March 15, 2015
If I were to summarize what I have been trying to say over the last four messages, I would simply say that if you are a Christian then you have entered into God’s Kingdom and you have a king whose name is Jesus.
Of course Jesus is our Savior who died for our sins and rose again, and through faith in him our sins are forgiven and we receive eternal life. The reason why I think it is so important to learn about God’s kingdom is because it helps us understand the Bible as a whole, and it helps us understand our role in what God is doing on earth as we wait for the return of our King, Jesus.
In the Old Testament we see that God is the King over all, but that mankind continually rejects God’s rule. Even the Jews, God’s chosen people, rejected God’s rule. So God sent his Son, Jesus, to earth to show in the clearest way possible, how good God’s rule is. And it is so good. Who would not want someone like Jesus as their Lord and king? In the brief three years of his ministry, death, and resurrection, Jesus revealed the power and goodness of God’s kingdom on earth. And he invited anyone and everyone to enter into it by trusting and following him.
But what happened? Forty days after Jesus rose from the dead, he ascended to the Father in heaven. Think about it, the King left this earth with a promise that one day he would return to take his people to be with him in a new heaven and a new earth. So what happens in the meantime? Where is the rule of God now? Is there any visible expression of God’s kingdom on the earth now? I believe the answer to that question brings us to the Church of Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of God is presently revealed in the Church.
I. THE CHURCH IS THE SHOWCASE OF CHRIST’S EARTHLY RULE. Acts 1:1-5; 1Pt.2:10
In the Old Testament Israel, God’s chosen people, was to be a light to the Gentiles. The nation began from just one family and slowly grew. God gave his people the Promised Land and for awhile the nation prospered. Israel was to showcase to the world what it is like to live under the good rule of God so that the world would be attracted to God. But the people of Israel rejected God as their king. They wanted to be like the world around them and the world was not attracted to worship God. But what Israel failed to do, Jesus did.
Jesus came teaching about God’s kingdom and doing many wonderful miracles. Jesus showcased God’s rule on earth. By calling people to follow him, Jesus was raising up a new people of God made up of both Jews and Gentiles. When Jesus taught about God’s kingdom he often pictured it as something that grows slowly. Like yeast working in a lump of dough, it slowly permeates the dough. It’s like a very small mustard seed that grows into a very large tree. God’s kingdom grows slowly and quietly.
Something interesting that we see about Jesus is that Jesus ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t fully understand this. But even though Jesus is fully God, in his humanity he was dependent upon the Holy Spirit. For example, at one point in Mt.12, Jesus cast a demon out of a man and some of the Pharisees accused Jesus of exorcizing the demon by the power of Satan. In his answer Jesus said in v.28, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Through the power of the Holy Spirit that dwelt in Jesus, he revealed the goodness and power of God’s kingdom by casting out the demon. Again in Jn.3 we find Jesus talking with Nicodemus, and Jesus tells Nicodemus that, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Then in v.5 Jesus adds, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” The Holy Spirit is deeply involved in our being born again so that we can enter into God’s kingdom. I share these two verses to point out that the Holy Spirit is also very active in revealing the kingdom of God.
Now let’s look at Acts 1:1-5. In these verses, Jesus tells his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit who would come and baptize them with power. On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on all the believers in Jerusalem who were gathered together. And we know from the writings of Paul that everyone who embraces Christ by faith receives the Holy Spirit. And all who receive the Holy Spirit are baptized into the church of Jesus Christ. In 1Cor.12 where Paul is writing to the church in Corinth he says, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit."
Because the Holy Spirit of God dwells in every believer, the church, the people of God are unified and empowered by the Holy Spirit. In 1Pt.2:10 we read, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Those who embrace Christ receive the Holy Spirit and become part of God’s people, which is the church.
Where is the earthly expression of God’s kingdom rule today? It is in the church. Just as God intended for Israel to be a light to the nations, so the church is now the means by which God is seeking to showcase to the world how good it is to live under his rule in his kingdom.
Brothers and sisters, it is our great privilege to show others how God is transforming our lives to be like Jesus. The church is like yeast which is penetrating into world. We are not just a bunch of people who come together once a week. We are actually related to each other because we all have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in us. Listen to Rm.14:17. Paul writes, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” What should the world be seeing in us as a local church? The world should be seeing righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Listen, God is not impressed with mega churches. There’s nothing wrong with a mega church. It impresses the world, but not God. God is looking for righteousness, peace and joy. So how do we as the church show the world that we are living in God’s kingdom under the good rule of our King, Jesus?
II. THE CHURCH PRACTICES THE LIFESTYLE COMMANDED BY JESUS. Acts 1:8; 2:42
Last week we said that the cross is the model. Becoming like Christ our king involves taking up our cross and following Jesus. It means dying to self, and dying to self requires that we put faith in our King.
We often talk about faith as if it is only required when we ask Jesus to be our Savior. We believe that he is the Son of God, that he died and rose from the dead, and that he will save us from our sins. But this is only the beginning of faith. If we are living our lives under the rule of our King, then we will need to exercise faith every moment of the day. Dying to self means we no longer have control of everything in our lives. We no longer arrange things so that we can have our way. Last week I read from the Sermon on the Mount about turning the other cheek, giving your cloak to the one who takes your tunic, going the extra mile, and loving your enemies. The qualities shown here are vulnerability, doing more than is required, generosity, and Christ like love. Jesus isn’t saying that there is never a time to strike back or not go the extra mile. He is describing the kind of life that trusts in God to provide for and protect our lives. We are in the care of our King. Do we trust him enough to live in the way he told us to live?
In the church, how important it is that we treat one another as Jesus commanded us. He told us to love one another. He said that our love for each other would show the world that we are his disciples. Isn’t that we want the world to know about us, that we are characterized by the love of Jesus and are his disciples?
But there are other aspects of our kingdom lifestyle that are part and parcel of being in the church. In Acts 1:8 Jesus told his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And then the book of Acts goes on to tell the story of how the apostles and the believers in the church did what Jesus told them to do. Brothers and sisters, being able to give a reason for the hope that is within us to all who ask is what we are commanded to do. Having our speech be gracious, seasoned with salt so that we may know how to answer each person is what we are commanded to do. Doing good to everyone, especially to those who are in the church is what we are commanded to do. Visiting the orphans and widows in their affliction and keeping ourselves unstained from the world is what we are commanded to do. Our King, Jesus Christ, has given us his good commands.
But consider what Luke writes in Acts 2:42. In the church we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teachings. We want to learn more about God our King and how we can live in a way that honors him. We devote ourselves to gathering on a weekly basis for fellowship, worship, and prayer. Because we are the means through which God is showcasing the goodness of his kingdom, it is imperative that we regularly draw near to our Savior, Lord, and King, Jesus Christ around his table. It is imperative that we encourage one another, reminding one another that we belong to the kingdom of God and live to obey and worship the King.
This is imperative because the reality is that the world around us is powerful in its ability to distract us away from God. So what should be happening in our gathering together? Well the goal is to draw near to our King in worship and to encourage transformed living as we live in Christ.
Brothers and sisters, I have attended church all my life. There has never been a time when I have not attended church. But it has only been in the last number of years that I have come to understand that the church is God’s means for showcasing the goodness of his kingdom rule on the earth. We represent the King. Christ is the Savior, but he is not just the Savior. He is the Savior-King. He doesn’t save people just so they can go to heaven. He saves people to bring them into a daily, living relationship with God and to transform their lives and to use them as a light to the world in his church.
This is why the church is so important. Each of us who profess to know Christ ought to do our very best to make the local church a living, breathing example of life in and with Christ. We are on display and that is God’s intent. He is showing the world his power and love through his Church.
This doesn’t mean we must put on a show, pretending to be something we are not. We are redeemed sinners seeking to be like Jesus. So when we mess up, when we make a mistake, when we give or take offense we own it and extend an apology or forgiveness. In other words we try to be transparent and authentic as followers of Christ who are filled with the Holy Spirit.
Most universities have special days during the year when they invite high school seniors to come for a visit in order to briefly experience college life. If you have ever done this you know that the university puts its best foot forward. Everything they show you looks good. They choose representatives who really like being at the school. The meals they give you are tasty. The goal is to make a good impression so that you will choose that university. We all understand that what you see is not always what you get, but it does show how good it can be.
The church is God’s means of showing the world how good it is to live in his kingdom, under the rule of Christ. True, the facilities are not always state-of-the-art. But God has done everything possible to choose representatives who really enjoy being a part of his church, in his kingdom. But more than that, God has put his Holy Spirit in the life of each representative and the Holy Spirit writes God’s commands on the hearts of his people and helps us live like Jesus. What is more, there is a regular meal that is designed to show the depth of God’s love, reminding us of the humble, selfless service of Christ in dying for sinners like us. We are his ambassadors. The lives we live, our service in the church are for the purpose of inviting others to enter into life in God’s wonderful kingdom. Amen.