October 25, 2015
Read Lu 13:18-21 – The enlisted guys won the annual softball game against the officers. However, an officer made the official report: “The officers powered their way to a 2nd place finish while the noncoms came in next to last.” Things are not always as they seem. Remember the limerick? “God’s plan made a hopeful beginning, But man spoiled his chances by sinning. We trust that the story Will end in God’s glory, But at present the other side’s winning.” More and more that was looking like the case in the disciples’ world – and it sure looks like the case in our world, right?
That’s why Jesus gave these two little parables. The disciples have just seen a bent and broken woman healed after 18 years of agony. Now the religious leader is bent out of shape because it happened on the Sabbath. He represents the growing opposition to Jesus’ ministry that will eventually lead to His death. At that time, it will certainly appear that the other side’s winning.
But it will be an illusion. The disciples need to know they are on the winning side. We all need that reminder. Faithfulness is driven by the assurance that in the end, God wins. So Jesus teaches about the kingdom which has two realities – “already” and “not yet.” In one sense the kingdom is “already” here and operating, appearances to the contrary. But it is not in full bloom. There is a “not yet” phase yet to be realized. That’s what Jesus wants us to see.
So Jesus muses in v. 18: “He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?” He answers with 2 parables which emphasize the “already” but “not yet” nature of God’s kingdom.
I. The Kingdom Starts Small (“Already”)
Just a mustard seed – smallest of the food seeds in Palestine. Just a pinch of leaven. How God revels in using the weak things of the world to confound the strong. Thus, it’s no surprise that King Jesus did not arrive on the scene to the crescendo of angelic trumpets and skies lit like neon to announce His kingdom. Quite the opposite. The “already” phase begins unimpressively.
The King is born in a manger, among the animals because the world has no place for Him. He’s born in Palestine, insignificant backwater in the Roman Empire. His home in Nazareth was the lowest of that nation. He eventually drew huge crowds to His ministry, but they turned on Him and crucified Him for blasphemy. The leaders He left behind were few, uneducated, fearful, slow to understand and hardly qualified for leadership. Who would have ever signed on for that? And yet. “Already” had started in people’s hearts.
Within a few weeks of Jesus ascension, the little band of 120 followers had become thousands in Jerusalem alone. Within the lifetime of the first generation of followers, the gospel had spread to the far corners of the civilized world. Within 325 years, the Roman Empire itself had officially become Christian. And today – 2,000 years later, 2.1 billion people claim to be Christian – almost 1/3 of the world’s population and the largest single block of any religious faith. Small beginnings can lead to great advances.
Now, I am not suggesting all of those are genuine believers. Far from it. Nor am I suggesting that we are creating the kingdom or that what we see even remotely resembles the final state of the kingdom. But even the current very imperfect state of affairs demonstrates what Paul said in I Cor 1:27-31: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, . . . 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” We must never be fooled by appearances into thinking that the kingdom of God has become insignificant, passé, overwhelmed, outflanked or overrun. Never.
Appearances to the contrary we are on the winning side! And the “already” phase is operating when repentant hearts obey God by faith and not self. Faith in God’s rule frees us, for example, to be forgiving instead of vengeful.
An example from II Kings 5:1 “Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria (Israel’s enemy), was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. 2 Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. Those are the bare facts. Here is what they mean. God arranged for the Syrians to successfully raid Israel because His people were deep into idolatry. In the process, this innocent little Israeli girl was captured. This means at best her family was also taken captive and sold. At worst they were killed before her very eyes. Now, she’s at the very bottom of Syria’s social structure as a racial outsider, a slave, a woman and young (12-24). Her life is utterly ruined. And Field Marshal Naaman is responsible.
Natural reaction says, “Wallow in your pity. Do the least you can get by with. Rob them blind. Break the nick nacks when you dust. Spit in the soup. And when you hear he has leprosy you should think, “Ha! Leprosy! I can hardly wait for another finger to fall off. I will dance on his grave.” Who would have blamed her? But look! V. 3, “ She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” Who is this girl? She’s a girl in whose heart God reigned! This is kingdom living even before Christ. What a girl! Little action; big result. Got her into the Bible! SO what is it that Jesus is asking of you this morning. What little thing done in faith that would show the kingdom – the rule of God in your heart instead of the rule of you. What person do you need to forgive? What covetousness do you need to let go? Who do you hate? What grudge against God for not giving you something you thought you deserved. Do the little thing, Beloved. The kingdom starts small.
II. The Kingdom Grows From the Inside
Both the seed and the leaven work inside/out! Once the seed is buried in the ground and the leaven in the bread dough they work invisibly but persistently to produce amazing results that will soon out. That’s the “already” phase of God’s kingdom. It is spiritually based. It is internal. The rulership of God grows inside the individual. BUT inward regeneration turns into outward transformation. Sobriety replaces drunkenness; forgiveness replaces bitterness; generosity replaces greed; concern for others replaces self-centeredness. Not perfectly; not overnight; but slowly and surely the kingdom of God takes over. The implanted seed is the Word. I Pet 1:23, “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” And the leaven might be likened to the Holy Spirit who indwells every true believer. They combine to produce the growth of the kingdom in the life of all true believers.
In Lu 17 the Pharisees ask Jesus when the kingdom is coming. He replies in Lu 17:20-21, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” This is what the people of Jesus’ day could never get. The kingdom starts with repentance and grows inside/out. Those who saw it only in political terms missed the whole thing.
Jesus says to Pilate later in John 18:36, “36 Jesus answered, “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.” Now you should be asking, “How can He say that in light of all those OT passages that describe the Son of Man coming in power and glory and dominion and someone on the throne of David forever? How can He say that?” And the answer is the kingdom has a spiritual basis. It is not of this world but that doesn’t mean it won’t be in this world! It’s not like earthly kingdoms. It’s not imposed from the top down. It’s accepted from the inside/out. It is spiritually based. Therefore, it starts in people’s hearts NOW and spills out into the political arena LATER. It grows from the inside out. It is not created with swords and guns and tanks. It is created first in the hearts of believers, leading to changed lives that lead to a changed society.
Christianity did not conquer Rome with bows, arrows and chariots. It won through the power of its message, the faith of believers and the blood of its martyrs. What the crusades failed to do by the power of the sword in taking back the Holy Land from the Islamic infidels, the early church accomplished through martyrdom. Christians were torn by lions and suffered unspeakable persecution. Tertullian noted around AD 200, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Not the world’s ways – but God’s ways.
The cleansing effect of the Reformation took place as God’s rule began in Luther’s heart and grew to the point that he could stand before the full power of the papal emissary sent to order him to recant his writing on pain of death and say, “I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves. I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything. . . I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, amen.” He fully expected to pay with his life for that statement as had others like Huss and Wycliffe before him. But God spared him to become along with Calvin and Zwingli and others the voice that allowed the kingdom to spread as God’s word took root in other hearts.
Today, western culture benefits from the good of the kingdom influences that came as a result of those voices. Our law is rooted in biblical principles; our sense of morality is driven by biblical influences. Even unbelievers, like the birds in the trees of the kingdom, benefit from centuries of biblically-based morality. Of course, those benefits are fast diminishing in our culture. Does that mean the kingdom has failed? No way. Every new believer brings the ultimate manifestation of the kingdom under Christ’s rule that much closer.
The full extent of the kingdom has “not yet” been realized on earth. Not the Holy Roman Empire; not the Reformation empire of Luther and Calvin, not the God-blessed USA has ever been the true kingdom. They have just benefited richly from kingdom members whose growth from the inside out has spilled over into political and cultural influences – brief and imperfect previews of what is coming on the day when the final member of the kingdom comes to faith in Christ and He takes His rightful throne. What a day that will be, and it is coming, Beloved. Each new convert brings us one step closer to the final, political version of God’s kingdom comprised of repentant hearts.
III. The Kingdom Permeates Everything (“Not yet” phase)
The seed becomes a full blown tree. The little leaven invades the whole loaf. The kingdom of God starts small; grows by fits and spurts, but in the end it will conquer everything. Over and over mankind has thought to put God out of His misery. Nietzsche declared God dead. Science would have all the answers. But he knew the moral cost. He went on to predict that as God’s influence waned, the 20th century would be the bloodiest century in history. He was right about that. But his prediction of God’s death was a bit previous.
Time magazine affirmed God’s death in an article on April 8, 1966. But as early as 1969 an article on the Jesus people allowed as how that previous assessment might have been a tad premature. By 1980 Time declared God was making a comeback and in 2009 they listed Calvinism as one of the ten ideas shaping the world. The ravages of untamed naturalism in the world of science and atheism in the political systems of Nazism and Communism combined could not wipe out the kingdom of God contrary to predictions. Philosopher Paul Johnson said, “The most extraordinary thing about the 20th century was the failure of God to die.” Confidently predicted, widely expected among the educated elite -- it did not happen! God not only survived; He flourished.
The 1980 Time article conceded, “God? Wasn’t he chased out of heaven by Marx, banished to the unconscious by Freud and announced by Nietzsche to be deceased? Did not Darwin drive him out of the empirical world? . . . In a quiet revolution . . . that hardly anyone could have foreseen only two decades ago, God is making a comeback . . . not among theologians . . . but in the crisp, intellectual circles of academic philosophers, where the consensus had long banished the Almighty from fruitful discourse.” All of this is just a step along the way, but it illustrates the one kingdom that will never be defeated is God’s! It exists in both an “already” and “not yet” state. Already in the hearts of all true believers! Not yet worldwide under Christ’s personal rulership. But it is coming. Closer every day.
Descriptions of the ultimate expression of the kingdom are all through the Word.” Daniel saw it: Dan 7: 13) “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14) And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
The kingdom starts small, in the hearts of true believers beginning from the time of Adam who was the first human to enter. All through history, those who will humble themselves before God, confess their sins and accept His gift have entered. And one day the last person will come to faith in Christ; the leaven will have infiltrated the whole loaf; and the kingdom of God will explode into open expression of God’s will on earth as it is in heaven! The scene described in Rev 5:9 will at last come to pass: “And they (heaven’s inhabitants) sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you (Jesus, the King) to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Here is the kingdom at last in full display – crushingly greater than anything the world has ever seen.
This is what Jesus describes in cryptic form to His disciples in Lu 13. He wants to encourage them that however things look, in the end, they are on the winning side. So take heart. What makes the kingdom possible? The death of Christ. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to guarantee the outcome even as He spoke. Talk about a small beginning. Sure defeat humanly speaking. But here is God’s perspective. Heb 2:14, “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” It appeared the other side was winning. But looks are deceiving. The impossible had happened. Crucifixion was followed by resurrection. Death was swallowed up in victory. The Lamb had KO’d the dragon. Twleve Galilean misfits upset the Roman empire. One monk and a sickly castaway Reformed the world, and the kingdom of God is going to conquer all. “Already” is here. “Not yet” is coming soon. Take heart, Beloved. In the end – God wins! Not new age! Not Humanism! Not Islam! Not secularism! God! God wins! Let’s pray.