September 16, 2018

The Inauguration of the Kingdom

Passage: Mark 1:14-15

Good morning and welcome here! It is that time of year, where we have the opportunity to partner with Samaritan’s Purse on the Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes, a project that brings joy and hope to children in desperate situations all over the world.

There is an insert in your bulletin that will help you in packing a shoebox, but I just encourage you to take a box or two home, to fill up and to bring back to the church, where we will get them to where they need to go. We have 50 boxes, underneath the table at the back, and I would love for all of them to be gone.

When you complete a shoebox, remember to pray for the child who is going to receive your box, that they would come to know and believe the God of the Bible, and also remember the $10 donation, which goes towards shipping costs and resources for these kids.

This is going to run for the next couple of months, and I’m looking forward to what God is going to do through this church. If you have any questions, you can come talk to me, and I will get you the information you need.

Well, it’s good to be back with all of you. Our family had a good week of holidays. We watched a couple of football games, did some family activities, and had a chance to visit with family and friends. So, thank you for your prayers for us as we travelled. We greatly appreciate it!

As much fun and relaxing as our holidays were, though, it had to come to an end. We enjoyed our time off, but eventually, it came time for us to come back home.

And what times of rest, like this, reveal to us, is that it is never fully satisfying. And it’s likely that each one of us has experienced this. Whether it’s going away for holidays or whether it’s staying home and catching up on work around the house, whatever rest looks like for us, when it’s time to get back to work, we quickly realize that it wasn’t enough time—it wasn’t fully satisfying.

And ultimately, when it comes to anything in this life, there will always be not enough satisfaction, which leaves us longing for something that never fully happens.

Whether it’s work or pleasure or rest or material wealth or whatever it might be for us, we are always going to find ourselves underwhelmed by whatever it is we think is going to fully and finally satisfy us.

The nature of humanity is to keep chasing something that is going to fill our hearts and ease our minds. By nature, we are always longing for satisfaction. But disappointment increases, as full and final satisfaction alludes us.

In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis addresses this very issue. What Lewis says is so profound and so revealing of the human condition. Lewis says, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Saint Augustine, one of the early church fathers, put it this way: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

What Lewis and Augustine are saying is that earthly pleasure, though good blessings that they are, will never be fully and finally satisfying to us.

And why this pushes against the human condition so much is because, by nature, we believe that we are the king of our kingdom, don’t we? We try to build up our own little kingdom, making it bigger and better and stronger. It’s what we’ve seen throughout human history, ever since the first man and the first woman desired to become like God, eating the forbidden fruit.

And what Lewis and Augustine are saying is that this will never be enough for us. In the end, we will find that we were made for a greater Kingdom. We can chase after everything we think will fully and finally satisfy us, but we will still be left with a longing in our hearts for something greater.

So, today, we embark on a new sermon series on the Kingdom of God, where we will look at what the Kingdom of God is, why it’s important for us to study, and what it means for the world around us.

This series is going to take us to the season of Advent, the time when we look back at the first coming of Jesus, while at the same time, looking forward to the second coming of Jesus. And we will see how the Kingdom of God and Advent tie in, together, as we await the return of the King of the Kingdom.

So, if you have a Bible, I invite you to open to Mark 1. Beginning in verse 1: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,”’

“4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, ‘After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

“9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’

“12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

“14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” May God bless the reading of His holy and inspired Word.

Maybe you’ve heard of the term, the Kingdom of God, or maybe you haven’t, but the word used for, kingdom, in the New Testament is used 160 times; 126 of those are specifically in the Gospels, spoken by Jesus.

So, if you're wondering why we are going through the series we will be going through, it’s because the Kingdom of God, or the synonymous term, the Kingdom of heaven, is used often by Jesus and matters a lot to Jesus.

In this passage, we see the inauguration of the Kingdom of God, as Jesus announces that the Kingdom of God is at hand—it’s come. So, we should know something about it and the bearing it has on our lives, today.

And the definition of the Kingdom of God, that we will see throughout this series, is that the Kingdom of God is the sovereign rule of God, through Jesus Christ, which is both a present reality and a future hope.

1. I want us to look, first, at how the Kingdom of God is a “now, not yet” Kingdom.

Now, that can seem like a contradiction, right? How can something be now, while at the same time, not yet? How can something be present, while at the same time, future?

It has been widely debated over centuries, as to what the Kingdom of God is and what it means for us. Is it a political kingdom? Is it a spiritual kingdom? Is it a kingdom that has already come, or is it a kingdom that is still coming?

There has been much debate over the Kingdom of God, but most theologians today agree that the Kingdom of God is a “now, not yet” Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom that has already been inaugurated, affecting every dimension in the world, but it is also a Kingdom that is waiting to be consummated, when the King of the Kingdom returns.

Look at verse 14: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”

Now, when Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled,” He is alluding to what the prophets spoke about in the Old Testament, concerning the time when salvation would come for the people of God.

And you could go to a number of different passages, but one example is in Isaiah 52:7-10. Here is what the prophet says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”

You see, life under Roman rule was not easy. Historians of the day mention frequently in their writings, how the Romans oppressed the Jewish people with heavy taxes and physical abuse. So, when Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled,” I can only imagine what Jesus is saying here, ringing in their Jewish ears, about how God has come to save His people.

This would have indeed been good news of great joy for the Jews. It’s how the angels announced the coming of Jesus to the shepherds, when Jesus came to earth as a baby: “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

I mean, verse 14 begins by saying that John the Baptist was arrested. This was the guy who paved the way for Jesus—the guy who said that Someone greater was coming after Him.

John was just the messenger bringing the good news to the people, and Jesus arrives on the scene, saying, “The time is fulfilled.” If I’m John, I’m ecstatic that God has visited His people in their affliction. “The time has come when we will see the salvation of our God.”

But the Kingdom of God is a “now, not yet” Kingdom. It’s present, but it’s also future. A little while later, John is still in prison, and it’s getting closer to his execution. So, he sends some messengers to Jesus, in Luke 7, to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

John is holding on to the present reality that the Kingdom has come, but he’s not seeing the fruit of it. He’s still in prison. So, he’s wondering, “Where is the Kingdom of God that was promised to us? Where is the salvation? Where is the good news? I’m in prison, Jesus, what do you got for me?”

What does Jesus say to John’s messengers, in Luke 7:22? “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.”

In other words, see and hear how the Kingdom of God has broken into the world. The Kingdom has come, the time is fulfilled, even though you can’t see it, fully. There is coming a day when the Kingdom will be consummated, but today is not that day. Today, we see the beginnings of the Kingdom of God, and we rejoice in what we see and hear.

It’s the “now, not yet” Kingdom of God. And we’re familiar with this, right? We go through sorrows, together, but do we also go through joys? You bet, we do! The same week that we lost our child, we were seeing the hand of God at work in each child who came to our Vacation Bible School. It has a week that a lot of ups and downs.

Do you know what we call that? Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. It’s in 2 Corinthians 6:10. It sounds like a contradiction, but it couldn’t be closer to the truth. And we are all, here, from time to time, aren’t we?

We see these evidences of the Kingdom of God breaking into our ordinary world, where we don’t understand how we can mourn and rejoice in the same breath. That’s God giving us a taste of the glory that’s coming, fully.

And the temptation is to think that the Kingdom of God has fully come and we should be seeing heaven on earth. But what we don’t realize is that the Kingdom of God is still to come, fully—that there's full redemption and restoration to come.

2. So, the Kingdom of God is a “now, not yet” Kingdom. Secondly, the Kingdom of God is a Kingdom with Christ as King.

“14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”

Right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we see the gospel being proclaimed. Here is Jesus, telling the people that the appointed time has come, and that there is good news for all people.

What this says about Jesus and what this means for the people is that Jesus is the means of their salvation. If the people repent and believe in the gospel, the good news about Jesus is that they will be saved. And if the kingdom of God is at hand, then it means that Jesus is the King of the Kingdom He’s bringing.

And what's really interesting is that the people actually pick up on this. In John 6, there is the famous story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Even if you did not grow up going to church, you have likely heard this story.

Large crowds had been following Jesus because they heard of all the signs and wonders that He was doing, so Jesus asks His disciples to get some food for the people, who were about five thousand. And one of the disciples says that a boy there had five loaves of bread and two fish.

So, Jesus takes the bread and the fish, and He begins to distribute it to everyone. And after everyone had had their fill, it says, and they collect the leftovers and there was 12 baskets of food, left over.

That’s pretty miraculous, right? Well, verse 14 says that “when the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’”

The people understood that there is something more to this Jesus, so they go to take Him by force, the text says, “to make him king.” But then, it goes on to say that “Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”

Why did Jesus withdraw from the people? Is He not the Prophet that they were waiting for? Is He not the King of Israel? He was bringing the Kingdom of God to the people, why did He leave them when they wanted to make Him King? Because the enthusiasm the people had was not for who Jesus really was.

Why do I say that? Turn over to Luke 4. Jesus has just started His ministry, and He is now back in His hometown. And Jesus stands up in the synagogue, on the Sabbath day, and He reads from the prophet, Isaiah, in verses 18-19.

And here is what Jesus reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

And verse 20 says, “And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”

Do you know why the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Jesus? Because they were waiting for Jesus to finish the prophecy of Isaiah.

Here is what Isaiah says, in Isaiah 61:1-2, and you can probably pick out what Jesus leaves out: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.”

Do you know what the people were waiting for? They were waiting for the day of vengeance of God.

The Jews were waiting for the Messiah to come in all of His Kingly glory, to overthrow the cruel and oppressive Roman Empire, to lay waste to all that opposes God, and to set up His Kingdom on the earth. That’s what the people were waiting for.

In the beginning of the book of Acts, Jesus is about to ascend to heaven, and His disciples ask Him if He will restore the Kingdom to Israel—will He finally overthrow the Roman Empire? And Jesus says, “Don’t worry about when this will happen; for now, just proclaim that I am the King of the Kingdom who will return.”

When the people see what Jesus is doing in the feeding of the five thousand, a light goes on, that says to them, “This is the Prophet we’ve all been waiting for, let’s crown Him as King, so that our enemies can be destroyed.”

But Jesus withdraws from them to the mountains, because they didn’t want the real Jesus, they wanted the militant Jesus. And everyone is left asking, “Is Jesus not the King? Is this Jesus not the same Jesus who proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was at hand?”

Pilate asks Jesus the same thing, in John 18, just before Jesus’ crucifixion, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And Jesus’ response is, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

In other words, Jesus is saying, “Yes, I am the King, but not the way you think I am.” Jesus is not the King of a man-made kingdom; He’s the King of the Kingdom of God.

John Piper writes, “People can have a great enthusiasm for Jesus, but the Jesus they’re excited about is not the real biblical Jesus. It may be a morally exemplary Jesus, or a socialist Jesus, or a capitalist Jesus, or an anti-Semitic Jesus, or a white-racist Jesus, or a revolutionary-liberationist Jesus, or a counter-cultural cool Jesus. But not the whole Jesus who, in the end, gives his life a ransom for sinners. And if your enthusiasm for Jesus is for a Jesus that doesn’t exist, your enthusiasm is no honor to the real Jesus, and he will leave you and go into the mountain.”

Do we believe that Jesus is the King of the Kingdom who laid down His life for His subjects, or do we believe in the Jesus we want Him to be?

3. The Kingdom of God is a “now, not yet” Kingdom, with Christ as King. Finally, the Kingdom of God is the rule of God over all things.

“14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”

The way the word for kingdom is used, throughout Scripture, is that kingdom means God’s rule or reign. The Kingdom of God is not limited to a specific time or location, it’s not limited to just residing in the hearts of His people, it’s in specific reference to His rule and reign.

And what is so precious about the rule of God is that it is a saving rule. Ephesians 1:4 says that we have been chosen “before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before God.”

What this means is that before the earth was created, God had in His mind that He would save His people from their sin. And He came to earth, in the Person of Jesus Christ, and He went to the cross, so that He would save His people from the rule of sin and Satan and death.

This is why Jesus came. He came to die, not to be put on a throne. And yet, through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Jesus is the risen King, who exercises His saving rule over all things. Psalm 110:1 says, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’”

The enemies of sin, Satan, and death were defeated on the cross. They have no power over those who belong to the Kingdom of God. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

For those who are in Christ, we have been freed from the rule of sin, Satan, and death, and have come under the rule of Almighty God. And we must grab hold of this with both hands, because this is the truth that sets us free from the bondage that says, “I have done too many bad things to be saved,” or “God, can’t save someone like me.”

When Jesus says, “Repent and believe in the gospel,” He is showing us what it takes to come out from under the rule of sin and Satan and death, and to come under the rule of God. The work has been done for us; we must only repent and believe in the gospel.

And this is the gospel of the Kingdom of God: We are born in sin, and face eternal punishment for our sin. But God in Christ has come to live the life we could not live, and to die the death we deserved to die, so that through faith in Jesus we can be saved and have eternal life. And this gospel of the Kingdom of God is available to anyone who believes.

The rule and reign of God in Christ is so great and so magnificent and so glorious, that nothing can overcome it. In fact, Jesus says, in Matthew 16:18, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

The Kingdom of God has been unleashed on this earth through Jesus Christ. It is a Kingdom that we see, now, but it is also a Kingdom that we hope in, later. It is a Kingdom whose King has defeated, not some political entity, but our true enemy. And to belong to this Kingdom, and to come out from the kingdom of the world, we only need to repent and believe in Jesus.

I invite you to come under the rule of God. If you have never made a decision to trust in Jesus Christ as your King, I invite you to do so, today. This is the most important decision you will ever make.

There is no satisfaction in building your own kingdom. We know this. I often want what I think I should have, but there will always be a restlessness in these things, because they don’t ultimately satisfy us.

We can do what we think will make us happy or satisfied in this life. But what all of that is doing is chasing after the wind. We are chasing and not catching anything. Why? Because we were made for another world—another Kingdom.

Each one of us belong to a kingdom. Either we belong to the Kingdom of God, or we belong to the kingdom of the world. But if we belong to the kingdom of the world, deep down inside, we know that there is something greater that is missing in our lives. It’s innate in each one of us.

We weren’t intended to serve our own kingdom; we were intended to serve God’s Kingdom. And until we belong to God’s Kingdom, everything is going to feel like striving after the wind—running and never catching anything.

Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God. To whose kingdom do we belong, and does our life reflect the same? Let’s pray…

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