Keys to the Kingdom

First in a series on “The Kingdom of God.”
Delivered July 27, 2003 by Mike Batley.

Sermon Text:
Exodus 19:1-6
and I Peter 2:1-9

Good morning everybody! Hope you are doing well. Thank you guys so much, really. I mean that. You’ve got your Bibles in front of you, or in your hand, we are going to start with our scripture reading this morning so we are centered, and know where we are heading this morning. If you’ve got our Bibles, turn to 1st Peter 2:1-9. I will read it.

“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, the living Stone-rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message-which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who call you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

We are talking this morning about the kingdom of God. And, sometimes when we think in the office about the next thing that we should teach about, like a certain subject, like the kingdom of God, it’s good to know how much you all know about the subject. In seeing that we are going to teach on the kingdom through the Sundays in August, from the parables that are in Matthew, this is what the kingdom is like or this is what the kingdom of heaven is compared to, I thought a test would be a good thing to give you this morning. Just to see where you are at, to understand what your knowledge base is in this area.

Now, while I was thinking about what kind of test to give you this morning, an old email that a friend of mine sent me a while back came to mind. It was an essay test that a professor in thermodynamics gave. He gave it to these graduate students and it only had one question and it said this:

Is hell exothermic, which means does it give off heat or is it endothermic, which means it absorbs heat? Support your answers with proof.

Now, most of the students wrote proofs about Boyle’s law as we all know means that gas cools off when it expands and heats up when it is compressed or some variant of that, but one student however wrote the following, so keep this in mind as we go forward this morning.

First, we need to know the mass of hell is changing in time, so we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into hell, and the rate of which they are leaving. I think we can safely assume that once a soul gets to hell, it will not leave, therefore no souls are leaving. (Okay, right away you are thinking this student is a sharp guy, okay.) As for how many souls are entering hell, let’s look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion you will go to hell, and since there is more than one religion claiming this, we can safely assume that all people will go to hell. So, with birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change in the volume of hell because Boyle’s law states that in order for temperature and pressure in hell to stay the same, the volume in hell has to expand as souls are added. This only gives us two possibilities. (You with me so far? I am a little lost up here myself. But here is what he says.) One, if hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate of which souls enter, then temperature and pressure in hell will increase until, yes you guessed it,all hell breaks loose. Number two though of course, if hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase in souls in hell, then temperature and pressure will drop until, yes, hell freezes over. So which is it? And this is what he says and this is why I understand how he got the grade he got. If we accept the postulate given to me by Ms. Teresa Banion during my freshman year when she said “It would be a cold night in hell when I go out on a date with you”, and we take into account the fact that I have not succeeded in having said date with her, the number two cannot be true and hell is exothermic. The student got the only “A” on the test.

So, how about we test you on the kingdom of God, because Jesus said the kingdom was like a pearl of great price, a leaven in a lump of dough, a treasure hidden in a field, seeds planted in different soils. He said that heaven was compared to a land owner, hiring throughout the day, a king throwing a wedding party, a dragnet cast into the sea, a mustard seed which leaves me asking, what’s the kingdom of heaven like? What do you know about the kingdom of God? Think about it a moment. If I was to actually give you a test this morning on the kingdom of God, how would you do? If I had the ushers come up from the back, and start handing out those blue essay books, you know the ones that, yeah, I see your faces kind of screw up out there and if you have never had the privilege of having to do an essay test in one of those blue books, count your blessings. But really, how would you do? So,here is our first question this morning.

If we could get into a time machine and travel back right before Christ was born and conduct a survey of what the average view was expecting the kingdom of God to be like, and what the Messiah king would be like and do, what would be their answers? Cite you answer with cultural and historic examples. Ready, begin. You have ten minutes.

Let’s figure this one out, but in order to do this we need to change a channel for just a second to the history channel, okay. And this will help us out with this question because the previous 700 years leading up to the birth of Christ created a climate, and an expectation in Israel for a certain type of Messiah King, a certain type of kingdom. In Exodus 19, 5-6 we get similar verses to what I just read to you out of Peter. God is speaking to Moses and promises to build him into a great kingdom, a holy nation, a nation of priests, if they follow his commandments. It was conditional. But, as we know from history and from scripture the Israelites did not keep their end of the bargain. Not only did they not allow God to be their king, but the kings that they put over them, ended up not following God, dividing the nation and God was forced to step in with judgment. And, for 700 years the Jews plunged downward until God gave them over to the Assyrians and to the Babylonians who took them away to exile and even when the exiles returned to Jerusalem in greatly reduced numbers, they were a nation in a land that gets occupied by the Persians, then by the Greeks, and then finally by the Romans for more than 200 years. So, even when they came back from exile, they had about 400 years of continued occupation and then tacked onto that was a period of silence in the Biblical text. No more prophets showed up for Israel, but all around them there was occupation.

Now, think about putting yourself in that situation for a moment. What would it be like if we lived without our basic freedoms as a people and a nation for 700 years? What compromises might we make? What hatred might be developed in us? In what way would we seek to separate ourselves from this people and culture who were not like us, didn’t respect our God, did not understand about our promises given to us throughout history? In what way would we seek to separate ourselves from them in order to preserve our way of life? This is the culture of Israel when Jesus shows up. They are ready for a warrior king who will kick the Romans out and set up God’s kingdom and reward the righteous and make Israel into a great power again so the world would say, “Look at those blessings,surely they are the people of God”. Now, obviously Jesus didn’t fit that mold at all did he? No political power, no military power, no great resume from the finest rabbinical schools. Who was this traveling teacher drawing larger and larger crowds? Now, he shows up onto the scene right after John the Baptist is arrested, after he has gone through his personal time of temptation by Satan in the desert and he shows up in a small fishing village in Capernaum and begins to announce a central message of his ministry. Repent and believe for the kingdom of God is at hand. And the Jews go “bing” we know what that means, at least we think we do. And, then crowds begin to form around him as he begins to preach and do some pretty miraculous things. And, what about those crowds? Who were these people? Tax gatherers, fishermen, women, even harlots and women who have had five husbands and the husband they are with is not their husband now, a rag take collection of twelve key guys, none of which is anyone special and Jesus was even a very different teacher for his day, wasn’t he? He did not just teach by repeating the teachings of others, which was generally the teaching style of that day, just to repeat verbatim what other people taught. This was one of the things that the ruling leaders did, but Jesus taught with authority and creativity. Which lead me to the second question on our exam. And here it is.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus taught about the kingdom and life in the kingdom in two distinct ways. What were the ways and why the change? Now, as we go through our series in August, and we begin to look at the parables, this question is really important to understand, to understand the parables about the kingdom correctly. So let’s dive into this one. The first way Jesus taught about the kingdom, we call the Sermon on the Mount. This teaching is really pretty straightforward about what life in the kingdom is like. What is different, is that the teaching about the kingdom is that it starts in your internal life, in that as your internal life has changed, then the kingdom of God begins to be seen externally around you. So, if you have got your Bibles in front of you, turn to Matthew 5:1-12 and we are just going to do a quick treatment of that. In your pew Bibles, that’s on page 683. And it starts here, it says:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up to the mountain and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. He opened his mouth and began to teach to them saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Now why poor in spirit? What Jesus is saying here is, when a person comes to the realization that they are spiritually bankrupt, that they are really poor in spirit, poor in their ability to get or earn their way into the kingdom of heaven, when they realize that they are ready for the kingdom of heaven,that being poor, that spiritual bankruptcy is what gets a person into the kingdom. Then in Verse 4 there is linked to it.

“Blessed there those that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

If a person really comes to the realization that they are spiritually bankrupt, what is one of the only emotions they have to go to? They will mourn over their condition. They will say, “Oh my goodness, I am without hope left to myself.” And, in that mourning, they get comforted by the salvation offered by God. The salvation that is in the kingdom. Verse 5 naturally follows. A person who comes the realization that they are spiritually bankrupt and they mourn over that, they are broken over their condition and they are comforted. What that produces is a humble person. They realize that in and of themselves they could not do anything to earn this and so they become a broken gentle person, and those are the people who get to be the power brokers in the new kingdom. Now,for a person who has gone through that process so far of being spiritually poor, they mourned over that, they realize that in and of themselves they didn’t bring anything to the table and that they are now gentle and humble to be used by God, they are empty people, aren’t they? And, so they begin to hunger to be filled up with something rather than what they were filled with before, and they begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness. And as they do that, Jesus says that they will be satisfied, that the Holy Spirit will begin to fill them with the way to be this righteousness, where before they couldn’t be. Their hunger and their thirst will be satisfied.

Then in the kingdom, these same people a lot like they will be gentle, they will be merciful. Have you heard the statement is, when a person really understands what God has done for them in their salvation, they are merely one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread? And then we see this is Verse 7. That there is no more judging. There is no more condemnation. For those who have really tasted what life in the kingdom is like, they are merciful to others and they receive mercy. And, then this produced people who are pure in heart and the reason why is because they realize that they want their lives now to be a pleasing aroma to God so they want to live before him in light of all that he has done, how he has filled them up, he has forgiven their spiritual bankruptcy. He has been merciful to them. He has comforted them. They want to live in a way that is pleasing to God. They want to live pure before them. And, it gives an echo back to Isaiah where Isaiah saw God and he was undone and the angel came down and purified his lips with a burning coal so that he could see God in the throne room. We get a sense of that here.

And, then 10 and 11 verses are linked. Think about how changed a person’s life would be if those internal changes happened to them. They would begin to make the world around them that does not know God uncomfortable. Their light would begin to shine, they would become salty people and the world around them would say, “Hey, stop making me uncomfortable”. Your life begins to convict the world around you and that’s what we see happening in Verses 10 and 11. We begin to see this internal change start to spill over externally. And then Jesus in Verse 12 says that as that happens and you begin to be persecuted and insulted because of this change in you and the kingdom beginning to be visible in you, rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven is great from the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. There is a promise there and perspective given. You are in good company and you are pleasing me.

Now, when you look at this internal transformation, what happens when someone lives their life and subject to the kingdom and the spill over is profound, the external life begins to look like Jesus’ kingdom becomes visible and if we read on in Matthew, what happens is this becomes more and more impacting to the external world around them. In Verses 17-22 you begin to keep the law of God and it is not burdensome. Verses 23-26, you begin to be a forgiving person. Verses 27-32, you are in your sexual relationships, your most intimate relationships, there is fidelity and purity. In Verses 33-37, your word has integrity. You do what you say you are going to do. And in Verses 38-48, you love your enemy and go that extra mile with those that oppress you. What a radical kingdom this turns out to be. And it goes on and on like that for several chapters, all the way to the start of Chapter 8.

Now Dr. Richard Halverson has a book “The Living Body” that says this about the net affect when the churches all living out this internal transformation. When we are doing this as a church, as Central, he says this, “The true meaning of a churches influence is what is happening when the buildings are empty, the programs idle, and the people scattered throughout their communities and metropolitan areas in the world.” In other words, the real influence of the church is not what happens when the church is visible in its building, the real influence occurs when the church is invisible, when it is in dispersion. And in chapter 10, Jesus does this. He disperses his disciples. He sends them out to reach the communities that they came from into with the same message. No parables yet, the same message about what life in the kingdom is like. And, then in Chapter 12 of Matthew, something horrible happens. The Pharisee’s have had enough. Enough of Jesus getting the crowds and influenced, enough of Jesus doing things that somehow do not fit into their narrow definition of what God approves and what is holy, they accuse Jesus of working with Satan. That only someone working with Satan could do the things that Jesus is doing especially on the Sabbath. And can you believe it? Then starting right there in Chapter 13, Verse 1 Jesus is teaching about the kingdom changes and he never again when he talks to the crowd, talks to them about the kingdom in a straightforward way. He only talks to them about the kingdom in parables. It’s a radical change in his teachings. He explains many of the parables to its closest followers, but to the crowds that follow him, they never get it in straight form again. The parables begin to function as a filter to see who is really willing to lay aside their pride and preconceived notions and seek after Jesus with a blank slate.

Historian, N.T. Wright helps us to understand this better in his book, “The Challenge of Jesus.” This is a phenomenal book. I would really encourage you to read it. It says this, when Jesus announced the kingdom to the parables, the stories he told were functioned like dramatic plays in search of actors. His hearers were invited to audition for the parts in the kingdom. They had been eager for God’s drama to be staged and were waiting to find out what they would have to do when he did so. These actors were to be his ambassadors and his priests in the new kingdom and thus reestablish it. That’s you. You are designed to be his ambassadors and his priests in this new reestablished kingdom.

So, the last question of the test here,question three. If Jesus was setting up a kingdom with himself as the king, his revolt would need to be against the other kingdoms seeking power in his time. What were they and who was leading them? Okay? So, Jesus was really leading a revolt here, trying to put his kingdom first over all the other kingdoms, what was going on during this time? Ready, let’s begin this one.

Now, this newly formed kingdom could seek to take power and exert its influences there in Israel and Palestine in a number of ways. In the 1st century the Jews, again after 700 years of occupation, had sought to establish the kingdom in three pretty distinct ways when the Messiah came and Jesus showed up. Let’s look at these three different ways because they are really important. The first way the Jew that tried to set up the kingdom on earth was this. The quietest or the religious separatist option. It goes like this. Separate yourself as much as possible from the wicked world, develop a religious system that insulates you from the godless culture around you and wait for God to do whatever it is that God is going to do. And we really see this in the lives of the Pharisee’s at that time. And in the extreme, in the lives of the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls that lived in Qumran. Not only did they remove themselves from the pagan culture surrounding them, they removed themselves even from the Jewish culture and went out and lived in caves and waited for the Messiah to show up. So, that is the first option, the separatist option.

Secondly, you could go the compromise route. This is a route that was taken by Herod during the time. Build yourself fortresses and palaces, get along with your political bosses as well as you can, do as well as you can, and hope that in some way God will validate it.

And then thirdly, the Zealot option. That of the people called the Zachary (?) who eventually revolted against the Romans, say your prayers, sharpen your swords, make yourself holy to fight a holy war and God will give you victory, and we see this a little bit back in Israel’s history with the Maccabean Revolt.

Now, here is what I find amazing about these three routes, they are largely in effect today, inside, Christianity. First, we know how easy it is as Christians to surround ourselves with all things Christian. Christian radio, Christian television stations, Christian music, Christian yellow pages, Christian books both fiction and nonfiction. You spend all your time with your friends from church. So, it is very possible to insulate ourselves from the world around us and let God do whatever it is that God is going to do. And, of course we see this in the extreme and certain Amish communities or Mennonites communities that have done this. Okay? Secondly, and this one frankly is the one I am most tempted by. You want to know which one of these three that I line up with. Make the world your buddy. Do your job well, build a comfortable life, don’t offend anyone with your faith, and try to get along and hope that being nice will somehow make a difference.

Thirdly, to see the kingdom built through the force of politics. Winning in the courts or demanding our rights. We see this in certain political action committees, groups that use the courts to fight for Christian legal rights. We sometime see this in the unsaid expectation that to be a Christian means to be a member of only a certain political party. Now, of course, I am painting with a broad brush with those three things, but I think we need to ask ourselves really is there one that I naturally default to. Which one is the one where I would typically go? Do you separate? Do you try to go with the flow and under the radar? Or do you try to find a power in another source? This is why Jesus is so amazing. This is why I think literally he was one of the most brilliant men who ever lived, if not the most brilliant man who ever lived. Because he set up a kingdom, when he set up his kingdom he chose a fourth way. It was not to pull away from the world, neither would it be to cozy up it and it certainly would not seek to pull it down by force. Instead the radical and rebellious way that Jesus was to set up his kingdom was through internally changing individuals with his resurrected life so that his changed people lived righteously; they would begin to change the world around them with love. In other words, theirs was an upside-down and inside out revolution.

In the Old Testament, the ethic by which you lived in God’s kingdom and tried to keep it was to keep the whole law. The force was very external. The law was outside you and over you. And it was always reminding you that you were falling short, so it was always condemning you. In the New Testament, the ethics by which we live in God’s kingdom are through the transformations that happens when you live the Sermon on the Mount and in the parables, which starts internally and is powered by the Holy Spirit and the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. That’s why we can rejoice in that good news that I read in 1st Peter 2:9. That you are a chosen people. You are a royal priesthood. It’s already there and it is not conditional on you. This is the amazing life we have in God’s kingdom as his subjects. So lastly, let’s look ahead with confidence and hope.

While studying for this message I stumbled onto this amazing little verse in Luke. Luke 12:32. If you are taking notes, write it down. I want you to meditate on it this week. Okay? It is such a short verse, but it is very power packed. It says this:

“Fear not little flock, for it is your father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

And I found it in an epilogue of a book by John Piper called, “The Pleasures of God.” Listen to what Piper says:

Every little word of this stunning sentence is intended to take away the fear that Jesus knows we struggle with, with namely that God begrudges his benefits, that he is constrained and out of character when he does nice things, that at the bottom line he is angry and loves to vent his anger. This is a sentence about the nature of God. It is about the kind of heart that God has. It’s a verse that makes God glad, not merely about what God will do, but what he delights to do. What he loves to do. What he takes pleasure in doing. Every word in this verse counts. Fear not little flock, for it is the father’s pleasure to give you this kingdom.

Now, I don’t know you and you don’t know me that well, and I wish we knew each other more, but Jesus in this verse fights against our complex obstructions to really believe this is true. Maybe it was your parents, maybe it has been an illness you have been fighting with, loneliness that you have gone through or are going through right now, wayward children, maybe a broken home or marriage, a meaningless job. I don’t know your situations, but all of these things in our lives as we go through them or are subject to them, fight against our belief and produce a drag in our faith, like we are running into the wind or up a hill and we can’t really see. To really believe that this is true, we can really believe in our lives that this is too good to be true. If you were to know me better, you would find out that this is one of my main struggles, my walk with God. I grew up in a house where there just was not a lot of affirmation or encouragement. My father was neither a very verbal man nor was he very affectionate. So don’t get me wrong, he was very committed to us as a family and he gave love in ways that were non-verbal. But, it built up this issue in my life where for me I have always wondered, have I done enough to make my dad proud? Am I doing a good job? Am I really loved? And, what happens is it seeps over into my relationship with my heavenly Father. So, sometimes for me when I hear Jesus says this, it does feel too good to be true.

So, let me leave you with Piper’s words again for they are as much for me as they are for you. The Lord’s meaning is inescapable. God is acting here in freedom. He is not under constraint to do what he really does not want to do. At this very point when he gives his flock the kingdom, God is acting out of his deepest delight. That is what this word means. God’s joy, his desire, his want and wish and hope and pleasure and gladness and delight is to give this kingdom to his flock. Fear not, little flock, for it is the father’s pleasure, not his duty, not as necessity, not his obligation, but his pleasure to give you and me the kingdom. That’s the kind of God he is. That’s the measure of the greatness of his heart. Like you, I am looking forward to the next five weeks as we dive deeper in to this amazing topic on the kingdom.

Let’s end by praying. Father God, our Abba Father, we just thank you so much. Help us to understand the truth of those words, help us live in light of them out of thankfulness, expand our minds this week on our kingdom, in our lives and how you want to build it externally and how it is just such a privilege to have that, that kingdom as a gift. Thank you Lord, thank you so much. Help us to understand it better. Thanks for loving us so much Jesus in bringing this kingdom to us. Thanks that you are a good and loving king. And it is in your name we pray. Amen.