I preached Kingdom of Heaven - Today (Luke 17:20-21) at Kendalia Community Church on October 30, 2016
Kingdom of Heaven Today
Kendalia Community Church
October 30, 2016
Kingdom of Heaven – Two Views
Have you ever heard of a Deist? The first time I heard it was as a history major, and specifically American History. It seems that most – if not mostly all – of the Founding Fathers were Christians (51 of 55). But of the ones who were there, some big names – names like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson – were Christian Deists (among others). Now a deist is a Christian – or so he or she says – but they believe that God – in general - is a watchmaker. He starts the world and then sits back and lets it run itself.
When you talk about the Kingdom of Heaven – or Kingdom of God – sometimes you get a view that’s kind of like a watchmaker God. Some people think the Kingdom of Heaven is when Jesus comes down again, but some think – on the other hand - it has been here since Jesus walked the earth as a man the first time.
Why does it matter and what does it have to do with this sermon? I’m glad you asked, and I’m going to tell you: It matters and everything you do and believe is wrapped up in your view of this world and the world to come.
You see, for the person who thinks that this world is evil and is waiting on Jesus to come again, this world is a passing point. People like that have nothing to do with this world – at least the sin of it – and bide their time waiting, staying around fellow Christians, and being as Holy as they can be. When it comes to witnessing, they can talk, but actually getting out in the proverbial mess is distasteful. While some of that sounds good, there’s no room in there for relationship, no room for love, no room for forgiveness, and no room for justice.
On the other hand, if the people are right who say that the Kingdom of Heaven is right here, today, then that opens up a whole new realm of possibilities. There is relationship, love, forgiveness, peace, joy, and justice.
Let’s go and see what the Bible has to say about it....but first, a story for you...
Illustration – Compassion International and Margaret
Let me tell you a story that begins with Compassion International. I learned about them over ten years ago, when I was wanting to reach out to another country to help those that were less fortunate financially than my team at my law firm. Compassion International is a non-profit group that – with financial help and love from people - helps children from other countries, mostly third-world, by giving them education, healthcare, financial assistance - and through that - hope.
Margaret is a Maasai woman from a little village in Africa, along the Kenyan and Tanzania borders. There is poverty (in our sense) there – not poverty life we see in our ghettos - but poverty from a third-world point of view – no paved roads, no washing machines, little food and not much clean water. Little hope from an American standpoint.
But she grew up with it, and came to expect it as a way of life. But then, tragedy dragged her down deeper. You see, Margaret stopped dreaming as a little girl. Her father died, and her mother struggled to provide for the family. Margaret had to drop out of school in the eighth grade because her mother could no longer afford her school fees.
She says: “I cried...I really loved school and was an (good) astute student. I felt my family was not being fair, but no one listened.” By the time Margaret had her own children, she had forgotten what hoping and dreaming felt like. As a Maasai woman she had few rights. And as a single mother she was ostracized by her community. “I was alone and a disgrace since I was unmarried,” says Margaret. “Life was very difficult.”
Then one day, hope came in from a local church. There was a new Compassion center opening, and a bright light showed up when her four year-old son, Parmanto, was registered to start receiving aid.
| Posted: August 30, 2016
“At the time, Parmanto was not attending school because I could not afford the school fees and school supplies,” says Margaret. “I could not feed and take my children to school. I had to pick one.”
The Compassion staff immediately noticed how skinny little Parmanto was. To add to it, the roof on Margaret’s hut was leaking, and they saw that Margaret was depressed and alone.
“During the visit, we saw a family in dire need of assistance,” says Esther, the Compassion program director who first visited Margaret. “We had to intervene in order to restore this family’s dignity.”
Margaret’s hope for Parmanto was simple — she wanted her son to have the education she never had. But to her surprise, the Compassion center offered so much more. The family received food and vitamins, as well as mattresses, school uniforms and school supplies.
Parmanto did excellent in school, and by the time he was a teenager he had been accepted into a prestigious high school. He is now making plans for college, where he wants to study psychology.
Margaret marvels as she watches her son make plans for his future. It’s a future that she never could have imagined for her child. But it’s one she will cling to.
“I have hope,” she says simply. “Because through Compassion I have seen God.”
Christ is here – across this world – because Christians are here and doing miraculous things with the power of the Holy Spirit in them!
Jesus talked of the Kingdom of Heaven at hand, even there amongst them.
Folks, there is a lot to digest when you are talking about the kingdom of heaven – or kingdom of God – and have the Bible as your resource. I could take 4 sermons and barely give it credit that it’s due, so let me be brief and give you bullet points to make the beginning of truth...
The kingdom of God was talked about in the Old Testament, but I’m going to talk about it in the New Testament because that’s when it came to be on earth - in Jesus - and was talked about by John the Baptist, Jesus, and the disciples as being present. Take the Gospel of Matthew, for instance. You see John the Baptist in Matthew 3:1-2 says before Jesus came into His ministry “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” in the wilderness of Judea. Or Jesus, in Matthew 4:17, in His early ministry proclaiming “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Or in Luke 10:9, as Jesus was sending out seventy disciples into the country to preach the Gospel, and told them, say to the people, “The kingdom of God is at hand for you.”
Now some Bibles, depending on their translation, have “has come near,” for the problem in translating Greek – or any other language – to English – is that sometimes words have more than one meaning. So is there any further talking about the kingdom of heaven in the Bible, to make sense out of it? You bet there is... Here is just a little taste of it... and the Scripture for today...
It’s coming from the Gospel of Luke. According to early tradition that can be traced to the second century, Luke, the physician and traveler with Paul, wrote both Luke and Acts. Luke is mentioned in three other New Testament books, (Philemon 24, Colossians 4, and 2 Timothy), and is listed as Paul’s companion. How much of Luke’s view – or theology - is attributed to Paul is a question that is up for debate, but early the church fathers (Irenaus, Tertullian) knew him and held fast to his Gospel.
The Gospel of Luke is the third Gospel book, according to its author (the other was Mark and “Q” a lost rendition), and probably written about A.D. 85. Luke was a Syrian of Antioch, a doctor by profession, and probably a Gentile. He was a disciple of apostles, and followed Paul until his death by martyrdom. Unlike the disciples, who – except for Judas Iscariot and John - all died a martyr’s death, Luke served the Lord, without the distraction of a wife and kids, and died in his sleep at age 84 at Boetia, Greece.
Luke, unlike the other Gospels, is written eloquently and in proper Greek (for that day and age), and is structured so that the author knew how to tell a story. It is a story of the Son of God, Jesus Christ!
In the preceding section of his Gospel, Luke dealt with forgiveness, faith, and gratitude. These supposedly were responses that God’s people should have had with Jesus – the presence of God – in their midst. Now we get to the nature and extent of the kingdom of heaven. It starts with the Pharisees, the legalistic scribes, who were asking Jesus about the coming of the kingdom, and Jesus’ response.
The Scripture for today is Luke 17:20-21.
Luke 17:20-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Coming of the Kingdom
20 Once Jesus[a] was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among[b] you.”
1. Luke 17:20 Gk he
Luke 17:21 Or within
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
17:20 For the Pharisees, like today, there was a hard time understanding the coming of the kingdom. That is true for us today, especially for us Westerners. That is because, at least Americans are individuals with a language – English – that focuses on the present. Like the Pharisees, we are wanting to know what the question is, and look for proof in the here and now. That is what the Pharisees were asking, and what some of us are asking now!
17:21 But Jesus’ response confuses the scribes in the 1st century, and some of us now. Because He says don’t look to the world for your answers. Rather, look beyond it.
Let’s go into the Greek language to understand Jesus better, because the New Testament was originally written in Greek. You see the Greek language – unlike English – has continuity to their verbs. In other words, if I say “I love you,” in English I could love you at this moment and then stop. It depends on the context of the sentence, whether I continue to love you. However, in Greek, that is not the case – because they have continuous verbs – so it is not now; but it is now, in the future, and for all time. The “kingdom of heaven” is like that, too. When Jesus says it’s here – like He does in Luke 11:20 (“But if it by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.”) – then it is here now, in the coming days, and will be here eternally!
He is saying – also in the Greek – that it cannot be seen by physical or astronomical phenomena. It is discerned by faith, not by observation! And it is there! From the Greek “continousness” - if that is a word - of verbs, it is also here!
One other thing needs to be said about it: Obviously it is a progressive thing, this coming of the kingdom. It is here but will come in splendor at the end of the age, when Jesus comes back. But Jesus was right there with the Pharisees. He was saying the kingdom of heaven is right here – in me – and you don’t see it.
Bring it to the congregation:
Maybe – sometimes – we don’t see it either. Maybe we had a bad day – or week – or month – or year! Maybe we see evil all around us and wonder where God is and what He’s going to do about it. Maybe there are troubles financially, and you just can’t seem to get out of the hole. Is that you? Maybe we see the world around us falling into chaos – economically, politically, spiritually...but does God see it? Maybe we have seen pain – real pain – around us and we can’t do anything about it but watch and pray...do you have that pain around you and are helpless to solve it or take it away?
There is a Way to it – the kingdom of heaven - and it brings righteousness, joy, and peace.
But first, another story...
Illustration: Joy from Prison – Chenge Jie
Have you ever heard of The Voice of the Martyrs? It is a non-profit Christian organization who devotes it’s time to praying for, coming alongside, and at lifting up persecuted Christian people and their families around the world who are imprisoned or otherwise persecuted for their faith.
I have a story from them which fits into this view of the Kingdom of God Today.
It is about Cheng Jie and her family. She’s from China, a Christian, a young mother of two children, the wife of a pastor, and a former kindergarten director. In China, religion is – shall we say – tightly controlled. So much so that she and her husband had prepared for his arrest, but never hers. In her role as director at the Hualin Foreign Language Experimental Kindergarten, she was charged with “illegal business operations,” because of her - in essence - spreading the Gospel. She was arrested and sentence to two years in prison. This was in 2014!
Prison was a scary place! She was crammed into a 15’ by 15’ prison cell with 15 other women, some of whom would one day be put to death for committing murders. There was one toilet to share! Fights would break out among the women, and some would sob continuously. The women would work 12 hours a day, were fed very little, and then it was a mixture of rice, with boiled cabbage or radishes. Is your mind getting a picture of the place? Fear, Pain, Chaos! A place most of us would not want to go!
But Cheng Jie realized that she had a unique opportunity to minister to the women, and she began to love them. Listen to her words: “Even though I was in prison, I felt like I am happy because I have the joy from God.”
Her children were not allowed to see her in prison – for two years, and her husband was allowed to visit once a month. Even though he was a pastor, and they were Christian, her husband – Dr. Du Hongbo – was not allowed to give her a Bible. That’s how tightly religion is “controlled” there!
But God provided her with a copy of His Word another way. It was another prisoner who had one, and she gave it to Cheng Jie in a trade. She worked 12 hours per day, but Cheng read the Bible faithfully every night and found encouragement in God’s Word. She also taught her cellmates songs, hymns, and Bible stories.
Her faith and trustworthiness made her stand out to prison authorities. “God is great! It makes me think of Joseph in the Old Testament. After six months, they let me manage all these cells,” she said. She also said she often felt anxious, but she learned to trust God for each day during her imprisonment.
As letters poured in from The Voice of the Martyrs in the United States, she thought, “Really, I can’t go through this, but because of the encouragement from all over the world, it makes my faith strong. That is why I can go through my difficulties.”
In February 2016, Cheng Jie’s sentence was complete, and she was released. Though it took some time for her now 3 and 5 year old sons to warm up to her, the family is grateful to have their wife and mom back. Today, the family faces an uncertain future. They don’t know what life will hold for them. Cheng Jie’s prison record is a black mark against the family. It will be difficult to find work and her sons may not be allowed to enter school, so they are preparing to relocate.
For now, Cheng Jie is glad to be back with her husband and her two sons. She is especially glad for all the prayers that were offered for her and her family. “Sisters and brothers, thank you for your encouragement,” she said.
You see, Christians are standing out in this world, and other Christians are lifting them up and praying for them. It is the “body of Christ” in action. The kingdom of heaven is here – today – because Christ is here today in you!
The Body of Christ:
But how does that work, this “Body of Christ?” You may say I’ve heard the term, but what does that mean?
Well, Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:3 that no one could enter the kingdom of God unless he was born again. When Nicodemus was confused, Jesus said to him it was of the spirit that we are made new – the Holy Spirit.
When you believe in Jesus, you are made new. The Holy Spirit indwells you and you are in a relationship with God. If you have the Holy Spirit inside if you, then you are a Christian, as that term truly means. From the Spirit, then, we get righteousness, peace and joy – not from us, but from God! It means that you can live in this world – in all the sinfulness of the world (and you), in all the pain, in all the brokenness, in all the chaos...
But there’s one other thing that ties this sermon together. You see, Paul says you are a member of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27)! You and every other Christian...Now, down here, Christ is present because you are present – and Christ is in you through the Holy Spirit.
Look at the Disciples:
If you want to look back over history, there are some pretty amazing stories of people in chaos that rose up and looked like Christ. Take the apostles, for instance. They all scattered like rats in the kitchen when Jesus went to trial and then to the cross. But something happened to them to make everyone of the 11 who were left – except John – die a martyr’s death preaching the Gospel. Peter, as I told you last week, died upside down on the cross out of deference to our Lord Jesus who died so that he could live.
There are tons of stories throughout the times since then that I could tell you, but that is not what I’m trying to focus on. No, I’m trying to focus on today: is the kingdom of heaven here – right now – and can I tap into it when the pain comes in this chaotic world.
Because hurt and pain are real – but so is righteousness, love, peace, and joy. That is what the stories I am telling you say...
Let me share with you one last story.
Illustration: Max Lucado
Max Lucado serves the flock at Oak Hills Baptist Church, down about 30 miles from us in San Antonio, Texas. Some of you probably have read his books. He is a preacher with a storyteller’s gift — a pastor’s heart and a poet’s pen – and says God loves you; let Him. He has been on the staff at his church since 1988. He preaches and writes to the hurting, the guilty, the lonely, and the discouraged.
“God loves you; let Him” is a theme (with Max Lucado behind it) that has traveled around the world in more than 54 languages via more than 120 million individual products. Most of these products are books (92 million), which have occupied spots on every major national bestseller list. He was dubbed “America’s Pastor” by Reader’s Digest, and named one of the most influential leaders in social media by The New York Times.
Max Lucado was born in San Angelo, Texas, the youngest son of an oil field mechanic and a nurse. He grew up in church but took a different road as a teen, walking away from his parent’s faith. One summer night, after downing a six-pack of beer, Max began to wonder if there wasn’t more to life than parties and chasing girls. A Bible class at nearby Abilene Christian University in Abilene stirred his empty heart again, and the student was drawn into the unconditional love of God.
After school, which included undergraduate and a Master’s degree, Max left West Texas with a deep desire to share God’s love and mercy with others. As associate pastor of a small church in Miami, Florida, he wrote a column in the weekly church newsletter. That writing experience ignited a powerful synergy between his passion for people, pastoral ministry, and writing. He also married Denalyn, now his wife of more than three decades. By the way, they now have three grown daughters and two son-in-laws.
In 1983 Max and Denalyn moved to Rio de Janeiro to help plant churches. During their five years in Brazil, Max continued to write, updating friends and family about their ministry. Eventually Max gathered those newsletters into a manuscript and sent them off to fifteen publishers. One publisher said yes, and the rest – as they say – is history.
Max Lucado’s first book, On the Anvil, was published in 1985. His 32nd book, Glory Days: Living Your Promised Land Life Now (September 2015), offers insight into living a “full throttle” life. “With God’s help you can close the gap between the person you are and the person you want to be,” writes Max.
Max Lucado – with the Holy Spirit inside him – is a member of the Body of Christ. He has touched and continues to touch millions with his heart, drawn out in preaching and writing, and saying essentially one thing: God loves you; let Him.
You see, what the Pharisees failed to see, we believers can see now. The kingdom of heaven is here – today – because Christ is in this world. And Christ is in the world because believers, who are trying to be like Jesus, are doing some amazing things. In this fallen world, in the chaotic world, in this hurtful world, Christians are doing some wonderful acts – and giving the glory to the Lord. The Greek verb “is” or “among” continues into this age and the age to come; the kingdom of heaven was here, is here, and is here eternally.
You want to see it, you want to feel it, you want to taste it; and you can, if you’re looking spiritually. Then we have the righteousness that brings wrongs to right; we have peace that looks out, when all is dark, and brings light in us and through us; we have joy, to yell, sing, or shout: that we have a relationship with Jesus, that we can look at the glass as half-full, that we can sing at the top of our lungs when we are depressed and get recharged, that we can get rest when we are around believers, and that we can hope for a better day, a better life, a new life when Jesus comes again!
Let us pray.