The Nature of the Kingdom
Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to Luke 18. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be a Bible under the row of chairs in front of you, or there is a stack of Bibles at the back, if you can grab a Bible, we are going to be in Luke 18, this morning.
We are continuing with our sermon series on the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God, as we have seen it defined, is the sovereign rule of God, through Jesus Christ, which is both a present reality and a future hope.
And last week, we looked at what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God—to come under the rule of God. And we are beginning to see that the Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of this world.
Where the kingdoms of this world promote bigger, better, faster, stronger, the Kingdom of God promotes poor in spirit, mourning over sin, meekly acknowledging the work of God in salvation, starving and thirsting after Jesus in the Word of God, being merciful as we have been shown mercy, being pure in heart, being peacemakers, and suffering for righteousness’ sake.
This is what it looks like to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God. But here’s the temptation: We can often think of these as a list of behaviours that we just need to comply to, then we will be accepted by God, rather than a list of behaviours that we are incapable of accomplishing, apart from Christ.
This list does not show us what we need to do to be a citizen of the Kingdom; it shows us that we need Jesus to be for us and do for us what we cannot be and do, ourselves, because He is the One who has perfectly accomplished all of it.
The Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world are at complete odds with each other. But where we see this, most, is in the nature of the Kingdom.
The Kingdom of God is an upside-down Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom we would expect the spiritually elite to grasp and those far from God to not grasp, but which is a Kingdom where we see the exact opposite.
The Kingdom of God promotes the weak, while at the same time, humbles the strong. The Kingdom of God is for those who choose to serve rather than be served. The Kingdom of God makes the last, first, and the first, last. It’s the upside-down Kingdom of God. And in our text, this morning, we will see just how radically different this Kingdom is than the kingdoms of this world.
I. The humbled are exalted
So, if you have your Bible opened to Luke 18, we will begin reading in verse 9: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’”
This morning, I want us to see three specific ways that the Kingdom of God is an upside-down Kingdom.
1. First, in the Kingdom of God, the humbled are exalted.
I love it when biblical authors add their own commentary to what is happening. Before Luke writes about the parable that Jesus is about to tell, he gives us a glimpse into the reason for the parable: Because there were “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”
Now, here’s the reality, as it pertains to the Kingdom of God: We have no ground to stand on, spiritually. It doesn’t matter how high and mighty we think we are, as we discovered last week, we are all poor in spirit—we are all spiritually bankrupt. We don’t have a single bit of spiritual currency to our name.
So, when we start trusting in ourselves, that we are righteous based on what we do, who are we trying to fool? That would be like me running a marathon with Liam on my back, and then Liam getting off my back at the end of the marathon, and saying, “Look at the marathon that I just ran.” Are you kidding?
The moment we trust in ourselves and our righteousness is the moment that we get off God’s back to look at the marathon that we just ran.
Like, that doesn’t make any sense to begin with. But then, these people have the audacity to lord their position over others. Like, not only is their position one of false righteousness to begin with, but they actually believe that they are better than other people, based upon the way they live their lives.
I. The humbled are exalted ***CONT.***
So, to continue with the marathon illustration: Say that I won the marathon with Liam on my back. It would be like Liam getting off my back at the end, and making fun of the guy who came in second. Like, that’s absurd. We wouldn’t do that. And yet, Luke is giving us some insight into whom Jesus was addressing.
Listen to how Jesus begins the parable, in verse 10: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.”
Jesus couldn’t get any more diverse, here, if He wanted to. The Pharisees were considered the spiritually elite. They were the guys who knew their Bible. They were known for their piety and their strict adherence to the Old Testament Law. These were the super spiritual guys who did everything to the letter.
Tax collectors, on the other hand, were on the other end of the spiritual spectrum. Tax collectors were hated and despised, because they were usually fellow Jews who worked for Rome.
The Jewish people didn’t like the Roman Empire. They wanted to see the Roman Empire come to an end, because the Romans were so oppressive. So, when these Jewish tax collectors collected taxes for Rome, it was like they were betraying their own countrymen.
And what tax collectors would do, when they collected their taxes for Rome, is they would turn over the required amount of money, and whatever they could add on for themselves, they kept.
So, tax collectors were very sly individuals, who extorted large sums of money from their own people. They were not looked upon favourably. In fact, they were viewed and treated as the very worst of sinners.
So, when Jesus pits these two categories of people, together, you think you know who is going to come out on top. There is a reason why Jesus says, in Matthew 5:22, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The tax collector doesn’t stand a chance against the spiritually superior Pharisee. Who could be better than the Pharisees? But this the upside-down Kingdom of God, where the ones you would think would get it, don’t get it, and the ones you would think don’t get, are the ones who get it.
I. The humbled are exalted ***CONT.***
Jesus continues in verse 11: “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’”
What is the Pharisee doing? Rather than thanking God for what God has done for him, the Pharisee is arrogantly boasting about everything he has done, himself. I mean, notice how many times the guy says, “I,” in his prayer. He’s making the work of God about him and not about God.
It’s like he’s getting off God’s back, after the marathon is over and won, and he’s rejoicing at what he has accomplished. And worse, he’s lording it over the tax collector. This is not someone, poor in spirit, who sees that he is in need, spiritually; this is someone blinded by his own arrogance.
Now, look at how Jesus contrasts the Pharisee with the tax collector, in verse 13: “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”
The tax collector is off in the corner. He is too ashamed to even lift his head. This is someone who understands what it means to be poor in spirit and to mourn over sin.
He’s beating his chest; he’s crying out for mercy. All he can give is out of his spiritual poverty, which he knows is nothing. All he can give are his empty hands, offering God nothing but his admission that he is a sinner in need of a Saviour.
And this is where Jesus blows all of our minds, in what He says next, in verse 14: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Pharisee, the one you would think would get the Kingdom of God, because he was watching and waiting for it, doesn’t get it. Why? Because he trusted in himself, that he was righteous, rather than trusting in God for his righteousness.
And the tax collector, the one you would think would not get the Kingdom of God, because he was so far gone, spiritually, is the one who gets it. Why? Because he understood his spiritual depravity and his need for Jesus to be for him and do for him what he could not be and do, himself.
II. Those who give, receive
It’s why Jesus goes on to rebuke His disciples, right after this parable, for not allowing the little children to come to Him. Jesus says, in verse 16, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Jesus is saying that, just as little children are dependent upon someone else for their needs, in the same way, to belong to the Kingdom of God, we must be dependent upon Someone else for our spiritual need.
In the end, the arrogant will be crushed and those who are humble in Christ will be lifted up. It sounds upside-down, according to the kingdoms of this world, but it makes perfect sense in God’s economy. Only the humble know that, for Jesus to increase in them, they first must decrease. And theirs is the Kingdom of God.
2. In the Kingdom of God, the humbled are exalted. Secondly, those who give, receive.
Look at verse 18: “And a ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 19 And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: “Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.”’ 21 And he said, ‘All these I have kept from my youth.’ 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, ‘How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ 26 Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27 But he said, ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.’ 28 And Peter said, ‘See, we have left our homes and followed you.’ 29 And he said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.’”
Many of us, even if we did not grow up going to church, have heard the saying: “It is better to give than to receive.”
II. Those who give, receive ***CONT.***
I heard this a lot growing up. In fact, I heard this so much that, as a kid, I was actually embarrassed whenever anyone gave me anything. I always wanted to give gifts to other people, and I was excited about them opening up what I gave them, but whenever I got something, I was always very private and shy about it. I didn’t really know how to act whenever I got a gift from someone else.
This made it really difficult for me at Christmastime. When it came time for us to open gifts as a family, when it was just my parents and my brother and sister and me, we would take turns, and one person would open one gift at a time.
Well, when it came time for me to open my gift, and everyone was staring at me, I just opened it and thanked whoever gave it to me, and moved on, because it was so awkward for me.
Later on, when kids came into the picture, everyone started opening their gifts at the same time, and I would open my gifts without anyone looking at me, and it was great.
But this idea that it is better to give than to receive was ingrained in me at young age. And this is just one example of how the Kingdom of God is drastically different than the kingdoms of this world.
The kingdoms of this world promote receiving over giving. Like now, kids at Christmastime are insane when it comes to gifts. I don’t know if any of you have seen those videos online, of kids surrounded by all of these gifts, but they’re losing their minds because they didn’t get the gift they wanted.
This is evidence of the kingdoms of this world, influencing us, that receiving is better than giving. The Source, a company that sells all kinds of gadgets and technology, had an ad campaign, last year, where the tag line was: “I want that.” Not, “I want to give that to someone else,” but rather, “I want that for myself.”
On the other hand, the Kingdom of God is an upside-down Kingdom. Where the kingdoms of this world promoting receiving, the Kingdom of God promotes giving. And yet, what Jesus is saying here, is that those who give will receive, in ways that they could have never imagined.
And we think that sounds kind of weird, right? Like, how does giving lead to receiving? If I give something away, how will I get something back?
II. Those who give, receive ***CONT.***
And here is what I don’t want us to leave here, believing: I don’t want us to leave here believing that, if we give our money away, then we will be healthy, our kids will be on the straight and narrow, our business will flourish, and God will bless us with a nice house and a nice car.
That is not Kingdom life. That is a false gospel, which says that Jesus Christ is not all-satisfying and that the gift is more important than the Giver of the gift. And it has no place in the church.
I’m not saying that everything in your life will be perfect, if you give it all away. But here is what I know, as a follower of Jesus Christ: I know that when I give money away, whether it’s to the church or to sponsor a child or to someone in need, even when I’m not entirely sure that I will have enough money to make it to the end of the month, God always supplies for my needs. Always!
I can’t explain it. Logistically, it doesn’t make sense. But when Helena and I have trusted God with our finances, and have continued to give as He has directed us to give, we have seen God do some miraculous things to our bank account, in making our finances stretch to the end of the month. That’s what I know.
Now, the temptation with this is: Give to get. If I want to receive, then I need to give. And that’s the wrong motivation. That’s not what Jesus is teaching, here.
Look at the text: The rich young man wanted to know how to inherit eternal life, and Jesus is saying that, rather than depend upon wealth, he needs to depend upon God. And he goes away sad. Why? Because he had great wealth.
What the rich young man has failed to see is that Someone greater than material wealth is right in front of him, in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is offering him the free gift of eternal life. It can’t be bought and it can’t be earned. And Jesus is calling him, and us, to prioritize following Jesus over wealth.
Now, this doesn’t mean that we need to be dirt poor, so that we can give our money away. But it does mean that we become open-handed when it comes to our finances, and that we aren’t holding on to them with a death grip.
Those who belong to the Kingdom of God know that’s it better to give, not because of what they will receive from God, but because of what they have already received from God, in the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ their Lord.
III. The greatest must become servants
3. In the Kingdom of God, this upside-down Kingdom, the humbled are exalted and those who give, receive. Lastly, in the Kingdom of God, the greatest must become servants.
Turn over to Mark 10. Jesus has just mentioned, for the third time, that He will be delivered up to the chief priests, who will have Jesus sentenced to death and killed, and that three days later He will be raised back to life.
And then, in verse 35, we see this strange conversation between Jesus and a couple of His disciples. Here is what it says: “And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ 36 And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ 37 And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’”
Now, at this point, the disciples are all-in on Jesus. They have confessed that He is who He said He was—that He is the promised Messiah who has come to save the people of God. And James and John are preparing for this, by requesting to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand, in glory. This was a well thought-out request.
I’m willing to guess that this was something that the disciples talked about and argued about when Jesus wasn’t around. They were always arguing about who among them was the greatest. But James and John are thinking that they are going to get a foot in the door with their request.
But Jesus continues, in verse 38: “Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’ 39 And they said to him, ‘We are able.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’ 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.”
One of the privileges of living on this side of the cross is that we can see the whole picture. In the grand scheme of the Kingdom of God, we can see just how silly James and John’s request really is.
But Jesus responds in the moment, and His response is, “To sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant.”
III. The greatest must become servants ***CONT.***
And we wonder about this, right? How can Jesus not grant that? How can Jesus—the rightful King of the universe, the One through whom and for whom, all things were created, the Preeminent One, who was with God in the beginning—not grant that? Because He is deferring to His heavenly Father.
God the Son, who has been given all authority, in heaven and on earth, defers to God the Father. There are differences in authority within the Trinity. This was not for Jesus to grant, because the Father has already prepared this in advance.
But Jesus continues, in verse 42: “And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”
The same Jesus who defers to the Father, in the authority to grant His disciples’ request, is the same Jesus who, in the Garden of Gethsemane, prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will,” and who would go to the cross, under the direction of the Father, to give His life as a ransom for many.
Jesus turns this world upside-down, by the very fact that He came to this world, not to be served, but to serve. God became man and dwelt among His people.
This is not how the kingdoms of this world view greatness. Jesus says that the leaders of this world lord their position over others, and they exercise their authority in order to be great. To be great, according to this world, you must put other people down—you must scheme and manipulate your way to the top.
This is not the Kingdom of God. Jesus did not seek out a high position. His entrance into this world makes that perfectly clear. Jesus came to this world as a baby—the most helpless that anyone can possibly be. He lived His days, not in a palace, but doing the rugged work of a carpenter. And Jesus completes His mission on this earth, by giving Himself up to be crucified on a cross.
This was the most humiliating way to die, and Christ endured it all. Hebrews 12:2 says that for the joy that was set before him, Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
And because of the work of Jesus, on our behalf, we have been ransomed—set free—from the bondage of sin and death, not as a result of works, but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. How upside-down is that?
In my second year of Bible College, I was on Student Council. And we were required to arrive at the school, several days before the rest of the students arrived on campus, to plan out what we wanted to accomplish in the school year.
But the first evening we were there, we looked at what it meant to be a servant-leader. Everyone there was a leader, in some capacity, but what we needed to learn and understand was what it meant to serve those around us.
And the exercise that we were taken through, that evening, was the washing of each other’s feet. We did this to model what Jesus did, when He washed His disciples’ feet. We sat in a circle, and we just took turns washing each other’s feet. It was a very humbling but powerful process for each one of us.
We learned what it looked like to be a servant leader, and we were reminded of what Jesus came to this earth to accomplish. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who had every right to be served, came rather to serve. And Jesus did this, in the most ultimate way, by giving His life as a ransom for many. It’s so upside-down to what we’re used to, isn’t it?
John Macarthur perfectly sums up the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God. He writes, “The damned think they are good; the saved know they are wicked. The damned believe the Kingdom of God is for those worthy of it; the saved know the Kingdom of God is for those who realize how unworthy they are. The damned believe eternal life is earned; the saved know it's a gift. The damned seek God's commendation; the saved seek His forgiveness.”
Jesus exemplified the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God. It doesn’t work the way the kingdoms of this world do. I was reminded of this when I received an email from my dad about how the Alberta government is looking at taking the supremacy of Christ and the infallibility of the Scriptures out of Christian schools.
But we know that those who make much of themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves before Almighty God will be exalted. We know that those who want to receive for themselves will forfeit everything, and that those who give, receive the ultimate gift. And we know that to truly be great, we must first must become servants.
And as we live out the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God, through Jesus Christ, because we can’t accomplish this on our own, we will see the world turned upside-down, to the glory of God the Father. Let’s pray…