palmito Ranch in Texas, did the fighting cease. Similarly the Emancipation Proclamation was first signed by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863 but the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution officially abolishing slavery became law on December 18, 1865. Many people heard the war was over long before the last shot rang out. Many slaves heard that they were free long before slavery was actually abolished.
The Good News that God has not left us humans to our own fate, that indeed, despite how we have hurt ourselves, one another and the world around us, that God loves us and sent His own Son, Jesus to herald a new heavens and earth full of righteousness, has come and is coming. Looking around now, even as the disciples did the night of Good Friday, we can’t necessarily see with our mortal eyes that Jesus has won the battle and that God’s Dominion has broken into our own space and time. We have confusion and questions and doubt. But we can also know that things will never be the same.
Dear Father in Heaven,
We need a fresh word from you. We need to hear anew the good news that Jesus believed, embodied, and preached. I ask that you reveal yourself to us, and that you open our hearts to receive this word. Set us free from all those things that would keep us from being changed into Christ-likeness.
In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
1. Jesus said “The Time Has Come”
John the Baptist came preaching repentance and a baptism for forgiveness in preparation for Jesus. So when Jesus said, “The time has come,” it meant that John’s word of what was “coming” was fulfilled in Jesus’ words about “now”. He told the woman of Samaria at the well, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (Jn 4:23-24) Her reply to him was that she knew that when Messiah comes he would proclaim all things. And then Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” (John 4:25-26) Jesus knew his calling, who he was and who sent him, and how to reveal himself at the proper time.
Time is a strange concept to us humans. We have this linear view of time that effects our understanding of outcomes. We know that we’re here in our mortal bodies for a short period, but we don’t really want to believe that. We know that we’re born and as we grow older we learn more about our mortality every day. Some of us lose our parents early on in our lives. And the reality sets in, I thought my mother would be here longer. And then it gets a bit scarier, doesn’t it? Wow, it could all be over in an instant. The impact I thought I was going to make may not be as deep as I thought. This planet is gonna keep spinning and people are going to be born and die and who is to say what my part in that is?
Because we know our time is short we have this feeling that we’ve got to be making the most of it. And when things don’t go the way we expected we might get stressed, depressed, exhausted, and lose hope. It can often feel like time is our immortal enemy, because we don’t know the future, and our understanding of the past and present are only partial. If history has proven anything it’s that we Americans view time differently than previous generations. When the dollar is god, as it seems to be in this world, every nanosecond of time can be construed with monetary value. “Time is money.” The railroads here changed our concept of time in the 19th and early 20th century and it became more important within our culture to be “on time” than to be present at all. If your train couldn’t be “on time,” the time set by the station masters, than your goods were basically useless.
With this view of time, that you can never gain more and are losing it all the time, our world moved into the Industrial age. Time became the universal rush to the next station, the next deal, the next meeting, etc. When time is linear in this way, success is determined by outcomes. We get to thinking in absolutes about whether an outcome is successful or unsuccessful. Whether our bodies are perfect or imperfect. Whether we’ve been useful or un-useful. And our thoughts tend to usually go to the negative, no matter how much temporary success we achieve, there’ll be more uncertainties in our future.
Enter the gospel proclaimed by Jesus. He said, “The time has come and is coming.” Now what does that even mean? Jesus came in the fullness of time, he knew his calling, and he did and said only what the Father showed him. He was not a man who came to shatter the law, suspend time, use people, demonstrate power, and then change everything. As creator of the world, he knew that time is meant to serve people, but that things had gotten twisted. Remember way back in the garden with Adam and Eve? How important was time to them? They knew sweet fellowship with God and they weren’t meant to die. There was no shortness of time.
In simply obeying God’s will and proclaiming the Kingdom, or another word would be the Domain of God, Jesus spoke of a different reality that God understands. While God cares about our daily affairs and that includes time, he is not limited by our understanding of the past, present and future. And Jesus saw fit to proclaim that his Dominion extends from his present to our present. It’s interesting that the first four books of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are together called the Gospel. They are not four different gospels, taken together they are the Gospel.
To get the big picture of what Jesus preached we have to get to know each one. In the first three Jesus begins his public ministry after John the Baptist is imprisoned. In the fourth gospel, however, John shows us the beginning before the beginning. Jesus makes wine for a party at Cana, even after telling his mother that it’s not time yet. So, if you really think about it, where we try to fit the story of Jesus into a linear model of prophecy, birth, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, and where many preach as though the crucifixion IS the only part of the story that matters, the Gospel (all four books) are much more concerned with WHO Jesus is than what he did.
Jesus, the Lord of time and eternity, entered our seemingly finite world of space and time and proclaimed that God’s Kingdom was both present and to be revealed. And while people were still checking his credentials, he accomplished the will of the Father and fulfilled all that could not be accomplished in time through Temple worship by becoming the Lamb of God. Then God raised him from the dead and he became the first-fruits of what will be the glorified new heavens and earth. In a word, God in Christ showed us that the right time for proclaiming His kingdom is time as God intended.
2. Jesus said, “Repent”
Repentance is not a familiar word anymore. Maybe you have never heard of it. But it is crucial to understanding the gospel. In our day we think that the accumulation of knowledge leads to better outcomes. Across the way outside these doors is an inscription on the side of the public library. It reads, “I choose free libraries as the best agencies for improving the masses of the people because they only help those who help themselves. They never pauperize. A taste for reading drives out lower tastes.” These immortal words of Andrew Carnegie assume that with a library on every corner and knowledge available to all, no one need be poor. The poor will know where to find work, that work will be given to them, they’ll know where to find housing, they’ll remain employed and housed and we’ll all live happily ever after.
Carnegie also said of wealth, “Yet the day is not far distant when the man who dies, leaving behind him millions of available wealth, which was free for him to administer during life, will pass away “unwept, un-honored, and unsung,” no matter to what use he leaves the dross which he cannot take with him. Of such as these, the public verdict will then be: the man who dies thus rich, dies disgraced. Such in my opinion is the true gospel concerning wealth, obedience to which is destined someday to solve the problems of the rich and the poor, to hasten the coming brotherhood of man, and at last to make our earth a heaven.”
I dare say, in his view of knowledge and wealth, Andrew Carnegie had no room for repentance. He thought that we can make heaven here on earth if we just wisely use our wealth. Yet history has shown that instead of closing the gap between the rich and poor, philanthropists have created a nonprofit industrial complex in the billions of dollars that keeps hold of money for the “greater good” in search of those persons who truly deserve it, who won’t be “pauperized” by receiving it. Jesus proclaimed the Gospel by saying “Repent!” Repentance means to turn from the direction we’re heading in because it’s wrong! We might believe it is right, it might be the way the whole world is heading, it might be the way we were taught by our parents, by our schools, by the books we read and the television we watch, but it’s still wrong! Wealth cannot save us! Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters, God and Mammon.” And Carnegie’s gospel of wealth has become the prevailing gospel in this land.
The Greek word for repentance is metanoia, which indicates a complete turning. Jesus came to change our hearts entirely, to make us new persons, people capable of right love for God and one another. Now the only way repentance is possible is to give up whatever else we are serving. Jesus said we can’t be a slave to sin and free to serve at the same time. Service God’s way means that it’s not on our own terms. Without repentance, any service we render will be with selfish motives. Without repentance we can’t agree with God about how success or outcomes should be viewed. The popular narrative about Christianity these days is that Jesus came to make us nicer people who are more clean-cut, better citizens, living healthy lives, don’t divorce, raise well-mannered kids, and all vote Republican. That idea is severe limitation on what the Dominion of God looks like. We’re not here simply to make others conform to certain limits, but rather we’re all meant to be transformed into God’s likeness in Christ.
Repentance doesn’t mean “become nice” or “become clean”. It means give up! Surrender! Turn! You know you’re not what God wants you to be. You know this ain’t heaven here on earth. You need a Savior! Right where you think you don’t need a Savior, that’s where you need Him the most! And just as the Kingdom or Domain of God is here and yet coming, so we learn that repentance is a beginning that becomes a walk of discipleship, or constantly shedding our old beliefs and habits and turning to want to do the will of God. In my own life as a young man I thought of sin and temptation mainly in terms of sexual misconduct and impure thoughts. That left a lot of room for other types of sins that I thought weren’t as big a deal. As I’ve grown older in learning to be like Jesus, I find I have to continually turn away from hostility, impatience, and a host of other sins that get in the way. I turned from sin, and I’m still on that road to this day.
3. Jesus proclaimed, “Believe the Good News.”
What was the Good News that Jesus proclaimed? What made it news-worthy and what made it good?
The good news is that this world, as we see it and experience it with our natural senses, is not all that there is! There is a different way to be and there is a different future to expect. When we repent and turn to Christ we can actually see God’s hand at work in the world today. The Good News that Christ proclaimed was not simply that he would die for our personal sins so that we could reform and become better people. His proclamation was not that we needed to simply accept him as our personal Lord and Savior. The Gospel was not then and is not now a four point plan of personal deliverance, amendment, and affirmation.
The reason Jesus’ news was good was because this passage was fulfilled: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Isa. 61:1-2, Luke 4:18-19) This was not just a message of personal change, but of freedom, healing, and God’s favor! The people eagerly wanted this message. But what became evident as Jesus preached in their synagogues, was that this message was also going to be controversial. When he preached in his own hometown of Nazareth, Luke tells us the people tried to throw him off a cliff.
“28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” (Luke 4:28-30, NIV)
Why did they get so upset? Because he brought them a word of judgment and of the need for repentance. So they rejected him, and he walked away. He wasn’t the Messiah they wanted after all. And yet he did not give up, he knew his ministry was just getting started.
What does it mean that we should believe the Good News? Quite simply, when the proclamation is made, the hearer must choose whether to accept the word or reject it. In accepting it, belief involves being “all in”, and staking one’s life on this assurance of God establishing His Dominion at this time. In John 8:30 it says that as Jesus was speaking many believed in him. But then a dialog ensues where Jesus lets them know what believing really required. “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” When Jesus said we must “believe” it meant more than mental assent. To believe means to cling to, trust in, and rely on the truth that Jesus has accomplished and will accomplish all that God desires.
4. Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, here now and also yet to come in fullness.
I think there are misconceptions about God’s Kingdom. It has been thought to refer only to heaven, or to the Church, or to social justice, and some talk about it as a spirituality that is an inner awareness of one’s own divinity. But when we really read what Jesus said about it, it’s not a kingdom with a castle and moat or with guards to protect it, but it’s referring to how God’s royal authority and power have come on the scene.
It’s important to recognize that Jesus taught that the Kingdom is not created by our own efforts, but is something we receive, when we change and become like children. (Mark 10:14-15) Healings, such as sight given to the blind, feeding 5000 people, dead people being raised, were a witness to the reign of God on earth (Matt. 11:4-5) But the healings themselves were pointing to the power of God, not to a Messiah who would reign from his earthly kingdom.
What Jesus preached and lived did not fit in keeping with the prevailing speculations of the coming Messiah. With the Maccabean revolts just before the time of Jesus, it was thought that the Messiah would give his life for the nation and fulfill the role of the suffering servant, but that he would then rid the land of Greek and Roman influence so that the people would have peace. So when Jesus came preaching a Dominion of God that involved, humility, love, servanthood, and ultimately Jesus death for the sins of the whole world, even his disciples were confused.
Conclusion: The most important message I can declare to you is the good news of Jesus Christ. He taught us that if we want to be somebody in God’s Dominion, we’ve got to humble ourselves and get low. He taught that we are truly blessed when we are poor in spirit. That the things we really want to be are the things this age thinks have no value. Mourning, meekness, a hunger and thirst for righteousness, mercy, Purity of Heart, Peace-making, and persecution for righteousness sake are the distinctives of those who are blessed in God’s Dominion. (Matthew 5:3-11) Personally, I find that the Word of God and my faith in Jesus Christ has ruined me to the other gospels of this world, the gospels of wealth, health, housing, employment, achievement, education, and notoriety. If Jesus lived humility and obedience to God’s will than why should I seek out anything else?
Let’s pray the Lord’s Prayer together, now.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.